It’s time, friends. We’re finally here, at this 2018 NBA Draft, which I suspect will be known as the “Holy HECK why didn’t we pick Luka Doncic first overall” draft in the future. This mock draft is going to a be projection of where I think players will go, not where I think they should go, and will have descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the picks.
#1 PHOENIX SUNS
The thing that has always struck me about the hand-wringing over the future of bigs in the NBA is how it underestimates the skill of NBA-caliber players. Big men, trained to shoot, can shoot; big men, trained to rotate on the perimeter, can rotate from the perimeter. Can all big men do that effectively? No. Being big often means a loss of explosive athleticism. But when you start teaching bigs to play like perimeter players, you’ll eventually run into a big with the athleticism to do those things as well as the wings.
And that big, my friends, is Deandre Ayton. Athletic, smart, with good shooting mechanics; there is no physical reason that he shouldn’t become a future MVP candidate and perennial All-NBAer.
#2 SACRAMENTO KINGS
MARVIN BAGLEY III
Marvin Bagley is very good player, and might even become a great one in the NBA. He’s versatile, able to switch between the four and the five, though he looks more like a forward than a center. That versatility could turn into a problem, though — he is very much a tweener, with the height but not the thickness of a center but without the sturdy jumpshot that a modern power forward requires.
The most revealing thing about Marvin Bagley, though, is that for all his natural talent and immense basketball IQ, he still plays his ass off. He does not take possessions off, ever, and even with a shaky jumpshot and with a maybe-too-thin body, he still projects to succeed. To make a tortured metaphor: the most accurate indicator of college academic success is high school academic success, and perhaps the most accurate indicator of whether someone will improve in the NBA is how hard they worked to improve at the collegiate level.
I’d put good money on Bagley’s jumpshot improving, and on how using his tweener-ness to wreck other team’s gameplans.
#3 ATLANTA HAWKS
Paid Euroleague Player/Point Forward/Real Madrid
Today is a good day, because there is a really great chance that my favorite player in the draft will fall to my favorite team. I love point forwards; it’s always been my favorite type of player, simply because how that combination of size and passing ability can open up the floor for everybody else.
LeBron is obviously the best point forward of all time (and the best player of all time, but I digress), and I’m not saying Doncic is going to get to that level, but he has the potential to become at least as good of a passer as LeBron.
Doncic’s weakness are in his athletic makeup. He’s not a jump out of the gym type guy, and there are probably some legitimate questions to be asked about whether he’ll be able to drive past players in the NBA. His defense is a struggle for that same reason, as well. He’s a good, solid defender, who can get blown by. Think Kevin Love, but 15% better.
Even with athletic constraints, his ability to read the floor is unparalleled in this draft, and very rare for a player of his age. I’m not sure if he’ll ever be the guy who ranks in the mid-high 90s on NBA2K, but what I do know is that he’ll make the rest of his teammates better, all the time, and that player is worth more than his weight in gold.
#4 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Smart, talented, hard worker — all combined with real-ass athleticism. Does all the little things well, and does them often; cutting, setting screens, all the stuff that turns good teams into great ones. Not the greatest ball handler in the world, and in order to really maximize his skill set, that will need to improve quite a bit.
He shoots kinda weird, and weird shooting mechanics can really damn you in the NBA. There are notably expectations, obviously (Steph Curry’s shooting motion is a little strange, and Kevin Martin looked like he was trying to win a “who has the most hitch in their shot” competition), but outliers are still outliers.
Jackson is one of the youngest players in the draft. He won’t even be 19 years old when his name is called. Perhaps because of that youth, he’s also skinny. He needs to pack on maybe ten or fifteen pounds of muscle, even as a 6’11 big, because his future as a superstar glue guy (think Chris Bosh with Miami) rests on his ability to take a lot of hits.
#5 DALLAS MAVERICKS
WENDELL CARTER JR
Wendell Carter JR could be the perfect player for the is Mavericks team. He’s a good shooter, can finish with either hand– great at catching and gathering passes, too. He’ll grab every rebound and slide his feet like a ballerina. Carter can protect the paint, and even slide out a bit on pick and rolls.
