The 2018 NBA draft is upon us, and it’s time to learn everything about the players who are about to be selected. This year’s top prospects made that task easier by almost universally deciding to leave college after one season, giving us roughly 30 games’ worth of highlights to sift through. Each guy’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential applications are detailed extensively in The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide.
For those really in a crunch, though, I’ve gone through the top 11 prospects in our latest mock and identified one play that feels emblematic of each player’s skill set. This cribs from a concept that my colleague Danny Kelly used in the lead-up to the NFL draft. I was going to limit this list to the top 10, but that would have excluded Collin Sexton, which felt blasphemous for a post based on highlights.
Ayton is the whole package. He’s one of the most impressive physical specimens to enter the draft in years, and more impressively, the 7-foot-1 center features plenty of finesse. He’s skilled around the rim, he displayed 3-point range in college, and he can make useful, nifty passes. He’s worthy of the no. 1 pick despite being a hulking big in an era defined by perimeter players.
No clip of the big Bahamian dunking adequately showcases all that he has to offer. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to pick a video of him dunking.
I love that this clip is shot from floor level, offering a close-up view at how much taller, faster, and stronger Ayton is than everyone he went against during his lone season at Arizona. He looks like he could jump over a house and rip it apart with his bare hands. He’s basically the jacked kangaroo. Still, it’s his agility that allows him to slide past these two UNLV defenders to the rim, where he slams the ball home with immense power. Fun fact: The famous Barringer Crater in northern Arizona was created by an Ayton dunk.
Marvin Bagley III
While Ayton’s athleticism is revealed through his strength, Bagley’s manifests itself through his explosiveness. The 6-foot-11 234-pounder can speed to the basket in the open court or off a pick-and-roll. This clip from the second half of an all-important North Carolina–Duke rivalry game shows just how springy he can be:
Yes, Bagley misses a contested layup, but that prompts him to display his legendary second jump, as he rises to grab his own miss and then dunks while the players around him stand and watch. The whole sequence is so smooth and unguardable that it looks like Bagley’s first miss was planned. Bagley isn’t the highest jumper in the draft — at his height, that would be unfair — but he might be the quickest, allowing him to beat opponents to rebounds and lob passes, and swat shots that initially seem open.
I’m going to try to write this without getting too excited about Luka — my increasingly large Slavic son Luka — whom I firmly believe is already a top-five-caliber passer in the NBA. He’s murder in the pick-and-roll, capable of hitting the roll man effortlessly — or, as in this clip, skipping the roll man and whipping a perfect pass to a shooter in the corner. Most point guards wouldn’t even think about making this cross-court pass; Luka completes it as a matter of routine.
Luke Doncic is a stud. Few NBA vets can make this cross-court pass with pinpoint accuracy, yet he's only 18 and does it routinely. Amazing. pic.twitter.com/Z1ozELFLBm— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) September 4, 2017
Doncic also shoots well enough to demand defenders’ attention and, by the way, he’s 6-foot-8. However, it’s his brilliant passing ability that is already professional level. Maybe that’s because he’s already been a professional, who was named MVP of EuroBasket and the Spanish league with Real Madrid this year. I believe that Luka is the best player in this draft — then again, I also believed that Anthony Randolph would be an NBA star, and he’s recently played with Doncic on Real Madrid and for the Slovenian national team instead of sticking in the NBA.
Michael Porter Jr.
Porter’s appeal is obvious: He’s 6-foot-11 with decent athleticism and a silky 3-point touch. But he, uh, didn’t play much basketball in the past year, as he suffered an injury in the opening minutes of Missouri’s season that kept him out until the SEC and NCAA tournaments, in which he was ineffective. So we’re going to settle for this video of Porter drilling 3s in practice:
Michael Porter Jr. hasn't skipped a beat - he drilled 15 straight 3's in practice. pic.twitter.com/G0kFGuBJl4— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 8, 2018
His shot looks so effortless. If any NBA team decides to defend Porter with a pile of logs, a few carefully arranged chairs, or a promotional cutout of its best player, he’d be sure to go off. It would be really cool if somebody this tall could shoot this effectively in a high-level game, but for now Porter’s best highlight is him hitting a bunch of uncontested shots in practice.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson stands 6-foot-11 — is everybody in this draft 6-foot-11? — and perhaps his most impressive trait is his perimeter defending ability. Here, a 6-foot-4 Illinois player thinks he can beat Jackson in isolation, only to learn just how long Jackson’s arms are:
Jaren Jackson Jr. blocks his 100th shot of the season, becoming the second freshman in NCAAB history to block at least 100 shots and make at least 35 threes. pic.twitter.com/Xz1LnRKaeh— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) February 21, 2018
Look at how the guard tries to shake Jackson — first by driving from the wing to the hoop, then by heading toward the top of the key, then by flipping into reverse and going back to the hoop. He covers about 40 feet, but Jackson’s mobility allows him to hang. And then Jackson’s timing and 7-foot-5 wingspan allows him to block the shot.
