Final 2018 NBA Mock Draft Before the New Year: Trae Young's Stock Is Rising
This upcoming class suddenly has a new potential star. Young is putting up historic numbers in exciting fashion while winning games. But the other top prospects are performing as well, creating an interesting situation for teams atop the board.
There are three to four strong No. 1 overall candidates, but no obvious answer.
As for the fallers, we took Miami's Lonnie Walker IV, Kentucky's Nick Richards and Gonzaga's Killian Tillie off the board. It looks as if they'll be better prepared to maximize their draft stock in 2019.
1. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)
Each of the top lottery teams could wind up having different players atop their boards. But Deandre Ayton jumps out as an ideal target for an Atlanta Hawks roster that needs another scorer to build around.
Ayton, who has averaged 19.5 points through his first 13 games, is scoring 1.014 points per possession on post-ups (83rd percentile) and is shooting 53.3 percent from 17 feet to the arc. He's given Arizona a go-to option in the half court who demands double-teams since he can create quality shots playing back to the basket (as a scorer and passer) or facing it, where he can rise and fire over his man.
Ayton has been dominant around the basket, where he's shooting 78.9 percent at the rim and has 16 made putbacks.
There are some questions about his defensive intincts, but the 7'1" center has enough length (7'5 ½" wingspan), strength (250 pounds) and foot speed to be effective in one-on-one situations. The Hawks will take their chances on his pick-and-roll coverage and rim protection improving over time. He's too talented and productive to pass up at No. 1 overall, as he has the ideal skill set for a modern-day 5.
2. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic (Slovenia, PG/SG, 1999)
The Dallas Mavericks likely already have eyes on Luka Doncic, who'd complement Dennis Smith Jr. with his superior passing instincts, shooting and basketball IQ.
Leading all of Euroleague in player efficiency rating,per RealGM.com, Doncic continues to amaze with his production at 18 years old. He'll be the most proven European teenager ever to enter the NBA draft.
The 6'8" playmaker is hitting 1.9 threes per game (Euroleague and Spanish ACB), and his versatility—which includes the ability to play positions 1-3, on and off the ball—suggests he'll fit seamlessly into today's NBA.
3. Memphis Grizzlies: Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
The Memphis Grizzlies have been striking out left and right in the draft since they took Mike Conley in 2007. Their luck could change with Marvin Bagley III, who's averaging 21.1 points on 61.7 percent shooting and 10.9 rebounds at Duke.
The lower-level opponents on Duke's schedule haven't stood a chance, but Bagley also has thrived against tougher competition. He went off for 34 points and 15 boards against Texas and 30 and 15 against Florida.
Though he has done most of his damage at the rim, he's shown a little of everything, from open-floor ball-handling and passing to three-point range, where he's 9-of-26. Bagley's lack of length, defensive IQ and a signature skill could lead to Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic going before him, but that shouldn't bother a Grizzlies team that needs a fresh infusion of talent up front.
4. Orlando Magic: Trae Young (Oklahoma, PG, Freshman)
Arguably the top story in college basketball, Trae Young has everyone buzzing due to his unprecedented production and a style of play that mirrors Stephen Curry's.
Leading the nation in both scoring (28.7) and assists (10.4), Young is torching defenses with dazzling ball skills, brilliant basketball IQ and deep shooting accuracy, making 4.0 three-pointers a game.
Scouts are still hesitant to call Young a top prospect until they see him face Big 12 competition. He's short-armed, weighs only 180 pounds and lacks explosion.
But we've seen enough point guards thrive in the pros with similar limitations. And after Young already went off for 43 points and seven assists against Oregon, 29 and nine against USC and 29 and 10 against Wichita State (all wins), there isn't any reason to think his start has been a fluke.
5. Sacramento Kings: Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, SF/PF, Freshman)
Michael Porter Jr. could offer excellent value at No. 5, since some scouts considered him the top prospect in the nation before he underwent back surgery.
The 6'10" perimeter scorer has distinguished himself over the years with big-man size and the ability to shoot threes, face up and work off the dribble and finish above the rim. With Justin Jackson and Skal Labissiere both struggling, Porter would give the Sacramento Kings a needed go-to weapon at either forward position.
As long as his medicals don't show any permanent damage, the Kings likely will favor him over Mohamed Bamba, who doesn't offer enough offensively to a team that ranks No. 30 in offensive efficiency, per ESPN.
6. Chicago Bulls: Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)
The Chicago Bulls keep winning and hurting their chances of landing a top-five pick. They can still land their next franchise center at No. 6. With Lauri Markkanen bringing the offense at power forward, Mohamed Bamba would back him up defensively at the 5.
