The NBA draft is (finally) just days away! Ringer staffers joined The Bill Simmons Podcast on Monday to list which prospects they think will make up the top 14 picks on Thursday night.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
1. Phoenix Suns—Deandre Ayton, Arizona
Jonathan Tjarks: [Ayton] is like—imagine if Andre Drummond had a post-game and a 3-point shot. It’s a great player, but how is that gonna work on a team? I don’t know. … I would say [his] defensive IQ is not always there. He’s gonna be the 5 and he has a long way to go in terms of protecting the rim, reading the floor, and really putting in effort on defense, in general. I think it helps too, though, in Phoenix, playing with [Josh] Jackson and [Devin] Booker. That’ll make his life a lot easier on offense, at least.
2. Sacramento Kings—Luka Doncic, Real Madrid (Slovenia)
Riley McAtee: I want Doncic, 100 percent. I’m taking Doncic at two if it’s me. [With the Kings], it felt like, at times, [DeMarcus Cousins] was putting up empty stats. I don’t think that Doncic does that. He is a playmaker, he’s so creative, he’s so skilled, and I get that maybe the ‘wow’ factor of athleticism isn’t quite there like it is with some of these other guys [in the draft], but that guy just creates offense and makes things happen.
The Kings don’t have enough talent to be like, “Oh we’re gonna draft for fit now.” You just need to get the best person and then you’ll worry about the fit with [De’Aaron] Fox and Doncic later. Do you know who didn’t make that mistake, overthinking fit? The Sixers. They took all those centers, they took [Nerlens] Noel, and then they took [Joel] Embiid in the very next draft. ... The idea of just taking the no. 1 guy—the best guy—regardless of position and eventually waiting until you hit a superstar is the right move.
3. Atlanta Hawks—Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
Danny Chau: I think [Jackson] has real potential to be the best player in this draft. You look at this Hawks team, which is kind of building itself as this team of the future—they have [general manager] Travis Schlenk who was with the Warriors forever, he’s the guy whom they credit as the guy who found Draymond Green. They got [new head coach] Lloyd Pierce, the defensive coordinator for the Sixers last year. This is where you get your 3-and-D big man, the rarest commodity in the NBA right now. He’s 6-foot-11, has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, can switch out on the perimeter, [and] is probably as good at guarding guards as he is at rim protection, and I think he’s the best rim protector in this draft.
Ayton has been talking up the fact that he was playing out of position at Arizona—he played right next to a center and he had to switch out on the perimeter, but there wasn’t a lot of space for him to actually do what he can do—but you saw with Jaren Jackson, he kind of had the same situation. He was playing next to another lottery guy in Miles Bridges. He found a way to make it work. … He fits so much with everything that we’re seeing and everything that we’re going to see in the next three years in the NBA. It’s really easy to project him as a guy who makes a huge difference on any team he plays on.
4. Memphis Grizzlies—Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Chris Vernon: I am rooting for Marvin Bagley to be available at no. 4. He’s the best player in the draft. I don’t know what people need to see—the guy was getting like 30 and 20 against Virginia, and there are teams that couldn’t get 30 points against Virginia. At what point in his life have you ever watched a basketball game that featured Marvin Bagley and did not think, “That’s the best guy on the court”? That’s happened since he was, like, 10 years old!
I think his defensive missteps are overrated. He played with like five freshmen, [and] they played zone all the time, and people blame Bagley for him having to go to zone, I think that’s goofy. He plays with a motor, and you get a coach that can coach him up, I don’t think he’s an unwilling defender, and he’s certainly not athletically deficient. Coach K said, he’s been at Duke 38 years, and he’s had one other guy like Bagley, and it was Kyrie, and he got to play only  games.
