Comparing 19-, 20- and 21-year-old college students to established NBA veterans is a time-honored tradition. It's also utterly unfair to these prospects, and inherently flawed in its methodology (or lack thereof). Putting "the next Stephen Curry" on the shoulders of 19-year-old Trae Young makes some sense -- he is a thrilling, high-usage point guard and extraordinary 3-point shooter whose on-court body language and collegiate statistics bear stunning similarities to the Golden State Warriors guard -- but it's such a big burden to put on a youngster. What does it do to a player's basketball development -- as well as personal maturity -- when at an age when most people are still searching for a personal identity, we're already comparing him to a two-time MVP?
Player comparisons are so unfair.
And yet I love them. So much.
So that's what we're going to do here. This (unfair, flawed) thought experiment is all about predicting "Who's the NBA's next (blank) from the 2018 draft?" But these aren't going to be exact player comparisons, not in every case. Some of these are more situational. The question of "Who is the Robert Covington of this draft?" could be seen as finding the next 3-and-D wing who disappears come the playoffs (too soon?). Instead, my version of "Who is the Robert Covington of this draft?" will be a talented, late-blooming player who goes undrafted yet finds in time a spot as a valuable starter on an NBA roster.
Who's the Donovan Mitchell of this draft?
Player archetype: Explosive mid-to-late first-rounder whose athleticism, aggressiveness and intelligence displayed in his rookie season make teams who passed on him feel tons of regret.
Why: I joked to DiVincenzo during the Final Four that he was hands-down the best white-guy dunker in college basketball. He laughed, and then he told me about his 43-inch vertical. While I don't think DiVincenzo is going to come into the NBA and have the immediate impact that Mitchell did (nobody will, by the way, because rookies are rarely if ever that good), and while I don't think DiVincenzo is going to be drafted as high as Mitchell was (13th), I do think he has the explosiveness, the aggressiveness, the basketball IQ and the work ethic to greatly outperform his draft position. After Villanova won the Final Four, Ryan Arcidiacono told me that he doesn't think DiVincenzo's game has a noticeable weakness, and that he could end up being the best NBA player to ever come from Villanova.
Who's the Joel Embiid of this draft?
Player archetype: Massive talent whose college injuries impacted his draft position – and could impact the beginning of his NBA career.
Why: The true player comparison with Porter is Jayson Tatum, because the two young men are insanely similar in their styles as natural scorers on the wing. Yet Porter's situation reminds me more of Embiid's when he came out of Kansas: The talent was obviously there, and Embiid was considered a potential No. 1 overall pick in a draft that was stacked at the top. Yet ultimately teams passed on him (two teams, much to their later regret) because you didn't know if he would become the next Hakeem Olajuwon or the next injury-riddled Sam Bowie. In a draft that was weak at the top -- say, the 2013 draft, when Anthony Bennett was somehow the No. 1 overall pick -- it would be a lot easier for a team to justify taking Porter with the No. 1 overall pick. But this draft is stacked at the top. Can you overrule the medical concerns that derailed Porter's single collegiate season and take him over potential franchise-changers like DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic or Marvin Bagley III? I wouldn't, even though I know Porter could end up as the best player from this draft.
Who's the Rudy Gobert of this draft?
Player archetype: Insanely long big man who could become a Defensive Player of the Year-type player.
Why: Duh. Look at Bamba: He's the same massive defensive presence that Gobert is physically, and he has the same natural shot-blocking (and shot-altering) instincts. And offensively he's light years ahead of where Gobert was when he got drafted. Bamba's offensive game still needs work, but there are some unicorn characteristics there: He can put the ball on the floor, he can pass out of double-teams and he has very good shooting form for such a long player.
Who's the Fred VanVleet of this draft?
Player archetype: Overlooked because of a lack of obvious physical attributes, but a player whose work ethic, tenacity and basketball IQ will secure him a productive spot in the NBA for more than a decade.
2018 draft prospect: Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
Why: Brunson will not go undrafted like VanVleet somehow did -- if Brunson slips out of the first round then plenty of general managers will have made a big mistake -- but I see him as the same type of NBA player as VanVleet: not someone who'll become a star, but the perfect backup point guard who'll stay around the league for a very long time. Like VanVleet, he'll also bring a winning locker room personality to whichever team selects him.
Who's the Robert Covington of this draft?
Player archetype: Undrafted (or lightly regarded) player from a mid-major school.
Why: Frazier certainly could get drafted, maybe even late in the first round. But like Covington when he came to the NBA out of Tennessee State, even hardcore college basketball fans would have a tough time identifying Frazier. But NBA scouts know: He's a long and athletic wing player with a decent shot and excellent defense. In other words, he's exactly the player who is in demand in today's NBA.
Who's the Hassan Whiteside of this draft?
Player archetype: An enigmatic, physically imposing and defensively dominant big man who confounds coaches as much as he tantalizes them.
2018 draft prospect: Mitchell Robinson, C, N/A
Why: Robinson had one of the weirdest collegiate "careers" we've ever seen. The McDonald's All-American committed to Rick Stansbury at Western Kentucky, moved into his dorm and then left before the team went on an international trip. He said he wanted to transfer, visited a few others school, came back to Western Kentucky, then a few weeks later quit school and declared for the 2018 NBA Draft. Since then he has spent the past eight months training. It's a strange story, and gives all sorts of red flags for his NBA future. But with Robinson's physical profile and natural shot-blocking abilities, his potential is still sky high. A team will certainly take a flier on him in the first round. He might be the biggest boom-bust candidate in this draft.
Who's the Clint Capela of this draft?
Player archetype: A big man selected late in the first who, if put in the perfect situation, can develop into an extraordinarily valuable player.
Why: The UNLV freshman is, like Capela, tall and strong and focused on the paint. Yes, McCoy's game is still raw (like Capela's when he entered the league in 2014). But I keep thinking back to McCoy's performance against potential No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton in December. McCoy more than held his own: 33 points and 10 rebounds to Ayton's 28 and 10. McCoy has always played his best against tough competition, like when he played for Team USA at the FIBA U-19 World Cup last summer. It's all about fit for McCoy.
Who's the OG Anunoby of this draft?
Player archetype: Talented player who, because of a season-ending injury in college, an NBA team can get a steal on.
2018 draft prospect: Bruce Brown, SG, Miami
Why: It's wild to think that Anunoby, who thrived in his rookie season, fell all the way to the Toronto Raptors with the 23rd pick of the 2017 draft. It was because of his knee injury in January, but it still looks like a huge miss for the eight or so teams picking just ahead of the Raptors. Something similar could happen to Brown, who is a much better player than the guy we saw this past season. His sophomore season was heading toward disappointment even before it ended early with an injury. His 3-point shooting was the most alarming part, dipping all the way down to 26.7 percent. But it's not as if he has a broken shot. And his high-level defense, toughness and athleticism mean there's a whole lot to like here.
Who's the Zach LaVine of this draft?
Player archetype: Incredible athlete who needs to learn to become a basketball player,
2018 draft prospect: Hamidou Diallo, G, Kentucky
Why: Diallo is an incredible physical specimen: Out-of-this-world speed with out-of-this-gym leaping abilities. His 44.5-inch vertical at the combine a year ago was the second-highest in NBA combine history. And yet we still don't know whether he's just an Olympic track and field athlete masquerading as a basketball player or a real, actual basketball player who can become a student of the game. He was fine this past season for Kentucky -- he averaged 10 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists and shot 33.8 percent from 3 -- but his sky-high potential always left you wanting more. LaVine's one-and-done stats at UCLA were frighteningly similar, by the way: 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists and shot 37.5 percent from 3.