The NCAA tournament can be bittersweet for draft fans as some of the top NBA prospects suffer early exits, while other players shine as their team surges. One of the matchups we were eyeing in the Round of 32 was Kentucky taking on Arizona. Deandre Ayton was slated to go against Kentucky’s big men before Arizona was shocked by Buffalo in the first round.
The next time we are likely to see Ayton on a basketball floor is during the NBA Summer League, as the Arizona big man announced his intention to declare for the NBA draft. Duke and Michigan State still appear on a collision course to meet up in the Sweet 16.
If the 2018 NCAA tournament has taught us anything, it is nothing is guaranteed as No. 16 UMBC became the first ever men’s team to defeat a No. 1 seed with their upset victory over Virginia. If Duke does end up squaring off with Michigan State, the matchup would feature four likely lottery picks with additional first round talent as well.
For months, I’ve had Luka Doncic as my No. 1 projected player, but DeAndre Ayton’s stock continues to rise. With that in mind, I wanted to explore what the draft would look like if Ayton is selected with the top pick. The mock draft order is courtesy of the Tankathon standings as of Friday, March 16.
Here’s a look at my latest NBA mock draft.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Lottery Picks 1-14
No. 1 Memphis Grizzlies: C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
Ayton had a shocking end to his college career thanks to Arizona’s blowout loss to Buffalo in the first round. In my previous mock drafts, Doncic has been the top pick, but wanted us to explore what the draft would look like with Ayton atop the board. The Arizona big man is unlike any we have seen in recent year. He is polished down low, and also has a nice shooting touch. Ayton gets up and down the floor like a guard. Whoever lands the top pick is going to have a tough decision.
Ayton can play with Gasol giving the Grizzlies the most imposing frontcourt in the league. One question Memphis has to consider if they do get the No. 1 pick is if they want the strength of their team to be their big men when the rest of the league continues to go small. That said, Ayton is the modern big man NBA teams are looking for.
No. 2 Phoenix Suns: PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
The strength of the Suns used to be their point guard depth, but multiple trades later the team could stand to bolster the position. Elfrid Payton has been a nice spark to the team after the mid-season trade, but Doncic plays at a much higher level than Payton. All may be quiet on the Doncic front in March, but his buzz will heat back up as we get closer to June. The 6’6″ guard is the best playmaker in the draft.
No. 3 Atlanta Hawks: F/C Marvin Bagley, Duke
In the past few mock drafts, the Hawks seem to have quite a few options for athletic big men at this point in the draft. Bagley can slide next to John Collins to form a bouncy frontcourt in Atlanta. With top players like Ayton and Young exiting the NCAA tournament early, Bagley is one of the players who should be center stage the rest of the way. If Duke does end up matching up with Michigan State in the Sweet 16, it would be a big matchup for Bagley against Jackson. The two teams met to kickoff the season, but Bagley exited the game early with an eye injury.
No. 4 Orlando Magic: C/F Jaren Jackson, Jr. , Michigan State
Orlando really needs a point guard, but No. 4 seems a little early to pick either Sexton or Young. Jackson would be an intriguing prospect to pair down low with Jonathan Isaac. The Magic are desperate for a primary offensive creator, and it is unclear what Jackson’s ceiling is offensively. Porter is another name to consider here, but question marks surround the Missouri forward. Jackson’s combination of offensive touch and defensive ability has him in the running to be a top five pick.
No. 5 Cleveland Cavs: F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
The Cavs will be in the difficult position of not knowing what LeBron James will do this off-season. Do they prepare for life without King James or try to select a player that would intrigue him? Porter fits with either scenario as it gives them a good building block for the future, but he could play alongside James if he decides to re-sign. Porter was once in the running to be the number one pick, but injury sidelined him for most of the season. The upside is still there as long as the medicals check out.
In his two college basketball games, he looked far from a lottery pick, but it is to be expected for a player who had not played in months.
No. 6 Sacramento Kings: C Mo Bamba, Texas
The Kings have a rotation of solid big men, but no one is a franchise player. Bamba has the potential to be a franchise building block if he plays under the right coach. Bamba has been battling a toe injury, but appears to be back to full strength. Teammate Kerwin Roach II spoke with Hookem.com about playing with the big man.
“Mo looks like Mo. He looks like the old version of Mo,” Roach told Hookem.com. “He looks 100-percent healthy. He’s jumping. He’s blocking shots. He’s screaming at you when he does block a shot. He’s healthy.”
