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The 2018 NBA Draft Has the Potential for Chaos

Every draft brings a level of uncertainty—but not usually this much. With the first round mere hours away, it’s time to unpack the latest rumors, analysis, and intel from executives and agents around the league.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The 2018 NBA draft is starting to look a lot like a Bruce Lee quote: formless, shapeless, mind-emptying in all the ways it could shake out. There is a seemingly endless list of teams interested in trading up or down, and in or out. The possibility of seismic movement within the draft has instilled a sense of uncertainty that isn’t typical this close to the draft, according to the executives and agents I’ve talked to this week. Rumors are normal this time of year, but this seems extreme. Here’s what I’m hearing, and what’s on my mind, with hours to go until the 2018 NBA draft.

A Wonder Boy Fit to Be King?

I get that Luka Doncic isn’t an elite athlete. I get that Luka Doncic still needs to develop his jumper. I get that Luka Doncic wants to buy a tiger. I get that Luka Doncic is an inconsistent defender. I get that Luka Doncic sucks at parking his car. I get that Luka Doncic can get overly emotional on the court when he’s struggling. I get that Luka Doncic isn’t a perfect prospect. No prospect is perfect when he enters the NBA.

As Doncic’s draft stock has seemingly slipped in recent weeks, it seems so much of the focus has been on his limitations and not on his uniquely supreme strengths. Doncic is an elite passer who whips sexy Manu Ginobili–style overhead passes across the court with accuracy. He runs pick-and-rolls the same way David Gilmour commands a guitar—with precision, feel, and flow. But then sometimes, he’ll toss in some style:

Doncic competes. He fights on the boards. He has swagger. He has a knack for coming through in clutch moments with big-time shots. Did you see him hit daggers as he led Real Madrid to championships in the EuroLeague, and then the ACB? (He won EuroLeague and ACB, too!)

This is a classic NBA 2K shot, when you hit the floater button behind the 3-point line accidentally, but it somehow goes in anyway. Thanks to his touch, he has a catalog of these types of miraculous shots. Doncic does it all; he’s as skilled as a teenager can be. Oh, that’s right: Doncic only just turned 19. Sheesh.

If the Kings pass on Doncic for Duke big Marvin Bagley III, who doesn’t defend or pass well and has a questionable jumper, or for Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr., who underwent back surgery less than a year ago and thinks it’s an honor to have compared himself to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady, it could go down as an all-time blunder. I like Bagley and Porter as prospects. Bagley can rebound and get buckets inside. Porter can theoretically serve as a go-to scorer. But neither is on par with Doncic, a transformative playmaker who is at worst a Hedo Turkoglu–type of player, and at best a jumbo-size version of Ginobili with a sprinkle of James Harden.

Kings fans badly want Doncic. Kings Reddit has transformed into a Doncic cult. I’m convinced Riley McAtee, our resident Kings fan at The Ringer, hasn’t slept all week because Sacramento’s indecision is keeping him up at night. I don’t think any franchise should care what the fans want, what any TV pundits or podcast hosts say, or what other teams might think. If Sacramento wants Bagley or Porter, go for it. But it doesn’t hurt that Kings fans almost universally approve of Doncic. The whole franchise needs a win. Doncic will rule Sacramento if the Kings front office learns to trust the prophecy as much as the fans do.

The Hawks Could Be in Pole Position

If the Kings do pass on Doncic and select Bagley or Porter, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk’s phone will be buzzing. Atlanta owns the no. 3 pick, and the Mavericks, Magic, Bulls, Knicks, and Clippers have all expressed interest in moving up to select Doncic (or possibly Texas center Mo Bamba), according to league sources. All five of those teams, plus the Nuggets, have also been pursuing the no. 4 pick, per Draft Express’s Jonathan Givony. Boston, who’s been seen as a dark horse to trade up, isn’t considered a serious suitor for either pick at this time.

