2018 NBA Draft: 1 Surprise Prospect Each Lottery Team Should Target

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 6, 2018

2018 NBA Draft: 1 Surprise Prospect Each Lottery Team Should Target

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    NBA prospects are ranked every year before the draft, and rarely do the rankings hold up when looking back five years later. 

    At this time last year, it would have sounded crazy to suggest the Philadelphia 76ers should have been looking at Donovan Mitchell. 

    Who would a surprise option be for the Phoenix Suns if they win the lottery? Most would assume Arizona's Deandre Ayton would be the pick, but there are others who could sneakily offer similar upside while also being a fit. 

    What about the Memphis Grizzlies? Are we sure Duke's Marvin Bagley III or Slovenia's Luka Doncic are the right play for them? Which prospects projected in the No. 6-14 range should the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic actually consider top five? 

    For each lottery team, we suggest a surprise option most wouldn't suspect based on general predraft rankings and consensus. 

Phoenix Suns: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 1

    Expected candidates: Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic

    Surprise option: Jaren Jackson Jr.  

    Does the NBA's worst defensive team want to use the No. 1 pick on an anchor in Ayton who struggles in rim protection? Would the Phoenix Suns have enough playmakers with a backcourt of Doncic and Devin Booker, since Doncic is better suited as a secondary distributor?

    Even if it meant trading down two spots like the Boston Celtics in 2017, the Suns should also be looking at Jackson, an elite defensive prospect who stretches the floor (39.6 percent 3PT) and will have played three NBA seasons before turning 22 years old. 

    Despite his age and the fact that he played mostly power forward, he was the only player in the country to block three shots in fewer than 25 minutes per game, thanks to his 7'4" wingspan, mobility and instincts.

    Compared to Ayton, Jackson swatted 40 more shots and made 26 more threes in 408 fewer minutes. And given the 18-year-old's tools, Jackson has a tremendous foundation and plenty of time to improve as a scorer. 

Memphis Grizzlies: Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)

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    Projected pick: No. 2

    Expected candidates: Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III

    Surprise option: Mohamed Bamba

    Ayton, Doncic and Marvin Bagley III would be the obvious names for the Memphis Grizzlies. But recently, except in 2013 with Victor Oladipo, the obvious No. 2 pick hasn't been a top-two player from their draft.

    At 6'11" with unique 7'9" length and developing shooting touch, Bamba has the upside for Memphis to consider drafting that high, even though most boards will likely have him in the No. 4-8 range. 

    And only two NBA teams allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage inside six feet. Assuming Marc Gasol isn't in the team's long-term plans, the Grizzlies could start to rebuild their defensive identity around Bamba, who finished second in the country in shot-blocking as a freshman.

    We've seen what Rudy Gobert's rim protection has done for the Utah Jazz. It's worth exploring Bamba's potential to do the same in Memphis.

Dallas Mavericks: Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 3

    Expected candidates: Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba

    Surprise option: Wendell Carter Jr. 

    Bagley's athleticism points to higher upside, but that's not always how it works, and Carter's fit can be easier to picture. His production and efficiency also went overlooked on Duke's loaded roster: 20.2 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes on 56.1 percent shooting. 

    Scouts expect Carter to thrive in a more open NBA, especially if he's paired with a perimeter scorer like Harrison Barnes at the 4. 

    At 6'10", 259 pounds with 7'3" length, he has the size, post game and shot-blocking ability to play center, but also a developing jumper (19-of-46 3PTM) that's helped strengthen comparisons to Al Horford, who similarly compensates for limited explosiveness with inside-out skill and fundamentals.

    Though his bounce and versatility don't match Bagley's, Carter offers more convincing rim protection and shooting touch, along with a strong back-to-the-basket game and overall physical inside presence.

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young (Oklahoma, PG, Freshman)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 4

    Expected candidates: Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Michael Porter Jr. 

    Surprise option: Trae Young

    The Atlanta Hawks' second-leading scorer is Taurean Prince at 14.1 points per game. Their second-leading assist man is Kent Bazemore at 3.5. The lack of offensive weapons in this rotation is problematic, and even Dennis Schroder comes with questions. 

    Young would give Atlanta a much-needed punch of shot-creating, shot-making and playmaking. Plus, Prince and John Collins may benefit from a two-point guard lineup, given Schroder's and Young's ability to set the table and draw attention. 

    At this stage, the Hawks have no identity, but they can create one by loading up in the backcourt and building through their guard play, particularly with two ball-handlers who can apply constant pressure.

