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2018 NBA Draft: Should Vs. Will

June 21, 2018

Perusing all the various mock drafts for the 2018 National Basketball Association Draft (Today, 4:00pm PST, ESPN), and regardless of where they agree or disagree, they all start to read the same way.  As with most mock drafts of any type and for any sport I see, they attempt to bridge a gap between “What Should Happen”, a projection of what teams should prioritize largely based on their own assessment of the available draft eligible talent, and “What Will Happen”, a prediction of how teams will respond to prior inputs and actions largely based on history and an estimation of each team’s needs, wants, and scouting.

Many of these mocks live in a netherworld that tries to have it both ways, and most of them do not tell you, the reader, the difference, i.e., what assessments are more objective and which analyses are of a more subjective nature.  ESPN is one of the few I’ve seen that produced a “What Should Happen” mock and told you upfront (click on “see how everything works here”).

I will do no such thing. I will go through the Lottery slots (picks originally belonging to teams that did not make the playoffs, Nos. 1-14) in order and spell out both for you – what I think teams should do (more subjective), and what I think teams are most likely to do (more objective), with clear delineation between the two. For ease and convenience, I will assume that each team will stay at their slot and pick a player in the “Will Happen”, but we all know trades are bound to occur, and I will reflect or suggest that in the “Should Happen” as warranted.  If anything, it gives me the chance to be wrong twice on each team.

In the interest of full disclosure, here is my personal Top 14 NBA Draft prospect list, regardless of team selection order.  How I rate the available talent pool, which will factor in more to the “Should” than the “Will”:

1.) DeAndre Ayton, C (7’0½”, 261), Arizona

2.) Marvin Bagley III, F/C (6’10½”, 234), Duke

3.) Luka Doncic, G (6’8”, 228), Real Madrid

4.) Jaren Jackson, F/C (6’11”, 240), Michigan State

5.) Mo Bamba, C (7’0”, 225), Texas

6.) Michael Porter, Jr., F (6’10”, 212), Missouri

7.) Wendell Carter, C (6’10”, 257), Duke

8.) Mikal Bridges, F (6’7” 204), Villanova

9.) Kevin Knox, F (6’9” 213), Kentucky

10.) Trae Young, PG (6’2”, 176), Oklahoma

11.) Collin Sexton, PG (6’1½”, 185), Alabama

12.) Miles Bridges, F (6’6”, 226), Michigan State

13.) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G (6’6”, 182), Kentucky

14.) Zhaire Smith, G/F (6’4”, 199), Texas Tech

The Phoenix Suns are on the clock …

1.) Phoenix Suns

What Should Happen: Take DeAndre Ayton in their first 30 seconds on the clock.
What Will Happen: Use most of the allotted five (5) minutes for their pick, then select DeAndre Ayton.

Analysis: He is the consensus No. 1 pick in all the mass media mock drafts. I had suspected that with the new Head Coach Igor Kokoškov, that he would want to take Luka Doncic No. 1 (who he had coached on the Slovenian National Team to the European Title last summer), but Suns Owner Robert Sarver is a University of Arizona alumnus who went to Tucson several times to see Ayton play at Arizona. He may not have won all the awards, but I think Ayton was the best player in college basketball last season. So, yeah, the Suns take Ayton, and the drama starts at …

2.) Sacramento Kings

What Should Happen: Select Marvin Bagley III.
What Will Happen: Take Luka Doncic instead.

Analysis: I think Bagley is the No. 2 prospect in this draft, but I’ve long suspected that Sacramento was going to be happy taking take whomever Phoenix did not take between Ayton and Doncic. The Kings might be torn on who among the two to take, and recent reports and most mocks suggest they might actually take Bagley, but social media sleuths seem to think Doncic knows he’s going to Sac-town.

3.) Atlanta Hawks

What Should Happen: Taking whomever is left between Doncic and Bagley.
What Will Happen: Taking whomever is left between Doncic and Bagley.

