CHICAGO -- The elite players showed up in Chicago mostly for medical evaluations and in-person interviews with team executives (if they decided to show up at all). So much of the movement here since the last mock draft comes on the margins.
One elite player who is moving upward: Texas big man Mohamed Bamba. Executives told me the stunningly mature Bamba aced the interviews; when plenty of players were dragging from one interview to the next in sweatpants and a lack of preparation, Bamba wore a suit and came prepared to answer specific questions about each team. Nobody doubts Bamba's ceiling, which might be the highest in this draft. Nobody doubts his brain. The biggest question is whether he can bulk up and be able to hang on the block with NBA veteran big men.
You know what? I don't think it'll happen, but I don't think it would be crazy for Bamba to go No. 1. It would certainly be risky, and it would certainly raise eyebrows – but it would be a home-run swing.
You can't go wrong with a number of players at No. 1: Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic or Mo Bamba. But Ayton is the player a general manager doesn't want to have on his resume as passing on, because on paper he seems like the surest thing. The Bahamanian big man is the type of physical specimen who makes jaws drop when he walks into a gym. Plus he's versatile. Ayton is David Robinson-like on the offensive end.
Luka Doncic | Intl | - | SG
The 19-year-old Slovenian dominated this season while he played against grown men in the Spanish league. Doncic was 15th in the Spanish ACB league in points, fourth in assists, and 12th in rebounds. He's a remarkable shot creator and shot maker – a smart, shifty, versatile, confident player. Think Manu Ginobili.
Mohamed Bamba | Texas | Fr | PF
Bamba would join John Collins in giving the Hawks a young frontcourt with sky-high potential. Bamba has some potential unicorn in him as well – he can put the ball on the floor, has a nice shooting stroke and shot a promising 68.1 percent from the free-throw line – but the incredibly long 7-footer will make his money as a Rudy Gobert-like defensive force. Bamba ranked second in college basketball in blocked shots as a freshman. His 7-foot-10 wingspan at the combine set an NBA combine record.
Marvin Bagley III | Duke | Fr | PF
Another potential unicorn. Bagley is a physical marvel who works harder than anyone else on the floor. Bagley's and Ayton's collegiate stats were virtually identical: Bagley averaged 21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and shot 39.7 percent from 3-point range, while Ayton averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 assists and shot 34.3 percent from 3-point range. All things being equal, I'm tempted to go against the emerging consensus and take Bagley over Ayton as No. 1. That motor is what sets Bagley apart.
Jaren Jackson Jr. | Michigan St. | Fr | PF
Jackson is big, long, athletic and versatile, with an outrageous ceiling on both ends of the floor. He has versatility as a playmaker and as a shooter; he shot 80 percent from the free-throw line, 40 percent from 3-point range. And the youngster – one of the youngest players in this draft – could learn at the helm of one of the greatest offensive big men of all time.
A reach to pick Young this high? Perhaps. But the Magic need a point guard, badly, as well as some excitement surrounding a franchise that's been stuck in neutral, and utterly identity-less, since Stan Van Gundy was fired. Young is a potential star. Sure, the Steph Curry comparisons put way too much pressure on the young man's shoulders, but his playing style as well as his collegiate stats back it up. We'll see if he can bulk up. The biggest worry of scouts is whether Trae can bulk up so he can play competent defense against grown men.
Michael Porter Jr. | Missouri | Fr | SF
If you saw Porter only during his ill-fated return from back surgery to Missouri in March, you didn't see the true Porter. Before this season, I thought he'd be in contention for the No. 1 pick over this very strong competition. Porter can make shots from anywhere on the court. The Kevin Durant comparison some have made is going too far, but I see where the thought comes from. I see Porter as a Jayson Tatum-type player, but just a tick better in almost every way (and a tick taller, too). It's an absolute dream scenario for the Bulls for Porter to fall this low. (By the way, he could easily end up as the best player in a draft that's filled with high-ceiling guys.) He could easily go in the top three if a team (and their medical staff) gets enamored with him. The Bulls would suddenly have one of the more intriguing young cores in the Eastern Conference.
