2018 NBA Draft: Top 10 Storylines to Keep an Eye On

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 10, 2017

2018 NBA Draft: Top 10 Storylines to Keep an Eye On

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    The NBA draft discussion includes a variety of topics, from the No. 1 overall contenders and top returning prospects to the NCAA's scandal and how it affects scouting. 

    This year's conversation already features a number of engaging player and situational debates. And the 2018 field appears loaded at the top with high-profile names and others expected to blow up.

    Take this as a general guide for what to follow during what should be another exciting season of scouting.

The Next Unicorns

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    The NBA's unicorn population continues to grow with Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. And it already looks like college basketball has a few more in the pipeline. 

    Arizona's 7'1" freshman DeAndre Ayton will turns heads with a spectacular 250-pound build and 7'5 ½" wingspan but also the ability to shoot threes and drill mid-range jumpers.

    We haven't seen anyone like Texas freshman Mohamed Bamba, who sports a 7'9" wingspan designed for Rudy Gobert-like rim protection. Only Bamba is going to look far more fluid taking jump shots and scoring in the post. 

    Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III, 6'11", 234 pounds, is the top athlete of them all, as well as the most versatile. He plays big under the boards and high above the rim, though it's the flashes of open-floor ball-handling, face-up maneuvers, back-to-the-basket moves, perimeter defense, shot-blocking and mid-range touch that point to No. 1 overall potential. 

    Which will be the NBA's next unicorn? Or could all three help make 2018 one of the more memorable big-man drafts?

Luka Doncic Versus the NCAA Field

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    It's possible the world's top prospect outside the NBA plays in Spain, not the NCAA.

    Luka Doncic has set the bar high for college basketball's biggest names competing for No. 1 overall consideration. None of them will even have the chance to succeed against the level of competition that Doncic has already proved himself against. 

    "Michael Porter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III couldn't put up the production that Doncic is doing in a 40-minute FIBA ball-control game," one NBA veteran scouting executive told Bleacher Report over the summer.

    From his role in Real Madrid's run to the 2017 Final Four to EuroBasket, where he showed out against NBA studs and helped Slovenia win gold, Doncic has already put together one of the most inspiring resumes for a teenager.

    He's even backed up all the hype by leading Euroleague in scoring early on at just 18 years old. A 6'8" ball-handling playmaker with confident shooting range and palpable toughness, Doncic starts the year atop our board and others' around the league.

    Will college basketball's stars be able to outshine Europe's top young gun?

Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz...Michael Porter Jr.?

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Ben Simmons missed the NCAA tournament at LSU. Markelle Fultz had a losing record at Washington. Both put up monster numbers for weaker teams and then went first in consecutive drafts. Is Michael Porter Jr. next?

    Missouri tied for last in the SEC last year. The Tigers aren't ranked to start 2017-18. But Porter will clearly have a green light and opportunity to outscore every freshman in the country. A 6'10" face-up forward, his game is built to give opposing college bigs problems with size, shooting and off-the-dribble offense.

    He's a good bet to average over 20 points a game. 

    Over the past two years, we've seen the Philadelphia 76ers ignore college records and value individual play. It's paying off with Simmons. Fultz's start has been less convincing. 

    Carrying Missouri to the NCAA tournament would obviously reflect favorably on Porter. But how will teams assess him if he's losing?

Betting on Themselves: Miles Bridges and Robert Williams

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    Michigan State's Miles Bridges and Texas A&M's Robert Williams both had a shot at drawing interest from lottery teams last June. But both returned to school.

    Will they rise up further after betting on themselves the way Kris Dunn did in 2016? Or will they plummet down boards Ivan Rabb-style after plateauing or showing no followup improvement?

    Bridges, who we've already seen average 16.9 points as a freshman, is a legit National Player of the Year contender, loaded with explosiveness that screams NBA. He even made two threes per game and flashed impressive glimpses of defensive versatility. 

    But Bridges also shot 68.5 percent from the line, raising some doubt over his three-point numbers. And he still leaned on his athleticism over his ball skills and shot-creating.  

    Williams was almost all physical tools and bounce last year and still managed to produce and earn scouts' attention. He aces the eye test with 6'10" size, 7'4" length, big hands and powerful bounce. Without much skill, he averaged 11.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.5 blocks on 55.8 percent shooting in just 25.8 minutes. 

    However, he didn't make many jumpers or look sharp scoring or ball-handling. 

    They could each crack 2018's top 10 or even five by showing they've cleaned up or expanded on certain areas of their games. They could also wind up having left a lot of money on the 2017 table. 

NCAA Scandal Affecting NBA Draft Scouting

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    The NCAA pay-for-play scandal will have an effect on the NBA scouting process, because there are some big-name prospects whose eligibility is in question. 

    Collin Sexton, the No. 1 NCAA guard on our 2018 big board, is the latest high-profile name tied to the mess,  though he's only facing a one-game suspension from Alabama.

    Auburn isn't playing Austin Wiley, who had a strong showing over the summer at the U19 World Championships but is also connected to the recruiting corruption. 

    De'Anthony Melton had been held out of scrimmages by USC, per ESPN's Jeff Goodman.

    Louisville's Brian Bowen II has at least been cleared by the FBI. But while the school investigates, Bowen is bound to miss time.

    How would starting the season mid-year affect their play? Will they be able to maximize their stock without full seasons of work? And will scouts hold these kids accountable for being involved? Are there more names to come?

How Will the Mitchell Robinson Scenario Play out and Influence Future Prospects?

