March Madness is a time when many NBA fans are introduced to the top college basketball players. The 2018 NCAA tournament features a number of top prospects, and the bracket could give us a few matchups with NBA draft implications.
Duke and Michigan State appear to be on a collision course for a Sweet 16 showdown. It would be a rematch of an early season contest, and would have three of my top 10 players. Marvin Bagley potentially getting matched up with Jaren Jackson would be the key matchup to watch.
Arizona and Kentucky are favored to win their opening round games. If they do, the two teams will meet in the Round of 32. Like most years, Kentucky features a plethora of potential NBA first round picks, but it is Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton who has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Michael Porter Jr. get a chance at redemption as Missouri takes on Florida State. Collin Sexton and Alabama get a difficult matchup against Virginia Tech. Texas big man Mo Bamba has an opening round matchup against Nevada. All three of these prospects could be out after the first round, but draft fans will be rooting them on for more chances to evaluate each player on a big stage.
The following mock draft is based on the Tankathon standings as of Wednesday, March 14. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @JonDAdams, or in the comments section with the players you are most looking forward to watching during March Madness.
Here’s a look at my latest NBA mock draft.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Lottery Picks 1-14
No. 1 Memphis Grizzlies: PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
While Ayton and other top college basketball prospects are able to generate buzz thanks to March Madness, Luka Doncic is out of sight to most basketball fans. According to ESPN, Doncic hit a bit of a wall in February, and Real Madrid is resting him for the next few weeks.
After playing 80 games in the 2016-17 season, Doncic went straight into preparation for EuroBasket, which extended deep into September, giving him no offseason whatsoever. His body is paying the toll for that now, as he clearly hit a wall in February and was recently shut down by Real Madrid for at least a couple of weeks.
With Doncic’s upside combined with his experience playing professionally, Doncic is still in the race to be the No. 1 pick.
No. 2 Phoenix Suns: C Deandre Ayton, Arizona
The Suns get the local kid in our latest mock draft. Despite the number of big men on the Suns roster, Ayton is too good of a player for Phoenix to pass up. Ayton enters the NCAA tournament with two straight performances of 32 points and 14 plus rebounds in the Pac-12 tournament. Ayton is averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game this season. Over the last month of the season, Ayton has looked unstoppable. He is polished down on the blocks, but also has a mid-range jumper that looks like he is a guard rather than a seven footer. Arizona has a chance to make a Final Four run, and Ayton’s buzz will only continue to increase if Arizona can rack up a few wins.
No. 3 Orlando Magic: F Marvin Bagley, Duke
Bagley has shined down the stretch as Duke heads into the NCAA tournament as a legit title contender. Bagley had one of his best games of the season in the ACC tournament dropping 33 points and 17 rebounds against Notre Dame. He followed it up with 19 points and 13 boards in a losing effort against North Carolina.
Questions surround Bagley’s position at the next level. His post game needs to be a bit stronger to be a true four, while his ball handling can use polishing for him to play at the three. Bagley is too talented to stay outside the top five picks, and he will bring relentless energy to an NBA team.
No. 4 Atlanta Hawks: C/F Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Jackson and Michigan State have had a bit of a layoff thanks to the Big Ten tournament taking place a week earlier than normal. Michigan State is hoping to avoid another early exit in the NCAA tournament, and Jackson is poised to shine in March as long as the Spartans can survive. Jackson offers NBA teams a rare combination of a player who is averaging 3.2 blocks a game while shooting 39.6 percent from the three-point line.
Jackson paired with John Collins gives the Hawks one of the most athletic frontcourts in the league.
No. 5 Cleveland Cavs (via Nets): PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
No prospect helped themselves more in the conference tournament week than Sexton. The Alabama point guard scored 21 or more points in all three of the Crimson Tide’s SEC tournament games including 31 points and seven rebounds in their upset victory over top-seeded Auburn.
Sexton gets a difficult matchup against Virginia Tech to open up the tournament, but it is a winnable game for Alabama. If the Crimson Tide can win, it sets up an intriguing matchup against Villanova’s great backcourt. Alabama would be a major underdog against Villanova, but it would not be that shocking if Sexton led Alabama on a Sweet 16 run.
The Cavs have yet to solidify their point guard of the future after Isaiah Thomas did not pan out in Cleveland.
No. 6 Sacramento Kings: F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Porter’s debut performance was widely criticized, but it was to be expected for a player who had not played in months. Porter has a chance to play in a couple more college basketball games, but a deep run for Mizzou is unlikely given how bad the team looked adjusting to Porter’s presence on the team. Porter could have decided to come back to help his draft stock as ESPN reported some NBA decision makers are down on Porter.
Porter’s stock has dropped this season. Spinal surgery set him back, and teams have also come away from background checks questioning his commitment to winning and ability to fit into team schemes.
No. 7 Dallas Mavs: C Mo Bamba, Texas
Bamba is one of the prospects that stands the most to gain during March Madness. The challenge is the No. 10 seeded Longhorns barely got into the the NCAA tournament, and have no guarantee to advance past the first round. Bamba has not been able to consistently shine like some of the other top big men on this list. His talent and measurables are off the charts meaning a breakout performance in the NCAA tournament would be no surprise. Bamba has been saddled by a toe injury down the stretch.
