Welcome to the second edition of The Ringer’s 2018 NBA Lottery Mock Draft, as selected by our three resident NBA draftniks: Kevin O’Connor, Danny Chau, and Jonathan Tjarks. Our 2018 NBA Draft Guide will drop later in the year, but with NCAA conference play underway, here is an early look at the prospects who would fit best with the teams currently slated to enter the NBA lottery.
(Team draft order is current as of January 9. Team needs have been factored into each pick.)
1. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic
Small forward, Real Madrid/Slovenia (6-foot-8, 228 pounds, 18 years old)
Danny Chau: The natural ebb and flow of interest in the hyped international NBA prospect usually see a sharp recession around this time of year. As the NCAA season enters conference play, we tend to zone out any player outside the convenient confines of college. But this isn’t a typical draft year, and Luka Doncic has only bolstered his bona fides. He is averaging 18 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and a steal in just over 26 minutes per game for Real Madrid in EuroLeague play. He has a remarkable 55.7 effective field goal percentage in the 31 games he’s played across all leagues this season.
He’s still an 18-year-old. The more I watch him, the more I wonder if he’s Brandon Roy retrofitted to the modern game—his immaculate offensive instincts have erased concerns about his athleticism in my eyes. There is not a single team that couldn’t use another big, sharpshooting playmaker at a perimeter position. The Hawks are doing their damndest to secure the honor.
2. Orlando Magic: Trae Young
Point guard, Oklahoma, freshman (6-foot-2, 180 pounds, 19 years old)
Jonathan Tjarks: This might be too high for Young, who has shot up draft boards over the last few months. This pick is more about Orlando, which has been mired in a never-ending rebuilding effort and may not have the patience to wait four or five more years on a raw 7-footer to grow into his body. Young’s ability to bomb 30-foot shots off the dribble should at least give fans a reason to go to games next year. The Steph Curry comparisons are inevitable, but even Steph wasn’t Steph at 19. Undersized point guards aren’t usually one-and-done players: Steph stayed three years in school and C.J. McCollum stayed for four. We are in uncharted territory with Young.
3. Memphis Grizzlies: Marvin Bagley III
Power forward/center, Duke, freshman (6-foot-11, 234 pounds, 18 years old)
Kevin O’Connor: Bagley would’ve been labeled a “tweener” had he entered the league a decade ago. He’s so lean that he’s not much of a rim protector or post defender, and while he’s flashed the quickness necessary to shut down the perimeter, his fundamentals leave a lot to be desired. Too often he stands upright or lacks footwork efficiency sliding against an attacking opponent. The “tweener” term is a thing of the past, but the concerns associated with the label still loom. Bagley’s defensive upside is obvious. He’s an elite athlete who can switch, and he rebounds at an outrageous level. But he needs to fall into the right situation to put it all together.
Perhaps that’s on a team like the Grizzlies, which will be trying to win games next season if they keep Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Bagley would certainly complement his teammates well as a potentially elite at-rim finisher. The Duke product needs to start utilizing his off hand more frequently, but the tools are there for him to be a menace inside. Playing alongside a shooting and playmaking big like Gasol would afford Bagley the time to develop his shot. He’s hit 34.5 percent of his 3s so far in college, but he struggles from the line and wasn’t as potent shooting at lower levels. But, again, his upside is obvious. It’s not often freakish 18-year-olds with skill, touch, and a motor come around.
4. Boston Celtics (via Lakers): Deandre Ayton
Center, Arizona, freshman (7-foot-1, 250 pounds, 19 years old)
Chau: What do you give the team that has everything? How about a player who has the same physiological profile as Optimus Prime. Ayton is massive enough to serve as a landbridge between the old and new ways of the league: When he’s engaged, there isn’t a player in the country that can deny him deep position around the rim; when he’s feeling himself, his 3-point shot is nearly unblockable. Should Ayton land in Boston, he’d be the Celtics’ most physically gifted full-time center since Robert Parish.
But as Tjarks explained in early December, there are serious concerns about his ability as a rim protector and as an overall plus on defense at the NBA level—which simply should not be a worry for a player with his size and length. A struggling team hoping for the total package from Day 1 might be sorely disappointed. But for a championship contender that might be delivered manna from heaven in the form of a high lotto pick? Patiently developing Ayton’s cross-generational talents could serve as the key to unlocking a new Celtics dynasty. What a terrifying reality we live in.
5. Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba
Center, Texas, freshman (6-foot-11, 225 pounds, 19 years old)
Tjarks: Much like last year, when Dennis Smith Jr. fell to them at no. 9, the Mavs could sit back and have the perfect fit for their system land in their laps. Bamba is the player Nerlens Noel was supposed to be in Dallas, except he’s significantly longer, has a much higher offensive upside, and should (hopefully) mesh better with Rick Carlisle. Make no mistake, though: This is a long-term play. Smith will be 21 next season; Bamba will be 20. A team dependent on such young cornerstones is going to be bad for a while. Even in the best-case scenario this pick would represent, the rebuilding effort in Dallas is closer to the beginning than the end.
6. Sacramento Kings: Michael Porter Jr.
Forward, Missouri, freshman (6-foot-10, 215 pounds, 19 years old)
O’Connor: Porter was the fourth pick the last time we did a mock draft because of his shot-making upside at the forward spot. The reason he’s slipped to sixth has nothing to do with his performance, because he hasn’t stepped on the floor since November 10, when he played two minutes in his Missouri debut before getting pulled. Later that month, he had spinal surgery that could sideline him for the entire season. It’s been a missed opportunity for Porter to improve areas of need against higher-quality competition than what he faced at Nathan Hale High School. Most notably: his ball-handling ability, which would enhance his go-to scoring potential at the NBA level. Instead, Porter will need to answer questions about his medical outlook. Porter has the ideal size of a versatile forward and the potential to become a star scorer, but availability is the best ability.
7. Chicago Bulls: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Power forward/center, Michigan St., freshman (6-foot-11, 242 pounds, 18 years old)
Chau: Jaren Jackson Jr. is a rare big man who needs no astral projection to see into his 3-and-D future. He’s already proficient in both areas. Jackson is shooting 43.5 percent from 3 on 2.7 attempts per game (which, in fairness, was fortified by a 5-of-6 outing against Maryland), and his 14 percent block rate is second behind only Bamba among projected lottery talents.
His skills suggest top-five potential, though he doesn’t appear to have the instincts of a high-level creator, either for himself or others. His upside might not be that of Bagley’s or Ayton’s, but there is a serious demand for players of his ilk, even if his role never expands beyond what it is now. In theory, he combines the two halves of Serge Ibaka’s career into a single player—the first five seasons as a shot-blocking dynamo, and the past four as a dependable long-range threat who plays solid position defense. He’s the perfect player for the Bulls as they begin to consolidate their frontline of the future, which is almost completely devoid of rim protection.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets): Mikal Bridges
Small forward, Villanova, junior (6-foot-7, 210 pounds, 21 years old)
O’Connor: Mikal Bridges was a part-time player as a freshman on Villanova’s 2015-16 championship roster. Two years later, he’s the leader of a no. 1 ranked Villanova team with title hopes. Bridges developed into an ace 3-point shooter and is arguably college basketball’s best perimeter defender. With a two-way skill-set, Bridges could help any NBA team immediately. Bridges is a safe bet for the Cavs whether LeBron James stays in Cleveland or not. He’s the kind of 3-and-D swingman that the current Cavs would kill for, and in a potentially LeBron-less future, he’s the kind of player that would serve as a significant building block. We’ve already seen how Bridges has expanded his game after being pushed into larger roles.
9. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton
Point guard, Alabama, freshman (6-foot-3, 190 pounds, 19 years old)
Tjarks: The Suns need a point guard of the future after their messy divorce with Eric Bledsoe, and Tyler Ulis isn’t that guy. Sexton was more highly regarded than Young in high school, and he’s had a strong freshman season in his own right at Alabama. Sexton is an extremely athletic guard who lives at the rim at the college level and is currently shooting 38.8 percent from 3; he could develop into a high-level two-way floor general. Circle Alabama’s game with Oklahoma on January 27 on the calendar, when Sexton has the chance to make a statement on the national stage against the biggest star of the season in Young.
The bigger issue for the Suns is whether their fans have the patience to wait for a 19-year-old point guard to acclimate himself to the NBA level. This is a team that may seek to trade out of the lottery to accelerate a rebuilding process that has been stuck in neutral, if not in reverse.
10. Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges
Power forward, Michigan State, sophomore (6-foot-7, 225 pounds, 19 years old)
Chau: Who could’ve predicted that Miles Bridges would (1) not be the first Spartan off the board in most mock drafts or (2) not even be the first Bridges? The second-year star is still a wrecking ball of a physical specimen, but questions about his NBA position have still not been adequately answered; if anything, they’ve been muddied even further.
After spending much of his time playing as a 4 last season, Bridges has shifted primarily to the 3 with the arrival of Jackson. He’s been able to show off his ability to facilitate in motion from the power wing position, and while his 3-point accuracy has dropped off since his freshman year, he’s still shooting well enough for his spot-up shooting to be considered a weapon (and not a fluke). He’s got enough strength and quickness to guard almost every position on the floor, but his explosiveness is expressed in two-footed jumps, which needs time to generate propulsion. Those extra beats could handicap his success at either the 3 or 4 in the NBA, where having quick leaping ability is a premium. Still, Bridges is a smart, versatile talent who may well be a steal at no. 10. The Hornets aren’t in any position not to swing for a high-upside player with a few NBA-ready skills.
11. Utah Jazz: Kevin Knox
Power forward, Kentucky, freshman (6-foot-9, 215 pounds, 18 years old)
Tjarks: The Jazz will be looking to continue their magic in the late lottery from last season, when they hit the jackpot by trading up to obtain Donovan Mitchell. Most of the sure-fire picks are off the board at this point, but that shouldn’t scare a front office with a proven eye for talent. Knox is a role of the dice: an inconsistent shooter who is playing out of position on the wing on a Kentucky team with too much size and not enough 3-point shooting. His situation in college actually mirrors former Jazz forward Trey Lyles’s under John Calipari, though that may not excite Utah fans much. Don’t be surprised if the Jazz swing for the fences on a player no one is talking about, at least not yet.
12. Los Angeles Clippers: Shake Milton
Point guard, SMU, junior (6-foot-5, 195 pounds, 21 years old)
O’Connor: It’ll be interesting to see how Milton’s career shakes out in the NBA. Some teams might try to develop him as a point guard, which is his role for SMU. But I’m more interested in a path that puts him into an offense with multiple ball handlers, where playmaking responsibilities are more democratic. Teams like the Warriors and Celtics come to mind. The Clippers also want to build a ball-movement-based brand of basketball, which could make Milton a fit. He’s a reliable 3-point shooter and a multipositional defender, and he can run some point. Concerns about his athleticism might keep him out of the lottery, but teams may grow enamored with his savvy and versatility.
13. New York Knicks: Troy Brown
Shooting guard, Oregon, freshman (6-foot-7, 215 pounds, 18 years old)
Chau: Oregon’s been disappointing early in conference play, but freshman Troy Brown has looked good over the past month, averaging 12.9 points (on 45.7 percent shooting, 39.3 from 3), 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.4 steals per game since December began.
A lot of Brown’s pros and cons overlap with the Knicks’ point guard of the future in Frank Ntilikina: Brown is a smart, jack-of-all-trades type of 3-and-D guard with good creative instincts but a noticeable lack of high-end athleticism. Ntilikina was one of the youngest players in the 2017 draft, and Brown will be one of the youngest in this year’s—and the best thing you could say about either of them is how mature their games are. Loading up on interchangeable players who play a fundamentally sound brand of basketball isn’t the worst way to build up a franchise led by a unicorn.
14. Philadelphia 76ers: Rawle Alkins
Shooting guard, Arizona, sophomore (6-foot-5, 220 pounds, 20 years old)
Tjarks: Philadelphia is another team without a pressing need for more youth, but this may be the last opportunity for it to get a quality player on a cost-controlled contract before its salary cap explodes with extensions for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Alkins is one of my favorite players in this draft: He’s a well-rounded guard with a good feel for the game and an NBA-ready frame who can defend multiple positions. The question for Alkins, like for any perimeter player these days, is whether he can polish his outside shot enough to be a consistent off-ball threat. He’s a career 36.3 percent shooter from 3 and 74.3 percent shooter from the free throw line, and those are two numbers scouts will be watching closely all season.