I'm going to call this my Ceiling Draft.
So much of the conversation leading up to NBA drafts is what a player's ceiling looks like, and what that player's chance is of reaching that ceiling. I know player comparisons are inherently flawed and unfair to the prospects, but I find them instructive in projecting that if everything goes right for a player, here's what that player can look like in the NBA.
In this mock draft, I'm taking out one part of the guesswork. Here's the assumption we're working with: Every single player in this draft reaches his NBA ceiling. There are no injury concerns, no concerns about motivation, no concerns that a skill set a player has flashed at the youth or collegiate level may not develop fully in the pros. In this mock draft, every skill set we see now will fully develop at the NBA level.
That will obviously not happen with the vast majority of players, which is why you should take this mock draft as living in a bit of a fantasyland. Even its author does not believe this will be the way June's 2018 NBA draft will play out. Nor do I believe it's even the way it should play out. Instead, it's looking at which players have the highest potential. (And I mean realistic potential. I'm not going to assume every player becomes Superman -- just that everything we have seen hints at at the youth or college level fully develop.)
I look forward to your tweets telling me how dumb I am. But before you do that, I want to remind you one thing: I'm not focused so much on team fit here. One reason is because that part is so fluid; the team that projects to have the No. 12 pick today might have the No. 2 pick by June. The other reason? Because it's my mock draft, and I can do what I want.
|Mohamed Bamba | Texas | Fr. | PF|
I was torn on these top two picks. I chose Bamba because I believe his defensive potential is much higher than anyone's in this draft. He's the best shot-blocker in college basketball as a freshman. He'll have the longest wingspan in the NBA after he's drafted. He's a potential defensive player of the year in the Rudy Gobert mold. But offensively I believe he can be much, much more than Gobert. He recently told me he sees himself as a unicorn and models his basketball mind after Magic Johnson: Make your teammates better. I don't think he'll morph into Kristaps Porzingis or Karl-Anthony Towns or Giannis Antetokounmpo on the offensive end. But I think he can be a very good offensive big man who can stretch the floor, play smart, pass out of double teams and put the ball on the floor. His ceiling is a good-to-very-good offensive player with all-NBA defensive skills.
|Deandre Ayton | Arizona | Fr. | C|
Ayton is in many ways the opposite of Bamba: An extraordinarily polished offensive talent with defensive potential that needs some work. In a draft filled with potential unicorns, Ayton feels like the surest shot to actually become a unicorn. The Giannis-like body -- a powerfully built, explosive seven-footer -- is there. So is the obvious and abundant offensive skill set. In a world filled with bad player comparisons, the comparison with David Robinson feels spot on. He is the type of physical presence that, when he walks onto the court, makes jaws drop. The fact he is not more dominant on defense is a bit befuddling. But even if he can just become an average defensive big man in the NBA, the offensive talent is so massive that he can become an MVP candidate down the road.
|From Nets |
Trae Young | Oklahoma | Fr. | PG
That's right: I love Marvin Bagley III. Love him. Think he can be an All-Star and a unicorn. Believe that he's a guy with a massive, massive ceiling. And yet there aren't many ceilings higher than Trae Young's. In this fantasy world, he becomes the player he's so often compared to: Steph Curry 2.0. It's not crazy. In his freshman year in the stacked Big 12, Young is leading college basketball in points and assists at 28.0 points and 9.0 assists per game, which has never been done before, and is shooting 36.8 percent from downtown. In his freshman year at Davidson -- which was then in the Southern Conference, not even close to this year's Big 12 -- Curry averaged 21.5 points and 2.8 assists per game on 40.8 percent 3-point shooting. Check out the comparisons in advanced stats between Young's freshman season and Curry's junior year, his final collegiate season: Young has a 38.9 percent usage (tops in college hoops), 49.5 percent assist rate (tops in college hoops), and is shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc on 296 attempts. Curry had a 38 percent usage (tops in college hoops), 40.2 percent assist rate (eighth in college hoops) and shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range on 336 attempts. I know Young is in a shooting slump, hitting only 25 percent of his 3-pointers in his past eight games, but come on: The dude is a stud.
|Marvin Bagley III | Duke | Fr. | PF|
Thing is, even though I'm putting Bagley all the way down at fourth, it's possible his ceiling is as high as anyone's in this stacked draft. After all, every one of my mock drafts since Michael Porter Jr.'s injury has placed Bagley at the No. 1 spot. Yes, there are concerns with his defense; Duke can seem a better defensive team when Bagley is off the floor. But I'm not sure how much of that has to do with Bagley or how much of that has to do with the fact that Duke struggles when they have two near-seven-footers on the floor together. And, you know, Bagley should still be in high school right now. He might be the most physically gifted player in this draft, someone with the athletic gifts of an Andrew Wiggins. And if his ceiling is a supersized Andrew Wiggins, that's pretty damn good, even with all the defensive deficiencies that have harmed Wiggins' NBA ceiling. Bagley's game is a little unique, a little quirky; he's a lefty, and he moves a bit herky-jerky. He may not have the unicorn ceiling as a Bamba, which is why Bagley is at this point in this ceiling draft and not in the top two. But he might have a better shot at becoming a unicorn (if that makes any sense).
