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“One of the more interesting prospects in this draft class,” the scouting report reads. “The main reason being that everyone seems to be talking about his shortcomings much more than what he can actually do as a player. And despite how good he was [in college] the last two seasons, he does have some flaws as a prospect. The biggest issue for most scouts will be his athleticism, or relative lack thereof. What [he] lacks in athleticism, however, he makes up for with a great understanding of the game and what he can do.”
Can you guess which NBA player this scouting report describes? If your guess is known for his signature beard, you guessed correctly. This is a Bleacher Report scouting report on James Harden from 2009, just a little over a month before the Seattle SuperSonics would select Harden with the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Grizzlies likely wish they would have selected Harden or a number of other players second rather than big man Hasheem Thabeet, who failed to live up to his pre-draft expectations.
The scouting report shows that very few prospects, even the ones who turn out to be superstars, are sure things coming into the NBA. The league is leaning on analytics more than it ever has, yet, while there is science involved, it is far from an exact science.
Digging deeper into the Harden case study, you realize even though the Thunder (formerly Sonics) were great in evaluating Harden’s potential, the team would eventually misstep by trading Harden right before he hit his prime. Nailing the draft is just one step in forming a well-run organization, and even the best talent evaluators can eventually screw it up if they are not careful.
While the college basketball season officially kicked off last week, the Champions Classic begins the season for many NBA draft fans with a highly anticipated double-header featuring numerous pro prospects. Duke takes on Michigan State in a matchup featuring as many as seven key NBA draft prospects, including Marvin Bagley and Miles Bridges. Kentucky and Kansas will be the grand finale in another matchup with no shortage of stars. Adam Zagoria reported 75 NBA front office executives and scouts are expected to be in Chicago for the two big games.
NBA teams have been looking at many of these prospects for years, but the start of the college basketball season kicks the 2018 draft process into high gear as the top high school prospects take a step up in competition. The mock draft order is based on Tankathon’s draft order as of Monday, November 13. You can reach out to me on Twitter @JonDAdams with some of the prospects catching your eye as your watching college hoops.
Here’s a look at my first NBA mock draft since I unveiled my initial mock on the night of the 2017 draft.
No. 1 Dallas Mavericks: F Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Luka Doncic was our top prospect heading into the season, but Bagley makes sense with the Mavs selecting Dennis Smith Jr. in the 2017 draft. The margin between Bagley and Doncic is thin, and it will be increasingly difficult for Doncic to stay in the minds of NBA draft fans with so many good prospects playing college basketball on a nightly basis.
Bagley had the kind of college debut you want to see from a potential top-five pick. Bagley had a double-double in his first two games, averaging 24.5 points, 10 rebounds and an assist. There is a lot to like about Bagley, and he is at his best when he is running the floor using his athleticism to make plays. Bagley loves to rebound, and has a knack for finding the ball wherever he is on the floor. His ability to handle the ball allows Bagley to turn a rebound into a fastbreak by immediately pushing the ball up the floor.
No disrespect to Elon and Utah Valley, but Bagley will be facing much greater competition as the season progresses. His first big test comes against Michigan State at the Champions Classic. Bagley has had a dismal start to the season from the free throw line, shooting just 22 percent through the first two games. While Bagley displayed a nice baby hook, his post moves could still use some polish, but it is unlikely to be anything that hurts his draft stock.
Overall, Bagley is an extremely active player who the eyes of the NBA world will be on as he matches up against Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson in Chicago.
No. 2 Atlanta Hawks: PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
The presence of Dennis Schroder would not be enough to dissuade the Hawks from selecting Doncic. The two players could play, even thrive, in the backcourt together. Doncic is a 6’8″ point guard originally from Slovenia, but currently plays for Real Madrid. Doncic is apt to making plays with the ball in his hands, but could also spend time playing off-ball.
International basketball reporter David Pick noted NBA teams are already making the cross-country flight to see Doncic play.
“Lots of NBA officials in Israel for Maccabi vs Real Madrid. Bulls GM Gar Forman, Hawks Asst GM Jeff Peterson, Pacers scout Jose Galilea: Norris Cole, Jonah Bolden – LUKA FREAKIN’ DONCIC,” Pick tweeted.
There is a lot to like about Doncic, but one of the things Doncic excels at is his step-back jumper as seen below.
No. 3 Chicago Bulls: F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
As other freshman phenoms were having smashing debuts, Porter was stuck on the bench after sustaining a leg injury in warmups. Porter played just two minutes in Missouri’s opener. While fans were excited to see the player many consider the top ranked prospect, there is no need to overreact about an injury in early November.
What will be interesting to watch is how long Porter’s injury lingers. Missouri plays in the Advocare Invitational in Orlando during Thanksgiving week, but the Tigers do not start conference play until January 3rd. There is plenty of time for Porter to recover, even if the injury lingers longer than a couple games.
The Bulls may be towards the bottom of the standings, but seem to have hit a home run with 2017 pick Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen is averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 35 percent from behind the three-point line. Markkanen was a knock-down shooter at Arizona, and his shooting percentage is a little lower than we expected it to be. Look for it to keep climbing as he has bounced back from an October shooting slump.
