2018 NBA Mock Draft: Final look and projection of both rounds before teams pick Thursday night
Matt Norlander gives predictions and insights on all 60 picks, including why Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young go top-six
We're almost there.
The 2018 NBA Draft gets underway, finally, on Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Below, my final projection of all 60 picks, with capsules included for each team/player. As we close in on the event, more uncertainty is arising with where Michael Porter Jr. will wind up, who will go high for Trae Young, and if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sneaks into the top 10.
Important to keep in mind that trades are inevitable, and with that, draft prognostications can get murky in a hurry. It is a mortal certainty that a few players will get picked by one team and be shipped to another in a matter of minutes or hours. This mock, though, is set up as a clean look at the field and order 60 as it stands Thursday morning.
Will there be surprises? You know there always are. That's the fun of this event. But with that in mind, here's a general idea and expectation of the 2018 draft pool going into Thursday night.
Barring a stunning change of events, Ayton is heading back to Arizona. The former Wildcats freshman, who I dubbed as a "power center" when he was swatting away mortals in college, has the body, skill set and dominant streak to potentially become a Hall of Fame player. That's why he's thought of as the No. 1 pick. You don't want to pass, in the event he becomes a 10-time All-Star. He's a great fit for Phoenix. When asked on Wednesday what his biggest goal was, Ayton dodged typical canned answers and instead said he hoped to make it to his second NBA contract.
Check. (It got interesting.) I've been consistently pushing for Bagley to stay in the No. 1 conversation over the past three months. Going second seems like the play here, as Sacramento snagged Bagley in for a workout and has needs at his position. Don't forget: He was historically great (by freshman standards) at Duke. I will stick with Bagley here because I think he's the best option overall. Though as we hit draft day, scuttlebutt has Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr. and Jaren Jackson all in play.
Luka Doncic | International | SG
The Slovenian's achievements and credentials are undeniable. Doncic is considered by many scouts to be the most pro-ready prospect in this class, due in good part to the fact he was outstanding for two-plus years playing in Europe. He recently became the youngest player ever to earn MVP in EuroLeague. He's coming off a season that would be akin to a college player winning National Player of the Year and Final Four MOP on the way to winning a championship. Atlanta has slipped in recent years, after flirting with becoming a top-three team in the Eastern Conference, and so drafting Doncic could give the franchise a preternaturally gifted talent that could be the key building block for the next four years.
Michael Porter Jr. | Missouri | Fr | PFIf this pick doesn't wind up being part of a trade, I think the Grizzlies roll the dice and take a chance on Porter's star power. The injuries he's sustained are worrying, but what if they don't wind up hampering him? What if Porter can show himself to be the NBA-level talent he projected as in his final three years of high school? He's got a good shot at being the best player in this draft. That is going to tempt a team in the top five, I believe. Puma power: Three of the top four projected picks here have been signed by the bi cat company making a comeback in hoops.
From what I understand, Dallas is most heavily weighing Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. in this spot. Bamba had a great workout with the Mavs, and his defense would be a boon to that franchise. He'd probably make enough impact in Summer League and preseason that Dallas would heavily use him next season. From owner to GM to coach, this would be a good fit.
If Michael Porter Jr. is off the board at this point, and I think he will be, I believe Orlando is ready to go and get Young. The pre-draft process can lead to a lot of groupthink (if not deception) on certain prospects. I don't think it makes sense to let a player who was as prolific as Young drop below sixth or seventh in this draft. No prospect in this crop was as good at any one thing last season as Trae Young was at passing the ball and effectively distributing it. Then you take into consideration how good his shot is and how crafty he is around the rim. I can't talk myself into dropping him. Orlando needs a star. Young is that. The Magic were bottom-tier in offense and 3-point shooting last season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. | Michigan State | Fr | PF
Youngest player in this draft. Has the smarts and and the strength to adapt. The Bulls need the type of size Jackson provides. This would make for the Bulls taking bigs in back-to-back years, but Jackson is a much different player than Lauri Markkanen. With Robin Lopez entering the winter of his career, Jackson can fill a hole that needs filling.
Wendell Carter Jr. | Duke | Fr | C
Thrived at Duke but was overshadowed by Bagley and, to an extent, Grayson Allen's general stardom. Carter (13.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg) is never going to be the A option on a team, but you're not looking to get that at No. 8. Carter's, honestly, one of the strongest prospects in the eight spot in many years. Good scorer, willing distributor, and can pass on the perimeter or out of the paint. Mature player. Cleveland's in a tough spot with LeBron's looming decision. Carter would be the right pick no matter what James winds up doing.
