Let's say a team has the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. That team has decided it needs a point guard. Maybe that team is the Phoenix Suns, who realize that Brandon Knight's contract only has two more years left on it, and Tyler Ulis would work as the perfect backup point guard. Or maybe that team is the Orlando Magic, who realize Elfrid Payton will never take them to the promised land.
Let's say that team says, "Hell, what do we got to lose?" And they take Oklahoma's wunderkind freshman Trae Young with the No. 1 overall pick, despite this being a draft that is absolutely stacked at the top. They know he's small. They know he turns the ball over. They know he wasn't even considered a top-20 recruit coming into college. And yet they look at his numbers – he's leading college basketball in points and assists, something that's never been done before – and figure he's worth it.
How would you judge the team that takes Trae Young with the No. 1 overall pick?
I would applaud the chutzpah. It would take brass balls and big-time belief to pick Young over players like Marvin Bagley II, or Luka Doncic, or DeAndre Ayton – players who feel like much more of a guarantee for NBA success. And yet look what Trae Young has done in his short Oklahoma career. It's not just the numbers, or the fact he's turned what was an 11-win Oklahoma team a year ago into a team with Final Four potential. It's the fact he's captured the American sporting imagination in a way that we rarely see out of a collegiate player. I mean, we haven't seen this sort of fascination with a collegiate player since, what, Jimmer Fredette?
That likable, Steph Curry 2.0 brand has some currency in the NBA.
To me, this will continue to be the most interesting question leading into the 2018 draft: How high can Trae Young go?
He certainly could be selected with the first overall pick. In fact, if this draft were last year's draft, which had a ton of depth but wasn't as strong at the top, I think he would have been No. 1.
But given the guys at the top of this draft who feel like guarantees, I don't think he will.
(A quick note on this mock draft: The draft order is based on the most recent SportsLine projections of where NBA teams will end up at the end of this season. But don't pay much mind to fits between players and teams; I'm not. It's too early in the process for that anyway.)
| Marvin Bagley III | Duke| Fr. | PF|
In a draft loaded with talented, freakish big men, Bagley is the most talented, most freakish of them all. He's in the running for national player of the year honors, the clear alpha dog for a Duke team that might have five first-round picks. He's averaging 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. He's still learning to defend, but he also should probably be a high school senior, so whatever. He's got unicorn potential, and has the most impressive second jump this side of Andrew Wiggins.
| Deandre Ayton | Arizona | Fr. | C|
The Bahamanian big man is the type of physical specimen who makes jaws drop when he walks into a gym. Against college players, he looks like a man among boys. Ayton is David Robinson-like; he's averaging 19.7 points and 11.1 rebounds for an Arizona team that's had its ups and downs this season. He can step out and make a 3-pointer, too. You'd think he'd be more dominant on defense than he has been, but with Ayton, great defense might just take time and focus.
| Luka Doncic | INTL | SG|
The 18-year-old is playing against grown men in the Spanish league, and he's killing it. He's ninth in points (averaging more than 14 a game) and fourth in assists (averaging 4.8 a game). He's a remarkable shot creator and shot maker – a smart, shifty, versatile player.
| From Nets|
Michael Porter Jr. | Missouri | Fr. | SF
Before a back injury put Porter under the knife (and presumably will cause him to miss his entire one-and-done season), I thought he'd be the No. 1 pick over this very strong competition. But a back injury for a guy who is a mobile 6-foot-10 is concerning. I think that's enough to knock him out of contention for the top spot, given how stacked this draft is at the top. Porter can make shots from anywhere on the court. The Kevin Durant comparison some have made is going too far, but I see where it comes from. I see Porter as a Jayson Tatum-type player, but just a tick better in almost every way.
| Trae Young | Oklahoma |Fr. | PG|
What more can we say about Young's season so far at Oklahoma? It's been historic. He's averaging 30.3 points and 9.6 assists (and 4.2 rebounds) on a team that, without him, would be heading to the NIT but with him could be Final Four material. He's shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. He isn't just taking Steph Curry-range shots; he looks like Steph Curry when he does so. Yes, he has too many turnovers; he's by far the most talented player on his team, so he's always tasked with making something happen. Young could end up being a steal this low. And it's amazing saying that, considering he wasn't even considered a one-and-done player coming into the season.