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    What's going to happen with Mitchell Robinson? 

    His story will be interesting to follow and one that may influence others down the road, depending on how it plays out during the draft.

    A top-10 recruit who'd combined for 29 points between the McDonald's All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic, Robinson committed to Western Kentucky—and then left school before it started. 

    "I've decided to leave Western Kentucky and just focus on next year's NBA Draft," Robinson told Scout.com's Evan Daniels.

    The big question is whether passing on the NCAA will affect his stock. Will teams be willing to take the chance on a kid early in the draft, having not seen him play in live action since high school?

    If Robinson does get a lottery or even first-round team to bite, would it open the door for other prospects down the road who are wary about whether they can fully showcase themselves in a more methodical, tighter-spaced college game?

    Could he head to the G-League and try to build his stock there? That's another avenue that may be worth exploring for future high school graduates looking for an alternative option for development. 

    Robinson's unconventional path to the pros will ultimately be worth tracking by draft fans, scouts and up-and-comers during the recruiting process. 

Breakout Candidates

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    Last year, it was Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell, Justin Jackson, John Collins and Caleb Swanigan. Which returning prospects will blow up in 2018?

    Miami's Bruce Brown is a candidate after he dropped 30 points on North Carolina and 25 on Duke. He'll see an uptick in touches and shots with Davon Reed now a pro. 

    USC's Chimezie Metu is another name to track. The Trojans are loaded this year, and Metu should be their top option and a must-watch for scouts based on his size, footwork and skill level. 

    Now that Josh Hart is a Los Angeles Laker, Mikal Bridges should have a good opportunity to build a stronger case for the draft. Showing he offers both three-and-D as well as improved shot-creating and playmaking ability could ignite the Villanova vet up boards.

    Maryland's Justin Jackson, Texas' Andrew Jones, North Carolina State's Omer Yurtseven and Kentucky's Hamidou Diallo are all back after earning invites to last year's NBA combine.

    Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura, who played just 4.6 minutes last year, blew up over the summer to average 20.6 points for Japan at the U19 World Championships.

    Mississippi State's Lamar Peters snuck in a 25-point game against Kentucky in 2016-17. He was also one of the most productive players during August's Adidas Nations.

    Wichita State's Landry Shamet ended last season with a 20-point game against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. Louisville's Deng Adel and VJ King, USC's De'Anthony Melton, Syracuse's Tyus Battle and SMU's Shake Milton are just a few others on the 2018 breakout radar. 

Grayson Allen's Final Chance

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    What will be the next chapter in the Grayson Allen story? It's been unusual and captivating through three seasons.

    Red flags were raised last year after Allen's third tripping incident, though his numbers and efficiency each took major dives as well.

    Will a bounce-back, setback-free season help scouts forget about his previous drama? Because if you can ignore the lapses in judgement and breakdowns, Allen offers an attractive mix of explosiveness and shot-making. One of the country's top athletes, he has also hit at least 81 threes in consecutive seasons.

    He even led Duke last year in assists, a tribute to his ability to make plays by attacking closeouts and passing off screens.

    The Blue Devils enter the year ranked No. 1, and Allen is expected to be the team's top option, a role he excelled in as a sophomore when he averaged 21.6 points and shot 41.7 percent from deep. He's also in an excellent spot as a senior on a talented team to demonstrate the leadership scouts want to see.

    Can Allen avoid trouble and show signs of maturation? Would another year like 2015-16 help restore Allen's stock and credibility? Is it too late? 

Previous NBA Trades That Could Shake Up Draft

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    Previous trades could shake up 2018's draft order in a big way. 

    The Cleveland Cavaliers own the Brooklyn Nets' pick, which they got from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade. And based on the current and projected standings, that means the Cavaliers could wind up having a top-five pick, along with their own. 

    The Los Angeles Lakers will be giving up their first-round pick. The question is to whom? The Boston Celtics get it if it's No. 2-5. Imagine Gordon Hayward coming back and Boston having another top-five pick.

    If the Lakers win the lottery or pick No. 6-30, it goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, who'd then give the Celtics the more favorable of their 2019 first-round picks, which include their own and the Sacramento Kings', unless the Kings win the 2019 lottery.

    The Phoenix Suns just traded Eric Bledsoe and could now wind up with three first-rounders. They'd get the Milwaukee Bucks' pick if it lands No. 11-16. Otherwise, it moves to 2019 or 2020 with protections. But the Suns are also already owed Miami Heat's pick if it lands outside the top seven.

    It's practically a lock that the Atlanta Hawks will have three first-rounders, including the Houston Rockets' (top-three protected) and Minnesota Timberwolves' (lottery protected). 

    Last year, the Portland Trail Blazers had three first-rounders and opted to package two together to move up. Expect more of the same from numerous teams with multiple selections in 2018.

Lottery Moved Up Before NBA Combine

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    In previous years, the NBA lottery took place in New York days after the NBA combine wrapped up. This season, it will occur before the combine in its city of Chicago. And that should improve the draft process in a few ways.

    First, it could encourage more of the top prospects to at least attend. Teams will like that—it gives them a better chance to meet the elite names or obtain their medicals from agents. 

    But moving up the lottery also allows teams to enter the combine knowing where they're picking. And that should help some narrow their search and potentially avoid wasting time scouting prospects outside their range, based on how the ping-pong balls bounce. 

    Another likely NBA goal: Using the lottery to spark more interest from fans in the combine, which, due to so many high-profile players skipping it, has lost some sizzle.