Bridges, who spent the past two years growing his game to where he blossomed into top-10-pick material, would be a terrific off-the-bench contributor in year one for New York. I think he's got a chance at making significant first-year impact, and have long viewed him as much more than a 3-and-D guy, in my estimation. But the question is: Will the Knicks trade up?
Kevin Knox | Kentucky | Fr | SF
The Kentucky product has seen his stock get a jolt in the past week. Widespread belief among industry insiders is that he won't fall past 11. Philadelphia makes sense here, as Knox would be an ideal 3 to play opposite Ben Simmons. He's not great at creating his own shot, but Knox is someone whose game should translate to double digit scoring in the pros. He's also young (won't turn 19 for a few months). It may take him three or four years to click, but scouts think that when he gets it, he could flirt with All-Star quality.
Will Charlotte move on from Kemba Walker by the time Thursday night ends? Either way, the expectation is the Hornets go out and get a point guard. Sexton is the most aggressive and confident of that category. His shot needs work, but you don't ever question his intensity or competitive edge. Malik Monk hasn't hit for Charlotte yet, so a year removed from that pick, it makes sense to go with a guard who is a safer bet to be consistent in what he does best: being an aggressive two-way player.
An athletic 4 who will enter the NBA with a skill set that will allow him to average 10 rebounds and three blocks in no time. Very athletic, sporting a 7-5 wingspan. Williams passed on the combine this season. Confident, or not wanting further exposure? I'm banking on a team being smitten with his ceiling. The Clippers have lottery insurance, so why not? Williams has strolled to draft night without getting much pub.
Gilgeous-Alexander joins Trae Young as the two projected lottery picks who were nowhere near the first round -- let alone the top 60 picks -- back in early November. The Kentucky point guard proved to be high-IQ, constantly making winning plays and largely indefatigable. Plus, it wouldn't be an NBA Draft in the modern era if John Calipari didn't provide at least one lotto pick. I would be surprised if he wasn't a top-13 pick. Top 10 is possible, but Clippers make sense -- they aren't letting two picks go by without picking a point guard.
Miles Bridges | Michigan State | So | SF
A year after opting to stay on at MSU, Bridges' stock remains largely unchanged. I think he falls to 14 due to players ahead of him offering up a bit more well-rounded, NBA-style skills. This is not a knock on Bridges, though, who if anything might be a tad underrated at this point. One of the most athletic prospects in a fairly athletic crop of players. Going to Denver would suit his gam well. That franchise could use a power tweener wing who can jump to the clouds.
Lonnie Walker | Miami | Fr | SG
Quite simply: My nominee for 2018-19 Donovan Mitchell Candidate. Which is to say: An under-the-radar player taken outside the top 10 with the best shot at challenging for Rookie of the Year. Walker, highly regarded coming out of high school in 2017, was occasionally wowing with the Hurricanes last season and has only improved his stock since he declared. Headline- and highlight-making potential.
It was a huge March for Smith, who made it to the Elite Eight with the Red Raiders. Remember how Zach LaVine popped in the draft a few years back? Smith has a lot of similar attributes. He can't create his own shot yet, but won't be asked to do that in Phoenix. His story is also incredible. I .
Holiday statistically put up one of the best seasons UCLA had seen in the past 30 years. Great lead guard athleticism and decision-making. The Bucks have been a successful franchise in plucking talent from uncommon places in recent seasons. Adding Holiday is a seemingly small move that could pay off within three years. I think he can give you 15 quality minutes in the playoffs tomorrow.
It's even surprising plenty of people in the NBA just how fast Robinson has been rising. At this point, the Boston College scoring savant seems a near-lock to go in the top 20. The BC wing averaged 20.7 points and shot 49 percent from the field last season. He was one of on-the-fence prospects heading into May, but his workouts and combine showing solidified him as a first-round talent. If San Antonio gets him, the Spurs can turn him into a productive starter in a couple of years.
The Hawks have some interesting decisions to make in this draft. Love stories like this. Hutchison quietly did his work, got better, and is going to come out of Boise State as a highly probable first-round pick. Yet many who read this might not know him at all. Well-rounded wing who has among the best handles for any player 6-7 or taller in this draft. He got a green room invite. He'll be a high pick.