| from Lakers|
A load of potential, with only some of it tapped. Bamba leads one of the best defenses in the country. He has absurd length and great instincts, which makes him the most natural shot-blocker in this draft; he's averaging 4.4 blocks per game, second in college basketball. He's a great rebounder, and on offense he has a more diverse, refined skill set than you'd expect, with very smooth shooting form. The game comes naturally to him in a way you rarely see from such a long, lean seven-footer. He's averaging 12.4 points and 10.7 rebounds for a Texas team that sometimes can be stagnant offensively. On top of all that, he's one of the more intellectually engaging teenagers you'll come across. If a team takes him with a top-three pick, it might be a bit of a gamble, but it would be a gamble I'd like.
| Collin Sexton | Alabama | Fr. | PG|
This is where the top tier of this draft ends, and some would argue whether Sexton even belongs in that top tier. I'd argue he absolutely does, as an explosive, exciting score-first point guard. He's shooting a respectable 36.7 percent from three, and averaging 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists. We have not seen the best of Sexton so far this year for an Alabama team that's been up and down. I hope we do get to see it by March.
| Wendell Carter Jr. | Duke | Fr. | PF|
Carter is the definition of a player who is always solid, rarely spectacular. (Yes, he can throw down some spectacular dunks, but I don't see him as a dude who'd go off for 30 points on a regular basis.) He's averaging 14.4 points and 9.2 assists and is developing into a very good rebounder and shot-blocker. I like Carter's game a lot. He's a winning player. But if you're wowed by his 48 percent 3-point shooting, take a breath; he's only taken 25 attempts.
| Kevin Knox | Kentucky | Fr. | SF|
Knox is one of the more versatile players in this draft, a do-it-all type of player with good size and length and a very nice shot from deep. He's averaging 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds for a talented but maddening Kentucky team. He turns ball over too much, perhaps because he's cast as an alpha dog despite not projecting as an alpha dog in the NBA. He has a ton of polish to his game for such a young player.
| Mikal Bridges | Villanova | Jr. | SF|
The most Paul George-like player in this draft, Bridges is my first non-freshman off the board. He has elite athleticism, something you don't often see in a player who has stuck around college this long, and his biggest strength may be his elite perimeter defense. He gets steals. He blocks shots. And he makes shots, too; Bridges is shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range, and averaging 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds.
| Jaren Jackson Jr. | Michigan St. | Fr. | PF|
An extremely long big man who can do a lot of things. Jackson is averaging 11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and an eye-popping 3.4 blocks. I don't know how much stock to put in it, but the near-7-footer is also shooting 44.6 percent from 3-point range. He could go several spots higher than this.
| Miles Bridges | Michigan St. | Soph. | SF/PF|
Sure, he's a tweener, but who really cares about that these days? Bridges is a bouncy athlete who can do a lot of things. He's averaging 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. His 36 percent 3-point shooting is good, but I think it can get better, based on his 89 percent free-throw shooting.
| Lonnie Walker IV | Miami | Fr. | SG|
We saw Walker's potential come to fruition this week against Louisville when he went off for 25 points and drained four 3-pointers. He has beautiful shooting form, shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point range and 73 percent from the line this season. He's a long, lean athlete with a big ceiling.
| Jarred Vanderbilt | Kentucky | Fr. | SF|
Will Vanderbilt go pro after only starting his freshman season in mid-January because of injury? One would assume yes. Vanderbilt's versatility and heady game can help overcome his less-than-elite physical tools. When you watch him play, he feels like a natural basketball player.
| Robert Williams | Texas A&M | Soph. | PF|
Williams has been a bit of a disappointment this year. Yet he's still averaged nearly a double-double at 10.4 points and 9.9 rebounds. He's powerful and explosive around the rim, but his game hasn't developed like you'd hope in his sophomore season.
| Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Kentucky | Fr. | PG|
If I'm being honest, I think Gilgeous-Alexander would be someone who could really benefit from an extra season in college. He strikes me as a Malachi Richardson type: A big-time talent who could be overwhelmed by the NBA if he goes too early. One more year in the Kentucky weight room could do wonders for his draft stock, and make him a mid-lottery pick in 2019.
| Hamidou Diallo | Kentucky | Fr. | SF|
If we're talking running and jumping, Diallo is the best athlete in this draft. He's as speedy as De'Aaron Fox, and he'll have a higher vertical jump than anyone in this class. His redshirt freshman season has been slightly underwhelming, averaging 12.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, but the athleticism is elite.