5. Dallas Mavericks—Mo Bamba, Texas
Jason Gallagher: When you hang out with Kevin O’Connor long enough, he starts to try to convert you to his belief system, and he’s essentially convinced me that Mo Bamba’s the guy. Two weeks ago, I was pretty out on [Bamba], but [O’Connor’s] just been texting me every day little tidbits of Mo Bamba–ism: Longest wingspan in combine history, Jason, did you know that? He can finish around the rim. Baseline, he’s a defensive presence, but the upside is he’s a cornerstone. And it’s really gotten to me, and I’ve now converted to the church of Mo Bamba. I think that he’s probably the most conservative of the picks -- like every prospect has at least one downside, and for him, it seems like, at worst, he’s just gonna be a presence on defense. Which is great.
6. Orlando Magic—Trae Young, Oklahoma
Kevin Clark: I’m turning the card in early. You know those picks where they don’t even take the time on the clock; they just turn it in ’cause they’ve got their guy? [That’s] Trae Young. In a lot of mock drafts, it’s between Mo Bamba and Trae Young here. I don’t think it’s much of a decision. He’s what the Magic need. There are a lot of potential downsides to him, but I just think what the Magic need to get out of their six-year tailspin is scoring, excitement, and superstar potential, and that’s what Trae Young has. … I think that [new coach Steve] Clifford can scheme the defense into a point that it’s OK—the fact that [Young’s] a limited defender doesn’t worry me. I think that a Steve Clifford team can carry a Trae Young on defense.
7. Chicago Bulls—Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Robert Mays: I think I have to go with Michael Porter Jr., just because the upside is so tantalizing that it’s hard to ignore. Obviously, the risks are there in several different ways, but this is a team that is pretty much a blank slate in terms of their direction. They don’t have many building blocks—it’s not as if, well, he kind of overlaps with somebody else’s skill set. No. There’s so little to work with there that I think you just have to go for the guy that could be the biggest factor and have the biggest impact down the line, and I think with the guys that are still left, that’s him. … He’s the only guy remaining that you could take at seven, and he could end up being the best player from this draft.
The weaknesses and the downside people see in his game—the fact that the shot selection is erratic, he’s not a very good ball-handler in tight spaces, things like that—those are nitpicky. I think a high school kid that can drain from anywhere like he can is probably going to have a pretty terrible shot selection, so that I don’t mind. When he settles into the NBA, those things will kinda fade. In my mind, it’s more so the injury stuff and just overall his personality, it seems to grate on people—but the game itself, I’m very excited about. At seven, I think he’d be impossible to pass up.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers—Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Mark Titus: If LeBron leaves, Cleveland is gonna be put in a situation that these next five years are huge. I am very fearful, as an Ohioan, that the Cleveland Cavaliers will never be relevant again. I think they just gotta basically stop the bleeding for these next five years and take the guy that makes the most sense, the best player that’s probably available at this point in the draft, the best two-way wing in the draft, Mikal Bridges. So that is my pick.
My biggest flaw as an NBA GM whenever we do these sorts of things is I always like the guys who are good players now ... the guys that, I see how good you are right now, I need you on my team. [That’s] Mikal Bridges. [He was the] best player on Villanova. Jalen Brunson won National Player of the Year, [but] Jalen Brunson is not even the best player on his team—Mikal Bridges was definitely the best player on that team. ... I love everything about his game, I think he’s the best player at the no. 8 spot, so I think that’s what the Cavs have to do.
9. New York Knicks—Collin Sexton, Alabama
Jason Concepcion: Point guard has been a position of need for the Knicks since Rod Strickland, so [I’d] love to get a guy who competes at that position. Obviously, there are some downsides when you’re picking at [nine]—same as Frankie [Ntilikina, Sexton is] not a great shooter, questionable scoring skills, though he does draw a lot of fouls, which I like. I just don’t think you can have enough perimeter defenders in the league. If he is a poor-man’s Patrick Beverley, I like it.