If Atlanta were to trade down, its intentions would likely be to select Oklahoma guard Trae Young or Michigan State big Jaren Jackson Jr., while Memphis has interest in Duke big Wendell Carter Jr. The Grizzlies were unable to work out or obtain medical information from Bamba and Jackson, but Carter impressed at his workout with the team earlier this month. As Givony reported, Memphis would dump Chandler Parsons in any deal involving the fourth pick. Parsons has two years and $49.2 million left on his doozy of a deal.

Will the Draft Board Fall in Cleveland’s Favor?

The Cavaliers will be in an enviable position with the no. 8 pick if either Porter or Carter slips to their choice. The Clippers like both Bamba and Porter, and are armed with picks no. 12 and no. 13. It’s conceivable they’d push aggressively for no. 8 if that’s how the board falls.

Cleveland likes Porter, Carter, and two point guards: Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Sexton is considered the favorite to go at no. 8, but it’s conceivable that he would be available at no. 12, so a trade down could also make sense for the Cavs.

Regarding LeBron James, who famously said Shabazz Napier was his favorite player in the 2014 draft: All indications are that his impending free agency won’t dictate the Cavs’ decision on draft night.

Take Note of This Jaren Jackson Jr. Statistic

I recently tweeted this:

Draft Twitter, which has an unparalleled love for Jackson, didn’t respond too kindly. But the tweet wasn’t meant as a knock against Jackson. It was meant to set a baseline of expectations.

Jackson has a 7-foot-5 wingspan with a frame capable of adding muscle. The 18-year-old blocks shots with both hands and moves quicker laterally than any big in the draft. There’s a chance he ends up being the best defender in the whole class. But he also fouls a lot by reaching at shooters instead of picking his spots as a shot blocker. As we’ve seen in recent years with Karl-Anthony Towns, who was also projected to be an elite defender, that can be a tough habit to break.

Jackson reacts emotionally when whistled for fouls; he can often be seen jumping up and down, yelling at the rim, or throwing his arms up in the air. A lot of that can be chalked up to youth, but the quicker he learns to channel his energy, the better his prospects will be moving forward. If he can learn to defend without fouling and rebound more consistently, then Jackson has the upside to be a premier NBA defender for a long time. It’ll take a while to get there, though.

Time to Buy the Kevin Knox Stock

Every May or June, I enter a reevaluation process with prospects. I go back to see what I missed, overvalued, or undervalued. This year, I realized that I had originally ranked Kentucky forward Kevin Knox too low. It seems NBA teams came to the same conclusion. Knox was originally projected to go in the mid-first round, which is where I had him ranked, too. Now, his range is from no. 7 to no. 11, with the Bulls (no. 7) and Knicks (no. 9) having the most interest.

Knox rose up draft boards because he’s a fluid, athletic 6-foot-9 scorer with dynamic offensive talent at only 18 years old. He needs to continue to extend his range, play more consistently on defense, and improve his passing vision, but it’s hard to go wrong with a player at his size and age who can create shots off the dribble and hit tough contested shots from all over the floor.

Expect the Knicks to select Knox with the no. 9 pick, should he be available. I’ve heard their interest in Villanova wing Mikal Bridges isn’t nearly as high as has been previously reported. It’s more probable that the Sixers select Bridges at no. 10, though they also have interest in Knox and Michigan State forward Miles Bridges.

Jerome Robinson Is Rising Fast

Boston College guard Jerome Robinson was viewed as a likely second-round prospect after declaring for the draft. After shining in workouts over the past month, though, he’s now expected to go in the middle of the first round. The Clippers and Bucks, among other teams, have expressed interest in selecting Robinson, according to league sources. Most executives believe the Clippers will take Robinson with one of their back-to-back firsts. So what explains his rise?

Robinson is a 6-foot-5 bucket-getter in the mold of Jamal Crawford who averaged 20.7 points with a 60.8 true shooting percentage as a junior at Boston College. That, despite being surrounded by ineffective teammates who forced him into a role he may not fill in the NBA. Robinson is a score-first guard, but teams sense that he has more passing skill than he was able to show in college. It can be hard to demonstrate the full breadth of your skills when all your team needs you to do is score, and your teammates can’t take advantage of the opportunities you’ve provided. There will be more room to showcase the diversity of his skills in the NBA. Teams can use Robinson off of screens, in the pick-and-roll, and in isolations.