    Would the Hawks want to move forward with Bagley and Collins, a pair of weaker rim protectors at the 4 and 5? Is Atlanta the right place for Jackson to develop, given his offensive limitations and the lack of talent he'd have to play off? Is Porter worth the risk following his back surgery and uninspiring play in March?

Orlando Magic: Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 5

    Expected candidates: Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young

    Surprise option: Mikal Bridges 

    The Orlando Magic's biggest need is point guard, but in the top five, it's only wise to take one if you're confident he'll be a star-caliber player. Does they expect Trae Young and Collin Sexton to meet that bar? Orlando didn't think Dennis Smith Jr. would last year. It would hurt the franchise if they drafted a low-end starting quarterback this early. 

    Mikal Bridges jumps out as a safe bet for his three-and-D potential. And he'd fill a need at small forward, where the Magic are missing a cornerstone. 

    Orlando finished No. 28 in three-point shooting, and Bridges just drilled 104 triples at a 43.5 percent clip. He's highly efficient overall, having converted 59.3 percent of his twos and averaged just 1.7 turnovers per 40 minutes.

    The Magic already have to deal with a logjam at the 4 and 5, and there won't be any pure 2-guards worth considering unless Luka Doncic miraculously slips. After drafting a project in Jonathan Isaac who's dealt with injuries, Bridges could be a low-risk, unsuspecting plug on Orlando's wing.

Chicago Bulls: Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 6

    Expected candidates: Jaren Jackson Jr., Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young, Wendell Carter Jr., Mikal Bridges

    Surprise option: Robert Williams

    Many expected Williams to go in the top 10 before the season, but with Tyler Davis, an older, more polished scoring center stealing minutes and space at Texas A&M, the explosive sophomore big man struggled to show anything new. 

    It makes Williams an intriguing buy-low option for the Bulls, who could use an upgrade at the 5 alongside Lauri Markkanen.

    Plus, Markkanen prefers to hang around the perimeter and struggles to defend the basket. Williams is an interior specialist—one of the top athletes in the draft who shot 73.7 percent at the rim and blocked 4.1 shots per 40 minutes. Last year, the Bulls averaged fewer blocks than any team in the NBA.

Sacramento Kings: Miles Bridges (Michigan State, PF, Sophomore)

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Projected pick: No. 7

    Expected candidates: Michael Porter Jr., Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Mikal Bridges

    Surprise option: Miles Bridges 

    Bridges isn't viewed by most as a top-seven option after putting together a sophomore season at Michigan State that looked the same as his freshman year. But he was also asked to play out of position at the 3 alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward. 

    In the NBA, Bridges will play the 4. His quickness and bounce, along with the threat he poses as a shooter (2.1 threes per game), will be more advantageous against power forwards, who he should be able to match up with physically thanks to his 225-pound frame. 

    The Sacramento Kings right now are counting on Skal Labissiere and Harry Giles III, an unsettling plan. 

    It would be tough to argue Bamba at No. 7, though it isn't likely he'll be there. Porter fills a need, but after playing just 53 minutes as a freshman and being known as a non-passing, one-way scorer, Sacramento may not be the best fit for him. 

    Carter would be a fine pick in a vacuum, but the thought of pairing speedy De'Aaron Fox with the explosive Bridges sounds enticing. 

    Bridges is ultimately a safe play the Kings should value extra for his elite athleticism, shot-making and competitiveness—three strengths likely to translate. 

Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets): Collin Sexton (Alabama, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Projected pick: No. 8

    Expected candidates: Michael Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Mikal Bridges, Trae Young

    Surprise option: Collin Sexton

    Nobody knows what the Cleveland Cavaliers roster will look like after the summer. But the current one could use another player capable of creating his own shot. 

    Sexton could give this rotation another source of offense off the bench and potentially its future starter. He just averaged 19.2 points as a freshman, demonstrating both the scoring prowess and toughness that fueled so much of his hype out of high school.

    And unlike Trae Young, who struggles on defense and only plays one position, Sexton can log minutes at either guard spot and apply pressure at both ends of the floor.

New York Knicks: Zhaire Smith (Texas Tech, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    Projected pick: No. 9

    Expected candidates: Trae Young, Mikal Bridges, Collin Sexton, Miles Bridges 

    Surprise option: Zhaire Smith 

    Young and Sexton will naturally be linked to the New York Knicks throughout the process, given the uncertainty surrounding their point guard position, with Frank Ntilikina more effective at the 2 and Trey Burke's small-sample-sized emergence. Both Miles and Mikal Bridges will be likely targets as well given the team's need for wings and athletes. 