Pick acquired from Brooklyn
The Cavaliers presumably won't know what will happen with LeBron's future until after the draft, which makes this pick difficult. Adding an experienced two-way player like Villanova's Mikal Bridges, for example, could be the type of pick that would provide immediate dividends for a LeBron-led team with title aspirations. But the younger Sexton's ceiling is higher, and I expect this pick to be a building block for the future. Sexton is streaky, and his confidence can border on an off-putting arrogance, but the explosive, exciting score-first point guard is the closest there is to a Russell Westbrook in this draft.
Wendell Carter Jr. | Duke | Fr | PF
I'm assuming the Knicks are sticking with Frank Ntilikina as their point guard of the future; otherwise, Kentucky's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be an intriguing, high-upside option here. (He could also be an intriguing option playing beside Ntilikina.) But Carter and his fundamentally solid, versatile game – as a post scorer and a perimeter shooter, as a rebounder and a shot-blocker – would give the Knicks a helluva frontcourt alongside Kristaps Porzingis.
Pick acquired from Los Angeles Lakers
Mikal Bridges | Villanova | Jr | SF
A win-now pick for a team that's looking to win now. Plus the Villanova star gets to stay in a city that loves him for the two titles he helped win in three seasons at Villanova. The 21-year-old Bridges is an excellent athlete, a two-way stud who can make 3-pointers and make plays. He could have an immediate impact.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Kentucky | Fr | PG
It sure sounds like Mitch Kupchak might take a stick of dynamite to an organization that's been mired in mediocrity for years. As such, I don't know what sort of chance there will be for Kemba Walker to stick around. So why not get a head start on a potential point guard of the future? If Gilgeous-Alexander were to stick around for a sophomore season at Kentucky, add some muscle and some leadership experience, I believe he could be in the running for a top-five or perhaps top-three pick in the lackluster 2019 draft. He was the main reason why Kentucky morphed from an incoherent team in January to a team that was rolling come March. He's tall and long, a good athlete, and a very good shooter.
Pick acquired from Detroit
Lonnie Walker IV | Miami | Fr | SG
Walker is an explosive athlete with beautiful shooting form, shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range and 73.8 percent from the line this season. His stats were hampered because he took a while to get up to speed to the college game after an offseason injury. He's a long, lean athlete with a ceiling that's nearly as big as his hair.
Miles Bridges | Michigan St. | Soph | SF
A shorter Blake Griffin, sorta maybe? Bridges could be the most explosive athlete in this draft. Yes, there are questions whether being a tweener could hurt his NBA ceiling. And there are questions whether he's a real basketball player or just an athlete playing basketball. But the dude is exciting, has incredible raw natural abilities, and is a very good shooter and rebounder.
Robert Williams | Texas A&M | Soph | PF
A freak. A total athletic freak. Williams can jump out of the gym, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds others can't get. He averaged close to a double-double, yet his sophomore season felt somewhat disappointing because the expectations were so high. Williams offensive game is somewhat limited and didn't show growth during his sophomore year. Perhaps he could develop into a Clint Capela-like character, and really help the Nuggets on defense.
In December, UNLV faced off with Arizona in a matchup of two stud big men: McCoy and potential No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton. It was an incredibly fun, tight game, despite Arizona having much more talent than UNLV, and McCoy more than held his own. He scored 33 points and had 10 rebounds; Ayton had 28 points and 10 rebounds. Against the best competition, McCoy has always been at his best, like when he played for the USA team at the FIBA U-19 World Cup last summer. The Wizards have a great core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, but a massive void in the post. McCoy could make an immediate impact here.
Pick acquired from Miami
Kevin Knox | Kentucky | Fr | SF
I'm surprised I have Knox slotted so low here, as I have long believed he's a mid-lottery talent. This would be a steal for the Suns. I don't see Knox as anything close to an NBA star, but as a very good rotation player who can do a bit of everything for a winning team. He can get to the rim, he can shoot it well enough from deep, he can defend multiple positions. Knox is a valuable prospect.
Eric Bledsoe has one year left on his contract. Do we even know if he's the long-term solution for the Bucks anyway? Holiday is an explosive scorer. He may only be 6-1, but his incredibly long wingspan makes him an excellent perimeter defender. For a win-now team, this upperclassman with NBA pedigree feels like a great fit.