Many NBA defenses rely heavily on switching. A player like Jackson who can effectively guard all five positions could be a huge difference-maker.
Oh, were we talking wingspan? MEET LA BAMBA:
Bamba’s greatest asset is his shot-blocking ability. (Jackson finished fourth in college basketball in block rate last season, while Bamba finished fifth.) As such, it might seem strange that I’m going with an offensive play as his representative highlight. But that shot-blocking ability stems from Bamba having the largest measured wingspan (7-foot-10) and standing reach (9-foot-7.5) in the history of the NBA draft combine. And look at how damn high Bamba gets in this clip! He’s tickling clouds.
People used to say that players with incredible leaping ability could grab a dollar off the top of the backboard and hang up there long enough to get change, but that doesn’t quite capture the majesty of Bamba’s length. Plus, who carries cash these days? Bamba could grab an iPhone off the top of the backboard, download Venmo (even with the shoddy Wi-Fi in many arenas), sort through all the users who have the same name as the person he’s trying to pay, and add a witty emoji to explain why he’s paying.
Knox is a rangy wing. He’s also the Occam’s razor of scorers, perpetually capable of getting to the rim and finishing in the simplest possible way. Here he is catching the ball a few feet behind the 3-point arc and getting to the rim with just one dribble:
Knox is also really young — he’s one of two 18-year-olds projected to go in the lottery. Expect him to add to an offensive repertoire that already appears quite natural.
Wendell Carter Jr.
Carter is less explosive than Bagley, whom he played alongside at Duke. Yet while Carter isn’t a spectacular athlete, he displays a range of skills and an understanding of the game that most young bigs lack. In this clip (from a different Carolina-Duke game than the earlier Bagley clip), Carter gets the ball at the top of the key and finds Bagley with a perfectly lofted pass:
Carter’s passing is emblematic of his unusually polished game. He also shot better than 40 percent from 3 in college (albeit on limited attempts) and seems to always know where he’s supposed to be on the floor.
Young is coming off one of the most impressive freshman seasons in college basketball history, becoming the first player to lead Division I in both scoring (27.4 points per game) and assists (8.7) in the same season. He had to do it all for Oklahoma — like against TCU, when he knocked down 10 3s in a 102–97 win in January:
TRAE. YOUNG.— College Town™ (@CollegeT0wn) January 13, 2018
#9 Oklahoma downs #16 TCU in Norman pic.twitter.com/WtAEozO0K8
He’s got Steph Curry vibes, both as an inventive passer and dribbler from the point guard spot, and also in his willingness to take (and make) 3s at unconventional moments. Regardless of how closely a defender is guarding him or how improbable the shot, Young will pull up and launch.
His ability to dominate in college was sapped after opposing teams realized that the Sooners lacked any other competent offensive options, clamping down on Young as a result. He’s great as a team’s lone star, and might be even more effective with the benefit of NBA-level teammates who can prevent opponents from focusing all of their defensive efforts on him.
Bridges has been hyped as the prototype 3-and-D player, and he filled that role at Villanova. He relied on his wingspan to lock down perimeter scorers, and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc during his time on campus. Both of those role-player skills are immensely valuable in the NBA.
But I see 3-and-D specialist as Bridges’s floor. I wonder whether his ceiling looks more like this:
BLAOWWWWWW. It might seem odd hyping Bridges’s upside, considering he’s the only non-freshman, non-international in our draft guide’s top 10. He’ll turn 22 in August. But he has also consistently developed throughout his career: He redshirted during his first year at Nova because he was too skinny and couldn’t shoot; he played a minimal role on a national championship team in 2015–16; and he ultimately became a critical cog in the best offense in college basketball history. I think he can be more than just a role player.
No clip seems more emblematic of a player in this year’s draft than this one from Alabama’s November game against Minnesota, better known as the night that Sexton almost beat a ranked opponent playing three-on-five. After a mini-brawl broke out, all but five players on the Crimson Tide were ejected, and a subsequent foul out forced the Tide to go against the Golden Gophers shorthanded. Then one of the remaining four players got injured, necessitating that Bama play the final 10 minutes of the game down two men.
Sexton didn’t view this as an obstacle, but as a challenge. Minnesota led 65-54 at the time Alabama’s roster was cut to three. Sexton proceeded to go off, trimming the deficit to 83-80 before his ferocious comeback attempt fell short.
Sexton can score, no matter the situation — even if the other team goes on some sort of weird basketball power play, he’s going to get buckets.