| Trevon Duval | Duke | Fr. | PG|
His game has some swag. But the 25.9 percent from 3-point range will give NBA teams some pause. He's averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 assists and is, for the most part, keeping his turnovers in check. On such a talented team, we haven't been able to see Duval be the alpha dog that he's capable of.
| Brandon McCoy | UNLV | Fr. | PF/C|
The explosive 7-footer has great shot-blocking and rebounding skills. He's averaging 17.4 points and 9.9 rebounds for UNLV. At his best, which is what we saw in December when he went up against Arizona's DeAndre Ayton, McCoy is awesome: In that game he scored 33 efficient points, mostly around the rim. But he's not always that. In three straight Mountain West games this January, McCoy scored fewer than 10 points.
| Mitchell Robinson | N/A | C|
Robinson had the most bizarre collegiate non-experience you could imagine. He signed at Western Kentucky, and then there was the summer of back-and-forth drama before he finally decided to skip his one-and-done season altogether. A shame, because Robinson swatting shots all over Conference USA would have been an awesome sight. Robinson is incredibly physically gifted, and a natural shot-blocker, but his offensive game consists mostly of dunking and rebounding at this point. Raw, but with potential.
| Bruce Brown Jr. | Miami | Soph. | SG|
Brown is a big, sturdy guard who plays with a Russell Westbrook-type confidence. Like Westbrook, Brown is a guard who crashes the glass; he's averaging an impressive 7.1 rebounds to go with 11.3 points and 3.9 assists. His 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting have taken concerning dips this season. Improve that, and add to it his pesky perimeter defense, and Brown goes a good bit higher than this.
| from Thunder|
Landry Shamet | Wichita St. | Soph. | PG
Shamet may be the best shooter in this draft not named Trae Young. The combo guard is averaging 15.6 points and 5.2 assists and most impressively is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range (on 5.5 attempts per game). He's a heady player, too, like most Gregg Marshall guards.
| from Heat|
The big, burly near-7-footer is a beast near the rim on both ends of the court. I'm not sure if he'll ever be more than that. But at that one thing – bullying people near the rim – he's terrific.
| from Timberwolves|
Metu has always had the raw package to become an athletic NBA big man in the Clint Capela mold. Metu plays hard on both ends of the court; even though the defensive end of the court is his calling card (he's averaging 1.8 blocks per game this season), he's made vast improvements on the offensive end too, averaging 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds this year. Even though he's a junior, he's still a high-upside guy.
| Jalen Brunson | Villanova | Jr. | PG|
I would like to congratulate myself for being the only person I know of who had Fred VanVleet as a first-round pick a few years back. I feel similarly about Brunson, just more so. The guy is a winner. He's averaging 18.8 points. 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds as the unquestioned leader of the best team in college hoops. He's shooting 48.1 percent from 3-point range and may end the season as college basketball's most efficient scorer. If it weren't for Trae Young, Brunson would be the frontrunner for national player of the year. He's the son of a coach and has a great feel for the game.
| Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk | Kansas | Sr. | SG|
I'll admit it: I had written off Svi. I guess that's what happens when a guy enters college at age 17: He'll finish his Kansas career at age 20, and we forget how much development he still has to come despite being a college senior. He was a maddening and inconsistent player early in his Kansas career, but now he's averaging 16.5 points per game on elite 3-point shooting (47.3 percent). There's a place for a Svi in the NBA.
| from Raptors|
Milton is playing more minutes than just about anyone in college basketball and pretty much does everything for this shorthanded SMU team. He's averaging 18.4 points, 4.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting an elite 43.6 percent from 3-point range. He's tall and athletic and can play both backcourt positions.
| Gary Trent Jr. | Duke | Fr. | SG|
One of the elite, efficient shooters in this draft, Trent is shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range and averaging 14.7 points and 4.0 rebounds. He's also an absolute bulldog, the toughest player on this Duke team and has the potential to become a very good NBA defender.
| from Rockets|
Johnson was a junior college transfer who has blown up in a big way in the Missouri Valley Conference, averaging 14.9 points and 11.5 rebounds this year. He's a natural rebounder, but his 27.3 percent 3-point shooting is concerning.
| Grayson Allen | Duke | Sr. | SG|
Allen has had a wild, roller coaster of a career at Duke, but here we stand, with Allen the senior leader (and second-leading scorer) on a Duke team that's the most talented team in the country. You hate him because he's not on your team; when he's on your team, you'll love the tenacity and the dead-eye shooting. He's averaging 15.2 points and 4.4 assists this year and shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point.