Realistic Dream Target for Every Team in the 2018 NBA Draft
The NBA draft never goes as expected, and the 2018 edition won't be any different.
Not everyone is able to land their dream prospect as teams engage in trades and reach for prospects other franchises never dreamed would come off the board so soon. It happens every year. Guaranteed.
But some are still able to land coveted contributors who fit the organizational mold perfectly. That's who we're attempting to identify throughout this article by analyzing the needs of each squad and the incoming rookies who should be around when they're on the clock for the first time.
Therein enters the idea of realism.
Each of these choices, based on playing style, upside and anything else that can draw a franchise to them, is still a dream addition. But they also have to be realistic selections who have some chance of lasting until the team in question is ready to finalize its choice. The Chicago Bulls at No. 7 might love to land Deandre Ayton, for example, but no scenario exists in which the Arizona standout falls past the first three picks, much less the first six.
Dream as we might, we have to stay grounded with possibilities that might actually come to pass.
Note: The Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors do not have any picks in the 2018 NBA draft and will not be included in this article.
Atlanta Hawks at No. 3: Luka Doncic
"The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy [Luka Doncic] in favor of American frontcourt players," ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony reported in late May.
Maybe that's a smokescreen. Perhaps it's a statement steeped in truth. Either way, the Atlanta Hawks should still consider Doncic their dream prospect.
Let's assume the report was indeed a leaked smokescreen meant to disguise the team's plans. Then they can simply take him, adding his tight handle and shot-creation skills to their rebuild. Doncic would be an easy-to-build-around centerpiece, making life easier for John Collins with his fantastic passing acumen and opening up hockey-assist chances for perimeter snipers by setting up the big man for dimes off the short roll. He could fit alongside Dennis Schroder as a 2-guard, or he could replace the incumbent point guard as an oversized floor general.
Already a Euroleague MVP and champion with only 19 years spent on the planet, Doncic is unquestionably a top-tier prospect in this draft. The Hawks should treat him accordingly, especially considering his seamless fit next to the current building blocks—Collins and Taurean Prince, first and foremost.
But if Givony's report has validity, the Hawks should still be thrilled if Doncic falls to them at No. 3. That opens up the possibility of trading down with teams desperate to land the teenager's services, and those squads would have to jump in front of the Memphis Grizzlies at No. 4 to have a clear shot.
Other picks: Nos. 19, 30, 34
Boston Celtics at No. 27: Troy Brown Jr.
The Boston Celtics are in quite the enviable position.
Already well ahead of schedule after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals and pushing LeBron James to the brink of defeat before succumbing to the unstoppable streak, they're now about to acquire another influx of talent. Not from the draft this time around, but from the returns of Gordon Howard and Kyrie Irving.
Seriously, take a gander at a projected depth chart that doesn't even include Greg Monroe (unrestricted free agent), Marcus Smart (restricted), Aron Baynes (unrestricted) and Shane Larkin (unrestricted):
- Point guard: Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier
- Shooting guard: Jaylen Brown, Abdel Nader
- Small forward: Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye
- Power forward: Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Guerschon Yabusele
- Center: Al Horford, Daniel Theis
That's an unfair overload of incumbent talent, especially when you realize just how effective Theis was on defense before he got injured. Even if you don't believe in the futures of Nader, Ojeleye and Yabusele, the Celtics are two deep at almost every position.
But they might as well address the lone weak spot with their only pick of the 2018 NBA draft by finding a useful swingman capable of serving as a secondary playmaker when Irving or Rozier needs a breather. That's a tough ask near the end of the first round, but Troy Brown Jr. fits the billing...if he falls.
The Oregon prospect is a limited scorer whose best trait is his defensive potential, but he's also a 6'7" guard who can capably create for his teammates. He averaged 3.2 assists during his freshman season with the Ducks, and the quality of his feeds lends to the belief that he could excel in a creating role in the NBA.
Brown falling to No. 27 is a bit of a stretch. He's coming off the board three picks earlier in Jonathan Wasserman's latest mock draft for Bleacher Report. But the Celtics should be looking for values in this particular prospect pageant. They have that depth-aided luxury now, allowing us to get a little bolder with the realism here.
Other picks: None
Brooklyn Nets at No. 29: Melvin Frazier
If the Brooklyn Nets are determined to run out Spencer Dinwiddie, Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell in their backcourt, they need as much defense behind them as possible. Even with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen emerging as useful pieces, they must continue stockpiling bodies capable of corralling the opposition.
Oh, and some shooting wouldn't hurt.
