The doldrums of the NBA’s endless summer are here, and our minds can’t help but wander. With most of the NBA’s deals signed, sealed, and delivered, and a frenzied Las Vegas summer league in the rearview, this might be a perfect time to reassess the NBA draft decisions made only a month ago. That’s right, it’s time for our resident draftniks Jonathan Tjarks and Kevin O’Connor to redraft the 2018 lottery based solely on summer overreactions. Tjarks, you’re on the clock.
1. Phoenix Suns: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jonathan Tjarks: I thought Jackson was the best big man in this draft before summer league, and nothing that happened during the last two weeks has changed that. He’s an 18-year-old with every physical tool and is an already good defender who shot 14-of-28 (50 percent) from 3 in eight games. It’s possible that he’s a better 3-point shooter than Luka Doncic! And while I still love Luka, I’m really feeling the idea of surrounding Devin Booker with volume 3-point shooters after watching Mikal Bridges play for the Suns’ summer league team. Like, what if you could put Jackson and Bridges around Booker, and then put together a trade package for C.J. McCollum? A team where four different players are taking seven or eight 3s a game seems worth trying.
Kevin O’Connor: Maybe someday we’ll wonder whether the Suns would’ve been better off trading down in the 2018 draft to pick up additional assets and select Jackson rather than sticking at no. 1 to pick Deandre Ayton. The big Bahamian is still my top-ranked big man, but Jackson is also really good. Jackson shot the lights out from 3 and flashed his elite defensive potential for the Grizzlies this summer while looking more ready to compete than expected for an incredibly raw 18-year-old. We debated Ayton vs. Jackson plenty before the draft, so nothing has changed there for us. What I’m curious about is what factored into bumping Jackson ahead of Doncic, who you raved about in articles and on podcasts as the no. 1 prospect.
Tjarks: Nothing, really. This is just more interesting content. I still think Luka is going to be awesome, and I’m excited to see what he will do in Dallas. Pairing Jackson with Booker seems like a cool idea, especially considering how many other ball handlers Phoenix has on its roster. The Suns have a lot of mouths to feed on the perimeter. Jackson might be a better fit than Doncic on a team that already has Booker, Brandon Knight, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Elie Okobo, and Mikal Bridges. Now that I’ve shaken up the board, who are you going with at no. 2?
2. Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic
O’Connor: Not Marvin Bagley III. This is a chance for us to right a wrong. The pick should’ve been Doncic on draft night, and today, it will be. Doncic is 6-foot-8 with go-to scoring upside and guaranteed playmaking prowess. There aren’t many teenagers more ready for the NBA than Doncic, and there’s a real chance he’ll someday be a cornerstone who makes his teammates better. I’m still flabbergasted that Doncic fell.
Tjarks: I’m not sure he fell that far in the big picture. He still went no. 3 overall. Phoenix fell in love with Ayton at no. 1, and Sacramento didn’t want to draft another primary ball handler at no. 2, since that would take the ball out of the hands of De’Aaron Fox, the Kings’ first-round pick last season. To be sure, I think Doncic will be better than Fox, but Sacramento kind of locked itself into prioritizing Fox because his poor 3-point shooting means he has virtually no value off the ball.
3. Atlanta Hawks: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Tjarks: I’m going to keep this interesting. I thought one of the stories of summer league was the strong play of Gilgeous-Alexander and his Kentucky teammate Kevin Knox, who were unmoored after playing in a restrictive half-court offense in college that had virtually no 3-point shooting. I love SGA’s size (6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan), offensive game, and two-way potential. I interviewed him in Las Vegas for a feature; I’d be comfortable giving him the keys to my franchise if I were the Hawks at no. 3 and Luka were off the board. The Clippers promised him at the NBA draft combine and convinced him not to work out for any other teams. I don’t think he’d fall to no. 11 if the teams ahead of them had gotten a chance to bring him into their facility and see him up close.
O’Connor: I like Gilgeous-Alexander for the same reasons you mentioned, and he was impressive this summer, but he still displayed a shaky jumper off the dribble without much range, and he’ll always be a below-the-rim finisher. There are a handful of more talented prospects remaining on the board, including the player already mentioned: Ayton. The Gilgeous-Alexander selection reminds me of last year’s redraft, when you selected Dennis Smith Jr. ahead of Jayson Tatum. Maybe it’ll work out, but I’m extremely doubtful. Am I underrating Gilgeous-Alexander?
Tjarks: Why you have to bring up old stuff?
O’Connor: The past can inform the future!