Two things hold him back: one, despite being a good shooter, he’s got a little bit of a hitch. That makes it very hard to shoot off the dribble, limiting his shots to catch-and-shoots only, meaning his ability to create for himself is more limited than it should be. Second: he’s not an explosive, elite athlete. He’s what one might call a ‘gatherer’ — he has to bend and jump, instead of just jumping. LeBron James is not a gatherer; he goes from down to up like he’s being pulled by wires. That’s not going to kill Carter, because he can indeed get on up there, but he’s just not quite the athlete that Ayton is, or Bagley III is.
Having said all that — Carter could end up on a lot of All-NBA teams, simply because the guy is so smart, and does have the skills to be a legitimate stretch five. Real stretch fives are still super-rare, and Carter, along with Ayton, are the only true centers who could do it in this draft. Tighten up the hitch, get a little faster — if those things happen, Carter could be the steal of the draft.
#6 ORLANDO MAGIC
Here’s the thing about Mo Bamba: This guy could be the best player in the draft, if everything breaks right for him. He’s a seven footer with a 7’10 wingspan; he’s active on the court, always moving, with the potential to be a lockdown interior AND perimeter defender. He’s even a good passer; not just in the sense that he knows HOW to throw it, but WHERE, and WHY. He’s a smart guy, too, who knows what he has to do to better. His shooting mechanics are pretty good, too.
To quote The Ringer, Bamba is a “theoretical shooter”. His mechanics are good, but his results are bad. He shot well under 30% at Texas, and that won’t make him much of a stretch five in the NBA. But, as I wrote above, he’s smart. He’s already spent a lot of time pre-draft improving his shooting. I think he’ll be more Kawhi Leonard than Gerald Green; that is, an athletic marvel who learns to shoot, rather than not.
#7 CHICAGO BULLS
MICHAEL PORTER JR
Porter JR has a lot of injury concerns, which is what drops him out of the top three. I think of him and Marvin Bagley III as similar players, though I think that Porter JR is the better player, all injury concerns aside. Porter JR reminds me of Carmelo Anthony in his ability to just score; I don’t quite know how to describe it, but the guy just knows how to put up points. He can shoot, he can drive, he can move off screens; he’s instant offense, just add water.
Besides injuries, though, the things that make him great are also the things that drag him down. He wants to score, over and over again, and does not give a single crap about what anybody thinks about that. In that regard, he reminds of me Shabazz Muhammed, or Andrew Wiggins (and Carmelo, again!); these guys who will rack up points on a lot of shots, and not really contribute anything else. That’s a knock, but not fatal one, because good offense is still more valuable than good defense, but it does limit his upside.
#8 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
This is going to be a tough pick for the Cavaliers, because they’re stuck having to choose between ready-now and ready-later. I went with ready-now, with the idea of LeBron staying, because if LeBron does leave they are mega-screwed anyway, so let’s go with the more happy option.
Mikal Bridges is the prototypical 3-and-D wing in the draft. He can shoot, he can defend, and he does all the little things well. He’s also almost twenty-two years old, which might as well be thirty in NBA rookie years, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have real upside and potential. Being a 3-and-D wing on this Cavaliers team means that they’ll be able to run an offense closer to what they want; imagine JR Smith, but actually good, and cheap. A lineup of Hill-Bridges-LeBron-Love-Thompson is probably 10% better than the year before; at the very least, you’ve now surrounded LeBron with three shooters and two top-flight rebounders.
#9 NEW YORK KNICKS
Maybe the most divisive player in the draft. Trae Young had a moment early in the season, but fell off as teams began to double and triple team him, and also because no living creature can shoot that well from three from that far away. The Ringer wrote in their mock draft about how he can look like Steph Curry on certain nights, and I agree. I don’t really mind the low release point, but the mindless potato-gunning of shots does. Better shot selection is key for his NBA survival.
I do think he’s a good shooter, and better than people give him credit for. Having another good shooter along with Porzingis (and with Frankie Nicotine doing actual point guard things), he could be a really great two guard in a small lineup. His defense is always going to be a problem because of his size and lack of top-flight athleticism, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be valuable.