Donte DiVincenzo | Villanova | Soph | SG
DiVincenzo is one of the best raw athletes in this draft, plays with incredible intensity on offense and defense, and can flat-out score. DiVincenzo shot 40 percent from 3-point range for a Villanova team that was one of the most efficient offenses of all time. After DiVincenzo went ham in the national title game, scoring 31 points, former Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono told a couple of reporters that DiVincenzo could end up becoming the best NBA player to ever come from Villanova. Perhaps this is too early for DiVincenzo, but there's no obvious weakness in his arsenal. And the Spurs could use a bit more firepower in that backcourt.
Pick acquired from Minnesota
Bruce Brown Jr. | Miami | Soph | SG
Brown's 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. He's much better than the player we saw this season.
Pick acquired from Oklahoma City
Yep, another Creighton product heading to Minneapolis in the footsteps of Justin Patton a year ago. While the Patton pick has yielded absolutely zero results so far, Thomas could be different. Thomas may be the best two-way guard available in this draft. He can shoot it – something the Timberwolves need – and he can defend multiple positions – something the Timberwolves need. Tom Thibodeau will love the way he competes.
Omari Spellman | Villanova | Fr | PF
If there's one thing that might convince NBA general managers that Spellman is ready for the NBA, it's Spellman's answer to which NBA player he most models his game after: Draymond Green. At the combine Spellman cited Green's versatility and unselfishness as why he admires him. Spellman had a Draymond-type game in the second scrimmage at the combine. In 26 minutes, Spellman had 15 points, made a 3-pointer, had nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Who knows if Derrick Favors stays in Utah. If he leaves, Spellman would fit right in: A nimble, intuitive big man who can hit the 3-pointer.
Pick acquired from New Orleans
Bates-Diop projects as an athletic three-and-D player for a Bulls team with a bunch of intriguing young pieces. He can do a bit of everything on the court and ought to make a nice role player – and can succeed immediately. He measured with an incredibly long wingspan (7-3 ¼ inches) at the combine, which will only help his draft stock.
A high upside pick for the already deep Pacers. The long and athletic Smith is a force on the defensive end, and is could develop into an explosive offensive player.
Dzanan Musa | Intl | SF
A versatile wing in a wing-starved draft. In EuroCup competition this season the young, lean Musa has shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range while averaging 18.7 points per 36 minutes.
Pick acquired from Cleveland
It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Melton during his sophomore season at USC, which was cut short by his involvement in the FBI investigation into college basketball. I saw Melton at a USC practice in February; he was the best player on the court, and he knew it. He has a certain swagger to his game, on offense and defense, though shooting from deep is not his forte. At the combine, when he was asked about being taken by a team in his hometown, Melton's eyes lit up with excitement.
Jalen Brunson | Villanova | Jr | PG
I've been in love with Brunson since seeing him in high school. There wasn't a smarter player in college basketball than Brunson, nor was there a consistently more efficient scorer. TJ McConnell has one year left on his contract; Brunson could immediately be slotted in as the perfect point guard to throw teams off their rhythm when Ben Simmons is catching a breather. He's going to be a winning NBA player for 15 years.
Mitchell Robinson | N/A | Fr | C
A home-run swing no matter where he's taken. And when you take a big swing, you can often strike out. Robinson is a helluva physical specimen, a hugely athletic 7-footer who is one of the best shot-blockers in a draft that has a few stellar ones. Robinson is a liability on the offensive end for now, but with some time in the G-League, this project could become a late-first-round gem. Or he could become absolutely nothing. He once again displayed what happens when a young player gets bad advice when he decided to pull out of the combine at the last minute.
Gary Trent Jr. | Duke | Fr | SG
A beautiful shooter for a team that's already full of them. He's an absolute pit bull on the court. The Warriors will like his game much more than Nick Young's. Trent's standing vertical leap at the combine, which was among the highest for guards, showed he's an able NBA athlete.
Pick acquired from Toronto
A name you might be hearing more buzz around in the next few weeks. The senior wing has a ready-made NBA body (just shy of 6-8 but with a massive 7-3.5 inch wingspan). At the combine one talent evaluator told me he thought Hervey looked like the best player on the floor on Friday, when he scored 21 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting, notched three steals and got to the free-throw line more than any other player. He's a senior who has battled ACL problems, which could cause him to fall.
Pick acquired from Houston
A long and athletic wing, Battle played more minutes than any other player in college basketball last season. His efficiency suffered because of it, but that should not take away the fact he averaged nearly 20 points for a team that made the NCAA Tournament. His 32 percent 3-point shooting should be offset by his 84 percent free-throw shooting.