He's coming off his most impressive effort of the year in a heavily scouted matchup against Alabama, having racked up 17 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. Bamba has shown he can impact a game's results without making many skills plays. His defensive presence changes the way opponents look to attack.
Despite his underwhelming offensive numbers (15.5 points per 40 minutes) and percentages (50.0 percent overall, 61.0 percent from the free-throw line, 15.8 percent from deep), he's still an enormous finishing target and cleanup man inside. Though his jumpers aren't falling, Bamba's sound mechanics suggest he can eventually become a spot-up shooting threat.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers): Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan St., PF/C, Fr.)
The Philadelphia 76ers receive the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round pick and use it on shooting and defense.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is one of two players in the country with at least 10 made three-pointers and at least 3.0 blocks per game, per Sports-Reference.com. He's still limited inside the arc in terms of skill, but he won't turn 19 years old until September, and he possesses a terrific foundation (6'11", 242 lbs, 7'4" wingspan) to build on.
No. 2 in the nation in defensive box plus-minus, Jackson has been a difference-maker for Michigan State, and he's just scratching the surface of his potential. He could wind up being a better fit in the Sixers' starting lineup than Dario Saric, who'd become Philadelphia's top second-unit scorer.
8. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton (Alabama, PG, Freshman)
The Phoenix Suns should already be scouting Collin Sexton as their next potential franchise point guard. His ability to attack downhill and apply pressure defensively would seemingly work well alongside Devin Booker.
Sexton is making 2.0 three-pointers and 9.5 free-throw makes per 40 minutes, a tribute to his relentless driving and consistent shooting early in the season. And he's shown the lateral quickness and toughness to lock down and bust through screens.
He had an off night Friday against Texas (eight points, four assists), but between his 30-point effort against Arizona, the 40-point outburst against Minnesota and his 20.5 point-per-game average, Sexton has shown plenty through non-conference play. He's still a lottery point guard, though Trae Young will be leap-frogging him on boards.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets): Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)
Wendell Carter Jr. saw his chance to dominate Evansville and took it, scoring 27 points in just 18 minutes last Wednesday.
It was a reminder of his skill level, something that doesn't always show behind Marvin Bagley III, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, all of whom take more field-goal attempts per game. But despite the lack of usage, Carter is still third on the team in scoring, shooting 61.6 percent while averaging 14.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 2.8 assists per 40 minutes.
He isn't the most explosive leaper or quickest slider, but his physical tools and fundamentals point to a future NBA big man who can make spot-up jumpers, finish and pass out of the post and win his area in the paint.
10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox (Kentucky, SF/PF, Freshman)
The ups will outweigh the downs this season for Kevin Knox, who turned 18 years old in August and mixes power forward size, athleticism and perimeter scoring.
He was a bright spot for Kentucky in its recent loss to UCLA, finishing with 15 points on 12 shots, showing bounce around the rim and three-point range.
Knox has worked nicely as an off-ball scorer, showing the ability to work out of spot-up situations (37.6 percent of offense, per Synergy Sports) and either catch-and-shoot, pull up or drive.
On the downside, he's been a non-threat in isolation (1-of-8), and he only averages 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per 40 minutes.
11. Los Angeles Clippers: Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, Sophomore)
Miles Bridges' strengths and weaknesses look relatively similar from last season, when he showed he can make shots and finish, but not create at a high level. It won't destroy his draft stock, but it makes it less likely a team will spend a top-10 pick on a player who hasn't shown notable improvement.
At No. 11, the Los Angeles Clippers could buy into his mix of explosive athleticism, three-point shooting (2.7 makes per 40 minutes) and defensive potential.
Between the fragile Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin, Bridges gives L.A. some needed insurance at both forward positions.
12. Utah Jazz: Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)
Despite failing to show anything new as a sophomore, Robert Williams remains appealing for his defensive potential and effectiveness as a finisher, strengths that his standout physical tools and athleticism suggest will translate.
Shooting 60.0 percent overall and blocking 4.1 shots per 40 minutes, Williams' length and ability to play high above the cylinder lead to easy baskets and rim protection.
He's only scoring 11.9 points per 40 minutes, looking just as limited offensively as he did a year ago. But the Utah Jazz could look to add some more defense and depth behind Rudy Gobert, who's been in and out of the lineup.
13. Philadelphia 76ers: Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)
After hitting the 20-point mark just once through two years at Villanova, Mikal Bridges has already done it five times as a junior.