Robinson still hasn’t cracked my top 20. I worry about his poor defense and struggles finishing around the rim. But his shot-creation ability is enticing.

If Robert Williams Falls, Consider Him a Steal

Williams shared the frontcourt at Texas A&M with Tyler Davis, a nonshooting center. That meant Williams was stuck playing power forward, something he won’t do much of in the NBA. Texas A&M also rarely ran any pick-and-rolls for Williams, which seems flat-out silly in retrospect. Williams is a super-athletic center best suited to play the Clint Capela role, with four shooters surrounding him. He’ll throw down lobs when he’s rolling through the lane, and he’s routinely available for dump-offs as guards attack.

He can pass a little bit, too, unlike DeAndre Jordan, and he’s more developed than Capela was when he entered the NBA—a byproduct of his tremendous mobility and leaping ability, which allows him to both slide with guards and protect the rim. But Williams is undisciplined on defense, and his motor runs cold too often. Getting him to play hard for 82 games and then the playoffs might require constant motivation, as if he has a metal wind-up device in his back that needs to be turned before every game, practice, or even quarter. That process can get tiresome for coaches, and I’m not sure he’s worth it.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether Williams is being underrated through this whole process, given his athleticism at the 5. If he lands in the right situation, a team could get a steal in the mid-first round.

The Literal Value of a 3-and-D Prospect

I’ve been told that early second-round selections won’t be sold for less than $3 million (the maximum is $5.1 million). That’s not a steep price, considering the plethora of wings and forwards who could be available to potentially hit spot-up 3s and defend multiple positions.

Many 3-and-D players are projected to go between the late first and mid-second round. In the late first, there’s Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Chandler Hutchison (Boise State), Bruce Brown (Miami), and Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State). And in the early second, there’s Melvin Frazier (Tulane), Rawle Alkins (Arizona), Devon Hall (Virginia), and Vince Edwards (Purdue).

The Warriors are reportedly looking to add an early second-round pick, and Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that they may be willing to pay up to $5.1 million to acquire it. That would represent a premium, but 3-and-D wings are typically hard to find. The teams that hit the jackpot this year will come away with an important, cost-effective role player who can help their roster for years to come.

Loose Notes

  • Word on the street is that if the Mavericks can’t trade up for Doncic, the man they like most is Bamba.
  • The Cavaliers have showed interest in Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, as Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon reported this week. League sources confirmed that, and also said that Charlotte was listening to offers. However, those rumblings have been quiet since the team agreed to trade Dwight Howard to the Nets on Wednesday. My sense is that Walker will remain with the Hornets, though a stellar offer could change that in a heartbeat.
  • Don’t be surprised if the Clippers select Miami wing Lonnie Walker IV with the no. 12 or 13 pick only to deal him to the Hawks, who have deeper interest in the conspiracy theory enthusiast.
  • The Bucks are pursuing trades using the no. 17 pick to dump point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who has two years and $19.2 million remaining on his contract, according to league sources. Milwaukee, however, is only looking to trade down in the draft, not to use a deal as an outright salary dump.
  • The Timberwolves have strong interest in Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo at no. 20. I hope DiVincenzo is ready to play 35 minutes per game.
  • League executives have long believed the Bulls were the team that promised it would pick Boise State shooting guard Chandler Hutchison, who shut down workouts the week of the NBA combine. That sentiment hasn’t changed. It has only strengthened.
  • Chicago has also been active in lottery trade talks and could move up from no. 7, as mentioned above. Multiple sources have said that the Bulls could be looking to add a second lottery pick, too. The Sixers’ no. 10 selection was floated as a possibility.
  • IMG Academy shooting guard Anfernee Simons has drawn interest from the Blazers and Lakers, who own back-to-back picks in the late first round.
  • Expect TCU forward Kenrich Williams to be drafted toward the top or middle of the second round.
  • League executives believe that teams have made promises to three different second-round prospects: Kentucky small forward Jarred Vanderbilt, Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs, and Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham.

Enjoy the draft. This whole process is a blast. Thank you for following along and reading our Draft Guide.