No. 4 Sacramento Kings: C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
The Kings have no shortage of big men, but the talent of DeAndre Ayton is too much for Sacramento to pass up. Ayton had quite the debut in his first two games at Arizona, averaging 19 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
Ayton is the prototype for the new NBA big man with his ability to shoot, rebound, run the floor and block shots. We have not seen many early three-point attempts from Ayton, but the big man displayed good range in high school. It is worth watching how Arizona continues to utilize Ayton, and if they look to expand his shooting range on the floor.
De’Aaron Fox has had a solid start for the Kings averaging 11.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds to begin his NBA career. As expected, Fox has struggled to shoot the ball, shooting just 17.6 percent from the three-point line.
No. 5 Phoenix Suns: PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
Sexton’s college basketball future appeared in doubt with the looming FBI investigation, but Alabama announced Sexton will play this season after serving a one-game suspension. Sexton is the highest ranked recruit we have seen Alabama land in years, and his presence makes an already good Crimson Tide team even better. Sexton is the most exciting prospect in this draft class, and it is worth keeping an eye on his debut against Lipscomb as the Champion’s Classic is also going on.
Sexton has many things to like about his game, but his two strengths are his court vision along with his ability to score. The Suns have a crowded backcourt, but a future backcourt of Devin Booker and Sexton is a good problem to have. Phoenix traded guard Eric Bledsoe in exchange for big man Greg Monroe. If all things are equal, the Suns are likely to look for a perimeter player given the plethora of bigs on their current roster.
The Suns most recent pick Josh Jackson is coming along slower than expected. Jackson is averaging 9.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in about 22 minutes of play per game.
No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers): F Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Even though the Sixers may be able to finally play themselves out of the lottery by making the playoffs, Philly is likely to have a top 10 pick thanks to the Lakers. The Sixers have so much talent it is difficult to know exactly what Philadelphia will do with another top pick. Given the amount of youth on their roster, Miles Bridges could make a lot of sense. Bridges returned for his sophomore season at Michigan State, which makes him a veteran in the current state of college basketball.
Bridges gives the Sixers more versatility as he can play both forward positions. He was widely thought of as the best player in college basketball heading into the season. Despite being a likely 2017 lottery pick, Bridges returned to school to try to win a championship at Michigan State. The decision even surprised Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who explained to ESPN his shock in learning the star forward was returning to East Lansing.
So freshmen carry the bags. Everybody piles on Miles because he’s the star … and I said, ‘Hey, Miles, want to know what the bad news is for you? Next year you’re going to get screwed because you’re going to be carrying someone else’s bags [in the NBA].’ I start laughing, and he just looks at me and doesn’t say nothing. So a couple of weeks later, I said something similar. And he just says, ‘Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?’ And honest to god that was the first time I said, ‘What is he doing?’ It had never even occurred to me [Bridges would stay at Michigan State].
No. 7 Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets): SG Lonnie Walker, Miami
What the Cavs do will be one of the biggest story lines heading into the 2018 draft. The draft occurs just a few days before free agency, and Cleveland has two different paths they can choose. Will the Cavs make their final effort to convince LeBron James to stay by selecting a player who James would like to play with? The other path would be for the Cavs to go into full rebuild mode if they sense James is moving on to what he believes to be greener pastures.
We saw the Heat try the first approach by selecting Shabazz Napier, who James publicly vouched for coming out of Connecticut. This did little to keep James from heading to Cleveland, and left the Heat with a player they may not have selected otherwise. If the Cavs opt to look towards the future, Walker is a player with lots of star potential. NBA teams will be watching how he shoots from long range in college, but Walker has no problem getting baskets, making Miami basketball must-watch television this season.
No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers: F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Kentucky is an interesting case study as it is unclear who the main offensive option will be for the Wildcats this season. Hamidou Diallo joined the team in January so has been through a good portion of a college basketball season, but played his first minutes this season just like the incoming freshman. By the time March rolls around, look for Knox to be the player that emerges as the go-to guy for Kentucky.
Knox is unlikely to be the kind of player Malik Monk was for Kentucky last season, as Monk was always a threat to drop 50 points. Knox is more likely to contribute in a variety of ways, and reminds me a bit of Otto Porter. Through two games, Knox is averaging 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He is shooting a dismal 25 percent from three, but it is too small of a sample size to read too much into it. Knox’s first experience with the bright lights takes place in Chicago as Kentucky takes on Kansas.
Knox would be a good piece for the Clippers to add who find themselves in an interesting spot. Los Angeles is not in a full rebuild given they have DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. However, the departure of Chris Paul along with a few role players has taken its toll on a Clippers team that will find it difficult to make the playoffs in the West.
No. 9 Charlotte Hornets: C/F Mohamed Bamba, Texas
The Hornets already have Dwight Howard, but are not in a position to pass on Bamba. It would be a surprise for Bamba to fall this low next June, but he was not the best fit for some of the teams picking earlier. Comparing Bamba to Howard is an interesting conversation, as Bamba is similar to Ayton as one of the new type of big men the NBA is looking for, while Howard’s game is as old school as it gets.