Tjarks: In all seriousness, I wouldn’t let Smith’s struggles as a rookie affect my opinion of SGA. For one, I’m still really high on Smith, especially now that he’s playing with Doncic in Dallas. Point guard is one of the most difficult positions to master for a young player. I’d also take SGA over Smith because I think he’s one of the most intelligent young players I’ve seen in a long time. It may not show in his first season, considering the crowded backcourt he’s walking into with the Clippers, but he should become a real player in this league.
O’Connor: I didn’t mean that Smith’s rookie season performance has anything to do with Gilgeous-Alexander. I meant summer league can cause overreactions. I just didn’t see much from Gilgeous-Alexander that would drastically improve my evaluation of him. He showed a little more shake with his dribble to create shots, but from only, like, 10 feet. And his shot is still ugly. From 3-point range, he had some wild misses that clanked off the backboard or barely grazed the front of the rim. I’m worried about his jumper, and though he’s good at slithering to the rim, I’m also still worried his arm-extension layups will result in blocks or shot alterations, not makes or drawn fouls like they did in summer league. Don’t get me wrong: Gilgeous-Alexander was impressive and is a good prospect. But I get the vibe that his summer numbers have distorted leaguewide expectations.
Tjarks: He needs to improve his body, for sure. He’s very skinny right now, and I think that hurts him when it comes to finishing inside. That’s something we talked about when I interviewed him, and it sounds like he’s going to make that a priority during the next few seasons. I think his 7-foot wingspan as well as his ability to get his shot off from different angles will translate in time. The jumper is a question as well, but I liked the freedom he shot it with, especially in comparison with his time at Kentucky, when John Calipari emphasized getting to the rim at all costs.
I’m not sure whether you are underrating SGA or overrating Ayton. Talk me into him. I didn’t think he separated himself at all in Las Vegas from the other top big men in this year’s draft.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Deandre Ayton
O’Connor: Nothing has changed regarding Ayton. He comes to the NBA with an imposing physique, and vertical and lateral athleticism that allows him to finish off lobs, dunks, and drives with ease. Ayton will flourish in the high pick-and-roll with NBA spacing, and he’s a solid shooter with underrated passing vision. There are downsides: He can be absent-minded on both ends of the court and can fade away on offense as he aimlessly roams the perimeter or on defense if he misreads coverages. But Ayton checks a lot of boxes necessary to be a high-level big man for a long time in the league. He’s shown enough flashes on defense, and he’s an elite rebounder, so he won’t be a total liability like some have made him out to be.
Tjarks: I’m just not sure that Ayton is a difference-maker in comparison with his peers in the NBA in the same way he was in college. There are a lot of big men at the next level who can be excellent roll men if they are playing in sufficient space. Ayton can put up big counting numbers in the right system, for sure, but I think all the top big men in this draft can. He’s a decent shooter, but he doesn’t have much fluidity when it comes to putting the ball on the floor and making plays in space. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be an elite face-up guy at the 3-point line. I don’t think Ayton is as good a shooter as Jackson, as skilled as Wendell Carter Jr., or as potentially dominant defensively as Mo Bamba. The edge he has on those guys is his ability to establish position in the paint and play with his back to the basket.
O’Connor: I’m getting the impression you’ve soured on Ayton after his summer performance? You had Carter ranked 10th and Bamba 11th, but do you like them more than Ayton now? Or is it mostly just a matter of their value at each spot they were actually drafted?
5. Dallas Mavericks: Wendell Carter Jr.
Tjarks: I’m not sure there’s as much separation among Ayton, Carter, and Bamba as I thought before the draft. I think Jackson is the best big man of the group, but I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other top big men in the draft emerged as the second. It really comes down to preference at that point, and what you want out of your center. Carter was very impressive in person. He dropped weight and looked faster than he had at Duke. That’s one of the biggest things with scouting big men: It’s almost like you are scouting offensive linemen, in that you have to figure out how their bodies will change over time.
O’Connor: I’m glad you’ve come around on Carter and Bamba after summer league! Carter’s performance was encouraging for the reasons you mentioned. With a leaner body and improved conditioning, he was making high-impact individual defensive plays and moving laterally on the perimeter and blocking shots inside, in addition to his already excellent positional defense.
Tjarks: How do you see Carter vs. Ayton shaking out? Based on what you’ve told me before, I was a little surprised to see you taking Ayton ahead of him.
6. Orlando Magic: Mo Bamba
O’Connor: Carter was one of my favorite prospects prior to the draft, but Ayton still presents higher overall upside, so that’s why he got the edge. With that said, it would not surprise me if Carter ends up the best big of this class. Bamba could be, too, and he’s the selection here just as he was in actuality for the Magic. I love Bamba. I’m a Bambaliever. You can’t go wrong with a 7-footer who alters shots merely by raising his 7-foot-10 wingspan, has tantalizing offensive potential, and is a high-character person.