Bamba gives the Mavs another big man as they prepare for eventual life without Dirk Nowitzki.
No. 8 Chicago Bulls: F Mikal Bridges, Villanova
While comparisons to Paul George are a bit lofty, there is a lot to like about Bridges’ game, and he is one of the reasons Villanova is the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. Bridges is shooting over 50 percent in his last four games heading into March Madness. Overall, Bridges is shooting four percent higher than last season from long range at 43.3 percent.
Bridges is a perfect three-and-D prospect at the next level. A strong March could firmly solidify his status as a top 10 pick. Look for Bridges stock to continue on an uptick after the NCAA tournament.
No. 9 New York Knicks: G Trae Young, Oklahoma
Young and the Sooners made the NCAA tournament, despite being on the bubble. As an NBA draft fan, you should be rooting for a second round matchup against Duke. That said, Oklahoma will have their hands full against Rhode Island, and fans may only get one tournament game from Young. The Oklahoma guard has not looked quite the same as he did when he was dominating the country. There is still a lot to like about Young’s game, and the point guard will continue to be one of the most debated prospects heading into the draft.
The Knicks did draft Frank Ntilikina is last year’s draft, but Young is much more of a pure scorer than Ntilikina. The current Knicks point guard’s length would help make up for Young’s lack of size in the backcourt.
No. 10 Charlotte Hornets: SF Miles Bridges, Michigan State
This has been a popular pick in mock drafts dating back to last year when Bridges was projected to be a lottery pick before withdrawing his name to return to East Lansing. Fans were robbed of seeing Bridges for multiple tournament games in 2017 after Michigan State was upset in the first round. Expect for Bridges to make up for lost time by stringing together a few great March performances. Bridges is one of the best all-around players in the draft.
No. 11 Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): C/F Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
Carter may be overshadowed by the buzz around Bagley, but the big man has been critical to Duke’s success this season. Carter lacks some of the athleticism that Bagley has, but is solid in a lot of areas. Carter is averaging 13.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks while shooting 56.4 percent from the field. Carter does his best work in the paint, but his mid-range game is also effective.
No. 12 Philadelphia Sixers (via Lakers): SG Lonnie Walker, Miami
Miami is trending in the wrong direction in March with injuries keeping Miami from being a real threat in the tournament. Walker has been inconsistent this season, and could have benefited from a few games under the bright lights. After a slow start, Walker has displayed his athleticism and scoring ability (at times) down the stretch. Walker will need to continue improving his long-range shooting as he was just a 34.6 percent shooter from behind the three-point arc this season. The Sixers would be a good fit for Walker, given they already have so much talent. There would be little pressure on Walker to play at a high level right away.
No. 13 Denver Nuggets: PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
The Nuggets gave up on Emmanuel Mudiay, and Gilgeous-Alexander gives Denver another point guard to add to the mix. The Kentucky point guard did not come in with as much anticipation as some of the other freshman on Kentucky’s roster, but he has been the Wildcats best player this season. According to Sports Illustrated, Gilgeous-Alexander has a 7′ wingspan which allows him to disrupt passing lanes on the defensive end. The Kentucky guard is shooting 39.6 percent from the three-point line, but does not have many attempts.
No. 14 San Antonio Spurs: F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
In my years of doing mock drafts, the Spurs have never been in the lottery. It is a bit odd to see them so high, and things could change depending on how the Kawhi Leonard situation turns out. Knox is the best player avilable at this point in the draft, and he would step into a great opportunity. Knox’s length and offensive ability make him an intriguing NBA prospect.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Picks 15-30
Here’s a look at the rest of the mock draft for teams mostly in the NBA playoff picture.
|No. 15 Phoenix Suns (via Bucks)||C Daniel Gafford, Arkansas|
|No. 16 Phoenix Suns (via Heat)||SG Anfernee Simons, IMG|
|No. 17 Philadelphia Sixers||C Robert Williams, TAMU|
|No. 18 Washington Wizards||C Mitchell Robinson, N/A|
|No. 19 Utah Jazz||SG Chandler Hutchison, Boise State|
|No. 20 L.A. Clippers||G/F Troy Brown, Oregon|
|No. 21 Atlanta Hawks (via T-Wolves)||G Landry Shamet, Wichita State|
|No. 22 L.A. Lakers (via Cavs)||SF Melvin Frazier, Tulane|
|No. 23 Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans)||SG Khyri Thomas, Creighton|
|No. 24 Minnesota T-Wolves (via Thunder)||F Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State|
|No. 25 Indiana Pacers||G De’Anthony Melton, USC|
|No. 26 Portland Trail Blazers||SF Dzanan Musa, Cedevita|
|No. 27 Boston Celtics||SG Bruce Brown, Miami|
|No. 28 Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors)||SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky|
|No. 29 Golden State Warriors||F/C Chimezie Metu, USC|
|No. 30 Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets)||SG Grayson Allen, Duke|