No. 7 Dallas Mavericks: C/F Wendell Carter, Duke
Carter is not as flashy as some of the other big men on this list, but has a very strong low-post game. Carter is also more than capable of stepping out and draining mid-range jumpers. He may not have the same highs as Bagley, but Carter has been Duke’s most consistent player this season. Dallas will need a new big man to pair with Dennis Smith Jr. once Dirk Nowitzki retires.
No. 8 New York Knicks: PG Trae Young, Oklahoma
Trae Young regularly playing at Madison Square Garden? Sign me up. Young spoiled us at the beginning of the season with multiple 40-point games. Young’s season came to a heartbreaking end as Oklahoma lost in overtime to Rhode Island. Young finished with 28 points and seven assists but shot just 33 percent from three-point range. Young’s potential in the NBA may not reach some of his high points he had in college, but his floor is not as low as many are making it out to be after his late-season slump. Young would pair nicely in the Knicks backcourt next to Frank Ntilikina.
No. 9 Chicago Bulls: SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Bridges had a modest start to the tournament with 13 points and six boards. Things heat up in Villanova’s next matchup as the Wildcats take on Alabama. It will be interesting to see whether Villanova locks Bridges on Sexton. Bridges has improved his game every year at Villanova, and projects to be a three-and-D player at the next level.
No. 10 Charlotte Hornets: PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
Point guard isn’t the biggest need for the Hornets, but Sexton is the best player available. Kemba Walker will be on the final year of his deal next season, and Sexton gives the team a bit of insurance in case they do not retain him. Sexton continues to push Alabama further than many expected as the Crimson Tide advanced to the Round of 32. Sexton, Walker and Monk could be a nice future backcourt rotation in Charlotte.
No. 11 Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): SF Miles Bridges, Michigan State
If the Clippers make the playoffs, they will likely have two late lottery picks. Wesley Johnson does not look to be a long-term answer at small forward. The Clippers have had trouble nailing down this position even when they were at their best with Chris Paul leading the charge. After an early exit from the 2017 NCAA tournament, Bridges has an opportunity to have a big March Madness.
No. 12 Philadelphia Sixers (via Lakers): SG Lonnie Walker, Miami
Mikal Bridges from the school down the road is a player to watch here, but Bridges could play himself into being a top 10 pick outside where the Sixers are likely to be drafted. Walker has as much potential as any player on this list, but was unable to consistently shine this season at Miami. Thanks to the Hurricanes early exit in the tournament, Walker will have to wait until the pre-draft process to showcase more of his skills.
No. 13 Denver Nuggets: F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
This is likely the bottom end of the range for Knox who could be a top seven pick with a strong tournament along with team workouts. Kentucky avoids playing Arizona in the second round meaning Kentucky’s top prospects have a better chance to advance into the tournament.
Knox’s offensive game is where he shines. When his shot is falling, he looks like a top five pick, but consistency has been an issue for the Kentucky forward.
No. 14 Los Angeles Clippers: PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
Gilgeous-Alexander gives the Clippers another guard to play with Lou Williams. Gilgeous-Alexander had a strong start to the tournament with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Kentucky’s opening round matchup. The Kentucky point guard continues to be the best player on the Wildcats roster.
NBA teams will be impressed with his 7′ wingspan, ability to create his own shot and willingness to play defense.
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/F Robert Williams, TAMU|
|No. 18 Washington Wizards||C Mitchell Robinson, N/A|
|No. 19 San Antonio Spurs||G Landry Shamet, Wichita State|
|No. 20 Utah Jazz||G/F Troy Brown, Oregon|
|No. 21 L.A. Lakers (via Cavs)||F Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State|
|No. 22 Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans)||F/C Chimezie Metu, USC|
|No. 23 Indiana Pacers||SG Khyri Thomas, Creighton|
|No. 24 Atlanta Hawks (via T-Wolves)||SG/SF Chandler Hutchison, Boise State|
|No. 25 Minnesota T-Wolves (via Thunder)||G De’Anthony Melton, USC|
|No. 26 Portland Trail Blazers||SF Dzanan Musa, Cedevita|
|No. 27 Boston Celtics||SG Grayson Allen, Duke|
|No. 28 Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors)||PG Bruce Brown, Miami|
|No. 29 Golden State Warriors||SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky|
|No. 30 Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets)||PG Devonte Graham, Kansas|