I think, also, when looking at his stats, you have to realize he carried the load at Alabama—like, he did everything. So he took a lot of tough shots because he was taking all the shots, and he was the guy everybody keyed on. I’m bullish on him. As I said, need a point guard—who’s the point guard of the future? Is it Frank? Is it Sexton? Is it Mudiay? They need to take as many swings at point guard as they can.
10. Philadelphia 76ers—Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
Chris Ryan: So after years of rolling my eyes at Al Horford and all of Al Horford’s many advanced analytics poets in the NBA media, and then after watching Al Horford be the best player on the floor for a lot of the Eastern Conference playoffs, especially in the series against the Sixers, I am gonna draft the next Al Horford—Duke’s Wendell Carter.
You start having Carter passing off the nail, to like a cutting Ben Simmons, or a cutting [Markelle] Fultz, or [Joel] Embiid back-door. I like what he does immediately, and also, everything you read about him: sets the screens, good kid, does all this stuff, is defensively way further advanced than a lot of dudes in this draft.
11. Charlotte Hornets—Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Tate Frazier: At no. 11, I like Kevin Knox. I think [the Hornets are] gonna go back-to-back Wildcats with the Calipari kids and bring him in. I think, as you know, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, former no. 2 pick, hasn’t quite panned out—he’s had some injuries, some shoulder problems, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. They need a small forward, and I think Knox is a guy that they all seem to like. They worked him out, they were a little worried about his shooting—he shot 34 percent from 3 last year—but I think they buy into Kevin Knox and go for the 6-foot-9 guy and have Marvin Williams and MKG mature and make him grow up a little bit in his first year.
12. Los Angeles Clippers—Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Kevin O’Connor: We took Miles Bridges out of Michigan State. There was no debate between me and Isaac, was there, Isaac?
Isaac Lee: No, I mean, he’s a surefire pick. He’s not gonna be bad. You saw him in college—he’s a role player. He’s not gonna be a star necessarily, but he’ll be a good player maybe off the bench, maybe a fifth starter for a long time in the league.
O’Connor: And that’s as a baseline. He could become a really, really high-level player if his offense continues to develop because there are some things I don’t think he got to show within Michigan State’s system. But in the NBA, projecting ahead, maybe he develops go-to scoring abilities on top of what he already has—he’s a complementary, athletic spot-up shooter who attacks closeouts and can do a little bit off the dribble. There’s a lot of potential there.
13. Los Angeles Clippers—Troy Brown Jr., Oregon
O’Connor: So, at 13, Isaac and I debated this one—we got into a good argument over the phone. Isaac wanted Lonnie Walker IV, a Miami wing, and I wanted Troy Brown, a wing from Oregon. We ultimately went with Troy Brown. We have comps for him as Khris Middleton, Evan Turner, DeAndre’ Bembry, which isn’t the most impressive group; however, Brown’s a versatile defensive player who can also handle the ball. … He shot only 29 percent from 3 last year but 74 percent from the line, and he’s in the process of making some tweaks to his mechanics that seem to help. It’s not a great shot, but he has everything else—the playmaking, the vision, the body to defend multiple positions.
And for the Clippers with that pick, I think you’re getting a guy who can plug into whatever type of system you’re running moving forward with his versatility, and then if his shot does start to click, which I think it can, then you get a really, really, really good player on your hands.
Lee: He can play great defense for you, he hustles hard, he’ll play lockdown defense on the perimeter. He needs to bulk up a little bit, but he can potentially defend in the post.
14. Denver Nuggets—Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
Lee (by proxy for Haley O’Shaughnessy): [Haley] took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Kentucky.
O’Connor: Doesn’t hurt to add another guard on top of everything else they already have. … He is a defender, and that adds a nice mix [to the group] … and he has great passing vision. He doesn’t have that elite first step, he doesn’t have that burst, so I’m not sure he can be your only playmaker on the court. You need others on him, which is why having Jamal Murray alongside him, having a Gary Harris, having a Nikola Jokic, the best passing center in basketball, that’s what I think is a really, really smart, good fit for him, so I like Haley’s pick.