Tjarks: He went to the University of Texas, so that last part is a given. Bamba looked good in summer league. I can see why everyone was high on the tweaks he made to his jumper during the pre-draft process. The play that stood out to me was when he backed Josh Jackson down from 18 feet out and then knocked a step-back J over him. That’s not something he was doing in college.
That said, here’s my concern with all these guys. Is the replacement-level player at the center position so high that maybe you are better off drafting a 3/4 combo forward like Kevin Knox or Miles Bridges in the lottery? In this draft alone, you had Robert Williams go at no. 27 and Mitchell Robinson go at no. 36. Both guys fell because of some pretty serious red flags off the court, but there’s not really a shortage of centers anymore.
O’Connor: Those intangible concerns are pretty severe and important. Robinson might fly across the court to block shots, but can he read pick-and-roll defense? Can he defend without carelessly fouling? Can he execute offensive sets? Williams was suspended in college for breaking team rules, was a low-effort player on the court, came into pre-draft workouts out of shape, missed his conference call with the media the morning after the draft, missed his flight to his first practice, and got red-flagged by multiple teams for his knee issue. Then he got hurt minutes into his first summer league game with the Celtics. Forget position. It’s about the player. In 2015, would you not have drafted Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, or Kristaps Porzingis just because you could get Bobby Portis, Larry Nance Jr., or Chris McCullough in the late first round? Okafor might’ve been a mistake, but if that were the mind-set you might end up with a lesser player.
Tjarks: By that same token, though, hindsight says you would rather have passed on Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh in the top 10 in 2014 knowing Clint Capela (no. 25) and Nikola Jokic (no. 41) would be available later. It’s just easier to find good bigs than multidimensional wings like Knox and Bridges. Here’s another way to look at it: Would you rather have a frontcourt with Bamba at the 5 and Jonathan Isaac at the 4 in Orlando, or Isaac at the 5 and Knox at the 4? Would you rather have Carter at the 5 and Lauri Markkanen at the 4 in Chicago, or Markkanen at the 5 and Knox at the 4? Maybe you wouldn’t start Isaac or Markkanen at the 5, but you can always find a placeholder like Robinson or Williams at the position and then downshift in the fourth quarter.
O’Connor: We’ve endlessly argued about the importance of small ball on The Ringer NBA Show and probably will forever. But Isaac or Markkanen at the 5 with Knox at the 4 isn’t sustainable. You need good big men. It’s about the prospect, not the position or the projected role—except for when it’s a tiebreaker between two identically ranked players. Each prospect needs their own independent evaluation, and Bridges or Knox being a forward is inherently wrapped into that evaluation. But position alone shouldn’t guarantee that they will get an edge. Knox is good. I had him ranked seventh. But I wouldn’t have taken him ahead of Carter or Bamba and still wouldn’t now.
7. Chicago Bulls: Kevin Knox
Tjarks: Like SGA, Knox was a revelation in Vegas. John Calipari might end up taking a big L if those two outperform their draft position. The construction of that Kentucky team was a crime against basketball on so many levels. With a healthy KP at the 5, Knox and Frank Ntilikina on the wings, and a free-agent target (Kyrie? Kemba?) at point in 2019, I’m excited about the future of the Knicks for the first time in a long time. As it stands now, the guy who has fallen the most in this redraft is Marvin Bagley III, who went to Sacramento at no. 2 originally, and is now sitting on the board for Cleveland at no. 8. What did you see in summer league that worried you?
8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Marvin Bagley III
O’Connor: Everything that was scary about Bagley at Duke was scary this summer. He doesn’t use his right hand, which makes him predictable down low and hurts his at-rim finishing when his shot is challenged by length. He’s an eyesore on defense, despite the fact he plays hard, because his reaction time is so poor. He’s not long, and he’s so lean. His ballhandling hasn’t gotten considerably better, and he’s a shaky shooter. But with all the concerns, Bagley still shouldn’t fall much further because of his tantalizing upside as a versatile pick-and-roll threat who can switch on defense and crash the boards. Hard work will pay off for Bagley, but the payout might not be at a top-five level.
Tjarks: I thought the most interesting part about Sacramento’s summer league team was the play of Harry Giles, one of Bagley’s predecessors at Duke. Giles, the no. 20 pick in last year’s draft, was once seen as the best high school big man in the country, but he was almost completely forgotten after missing most of the past three years—stretching back to high school—with various knee injuries. He looked good in Vegas, even better than Bagley. There’s a chance, if he stays healthy, that he could make Bagley’s life in Sacramento easier in many of the same ways Carter did at Duke.
