Every draft participant has their own unique dynamic that they bring to the table, and each team will do their best to evaluate which players will best help them moving forward. Let us try to predict which players will be selected by the teams in the lottery.
For this piece, I will try to evaluate which players will go into the top 7 of the 2018 NBA Draft on June 21 (June 22 in Manila).
1. Phoenix Suns – DeAndre Ayton
Standing at 7’0 feet, weighing 261 pounds, and with a 7’5 foot wingspan, Ayton looks like he was sculpted by the basketball gods to play the game. Even if the Suns already have a bunch of young big men, no one from the group has the franchise-altering combination of size, skills, and potential that the big man from the Bahamas has to offer. Even if there are some question marks regarding his focus on defense, Ayton has all the tools to be a force on both ends of the floor.
DeAndre Ayton will join a budding young Suns core led by Devin Booker and Josh Jackson and might be the final piece the team needs to start thinking about contending in the near future. And as someone who played for the Arizona Wildcats in college, it would not be hard for the people of Phoenix, Arizona to learn to cheer for Ayton.
2. Sacramento Kings – Luka Doncic
You can argue that Luka Doncic could get picked at No.1 before Ayton, but he lands at No.2 here. As with most European prospects, concerns about his athleticism (or lack thereof) and how this would limit his impact in the NBA is the biggest question on his game. But, unlike most European prospects, Doncic is already the most decorated European prospect ever and is a proven winner. Doncic is 6’8 with the vision of a point guard, is great at the pick and roll, and has a diverse scoring arsenal. The more you watch him, the more you see that he just makes things happen.
While some may question his fit alongside De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento’s promising point guard whom they took as the 5th overall draft pick last year, the Kings are not in the position to draft in terms of what “fits” their team now. They need to draft the best available player and worry about the fit later.
3. Atlanta Hawks – Jaren Jackson, Jr.
Jaren Jackson, Jr. is the youngest player in the draft, but it is also easy to see him fitting in with virtually all of the NBA teams right now. At 6’11 and 240 pounds with a 7’4 wingspan, Jackson is a perfect fit in the modern NBA—he can defend all five positions, and he can also play multiple roles on offense. He wasn’t as hyped coming into his lone year in college as his other batchmates in this draft, but his rise to the top is telling of his work ethic and willingness to improve.
Jackson has the potential to be the best player in this draft, but even if he doesn’t, his floor projects to still be a versatile two-way player on a winning team. It’s hard to pass that up with the 3rd overall pick.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – Marvin Bagley III
Marvin Bagley III is supposed to be just an incoming college freshman this year, but after reclassifying to a higher year level and producing tremendous numbers in his only season at Duke, he is now a projected top five pick.
He may be seen as a prototypical rim-running big man by most, but Bagley also has a promising jumper that he would be wise to develop if he wants to reach his potential in the NBA. As it is, his athleticism and tenacity may be enough for him to get buckets and playing time early on in his career. While there are concerns about his defensive ability, the former Blue Devil is also one of the rare draft picks that Memphis can select whether they choose to continue trying to contend with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, or if they choose to go on a full-on rebuild.
5. Dallas Mavericks – Mo Bamba
Over the past several years, one of the Mavericks’ central team-building strategies has been to find a center that can complement Dirk Nowitzki’s strengths and hide his weaknesses. While he may only end up playing a year or two with Nowitzki, Mo Bamba certainly fits the bill of what the Mavs have wanted from the center position.
Bamba recently made headlines for recording the longest wingspan ever (7’10) at the NBA draft combine, and this instantly makes it easy to see his potential as an elite shot-blocker and finisher in the league. Bamba is still a project overall on offense and also needs to bulk up, but his defensive potential may be enough to give him consistent minutes. He has shown the ability to hit shots from the outside, and hopefully he develops this skill even further while playing with the greatest shooting big man ever in Dirk Nowitzki.
6. Orlando Magic – Trae Young
Speaking of shooting, Trae Young would bring exactly that and more for the Orlando Magic, who need a major jolt in excitement as a franchise. The early season sensation’s performance may have cratered off towards the end of the collegiate season, but he was able to do enough to jump from a fringe NBA prospect to a potential top 10 pick.
Everyone knows about Young’s shooting already. And while he may not be the next Steph Curry (no one will), his playmaking abilities are actually a lot more advanced than people give him credit for. There are big red flags about his defensive ability due to his underwhelming measurements (6’2, 176 pounds, 6’4 wingspan) and below-average athleticism, but his offensive upside outweighs these concerns. Now, it’s up to new Magic coach Steve Clifford to find schemes and rotations that can mitigate Young’s defensive limitations.
7. Chicago Bulls – Wendell Carter, Jr.
With a team full of talented young wildcards such as Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, and Lauri Markkanen, drafting a “safe” pick like Wendell Carter, Jr. will be a breath of fresh air for the Chicago Bulls. He may not be perceived to have as much upside as some of the other players in the draft, but Carter is one of the most NBA-ready prospects this year and brings a serious demeanor that shows he just means business whenever he’s on the floor. He has a great back to the basket game that can fit alongside modern bigs like Markkanen and Portis, but he can also play as a face-up power forward alongside other traditional bigs like Robin Lopez.
Carter is also an advanced defender who knows how to properly position himself and knows how to use his length (7’4 wingspan) to his advantage. He is not considered an explosive athlete like Bagley, his teammate at Duke, but he is athletic enough to keep up with the most NBA players. When you watch Carter, it is hard not to see similarities between him and one of the most underrated stars in the NBA, Al Horford.