A lot can change between May 15 and June 21 but, with the Atlanta Hawks now locked in to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, we can begin to put together a more informed view of a realistic haul. Of course, it has been public knowledge for some time that the Hawks will be selecting at No. 19, No. 30 and No. 34 overall and there are plenty of opportunities to evaluate prospects in those ranges as well.
Still, the brand new information of Atlanta’s perch in the lottery provides a window to glance at a few options and we’ll do just that. In short, here are five prospects (in alphabetical order) that could come into play in realistic fashion for the Hawks at No. 3, knowing full well that we will dive (much) deeper into each option in the coming days.
Deandre Ayton (C, Arizona)
Ayton is the epitome of a traditional No. 1 pick candidate as a big man and he may not be available when the Hawks come on the clock. He’s a physical freak at 7’0 and more than 260 pounds, combining strength with fluidity and athleticism. Ayton is also a tremendous rebounder already and he displayed enough of his offensive arsenal at the college level to assuage any doubts about NBA productivity on that end.
Defensively, though, it was a mixed bag to say the least. His basketball IQ and awareness on that end were not impressive at Arizona and Ayton also has the reputation (at least publicly) of a player that hasn’t always been dialed in from an effort standpoint. In addition, Ayton seemed to want to play power forward in college (as scouts were maddened by Arizona’s insistence in playing him with another traditional center) and that could be a red flag.
Ayton is, by all accounts, a center and he would be wise to take that viewpoint. Regardless, it would be legitimately stunning to see him fall out of the top three in this class and he might be the only player available that can say that with near-100 percent certainty.
Marvin Bagley III (C/PF, Duke)
Marvin Bagley averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game while playing for one of the most visible college basketball programs in the country. That’s a pretty good place to start.
The 6’11 big man reclassified late in the process and, by virtue of that decision, became eligible for a draft in which he is (very) likely to be a top five pick. Bagley’s productivity speaks for itself and, beyond that, he is a tremendous athlete, with elite second-jump ability, tremendous fluidity and general off-the-charts athleticism.
Combine that with at least some semblance of a developing perimeter game offensively and you have a tremendous prospect. Questions center on the defensive end, where he was generally disappointing this season, even when playing alongside another lottery-bound big man in Wendell Carter Jr. There is no reason that Bagley III can’t be at least passable on that end but the ultimate evaluation of his prospect status revolves around just what he can become in today’s NBA on the defensive end.
Mo Bamba (C, Texas)
The strengths and weaknesses here are obvious. Bamba has a 7’9 wingspan and, in short, he is an unbelievable defensive prospect given his shot-blocking and rebounding projections at the next level. The most frequent comparison for Bamba is Rudy Gobert and, even if 90 percent of Gobert was a more realistic outcome, that would be an All-Star level of player worthy of top-five investment.
Bamba does have questions offensively, though, and there is some justified concern about drafting a one-way big man in today’s NBA. He is actually quicker and more agile than one would assume given his raw size and actually has the beginnings of a capable jump shot (68 percent from the line, for instance). However, there are far too many occasions in which Bamba disappears offensively and, with any prospect, a lot of fans (and even scouts) will recoil at the thought of a defense-first player this high in the draft.
Let’s just say it will be very interesting to evaluate and project Bamba.
Luka Doncic (SF/SG, Slovenia)
If not for Trae Young, Doncic would probably take the mantle of “most divisive” prospect in this class. Some view him as a clear No. 1 overall prospect, while others simply don’t see it and wouldn’t take him in the top five, leaving some potential that he is available for Atlanta.
At 6’8 and 230 pounds, one of his closest physical comparisons is Joe Johnson and, in short, he’s huge for a wing creator. Doncic is not, however, a nuclear athlete and that brings the biggest point of contention surrounding his game. Can he make up for that lack of elite athleticism with high-end passing vision, basketball IQ and shot-making?
At this point, Doncic may even be underrated athletically, if only because of the constant scrutiny of his explosiveness. To that end, his pivot point (other than athleticism) could be with his three-point shooting, which has never played up (33 percent) to the talent many believe to be there, even with the caveat of shot selection questions.
The modern NBA game places a significant premium on wings and Doncic is widely seen as the No. 1 wing in this class. How much should that influence his draft position? Well, that’s an open question and there will be plenty of discussion on Doncic in the future.
Jaren Jackson Jr. (C/PF, Michigan State)
Mo Bamba may have more tantalizing measurables but I’d argue Jackson Jr. is actually the best defensive prospect in this class. He was ridiculously productive (14.3 percent block rate) as a freshman at Michigan State despite being held back by Tom Izzo in many respects and, unlike Bamba, Jackson Jr. projects as a switchable defender that can move his feet and operate fully in space.
Offensively, his productivity wasn’t off-the-charts (sending many into skepticism) but Jackson Jr. also has a functional jump shot already (39.6 percent from three as a freshman) and that certainly helps. Throw in the fact that he could also be a threat around the rim and you have a potentially special prospect.
There are actual concerns, particularly in the area of offensive feel and consistency, and that is why Jackson Jr. is divisive in some circles. Still, his tools are very impressive and it would be wise to look (well) beyond points per game at the college level when evaluating him.
Michael Porter Jr. (PF/SF, Missouri)
Once thought of as a legitimate contender for the No. 1 pick, Porter Jr. suffered a major back injury and missed the vast majority of his freshman season at Missouri. When he returned, the 19-year-old didn’t exactly impress and, even with the caveat that he was rusty after the health scare, Porter Jr.’s performance didn’t help his stock.
Still, there is significant upside in Porter Jr., as he combines size (6’10) with the theoretical ability to function as a primary scorer at the next level. There is a ton of risk associated with Porter Jr., especially when factoring in the medicals and some faint whispers of motor concerns, but it is also easy to see why he would be enticing to a rebuilding organization in need of a No. 1 option offensively.
Trae Young (PG, Oklahoma)
Young is the most polarizing prospect in this class and that won’t change between now and June 21. He was utterly fantastic during his freshman season at Oklahoma (especially in the early going) and it is impossible to overstate just how impressive it is to lead the country in both scoring and assists while playing in the Big 12.
Of course, there are also negatives and question marks, with Young’s efficiency dropping off a clip as Oklahoma went into the tank down the stretch of the season. He is a tremendous passer (arguably the best in this class) and, obviously, the comparisons to Stephen Curry have been around for a while given his free-flowing offensive nature and shot selection. One of the big questions, though, is just how elite Young’s shooting will be because, if it is just “very good” instead of “elite,” the rest of his game (particularly on the defensive end) may not be able to make up the difference.
In short, Young is the traditional “boom or bust” pick in a lot of ways and, if he booms, teams will look silly for passing on him.
Stay tuned throughout the draft process for all the latest, including an ongoing series dedicated to examining 50-plus prospects that the Atlanta Hawks could be evaluating.
***Note: By popular demand, this post was expanded to include a seventh player in Oklahoma’s Trae Young.***