In a little less than a month, 2018 NBA draft prospects will learn the setting for the first chapter of their professional hoops stories.
Equally important, early-drafters will discover which young talents will serve as their latest sources of hope.
This looks like a loaded batch of young ballers, potentially offering both elite players at the top and plug-and-play rotation pieces further down the draft board. Consider this—the top three might feature two players who averaged at least 20 points and 11 rebounds as college freshmen (Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III) and a 19-year-old recently crowned MVP of the EuroLeague (Luka Doncic).
It's time to get excited—and time to lay out our most recent predictions with a fresh first-round mock.
2018 NBA Mock Draft
1. Phoenix Suns: Luka Doncic, SG, Slovenia
2. Sacramento Kings: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona
3. Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, Duke
4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State
5. Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
6. Orlando Magic: Michael Porter Jr., SF/PF, Missouri
7. Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter, C, Duke
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets): Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova
9. New York Knicks: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Miles Bridges, SF/PF, Michigan State
11. Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky
14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
15. Washington Wizards: Zhaire Smith, SF, Texas Tech
16. Phoenix Suns (via Heat): Jontay Porter, PF/C, Missouri
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami
18. San Antonio Spurs: Mitchell Robinson, C, USA
19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves): Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Thunder): Dzanan Musa, SG/SF, Bosnia & Herzegovina
21. Utah Jazz: Keita Bates-Diop, SF/PF, Ohio State
22. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans): Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State
23. Indiana Pacers: Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA
24. Portland Trail Blazers: Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland
25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cavs): Troy Brown, SF, Oregone
26. Philadelphia 76ers: Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton
27. Boston Celtics: Bruce Brown Jr., SG, Miami
28. Golden State Warriors: Jacob Evans, SG/SF, Cincinnati
29. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors): Jerome Robinson, SG, Boston College
30. Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets): Melvin Frazier, SG/SF, Tulane
Doncic Over Ayton at No. 1
Any debate at the top of the draft is inherently fascinating, but this one provides particular intrigue.
The Suns can either reunite Doncic with his Slovenian national team coach Igor Kokoskov, or they could snatch Ayton, who starred at Arizona—a school for which Suns owner Robert Sarver is a big booster.
While this decision could go down to the wire, Doncic comes out on top for his already decorated career—youngest ever MVP of the EuroLeague and the EuroLeague Final Four—and connection with Kokoskov.
"If I was Phoenix, it'd be hard to pass up," an executive told Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post. "Especially with Igor there."
Doncic is a brilliant passer both for his age and his size (6'7"). The Suns, who admittedly need help in most areas, were severely lacking in playmakers. They finished the 2017-18 campaign tied for 26th in assist percentage (55.3) and tied for the ninth-fewest passes per game (292.3).
Grabbing Doncic would allow Devin Booker to focus on what he does best—scoring at will. Doncic's creativity could also unlock previously unseen production levels from Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
Bamba Stays in Texas
The Mavericks weren't dreadful on defense (18th in efficiency), but opposing clubs could exploit them inside. Only one team averaged fewer blocks than Dallas' 3.8 per game, and it tied for 28th in opponents' shooting at the rim (67.3).
If there's a prospect who could reverse these fortunes, wouldn't it be the one with the longest wingspan ever recorded at the combine? The 7-footer Bamba's wingspan measured an impossibly long 7'10", and he showed at Texas he knows how to use it by registering 4.9 blocks and 14 rebounds per 40 minutes.
And he offers more than absurd length. He's also nimble and explosive, a package he feels could perfectly complement the playing style of Dallas' last top-10 pick, Dennis Smith Jr.
"I believe I'm the type of big he wants to play with, who screens and rolls and can finish high above the rim," Bamba said, per Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. "[Head coach] Rick Carlisle has said himself that he thinks Dennis is best with a big who rolls hard and finishes above the rim."
The Mavs targeted pick-and-roll screeners on 7.2 percent of their offensive possessions, tied for the 11th-most in the Association. And that was without an aerial finisher like Bamba, who would not only give Smith a lob threat but also potentially draw in defenders and widen the shooting windows for Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews.
Trae Young To NYC
Something about the fit between Young and the Knicks seems too perfect not to materialize.
It takes a special kind of confidence to thrive in the Big Apple, and Young—who paced college basketball in points (27.4) and assists (8.7) as a freshman—seems to have an endless supply of it.
Young's father, Ray, recently told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News that the pressure of the Empire State is "what Trae lives for." The Knicks reportedly share that opinion.
"Multiple league sources told me that the Knicks have the hots for the Oklahoma point guard, so the interest is mutual," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote.
This isn't just about Young's personality, either. He makes a lot of on-court sense for the Knicks, too.
Pairing him with last season's No. 8 pick, Frank Ntilikina, would cover up each player's weaknesses. Young is a better shooter and more natural table-setter than Ntilikina, who has the length and versatility to help hide Young's defensive shortcomings.
Between Young's scoring and the combined passing prowess of this backcourt duo, Kristaps Porzingis wouldn't have to carry such a heavy load at the offensive end. Considering the All-Star big man is working his way back from a torn ACL, anything that makes his life easier should appeal to New York.