|Luka Doncic | INTL | SG|
The Slovenian wing is killing it for Real Madrid, dominating against grown men in the Spanish League at the age of 18. Who knows what he'd look like in the American college game, but my guess is he'd be a top-five player in the player of the year race. Doncic is a versatile and confident wing; his confidence might be the one thing that sets him apart over every player in this draft. What if he's a taller Manu Ginobili? That's a pretty high ceiling.
|Michael Porter Jr. | Missouri | Fr. | SF|
It's at this point in this mock draft where I say to myself, "My Lord. The top of this draft is insane." Because I believe every player in this mock draft, one through six, and maybe even further, would have been the top-rated player in last season's draft. While the 2017 draft was marked by its depth, this draft is marked by its stacked top. Porter was my top pick in the preseason. The back surgery makes him too much of an injury risk to take over the handful of other guarantees in this draft, but Porter's ceiling is high, high, high. Maybe not Kevin Durant, but Porter is a natural scorer. Think of him in the mold of Jayson Tatum, just a tick more talented, a tick bigger, a tick better of a scorer.
|Jaren Jackson Jr. | Michigan State | Fr. | PF|
You could point out that in a ceiling draft, Jackson could be a whole lot higher than eighth -- and you wouldn't be wrong. The athletic near-seven-footer is one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball, and is shooting a remarkable 41.6 percent from 3-point shots. He just looks good on a basketball court -- a smooth athlete and a well-apportioned body.
|Collin Sexton | Alabama | Fr. | PG|
A little bit of Eric Bledsoe, a little bit of John Wall, a little bit of Russell Westbrook, a whole lot of swagger. Alabama's been a disappointment this season, but I'm not going to blame this score-first point guard. Assuming he can get his disappointing 3-point shooting (31.4 percent) up to a higher level -- something I'm less than concerned about given his 77 percent free-throw shooting -- he can become a star. Sexton is a magician at getting to the rim.
|Wendell Carter Jr. | Duke | Fr. | PF|
He's not the Big Fundamental -- there will never be another Tim Duncan -- but the strength and efficiency and long-range shooting of Carter brings to mind another master of the fundamentals, Al Horford. Carter's combination of intelligence and athleticism is among the best in this draft. While his ceiling isn't as high as some, look at his stat line this year: 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and a remarkable 48.6 percent shooting from downtown.
|From Lakers |
Mikal Bridges | Villanova | Jr. | SF
Bridges is a versatile player in the wing position that's much valued in the NBA. He's the closest this draft has to a Paul George. (I mean, he's not THAT close to Paul George, but there are some similarities.) He's a bouncy athlete who can shoot it and play excellent perimeter defense.
|Mitchell Robinson | N/A | C|
Hey, I told you it was a ceiling draft. Robinson is a remarkable shot-blocker -- not as naturally gifted as Bamba, but the next-closest in this draft -- who is full of red flags. His saga of going back and forth with attending Western Kentucky before finally deciding to skip his one-and-done season of college altogether makes you wonder about his maturity and the people around him. But you can't deny the natural gifts here. He's very raw offensively, but he's an incredible post defender who would have led college basketball in blocks if he'd played in Conference USA. He's a seven-footer who is a great athlete. The ceiling is high; the floor is really low. He won't go this high. But it's fun to imagine what he could become if the rest of his basketball career goes the right way.
|From Pistons |
Miles Bridges | Michigan State | Soph. | SF/PF
Bridges may be the most explosive athlete in this draft. While he's certainly a tweener, I'm not sure if that matters nearly as much in today's NBA. And while he doesn't always seem to have the killer instinct, nor is he someone who efficiently creates off the bounce, Bridges can do a little bit of everything on the court. And, man, can he dunk.
|Lonnie Walker IV | Miami | Fr. | SG|
You know how a guy can sometimes just have The Look? Walker has The Look. (And I'm not talking his amazing haircut, which teammates call "The Pineapple.") Walker just looks like a guy who belongs on the basketball court, all smoothness and explosiveness and beautiful shooting.
|From Pelicans |
Kevin Knox | Kentucky | Fr. | SF
Knox does a little bit of everything on the court: He drives the rim, makes outside shots, rebounds the ball on both ends and plays really hard. His ceiling isn't a superstar, but it's as a winning player who brings lots of positive elements to his team.
|Robert Williams | Texas A&M | Soph. | PF|
The decision to return for a sophomore year for a promising Texas A&M team hasn't worked out well for Williams, as this season has been a massive disappointment both individually and as a team. But Williams still has a Clint Capela-like ceiling. He's a big, tough, explosive big man; his game is somewhat limited, as you won't get much outside the post, but in the right role he can be a great addition to a team.