#10 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
The only reason I have Colin Sexton one slot lower than Trae Young is because of shooting. Sexton is much more of a defense-first point guard, using his incredible length to smother opponents. He’s not a great ball handler, either, but does have a few tight moves that he can use (along with a really good first step) to get to the basket and score. Also not the best passer in the world.
He’d work well with the Sixers, though his skill set overlaps with a lot of what Ben Simmons or RoCo can do. Then again, you can never really have too many long, lanky athletes running around the perimeter. He’s also a hard-ass worker, and a hard-ass competitor, and that’s valuable for any team.
#11 CHARLOTTE HORNETS
It doesn’t feel right that Alexander has fallen this far, considering his talent. I’m not even sure that I like the guys ahead more than him. At some point I’m just going off gut feeling to where I think he might end up, and that is a crappy reason to drop him to 11, but hey, I’m not very good at this!
Alexander has a solid handle, but not a great one. He’s got great size and wingspan, at 6’6” and 6’11.5”, though he’s very lean at 180lbs. Love the way he handles the pick and roll, love how hard he works.
Needs to work on his jumper a little bit, and isn’t the best athlete in the world. I think he projects as a very good defender and a good ‘drive-the-basket’ sort of guy; to be more clear, he isn’t afraid of generating his own offense and will compete on defense.
#12 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Kevin Knox reminds me a lot of Tobias Harris. He’s a versatile score-first small forward who, with good NBA instruction, could become the third-best player on a championship team. His wingspan is only two inches longer than height, so he’s not exactly pulling down skyscrapers and blocking tons of shots, but he’s still a bigger wing with a smooth shooting stroke. He moves off screens and cuts well, too.
Problem is, he needs to play better defense. He can get a little spacey sometimes, not using his feet properly. Needs to be more active, more impactful, give just a little more about covering his man. If you kept him as-is offensively simply got him to a C+ or B- on defense, you’d have someone who flirt with an All-NBA team.
#13 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
LONNIE WALKER IV
I’m a big fan of Lonnie Walker. I like his aggressiveness, and his no-fear attitude. He can guard both the one and the two spots effectively, and is not the kind of guy who will die on a screen. A good shot creator, which might be the most valuable thing in the entire NBA. Was great for Miami.
Can get a little caught up, and will take too many midrange jumpers instead of driving hard to the hoop. Not a great passer, and a little too thin. He also had knee surgery in 2017, and though he seems to have fully recovered, people will be keeping an eye on that knee for the rest of his career.
#14 DENVER NUGGETS
Bridges is solid at everything, but not very good or great at anything. He lacks the athleticism of big-time wings and the reach of bigger power forwards, so he’s stuck in a weird no man’s land. Needs to work on his ball handling, and can have some trouble going to the hoop as a result.
His real value comes as a jack of all trades, doing all the glue-guy stuff that fills important cracks on contending teams. He’s not the kind of player that can carry a franchise, nor does he have the ceiling to be the second or third best player, but he’s the kind of player that you can’t win a title without. Think Andre Iguodala on the Warriors.
#15 WASHINGTON WIZARDS
#16 PHOENIX SUNS
Freshman/Small Forward/Texas Tech
#17 MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Junior/Point Guard/Boston College
#18 SAN ANTONIO SPURS
TROY BROWN JR
#19 ATLANTA HAWKS
#20 MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
#21 UTAH JAZZ
#22 CHICAGO BULLS
Senior/Shooting Guard/Boise State
#23 INDIANA PACERS
HS Senior/Shooting Guard/IMG Academy
#24 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
#25 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Overseas/Small Forward/Bosnia and Herzegonia
#26 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
#27 BOSTON CELTICS
#28 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
This is the only pick where I’m breaking my rule of who I think teams will actually choose. I just think Allen on the Warriors is funny.
#29 BROOKLYN NETS
Sophomore/Shooting Guard/Georgia Tech
#30 ATLANTA HAWKS
Senior Editor for The Ball Out: Hunter Bishop has been published over two hundred times on topics such basketball, television, and film. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, and is nearing the completion of his MFA in Stage and Screenwriting. He has written for Uproxx, Swish Appeal, TVOvermind, the award-winning local newspaper the Henry Herald, and many others.