He's making twice as many threes (2.4) compared to last season, strengthening his three-and-D reputation and chances of moving up draft boards.
Bridges still doesn't create, but he wouldn't need to for the Philadelphia 76ers, who'd value his shot-making and ability to guard multiple positions.
14. New York Knicks: Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Hamidou Diallo is starting to show signs of improvement to his skill level, which remains well behind his explosive athleticism.
It's still all about transition play for Diallo (38.2 percent of his offense), who'll love the NBA's spacing and pace even more. But he's also making a three-pointer per game at a 35.5 percent clip, and though his jump-shot numbers (.708 PPP) on the season aren't pretty, the eye test shows a smoother, more fluid release.
The New York Knicks are short on wings, and at No. 14, there isn't a clear0cut starter who stands out on the board. This is a good spot for the Knicks to gamble on Diallo's development and upside.
15. Portland Trail Blazers: Bruce Brown (Miami, SG, Sophomore)
Bruce Brown hasn't shown improvement with his shooting, but he's taken on a bigger role as a playmaker. He's now averaging 4.5 assists and is rebounding at a terrific rate for a guard (7.4 per game).
Brown, an athletic, energetic Swiss army knife in the backcourt, puts pressure on opponents with attacking, pick-and-roll distributing and defense.
Assuming his three-point and free-throw numbers eventually start to rise, he should offer enough athleticism and versatility to warrant mid-first round interest.
16. New Orleans Pelicans: Khyri Thomas (Creighton, SG, Junior)
Sinking a career-high 2.0 threes per game while hitting at least 39 percent from deep for the third straight season, Khyri Thomas' shot-making credibility is getting another boost.
He continues to build a case with perimeter shooting, transition play and defense, where he puts pressure on opposing ball-handlers and guards.
Thomas isn't a one-on-one scorer, and he leans mostly on spot-ups and open-floor chances to generate offense, hinting at more of a secondary role player in the pros. The New Orleans Pelicans could view the defensive-minded 2-guard as Tony Allen's replacement.
17. Phoenix Suns (via Heat): Dzanan Musa (Bosnia & Herzegovina, SG/SF, 1999)
The Phoenix Suns add another first-rounder if the Miami Heat's first-round pick lands outside the top seven. Phoenix doesn't have room for any more bigs or wings, and after drafting a point guard at No. 8, this pick would be prime for a trade or a draft-and-stash.
Separating himself as the next international prospect to covet after Luka Doncic, Dzanan Musa continues to produce, finishing with double figures in nine of Cedevita's last 11 games.
A 6'8" scoring wing, Musa has a knack for finding ways to make shots. And he has further boosted his draft stock by adding a three-ball, as he's shooting at least 39 percent in Adriatic League and Eurocup play.
18. Milwaukee Bucks: Daniel Gafford (Arkansas, C, Freshman)
Daniel Gafford is still hiding under the national radar, but his name should surface once conference play starts.
The 6'11" athletic freshman is coming off Arkansas' bench to register per-40-minute averages of 24.6 points on 69.4 percent shooting, 11.6 rebounds and 4.0 blocks.
Constantly active around the rim and capable of playing high above it, Gafford has also showcased intriguing low-post maneuvers (14-of-23) despite lacking obvious polish. He's becoming an interesting project teams could think about developing for the 2019 or 2020 season.
19. Indiana Pacers: Anfernee Simons (IMG Academy, PG, 1999)
If Anfernee Simons is ruled eligible and declares for the 2018 draft, NBA teams will have something to think about.
Scout.com's No. 9 overall prospect, Simons is an athletic scoring ball-handler being recruited by a handful of top schools, but he could also draw first-round interest, particularly from teams who'd rather gamble on upside than draft an older college player.
He can create his own shot and carve up defenses with the dribble. Simons would just need a year or two on the bench or a G League roster to develop his floor game and skinny frame.
20. Washington Wizards: Mitchell Robinson (USA, C, 1999)
Mitchell Robinson is training for the draft behind the scenes. Already on the radar for his 7'1" size, 7'4" length, athleticism and standout performances at the McDonald's All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic, he will draw plenty of first-round interest despite bypassing college.
Robinson still must win teams over in workouts and interviews, where he'll also be asked to explain his departure from Western Kentucky. But once the obvious future talent starts to dry up midway through the first round, Robinson should enter the picture for teams willing to gamble on raw talent and upside.
21. Denver Nuggets: Chimezie Metu (USC, C, Junior)
Depending on the day, Chimezie Metu can look like a lottery pick or a second-rounder.