Melton hasn't played competitive basketball in more than a year; he sat out 2017-18 due to being associated with the FBI's investigation into college basketball. Yet as a freshman he posted 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He was a stud, and his well-rounded numbers didn't do him enough justice. I think he becomes a surprisingly high first round pick.
Elie Okobo | International | SG
The next best Euro prospect on the board after Doncic. I've got Okobo higher than many, because recent trends suggest we won't get to 24 or 25 without at least a second international player taken. Utah has space to fill here, as Okobo can play combo guard. Perception is that his stock has steadily increased over the past two months.
Donte DiVincenzo | Villanova | So | SG
I spoke with DiVincenzo on Wednesday. He's wide-eyed and approaching this draft experience with as much optimism and appreciation as you could imagine. He's more excited for former teammate Mikal Bridges to be picked than himself, it seems. But he got a green room invite. Something to keep in mind: What position will he play? Not that the NBA dictates position necessities in the traditional sense now, but he's clearly not equipped to run an NBA offense at this stage. He's athletic but still undersized against many NBA 2s. For Chicago, it's a pick with high upside.
Third-youngest player in this draft. An unknown for most NBA and college fans, as Oregon took a big step back last season and wasn't in the NCAA Tournament. Brown's a classic case of a five-star guy coming out of high school, testing well in the evaluation period for scouts and taking full advantage of his potential. Indiana could use him in spot duty and take a flier on him.
Bates-Diop is a gamble (was last year a sign of good things to come, or did Chris Holtmann squeeze the most out of Bates-Diop in his first year at OSU?) but when you've got a tweener forward with range and a fully developed body, you can go for it in this spot.
I was always high on Huerter from early on at Maryland, but even as recently as four weeks ago I could not have guessed he'd be a top-25 pick. Nevertheless, he was arguably a top-three standout guy at the combine. Now it's tough to see him falling beyond the 26th or 27th slot. He might slip a few spots because of his recent right hand injury (ligament tears), but it's not going to plunge him out of the first round.
Another player I'm slotting higher than most others. I have bumped Thomas down from my previous mock, but still think he's got no business dropping to the second round. Maybe the best two-way player in this draft, and he's bigger than his 6-3 frame indicates on paper. I expect him to last 10-plus years in the league, even if he's never better than the fourth option on offense on a given team.
Dzanan Musa | International | SF
Good/youthful prospect, and almost certainly guaranteed to be a third international player taken in the first round. Young, growing, already a fabulous scorer. Brad Stevens would probably turn him into a borderline All-Star by year four or something.
His measurements at the combine vaulted his stock and solidified his choice to remain in the draft. Golden State has such flexibility, Okogie's athletic upside makes him an affordable gamble.
Jalen Brunson | Villanova | Jr | PG
If Brunson is available here, Brooklyn needs to pick him, and I means needs. There will be other prospects that are tempting, or more athletic, or more skilled in certain ways. Brunson is going to be the best basketball player available on the board at this spot. Brooklyn's a terrible team. Start the turnaround here and take someone who's going to last in the league for at least a decade.
Jacob Evans | Cincinnati | Jr | SF
Going to put him right at 30, because I think Evans is firmly in the 27-34 range. His ceiling is that of a spot role player, but Evans' defensive adeptness and his improved 3-point stroke are what make him first round-worthy. Not a top-level athlete, but also someone who isn't going to get punked in the pros. Atlanta's organization wouldn't falter by adding someone of his ilk to their franchise. He was a huge piece in the Bearcats going 31-5 last season.
Grayson Allen | Duke | Sr | SG
Allen and Ayton on the sam team would be interesting because you'd be getting two players with such different toolboxes on offense. Phoenix needs all the help it can get. He's the best prospect at the top of the second round. A college veteran, a good athlete, a good scorer, and someone focused on straightening out his image.
Bruce Brown | Miami | So | SG
Smart player, hard worker, good NBA body. Was hurt at the end of the season, so that has his stock up in the air to a degree. Not going to average 15 points or anything like that in the NBA, but we have to put value on guys who commit to defense and embrace their role. Memphis would be fortunate to land a rotation player like Brown.
Moe Wagner | Michigan | Jr | PF
Projections on Wagner have been erratic over the past four months. Wouldn't it be great to see him team up as a rookie with fellow German Dirk Nowitzki?
Mitchell Robinson | No college | PF
Has taken a bizarre journey to this point, but he's going to get picked and beat some red flags because he's a beast of a player.