Analysis: It’s more rare than you think when there’s a convergence between the “Should” and the “Will”, but if Doncic is still on the board, Atlanta likely jumps on him, and any team that passes on him from #3 on out will regret it. Some “mockers” (Is that a word in this context?  I’m using it!). I could see Atlanta opting for Jackson too, I just think that’s somewhat redundant with John Collins on the roster.

4.) Memphis Grizzlies

What Should Happen: Trade down to a team like the Knicks, 76ers, Celtics or Suns for more picks and/or a proven veteran player.
What Will Happen: Hold their nose and take Jaren Jackson, Jr.

Analysis: The Grizzlies were beset by injuries and a coaching change that involuntarily tanked their season, but I sense that they think they can bounce back with a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and get back to the playoffs, so they don’t look to me to be a team in for the long haul rebuild “process” (© Sam Hinkie). That’s why I think they should trade down to a team that wants Jackson or Bamba (or Doncic if he’s there) for picks and a player that can help them immediately.  Jackson is not that guy to help immediately, but he has as much upside as anyone in the draft as a modern rim-protecting, 3-point shooting big.  I think he was underutilized at Michigan State due to some roster construction issues and Tom Izzo having to play Nick Ward, but he’ll be a better NBA player than college player. I could also see Memphis holding their nose and taking Doncic if he falls to them.

5.) Dallas Mavericks

What Should Happen: Hope and Pray Mo Bamba falls to them.
What Will Happen: Try not to dance wildly when Mo Bamba falls to them

Analysis: Bamba has Rudy Gobert-plus upside as a rim protector, and in workouts he has a feathery touch from 3, but his offensive skill set otherwise is miles away, and his body also has a long journey to support his potential. Biggest Boom or Bust prospect in the draft in my opinion.

6.) Orlando Magic

What Should Happen: Take Michael Porter, Jr. and be happy.
What Will Happen: Take Michael Porter, Jr. and be unhappy.

Analysis: If we’re talking about talent alone, Porter would be right up there with Ayton as the No 1/1A prospect overall. He was actually #1 in most recruiting rankings lists until Bagley reclassified to the 2017 class last August, and I had him #1 entering their junior year of high school. However, that back injury is the red flag that won’t go away. I could see this as a spot for savvy teams to trade up with Orlando to snag what might be the best pure talent in the draft. I could also see the Magic taking Carter here, which, let’s be honest, either selection would add to their frontcourt logjam. Maybe they imprudently reach for a point guard here.

7.) Chicago Bulls

What Should Happen: Take Porter if he falls to him. Otherwise select Wendell Carter and plop him next to Lauri Markkanen.
What Will Happen: Select Wendell Carter.

Analysis: I am not as high on Carter’s upside as others are, thinking he should have even been more productive at Duke with Bagley drawing the defense’s attention away from the block.  But I believe Carter has the highest floor of any Top 14 prospect, as local reports suggest the Bulls would be happy with the safe pick here, and Carter would contribute right away as a natural fit at both ends of the floor in Chicago next to the outside marksman Markkanen. One caveat: If Porter drops to No. 7, Chicago won’t let him drop to No. 8.

8.) Cleveland Cavaliers

What Should Happen:  Draft for their future, and steal Mikal Bridges away from Philadelphia. Or trade for future picks.
What Will Happen: Make the appearance of appeasing LeBron, and select a point guard. If I had to guess, Trae Young.

Analysis: This might be a bit of a cop out in “guessing” which point guard I think “The Land” will take, in that I don’t really know if LeBron has a preference among Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Young, but Jonathan Givony of ESPN/Draft Express tweeted it’s a toss-up between the two. I’m not alone in thinking that’s the wrong move here, and to me their best option is to take the best “3-and-D” wing in the draft, Mikal Bridges, who is ready to contribute as a rookie and is the type of long wing that fits the Cavaliers’ current roster and can matchup with the contenders in the West. If Porter somehow drops to #8, he’s a no-brainer there, and bridges the gap between future and present needs. Otherwise, I don’t think Young or Gilgeous-Alexander present enough immediate help to factor into LeBron’s ultimate decision to stay or go.