Before going 1-of-8 against New Mexico State on Christmas Day, he had been on a tear over the last five games. He averaged 23.8 points while showcasing next-level skills from the mid-post and short corners to behind the arc, where he hit 6-of-10 threes during the stretch.
But that hot streak came against five mid-major opponents. The three games he played prior to that, Metu scored 13 points in three consecutive losses against Texas A&M, SMU and Oklahoma.
Inconsistent impact has been a theme for Metu over the past two seasons, which has cast a cloud of uncertainty over his draft stock. But the highs have still been high enough to warrant first-round consideration. On the good nights, his size, athleticism, footwork and touch say NBA big-man reserve.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (via OKC): Brandon McCoy (UNLV, C, Freshman)
Physically, Brandon McCoy has looked like an NBA big among college players, using his size and athleticism to average 18.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He was even a handful for potential No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, as he went for 33 points against Arizona's front line earlier in December.
We haven't seen him show any translatable ball skills, however. He's producing in volume by cutting, crashing the glass and running the floor.
McCoy hasn't stood out defensively in the middle, which brings his value down. NBA teams want their centers to protect the rim or stretch the floor, and McCoy hasn't shown he does either. But for a team toward the bottom of the first round looking to add big-man depth and interior presence, McCoy's ability to finish and rebound could be enough.
23. Detroit Pistons: Trevon Duval (Duke, PG, Freshman)
Averaging 8.9 assists per 40 minutes, the obvious appeal right now to Trevon Duval stems from his ability to facilitate. Teams will value his breakdown quickness and knack for setting the table.
But will he able to score in the NBA? He's been one of the worst-shooting ball-handlers in the country, making just 22.5 percent of his jump shots (including 5-of-33 from deep). Duval's 15.4 points per 40 minutes are significantly lower than those from any other college point guard on the first-round radar.
It's too early to knock the 19-year-old into the second round given his NBA tools, athleticism and two-way playmaking. Just look at Kris Dunn, who's suddenly figuring it out at 23 years old.
24. Atlanta Hawks (via Wolves): Grayson Allen (Duke, SG, Senior)
Despite the dud Grayson Allen put up in Duke's loss to Boston College, he's been relatively consistent and far more efficient than last season.
He's demonstrating a balanced mix of off-ball scoring, with 30.7 percent of his offense coming in transition, 20.6 percent out of spot-up situations, 11.6 percent off handoffs and 8.5 percent off screens. And he grades out as either very good or excellent in each department.
He's also in the 92nd percentile in points per possession (1.3) on jump shots.
As long as he continues to avoid drama and demonstrate improved leadership, his athleticism and shot-making should earn him a spot in the first round.
25. San Antonio Spurs: Chandler Hutchison (Boise State, SF, Senior)
Chandler Hutchison could be a jump shot away from being an impact NBA player, just like Kyle Kuzma was last year at Utah.
Filling it up with 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists, the athletic 6'7" wing is a versatile threat both off the dribble and around the rim. He's capable of making plays for teammates or facing up to score.
This late in the first round, it's worth pulling the trigger in hopes of fixing his shooting stroke (10-of-33 3PT). Otherwise, he's one of the draft's more well-rounded players.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Rawle Alkins (Arizona, SG, Sophomore)
Back after fracturing his foot during the offseason, Rawle Alkins has already hit the 20-point mark in two of his first four games.
He's reminding teams why they wanted to see him last year at the NBA combine, where he performed well before deciding to return as a sophomore.
Alkins passes the eye test physically, but he didn't do any one thing well enough to secure first-round interest in 2017. This upcoming draft appears to have less depth, though it's still early to judge.
Alkins could generate interest in the 20s if he continues to score, shoot, defend and make Arizona look like the Final Four team everyone expected.
27. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors): Tyus Battle (Syracuse, SG, Sophomore)
A disaster performance (3-of-18) in a loss to St. Bonaventure won't bury Tyus Battle, but it wasn't a good look, and it exposed some issues with his game.
He'll remain on the first-round radar for his 6'6" size and scoring ability, which he's improved by developing his shot creativity and mid-range game. He's averaging 19.9 points while making 2.3 threes per game and 42.9 percent of his runners, and he ranks in the 92nd percentile in points per possession out of spot-up situations.
However, he adds almost nothing as a playmaker (1.6 assists per 40 minutes) and rebounder (2.8 rebounds per 40). He'll also have spent two years playing exclusively zone defense.
28. Boston Celtics: Gary Trent Jr. (Duke, SG, Freshman)
Gary Trent Jr.'s 39.9 percent field-goal mark highlights his lack of speed and athleticism. At 18 years old, he's still a prospect to think about late in the first round for his shot-making, scoring instincts and youth.