Gary Trent Jr. | Duke | Fr | SG
Offensively has a chance to blossom into a double-digit scorer in the NBA. At this stage of the draft, that's enough to warrant a pick. Trent and Young would be quite an injection into Orlando's meek offense.
It'd be an insult to his ability if he dropped beyond this spot. Carter is a top-five defender in this draft. That alone has to make him worth going in the high second round.
Hamidou Diallo | Kentucky | Fr | SG
Underwhelming last season at Kentucky, but Diallo is a top-five athlete in this draft. If he commits to playing defense, everything must grow from that.
Under-the-radar prospect out of the American Athletic Conference who has the length and offensive acumen to surprise a lot of people. He'd be JAG with Philly initially, but don't discriminate based off college affiliation.
Omari Spellman | Villanova | Fr | PF
In my previous mock draft, I wrote of the No. 39 pick: "Don't be surprised if Philly trades out." On Wednesday, that came to be. Now Los Angeles has it. Spellman would be a nice get for the Lakers -- if he's still hanging around at this point.
Rodions Kurucs | International | PF
I originally had Kurcus going to Philly at 39. With the trade on the board, I want to keep him in the sam area. Brooklyn it is.
Anfernee Simons | No college | SG
A sign of things to come? Simons was eligible because of his age/playing clock to commit to the draft without having attended college. Good player but unquestionably a project.
A lot of potential hidden gems in the second round. Obviously a lot of players will flame out of the league. Milton is more likely to be the former.
Rawle Alkins | Arizona | So | SG
Opinions vary on Alkins, who at his best is a top-30 player in this year's crop. Problem is, he fails to show his best too frequently.
Kevin Hervey | UT Arlington | Sr | PF
Hervey's been viewed as a future pro for the past three years. He's in terrific shape, and has a wingspan of nearly 7-feet-3-inches despite standing a shade under 6-6 without shoes.
Justin Jackson | Maryland | So | PF
Project player who has the body and rebounding ability to validate getting picked in the final quarter of the draft.
Could be a perfect fit here. Shamet has size and would be a great third option to play point at Houston by the end of his second season.
Chimezie Metu | USC | Jr | C
Lakers stay local and bring Metu over from Southern Cal. Rare case of a true center who will get picked late in the second round but not because he's a big project.
Trevon Duval | Duke | Fr | PG
Toughest player to project, pick-wise, in the second round of this draft. Athletic but very inconsistent. T'wolves have the roster insurance to take a chance.
Undervalued because of his size. Winning player. Yes, the Spurs make sense here.
Jarred Vanderbilt | Kentucky | Fr | SF
Despite an injury-plagued past eight months, I think Vanderbilt's going to get picked. He was a projected NBA player coming out of high school. Those guys usually get a second chance.
If he goes to New Orleans and can log 15 minutes playing behind Anthony Davis, it's a coup.
Kenrich Williams | TCU | Sr | PF
I've been told a couple of teams have been won over by Williams, despite him being 23. That's refreshing to hear. He had no offers out of high school to a D-I program.
Malik Newman | Kansas | So | SG
Looks like an NBA player, but worry about his streakiness. Wins the workout.
Isaac Bonga | International | SF
Ball-control small forward who's 6-9 and is going to wind up on a roster one way or another eventually.
Hornets stay in ACC country and quietly pick a player who got almost no run during his career for being an NBA prospect. Tony Bennett's going to have 10 guys in this league before you know it.
Issuf Sanon | International | SG
Slender shooting guard from the Ukraine who's only 18 and is obviously a draft-and-stash here. Expect a few of those, per usual.
Kostas Antetokounmpo | Dayton | Fr | SF
At this point, I can't see him falling out of the second round. Reports have him testing well, so much to the point that he shut down his workouts. That probably means his camp thinks a team is picking him no matter what.
Carr helped himself last season when his reputation changed from being a player without a lot of passion for the game to being someone who became invested in his teammates and the outcome of games.
Billy Preston | Kansas | Fr | PF
Seems too tempting a prospect for a team not to take a chance on. Preston never played at Kansas (eligibility issues), then moonlighted in Europe during the back half of the college hoops season.
Gary Clark | Cincinnati | Sr | SF/PF
When you get into the final five or six picks, teams are normally looking for proven players who might be able to stick on a roster if all breaks right. Clark has the size and work ethic to warrant a pick.
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