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Kentucky | Fr. | PG|
If the versatile Gilgeous-Alexander sticks around for a sophomore season and progresses at the rate that he can progress, he can be a top-five pick in 2019. But this is a ceiling draft, so we're putting him too high in anticipation of him reaching that ceiling! Just like NBA teams will! He's long and lean, with good-enough shooting and smart point-guard instincts. There's certainly upside here. There's also risk.
|Chandler Hutchison | Boise State | Sr. | SF|
I love when guys come back for a senior year and really improve their draft stock. That's what the late-blooming Hutchison has done. Hutchison could blossom in the same way that the late-blooming Kyle Kozma has blossomed after being a late-first-round-pick.
|Hamidou Diallo | Kentucky | Fr. | SF|
Again: This is a ceiling draft. And you can't deny Diallo's ceiling, even if you can call into question his understanding of the finer points of basketball. Diallo is going to be a home-run swing no matter where he's selected. His measurables are off the charts. It's the intangibles I'm worried about. I'm not sure if he's a basketball player or just an athlete who plays basketball.
|Bruce Brown Jr. | Miami | Soph. | SG|
I love, love, love Brown's get-after-it mentality on defense and on the glass; he's the best defensive guard in this draft, and the best rebounder too. A broken foot hampered his sophomore season, and the fact that his shooting has been worse in his second collegiate season than his first -- he only made 26.7 percent of 3-pointers, and shot 62.9 percent from the free-throw line -- is a bad sign. But get that shooting up and Brown could be a steal this late.
|Jalen Brunson | Villanova | Jr. | PG|
You already know this, but I'm the president of the Jalen Brunson Fan Club. When people tell you that he's too short or not athletic enough to be a high-impact point guard in the NBA, mention to them that he might be the smartest player in college basketball, and one of the sport's most efficient scorers.
|From Heat |
Trevon Duval | Duke | Fr. | PG
A team as talented as Duke is hasn't been the greatest showcase for Duval's talents. But the dynamic, flashy point guard can create and can facilitate. His lackluster 3-point shooting is a concern, but the dude is tough and talented and a pest on defense -- he'll find a way to success.
|Omer Yurtseven | NC State | Soph. | C|
Did you know that this Turkish seven-footer is hitting his 3-pointers at a 51.4 percent rate? It's on limited attempts, but it still indicates that versatility of this talented sophomore. He's been a very efficient offensive player who can block shots and rebound.
|From Thunder |
Gary Trent Jr. | Duke | Fr. | SG
In a weird way, Trent has been the forgotten man for this Duke team that's the most talented in college basketball. It's not been because he hasn't been doing what he was brought here for, and that's get buckets: Trent is shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point land, and has the highest offensive rating on Duke.
|From Timberwolves |
Landry Shamet | Wichita State | Soph. | PG
The best shooter in the college game? If not, he's certainly close. Shamet won't wow you with his athletic gifts, but he'll certainly wow you with his 44 percent shooting from 3-point range as well as great shooting from inside the arc as well.
|Jarred Vanderbilt | Kentucky | Fr. | SF|
There's a lot to be disappointed by in Vanderbilt's injury-shortened season. What you should never be disappointed by is his motor or athleticism. Vanderbilt is going to be able to make a living off being a gifted athlete who loves to hustle. It will be fascinating to see if he can add to that.
|From Cavaliers |
Aaron Holiday | UCLA | Jr. | PG
There haven't been a ton of bright spots for this mediocre UCLA team this season, but the continued development of their senior point guard has been one of them. He's an electric scorer and shooter; if you added four inches to his frame, he'd be a lottery pick.
|Troy Brown | Oregon | Fr. | SG|
Oregon Maybe too low for Brown and his high ceiling as a scorer. Brown has wing size and versatility and can do a lot of things on the basketball court. His 30 percent 3-point shooting is a concern.
|From Raptors |
Daniel Gafford | Arkansas | Fr. | C
Gafford is a long big man, with pretty darn good athletic skills and excellent shot-blocking abilities. We will see if he's ultimately limited offensively, or just a raw player who has the profile to develop into something much more.
De'Anthony Melton | USC | Soph. | PG/SG
One of the travesties of the current scandal of college basketball is that talented players like Melton were stripped of an entire season of eligibility. Whether he cheated or didn't, I feel for the young man. Luckily, his NBA future is bright as an all-around combo guard who can play great defense on multiple positions.
|Austin Wiley | Auburn | Soph. | C|
Wiley is an intimidating presence in the post, although the FBI investigation into college basketball meant we didn't get to see him in his sophomore season. He can rebound and block shots; he was the top rebounder on the USA Under-19 team that played in the FIBA U-19 tournament in Egypt last summer.