The 6'6" 2-guard is averaging 2.2 threes per game with a convincing shooting stroke. His 1.967 points per possession in transition also rank in the 100th percentile.
Even without explosiveness, isolation-scoring ability or playmaking, he still finds ways to put the ball in the hole.
29. Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets): Jalen Hudson (Florida, SG, Junior)
Jalen Hudson is cooling off, but he's still making 2.8 threes per game at a 41.8 percent clip, grading out as excellent in pull-up and spot-up shooting situations by Synergy Sports.
A 6'6" 2-guard, Hudson has been an elite shot-maker, but he doesn't offer much versatility or upside. He's a one-dimensional scorer and non-playmaker at 21 years old.
His shooting could be enough this late in the first round for a team that could use it off the bench.
30. Golden State Warriors: Landry Shamet (Wichita State, PG, Junior)
A college star, Landry Shamet still has many divided on his NBA potential. With the last pick in the first round, though, it's worth finding out what will and won't translate.
A 6'4" ball-hander, Shamet lacks blow-by jets, but he has solid passing IQ and should be in the conversation with the country's top shooters. He's making 50.0 percent of his 5.2 three-point attempts per game.
Shamet went for 30 points against Oklahoma State earlier in the month before his 17-point, five-assist, five-rebound effort in a loss to Trae Young and Oklahoma. He'll be a prospect to watch in the NCAA tournament, where he'll be able to make an impression against powerhouse competition and showcase his big-moment toughness.
No. 31. Atlanta Hawks: Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SF, 1998)
No. 32. Dallas Mavericks: Aaron Holiday (UCLA, PG, Junior)
No. 33. Memphis Grizzlies: Jalen Brunson (Villanova, PG, Junior)
No. 34. Orlando Magic: Alize Johnson (Missouri State, PF, Senior)
No. 35: New York Knicks (via Bulls): Justin Jackson (Maryland, SF/PF, Sophomore)
No. 36. Sacramento Kings: De'Anthony Melton (USC, PG/SG, Sophomore)
No. 37. Brooklyn Nets (via Lakers): Kostja Mushidi (Germany, SF, 1998)
No. 38. Phoenix Suns: Goga Bitadze (Georgia, C, 1999)
No. 39. Phoenix Suns (via Hornets): Devonte' Graham (Kansas, PG, Senior)
No. 40. Philadelphia 76ers (via Nets): Lagerald Vick (Kansas, SG/SF, Junior)
No. 41. Philadelphia 76ers (via Clippers): Shake Milton (SMU, PG/SG, Junior)
No. 42. Utah Jazz: Austin Wiley (Auburn, C, Sophomore)
No. 43. Philadelphia 76ers: Allonzo Trier (Arizona, SG, Junior)
No. 44. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans): Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame, PF/C, Senior)
No. 45. Denver Nuggets (via Blazers): Arnoldas Kulboka (Lithuania, SF, 1998)
No. 46. New York Knicks: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Kansas, SG, Senior)
No. 47. Houston Rockets (via Heat): DJ Hogg (Texas A&M, SF/PF, Senior)
No. 48. Phoenix Suns (via Bucks): Kevin Hervey (Texas Arlington, F, Senior)
No. 49. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ethan Happ (Wisconsin, PF/C, Junior)
No. 50. Los Angeles Lakers (via Nuggets): Trevon Bluiett (Xavier, SG/SF, Senior)
No. 51. Washington Wizards: Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State, F, Junior)
No. 52. Indiana Pacers: Jo Lual-Acuil (Baylor, C, Senior)
No. 53. Detroit Pistons: Jacob Evans (Cincinnati, SG/SF, Junior)
No. 54. Minnesota Timberwolves: Terry Larrier (Connecticut, F, Sophomore)
No. 55. San Antonio Spurs: Vanja Marinkovic (Serbia, SG/SF, 1997)
No. 56. Charlotte Hornets (via Cavaliers): Tryggvi Hlinason (Iceland, C, 1997)
No. 57. Phoenix Suns (via Raptors): Deng Adel (Louisville, SF, Junior)
No. 58. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Celtics): Moritz Wagner (Michigan, Junior, C)
No. 59. Philadelphia 76ers (via Rockets): Bennie Boatwright (USC, PF/C, Junior)
No. 60. Denver Nuggets (via Warriors): Johnathan Williams (Gonzaga, PF, Senior)
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports unless otherwise noted. They are current through Monday, Dec. 26.