9.) New York Knicks

What Should Happen: Take the point guard Cleveland does not take.
What Will Happen: Go for the sizzle and select Collin Sexton.

Analysis: If Cleveland takes Gilgeous-Alexander, then Young would make the most sense here, adding another plus-shooter around Porzingis.  Sexton however has that MSG flashiness in his game, and I can see the Knicks being seduced by his speed and his slashing ability.  Either way, last year’s pick Frank Ntilikina likely isn’t the future at point guard. Knox is someone teams should start considering at this point in the draft as well.

10.) Philadelphia 76ers

What Should Happen: Package 10 & 25 to move up a few spots to take another big talent and complete the Process (© Sam Hinkie).
What Will Happen: Be grateful that Mikal Bridges falls to them.

Analysis: If Doncic is available at No. 4, or Porter available at Nos. 6-8, the teams in those slots currently might be willing trading partners, and the 76ers would do well to add either of those two to their young core, both of whom would be fantastic fits in Philly.  However, with the GM position in interim flux thanks to twitter leaks, I think Philadelphia stands pat and takes the local Bridges, who is also a perfect complement to their core as a shooter and defender.

11.) Charlotte Hornets

What Should Happen: Jump on Kevin Knox with both feet.
What Will Happen: Select Kevin Knox and not let anyone know how ecstatic they are.

Analysis: Gilgeous-Alexander is a popular pick here in the mocks as well, but I don’t see Charlotte being able to pass up Knox, who has as high a ceiling as anyone likely to be taken ahead of him.  Dallas could take him at No. 5 if Bamba isn’t there, and I wouldn’t blink. At No. 11, I think he’s a virtual steal.

12.) Los Angeles Clippers

What Should Happen: Hope Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is still there.
What Will Happen: Take Shai Gilgeous-Alexander because he is still there .

Analysis: I think the Clippers go point guard here, and would take Young or Sexton if they are still here and Gilgeous-Alexander is gone.  But can’t you just see Gilgeous-Alexander being a Doc Rivers guy?  I can, and so can many others.

13.) Los Angeles Clippers

What Should Happen: Trade out of this pick.
What Will Happen: Use this pick on Robert Williams.

Analysis: I’m not big on Robert Williams, was never impressed with his motor or offensive skill set besides his obvious athleticism and rim-running ability.  His college teammate Tyler Davis was better in college, and Williams is too raw for me to take him in the lottery.  Late teens maybe is where his value manifests, but too many mocks have the Clippers taking Williams.  Meanwhile, I don’t normally let friends who mock draft do NBADraftdotnet, but their mock actually agrees with my assessment, having Williams taken at No. 21 by Utah. So who knows? Unless they take Zhaire Smith or Miles Bridges – which, if they get Gilgeous-Alexander, I can’t see them taking another similarly-sized guard/wing –  I doubt they get someone who helps them immediately, so this should be a pick that draws some trade action. If they have to package this with No. 12 to either move up several spots, or take back a player in trade (I see you working Kawhi), then so be it.

14.) Denver Nuggets

What Should Happen: Take the best available player on the board, which will likely be Miles Bridges or Zhaire Smith.
What Will Happen: Select Lonnie Walker IV

Analysis: Denver is a mystery here, and the team most likely to be in “Best-player-on-the-board” mode, but they do need more wings, and any of the three names above would check that box. I’m huge on Zhaire Smith’s upside as a “3-and-D” wing, and think the versatile and productive Miles Bridges is a safer pick here, but I tend to agree with the Basketball Outsiders, who all four of their experts have the Nuggets taking the long and versatile Walker.  I wasn’t too impressed with him in college at Miami, considering the reputation he had from his prep career, but his upside is a good gamble, and I would have him in the No. 15-17 range as it is.

Overall, I think the draft is really strong at the top, then a big gap opens up right around where the Clippers pick at 12/13.  This is not the deepest draft in memory, but there should be several all-stars and anywhere from 1-4 franchise players from the lottery. My popcorn is ready


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