I have to apologise, my coverage of the actual players in this year’s draft is a bit all over the shop. Moving countries mixed in with following the NBA, NFL and AFL meant I left college ball on the backburner for a while. Good news though. Before tomorrow night’s NBA Draft Lottery determines the draft order I’m breaking down the top-20 prospects in the class and ranking them from best available to the 20th guy. It’s about time.
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Just missed the cut: Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Rawle Alkins (Arizona), Melvin Frazier (Tulane)
1. Deandre Ayton, Arizona
MOST people have Doncic as the top player in this year’s class. Not me. I honestly think that Ayton has all-time potential, with his imposing 7’1″, 250-pound frame set to dominate the paint from day one in the NBA. He still has work to do defensively, but he has all the tools to be ’10x All-Star’ good.
2. Luka Doncic, Slovenia
THE European prodigy has had his playmaking abilities compared to Magic Johnson, which might sound like a stretch. Believe me, Doncic can play, showcasing his skills for Real Madrid and at last year’s EuroBasket, where he really started to emerge as a potential star. With his premier passing ability and craftiness around the basket, mixed with his smooth stroke, Doncic will make a GM very happy in six weeks time.
3. Michael Porter Jr, Missouri
THERE are doubts over Porter’s worrisome back, but if he is fully healed he has the potential to be the best player in the class. He has a great combination of size and shooting with a better, taller Harrison Barnes a solid comparison. Don’t be surprised if he lights up the box score with some big scoring games right away. Fingers crossed he is fully healthy so he can reach his elite potential.
4. Marvin Bagley, Duke
FUNNILY enough, I made an argument on behalf of Marvin Bagley about his potential as a No. 1 pick, yet I still have him ranked 4th. I think that Bagley has every chance to be a star, even if he doesn’t become a fantastic defender. There are plenty of athletic forwards that can put up 20/10 and not be categorised as great defenders (see: Kevin Love & Blake Griffin). His landing spot is still a little up in the air, but I still think Bagley is a top-5 talent guy.
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5. Jaren Jackson Jr, Michigan State
I might be the only person in the world who isn’t high on Jaren Jackson. I totally understand his potential as a two-way guy, but the ceilings of everyone above him makes those players better in my eyes. I could be way off with the young, versatile big and he may become a star of the league. For now, 5th on my rankings seems about right.
6. Mohamed Bamba, Texas
ANYONE with a 7’9″ wingspan is going to make life hell for opponents driving the lane. The lanky Mo Bamba will be a shot blocking presence right away in the league relying on his length and timing to dominate rather than his explosiveness. His offensive game is limited at the moment, with few real strengths. However, his upside is tremendous and if he can find a consistent way of scoring then the sky is the limit.
7. Trae Young, Oklahoma
FROM media darling to fringe top-5 guy Trae Young has had an interesting year, to say the least. By no means was this season a failure, after Young led the nation in both scoring (27.4 PPG) and assists (8.7 APG). There are concerns over his size and Young never starred on defense which holds him back from pushing up the player rankings.
8. Mikal Bridges, Villanova
SAFE, versatile and plenty of potential. Mikal Bridges is fast rising up mocks around the globe and he looms as one of the safest picks in the latter half of the top-10. Bridges might not have the ceiling of some of his draft class peers but is three-point shooting (43.5% last season) and stellar defense is a big drawcard.
9. Wendell Carter Jr, Duke
AL Horford is being used as a comparable player for a lot of this year’s prospects. No one fits the bill better than Wendell Carter though. You know what you’re getting when you draft the Duke fresher. A low-risk guy who doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses and does almost everything well.
10. Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech
UBER athlete Zhaire Smith has GM’s daydreaming of finding Donovan Mitchell 2.0 late in the lottery. The former Red Raider soared up draft boards throughout the second half of the collegiate season and as a result, he is probably guaranteed to be taken in the lottery come June. Watch him play and you’ll see why.
11. Miles Bridges, Michigan State
MILES Bridges might have hurt his draft stock by returning to school last year. That doesn’t mean he isn’t just as good of a player, with the do-it-all forward proving his talents during the Spartans season. Created as an athletic version of Tobias Harris, expect Bridges to go viral at least once next season with a huge dunk on a poor unsuspecting defender.
12. Collin Sexton, Alabama
TABBED as one of the fiercest competitors in this year’s crop is Collin Sexton. That intensity can only get him so far though and a few other talented players have leapfrogged him in a lot of rankings and mock drafts of late. Don’t get me wrong, this guy has All-Star potential if he can channel his high octane approach in the right way.
13. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
AS appealing as Gilgeous-Alexander’s perimeter defense and versatility is, at the end of the day his jumper is his Achilles heel. If he had a consistent and reliable shot then he would be a bonafide top-10 pick. There are those that have their suspicions, which holds SGA back from being considered a true elite talent…for now.
14. Kevin Knox, Kentucky
I loved Kevin Knox in college. He reminds me of a taller Devin Booker, with the potential to be a big-time bucket getter in the league. Knox’s lofty ceiling is undeniable, but he is still raw and incredibly young. He will still be 18 when his name gets called on draft night and given his potential, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was drafted higher than were he falls in these rankings.
15. Robert Williams, Texas A&M
ONE of the biggest hit or miss prospects in the draft has timed his run to perfection. After a fine college season, Robert Williams blew up in the tourney thanks to some highlight dunks and solid stat lines. His tremendous energy and dunking ability have people high on his ability to be a rim running big in the modern league. The biggest question is how well he can perform in the other areas of his game.
16. Lonnie Walker, Miami
STILL showing signs of his 2017 injury, Walker’s season wasn’t the greatest audition tape for the NBA. Still, he could be a nice bench scorer at worst thanks to his multi-dimensional scoring ways. He lacks consistency and at times he does some things great and other things terrible. Give him a few seasons to find his feet and I have high hopes Walker can be a nice player.
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17. Mitchell Robinson, Chalmette High School
A true prospect in every sense of the word, the verdict is still out on Mitchell Robinson. His bounce and explosiveness wows anyone around him, but could it all just be camouflage? Robinson’s decision to forgo college and instead train for the draft after finishing high school leaves us with plenty of questions and not a lot of answers. Time for the five-star recruit to show us what he’s capable of.
18. Khyri Thomas, Creighton
I was much higher on Thomas during portions of the season. He averaged a highly efficient 15.1 PPG for the Bluejays, but on the other side of the ball is where he made a name for himself. The defensive dynamo neutralized plenty of decent college players with his ability to move laterally and defend a number of positions a nightmare for the opposition. It will be interesting to see how this transitions to the pros.
19. Jontay Porter, Missouri
I’LL be honest, I barely followed the lesser-known Porter throughout this year. With all the attention focused on his injured older brother, Jontay managed to have a fine season for the Tigers and pushed his name into first-round consideration. He does some things really well, but there are doubts surrounding his true talent as a player in the NBA.
20. Anfernee Simons, IMG Academy
CLOSING out my top-20 rankings is another high schooler. There isn’t much of the wildcard Anfernee Simons, with his 177-pound frame something that needs to be addressed ASAP. Much like Robinson, the inexperienced baller will be more of a long-term option than a ‘help right away’ guy. Still, there is plenty of upside associated with Simons and drafting him late in the first is a gamble worth taking..
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