Bamba can do a little bit of everything, including the traditional work down low of blocking shots and rebounding. However, Bamba can also pop outside and runs the floor as well as a guard. He’s going to be fighting Ayton to be the first big man selected in the 2018 draft. Bamba had a solid debut for Texas putting up 15 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists.
Bamba will get a nice early test during Thanksgiving week as Texas plays in the Phil Knight tournament in Portland. Texas likely faces Butler and Duke, which would mean Bamba squares off against Bagley.
For the Hornets, Malik Monk got off to a slow start, but is starting to find his footing. Monk’s three-point shot is starting to surface as Monk put up two 20 plus point performances within a week of each other. I’m still bullish on Monk’s ability to score the ball, and think he will eventually find his way into being a consistent pro for the Hornets.
No. 10 Indiana Pacers: PF Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Bridges has garnered a lot of attention for Michigan State, but he is also joined by Jackson, a top incoming freshman. Jackson is a bouncy big man with a freakish 7’4″ wingspan along with a crazy ability to block shots. In his college debut against North Florida, Jackson put up 13 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 assists.
Jackson has an opportunity to show his abilities against Duke’s stellar recruiting class who are also fighting for NBA draft stock. Pacers fans may be concerned to see Indiana draft another big man given the success of Myles Turner, but Jackson could mesh with Turner in Indiana.
No. 11 Phoenix Suns (via Heat): G Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
Diallo has been college basketball’s man of mystery. He joined Kentucky in the middle of last season, but never set foot in a game during the season. Diallo then decided to test the NBA waters, and garnered a lot of attention for the athleticism he displayed at the combine. Diallo is 6’4″, but has a 6’11” wingspan. Diallo’s 44.5″ vertical was the talk of the combine, but Diallo ultimately decided to get more playing experience by returning to Kentucky.
Diallo was so much of an unknown last season, it could have ended up working towards his advantage, so it will be interesting to see how this season impacts his draft position. Diallo’s defensive ability has been pleasantly surprising, and his long wingspan means he can close out on the perimeter to contest shots few players can. Through two games, Diallo is averaging 17 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
With the addition of Sexton, Diallo gives the Suns lots of excitement in the backcourt to go with Booker.
12. Utah Jazz: PG Trevon Duval, Duke
Bagley has received a lot of the attention for Duke to start the season, but make no mistake, this a deep squad that goes beyond Bagley. Duval has been extremely efficient to start the season averaging 11.5 points, 10 assists and 3 steals. Duval could end up being the player that makes the Duke offense go, with the amount of scorers on the young roster someone is going to have to distribute the basketball.
There’s a lot to watch in the Duke-Michigan State matchup, but don’t be surprised if we all come away from the game realizing we underestimated Duval. He has plenty of talent around him to really showcase his playmaking ability.
With Gordon Hayward moving on to Boston, the Jazz could benefit from adding another perimeter player in the draft.
13. Cleveland Cavs: F/C Robert Williams, Texas A&M
Williams has been serving an early-season suspension, but is expected to play sooner rather than later. Like Bridges, Williams is one of the few players who had a shot at being a high draft pick last season, but decided to return to College Station for his sophomore season. Last season, Williams averaged 11.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. This season, NBA teams will want to see Williams improve his long-range shooting, as Williams now finds himself in a draft class full of talented big men.
It is hard to imagine James would let the Cavs miss the playoffs, but if this somehow happened, Cleveland would likely have two lottery picks with the addition of the Nets pick via the Boston trade.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder: C Wendell Carter, Duke
If these freshman Duke players live up to the lofty expectations, this is a future 30 for 30 documentary waiting to happen. How Carter performs this season is hard to predict, given the early success of Bagley, who looks to be the focal point of the Duke offense. Carter will be sharing the paint with Bagley, but may have to take a back seat to his teammate given his immense talent level.
This puts NBA scouts in a difficult position as they look to project Carter to the next level, as Carter could have limited opportunities to shine at Duke given the loaded Blue Devils roster. Through two games, Carter is off to a modest start, averaging 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.
With Enes Kanter now with the Knicks, the Thunder could use another big man to add to the roster.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Picks 15-30
|15. Portland Trail Blazers||F Justin Jackson, Maryland|
|16. Philadelphia 76ers||G De’Anthony Melton, USC|
|17. Milwaukee Bucks||C Nick Richards, Kentucky|
|18. New Orleans Pelicans||SG Troy Brown, Oregon|
|19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves)||SF Jarred Vanderbilt, Kentucky|
|20. Memphis Grizzlies||SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova|
|21. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors)||C Mitchell Robinson|
|22. New York Knicks||SG Bruce Brown, Miami|
|23. Washington Wizards||SF Dzanan Musa, Cedevita|
|24. Orlando Magic||PG De’Anthony Melton, SMU|
|25. San Antonio Spurs||F/C Chimezie Metu, USC|
|26. Denver Nuggets||G Andrew Jones, Texas|
|27. Detroit Pistons||SF Brian Bowen, Louisville|
|28. Golden State Warriors||PG Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech|
|29. Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets)||PF P.J. Washington, Kentucky|
|30. Boston Celtics||SG Grayson Allen, Duke|