    Smith is a dark-horse option who's quietly, yet steadily crept up boards, as it became more apparent there is something to his elite explosiveness, defensive versatility and shot-making potential. 

    In the conversation for the top leaper in the draft—he's a good bet to record the highest standing vertical at the combine—Smith would add needed bounce and energy to the Knicks lineup. He'd also bring defensive playmaking (1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks) and the ability to guard multiple positions with his size, length and toughness. 

    At this stage, Smith is further behind offensively, but he's also still 18 years old, and he just shot 57.4 percent inside the arc and 45.0 percent (40 three-point attempts) behind it. 

    With Kristaps Porzingis injured, the Knicks shouldn't be looking for any quick fixes. Smith has exciting long-term potential and he'd have plenty of time and chances to grow as a player in New York, where the Knicks need talent and depth at the 2 and 3 spots. 

Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers): Lonnie Walker IV (Miami, SG, Freshman)

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    Projected pick: No. 10

    Expected candidates: Collin Sexton, Miles Bridges, Robert Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox

    Surprise option: Lonnie Walker IV

    Lonnie Walker IV didn't register lottery-caliber numbers (41.5 percent FG), but like the Utah Jazz did with Donovan Mitchell at Louisville (40.8 percent FG), the Philadelphia 76ers could look past the inefficient stats to recognize obvious talent, room to improve and character. 

    Walker mixes NBA physical tools and explosive athleticism with a confident shooting stroke dating back to high school. He can be streaky, but his ability to catch fire may be better suited for a complementary role with the Sixers, who could also lose JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli in free agency.

    Between Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia doesn't have room for another ball-handler. And it's always easier to find a backup big man than a quality 2-guard or wing. Even as high as No. 10, Walker would be worth considering, given his upside and the Sixers' needs.

Charlotte Hornets: Mitchell Robinson (USA, C, 1998)

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 11

    Expected candidates: Collin Sexton, Miles Bridges, Robert Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox

    Surprise option: Mitchell Robinson

    Stuck between competing and tanking, the Charlotte Hornets might as well swing for the fences at No. 11, where there won't be any obvious stars or starters.

    And despite skipping college to train for the draft, Mitchell Robinson, a former top-10 recruit, is loaded with upside fueled by 7'0", 222-pound size, 7'4" length and explosive leaping ability.

    Between the blatant raw talent and intrigue/mystery surrounding him, Robinson, whose tools and athleticism are built for one-on-none workouts, is a strong candidate to make an impression and rise up boards over the next several weeks.

    The Hornets could reach before anyone else and start grooming him to eventually replace Dwight Howard.

Los Angeles Clippers: Jontay Porter (Missouri, C, Freshman)

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    Projected pick: No. 12, No. 13

    Expected candidates: Collin Sexton, Miles Bridges, Robert Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox

    Surprise option: Jontay Porter

    This early in the process, Porter isn't a trendy lottery-pick name, since he only averaged 9.9 points as a freshman. But he checks a particular coveted set of boxes that's led to NBA interest, and the Los Angeles Clippers should be monitoring him (with one of their two picks) once he inevitably receives his invite to the combine. 

    Porter won't turn 19 years old until November and he was still just one of two players in the country to average at least a three-point make, 1.5 blocks and 2.0 assists. At 6'11", 240 pounds, he stretches the floor as a shooter, gets off the ground to protect the rim and demonstrates high-level passing ability.

    In this draft, there doesn't appear to be a large gap between the No. 12 and No. 25 prospect. Porter may get labeled as a reach this high, but given his age, tools and valued skill set, plus the Clippers' need for frontcourt depth, Porter could be a worthwhile dice roll, even if the team doesn't see results until 2019-20. They wouldn't likely be passing on any can't-miss prospects.

Denver Nuggets: Chandler Hutchison (Boise State, SF, Senior)

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    Projected pick: No. 14

    Expected candidates: Miles Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox

    Surprise option: Chandler Hutchison

    With a deep frontcourt and Jamal Murray and Gary Harris as cornerstone guards, Hutchison should be considered at No. 14 as one of the few first-round-caliber wings.

    Denver, a team on the cusp of playoff contention, would likely see quicker results from the 22-year-old Hutchison than 18-year-old Knox, a scorer who doesn't pass, rebound or defend at high levels.

    Hutchison's game screams versatility after he just averaged 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. Once all the flashy top-10 names are gone, it's worth finding out whether his career year as a shooter (1.5 threes per game) is a legitimate indicator of forthcoming improvement.

          

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports-Reference.com