O’Connor: “If he stays healthy”... that is one big, fat, bold, italicized, underlined if. Who’s next?
9. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges
Tjarks: The Michigan State Bridges had a fairly quiet summer league, but I’m still a fan. He’s a well-rounded player who impacts the game in a lot of different ways. A huge part of my evaluation process is figuring out what lineups a player could slot into, and I think Bridges can fit next to almost anyone. I’d love to see small-ball lineups in Charlotte with some combination of Kemba, Malik Monk, Bridges, Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, and MKG. Three-point shooting is the key for Bridges. He was at 37.5 percent on 5.5 attempts per game in two seasons at Michigan State, but he was only 6-for-30 from 3 (20 percent) in Vegas. I talked to a couple of people around the league who think that he’s only an average shooter, at best, at this stage of his career. If he’s not knocking down outside shots next season, he could struggle.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Trae Young
O’Connor: I agree with those evaluators, which is why I wasn’t super high on Bridges. He can be a good spot-up shooter but beyond that, his shot is questionable. One guy who can definitely shoot is Young. Just because he went to the Hawks with the fifth pick in reality doesn’t mean he’s “fallen” in our redraft. I had him ranked 11th (and you had him ninth). My evaluation hasn’t changed at all after summer league. He played hard on defense, but he’s still tiny. Shot creation will need to come along for him, as will his interior scoring since he’s a below-the-rim finisher. But that guy can shoot and pass the hell out of the ball. I also liked that he performed better toward the end of summer league after looking dreadful early.
Tjarks: I enjoyed the circus that came with Young this summer. He’s such a polarizing player. It will be fun to track him during the course of his career. The interesting thing is that his summer league team was a lot like his college team in that he dominated the ball and didn’t really have anyone else to play off. I’m curious to see what he does in a secondary role off Jeremy Lin next season, which may ultimately be his best role in the NBA. He will always be linked to Doncic because of the trade, but they are different players who could take different paths at the next level. Atlanta could have as many as three lottery picks in next year’s draft. Imagine a guy with Trae’s shooting and passing ability playing off two other elite talents. That’s what he’d have in the scenario in which he winds up in Philadelphia. The Hawks are going to look bad next year if Luka plays well, but the move could still work out for them.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton
Tjarks: Speaking of ball-dominant point guards, I’ll take Sexton at no. 11 for Charlotte as a long-term replacement for Kemba. I’m still not a huge fan of his game, but I think he wound up in a pretty good situation for himself in Cleveland. Kevin Love is the perfect complement to a slashing point guard, and they have a lot of veterans around Sexton who can space the floor for him and protect him on D. He’s my dark-horse pick to win Rookie of the Year in reality. The narrative, if the Cavs end up sneaking into the no. 8 seed, would be irresistible.
12. Los Angeles Clippers: Zhaire Smith
O’Connor: Smith had an up-and-down summer league, but continued to show the athletic upside that makes him so tantalizing. The speed, the leaping ability, his flashes on offense, and the blocks—they’re all enough to make any fan base fall in love. And he just turned 19! That’s all good, and it’s why he’s rising in our redraft. But I wouldn’t go much higher than this. I’m still a little worried that his handle hasn’t gotten much tighter since college, because in order for him to be great, he’ll have to become more of a creator, and that won’t happen without strong ballhandling skills.
13. L.A. Clippers: Mikal Bridges
Tjarks: I was impressed by both products of the Philadelphia and Phoenix trade at summer league. The thing that stood out to me about watching Bridges in person is how little space he needs to get off his shot. He’s got a quick release and long arms. He’s open even when he’s not open. The big knock on him coming into the draft was that he couldn’t create his own shot, but it seems like he’s a guy who can shoot off movement, which is almost as valuable.
14. Denver Nuggets: Troy Brown Jr.
O’Connor: Brown’s two-way versatility impressed in summer league. He can handle the rock, or play off-ball as a cutter and spot-up shooter. On defense, he plays his ass off and has the length to defend multiple positions. I feel badly about not taking Michael Porter Jr. here, but his second back surgery is especially nerve-racking. Brown is the safer pick, but Porter should come off the board soon. When would you feel comfortable?
Tjarks: There’s obviously a point when Michael Porter’s talent is too tempting to pass up regardless of the injury risk, but I think it’s after Mikal Bridges and Zhaire Smith are off the board, especially now that we know Porter had that second surgery. That’s not a good sign. Plus, those two can really play.