Nine months ago, the 2018 NBA Draft class looked, at least in some ways, to be below average with a relative weakness in international prospects, incoming freshmen, and returning college players. Since that time, the reclassification of Marvin Bagley and the unusually fast development of several freshmen—particularly big men—has altered the perception pretty dramatically. This class now shapes up as average in its overall depth but one that is stacked at the top and throughout the lottery.
Here is an early look at how the board could shape up for the Atlanta Hawks near the top of the draft and a glimpse at how the board could change in the months ahead:
1 - Luka Doncic, G, Real Madrid (Slovenia)
Doncic will enter the draft as the most productive prospect in history. Still only 18, he was just named the MVP of the Spanish ACB League for the month of December—the best professional basketball league in the world outside of the NBA. Real Madrid would easily dominate any college team and Doncic is their best player.
He can run the point or play either wing position at 6'7 and 220 pounds. Doncic does not necessarily have elite quickness or athleticism but he has great hands that will allow him to defend NBA players.
Doncic was the best prospect in the draft nine months ago and has improved as much or more than anyone in the time since. The next two prospects are great talents worthy of #1 consideration. However, Doncic will be as productive a rookie as the NBA has seen in some time who will fit onto any NBA team and be an ideal franchise-changing player for Atlanta.
2 - DeAndre Ayton, C, Freshman (Arizona)
Ayton has emerged as something of a co-favorite with Doncic to be selected at No. 1 overall. His development and production is on part with Joel Embiid at Kansas, although he does not show the same natural feel on the defensive end that the Sixers big man displayed.
The Arizona youngster flashed the ability to do just about everything offensively while making good decisions for his age and experience. He has shown range out to 18 feet and his mechanics are indicative of a guy who will be able to play center while comfortably playing beyond the arc (although I do have some concern over him being consistent due to his failing to square up his hips when facing up).
Ayton passes the eye test defensively at 7'0 and 260 pounds, yet his instincts and physicality leave something to be desired. He plays less athletic on the defensive end and often that is a bad sign for players of his talent level. He would be No. 1 overall in most draft classes but his enormous ceiling is not intriguing enough for me to move him past the obscenely high floor of Doncic.
3 - Marvin Bagley, PF/C, Freshman (Duke)
Bagley is a 6'11, 235-pound forward/center with jaw-dropping athleticism and hands for his size and age. He is rebounding at the college level with surprising productivity and is a nightmare cover inside 15 feet.
Offensively, his shot is awkward and does not flow smoothly from his knees through release. He has potential on the defensive end but does not compete on that end like a player wanting to be selected #1 overall. He has potential to be able to defend wings and post players at an elite level with proper commitment.
I give him a higher chance of overtaking Doncic than Ayton if he should show more consistency on the defensive end because his instincts on both end of the floor are a skill that cannot be taught.
4 Trae Young, PG, Freshman (Oklahoma)
5 Collin Sexton, PG, Freshman (Alabama)
Young and Sexton can be flipped in either order at this point. Neither player is much of a threat to penetrate the top three but one of them will be the first point guard off the board.
Young is absolutely dominating college basketball right now on the offensive end. His offensive productivity is beyond anything that has been seen since Pete Maravich—which is why he is so hard to compare. He can make a shot from anywhere on the floor and is just as likely to whip a pass to a teammate—all while showing unusual ball security. On the flip side, he does not show an ability to defend his position at the next level and does not have the size (6'2, 180) to cover on the wing. Teams choosing him will know that they have to provide cover on the defensive end.
Sexton is a relentless competitor and gym rat whose NBA skill set remains uneasy to assess. He can handle the ball, pass a little, and shoot a little—but he is not a natural distributor or shooter. He is a scorer who is a willing passer. Defensively, he has similar size to Young (6'2, 185) but he plays much stronger with greater instincts. He is a complete player who does not have an elite skill—although his first step and ability to get to the rim are close. Both players are comfortable playing off the ball offensively—an unusual trait in elite point guards. This is why teams that already have a point guard—including the Hawks—are unlikely to let that affect their slot on the draft board.
6 Mohamed Bamba, C, Freshman (Texas)
7 Michael Porter, Jr., F, Freshman (Missouri)
Both of these players can be found in top five of most boards, with Bamba being a fast-rising defensive prospect and Porter as an injured prospective No. 1 pick.
Bamba is a 7'0, 220-pound mountain who runs the floor well while also playing TALLER. His wingspan is bigger than any recent lottery pick and scouts often compare his potential to Rudy Gobert. The concern with Bamba is that his offensive game is limited although he has shown impressive growth this season—particularly at knowing how to play in the right space. Most of his productivity comes from physically dominating smaller, less athletic players so there are reasonable questions about how his skills will develop or translate to the next level. He holds up well on the perimeter defensively so his ceiling is nearly unimaginable on that end but teams will have to assess how much of a liability he might be in a league that craves 5 players to space the floor.
Porter was listed at No. 1 on many mocks this summer but had started to fade a little prior to his injury that has him out for the rest of the college season. He is a 6'10, 215-pound do-it-all athlete with few weaknesses in his skill set. He certainly enjoys scoring to making plays for teammates and mostly defends when needed—but absent of any professional-level effort. He has #1 talent but has to overcome a back injury that has sidelined him and some questions about his competitive character (admittedly this has seemed of greater concern to me than other scouts).
The Rest of the Lottery
At this point, these seven prospects stand above the rest. There are six other prospects who presently show the potential to break into this group: Mikal Bridges (Villanova), Dzanan Musa (International), Miles Bridges (Michigan State), Kevin Knox (Kentucky), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State), and Bruce Brown (Miami). Among these players, Knox and Jackson are very talented freshmen whose production could get them inside the top 5.