The Nets finished the 2017-18 campaign ranked No. 25 in defensive rating. Meanwhile, they wound up sitting at No. 20 in three-point percentage despite making more triples than any team other than the Houston Rockets—a true case of lofting so many treys that it disguised how poorly the squad shot them.
Killing those two birds with one stone is a difficult ask near the end of the draft's opening round, but it's possible if you're willing to turn toward mid-major prospects.
As a junior for the Tulane Green Wave, Melvin Frazier averaged 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.7 blocks while shooting 55.6 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from downtown and 71.2 percent from the stripe. More importantly for our purposes, he was one of only 44 qualified players in the country to clear the 38 percent benchmark while taking at least three triples per game and recording a defensive box plus/minus north of two.
The shooting is less crucial here, though it's a nice luxury. The real reason for excitement stems from Frazier's manic energy on the defensive end. He was a ceaseless whirlwind of quick hands and quicker feet throughout his junior season, and he already minimizes mistakes youngsters typically can't avoid when they get too aggressive with their gambles.
Freed to focus even more on defense and spot-up shooting in the Association, Frazier could easily become a hidden three-and-D gem.
Other picks: Nos. 40, 45
Charlotte Hornets at No. 11: Miles Bridges
The Charlotte Hornets need to figure out their direction before the advent of the 2018 NBA draft.
If they're going to blow up the current core by shopping Kemba Walker, no longer accepting the longstanding mediocrity that's left them in professional basketball purgatory, that would entirely alter the big board and make drafting Collin Sexton or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander a priority. If they're instead content to keep trying for that back-end playoff spot—a justifiable course of action after Pythagorean Wins suggested they were six victories better than their 36-46 record—they need supporting pieces.
Given the lack of signs pointing toward the first route, let's assume the Hornets are trying to build upon what they have. Walker is the only true star. Dwight Howard is a useful center, and his age/reputation/contract situation makes him nearly impossible to move. Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Malik Monk are all intriguing, though to varying degrees. Nicolas Batum is a quality piece, but he's also on the decline and should, for all intents and purposes, be considered utterly immovable.
All that information points toward a need for a player who can consolidate some of the varying roles filled by the aforementioned incumbents. Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't developed at all on offense, and the dearth of a jumper makes him a liability. Lamb's scoring game is intriguing, but he forces the Hornets to sacrifice on defense. So on and so forth.
Mikal Bridges would be an ideal fit here, but that's not realistic. Not when—spoiler alert—he's already serving as the dream get for two teams picking ahead of Charlotte. Instead, we go to the other Bridges, who, we should note, has no relation to the Villanova standout.
Miles Bridges is a smaller player with significant limitations. His attempts to create for himself are...adventurous. His defensive intensity is inconsistent, and he could become more of a tweener than a combo forward unless he puts on more muscle. And yet, he's exactly what you might want in an NBA role player—by no means an insult when his role would be an unlimited one built around the lineups into which he's thrown.
The diversity of his skill set allows for that intriguing possibility.
Other picks: No. 55
Chicago Bulls at No. 7: Michael Porter Jr.
The Chicago Bulls require a lot of pieces in their climb back to relevancy.
They don't have a long-term big man; Robin Lopez might be an effective pivot, but he's already 30 years old and doesn't possess much enduring upside. Though Lauri Markkanen looks the part of a future centerpiece and Kris Dunn made significant strides during his first season in the Windy City, that may be the extent of the building blocks for this franchise.
But while plenty of needs lie scattered throughout the depth chart, particularly if Zach LaVine proves too expensive for the Chicago front office during his venture into free agency, the team has one desperate shortage rising above all the rest. It has to find a go-to scorer who can create for himself, or else Chicago risks tasking Markkanen with far too much responsibility during his sophomore campaign.
Given the Bulls' position in this process, one driven downward by the surprising success the overlooked roster experienced during the first half of the 2017-18 season, the options are a bit more limited. But Michael Porter Jr. could fall into their hands, and his diverse blend of scoring talents would play perfectly alongside a defense-first point guard and a floor-spacing power forward.
Porter's limitations—lackluster passing, inexplicable shot selection and developing ball-handling skills within the half-court set—make him a risky investment. So too do the health concerns, the latest of which could wreck his upward trend after he was forced to cancel workouts with a hip injury.
Still, his combination of size, shooting touch and off-ball aptitude give him a tremendous scoring ceiling. And that, above all else, is what the Bulls must be seeking with the first of two opening-round picks.
Other picks: No. 22
Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 8: Trae Young
Honestly, I have no idea who the Cleveland Cavaliers should be placing atop their realistic draft boards. We first have to know whether a nightmare will come to fruition.
If LeBron James departs Northeast Ohio for the second time in his illustrious career, the needs become far different than if he stays. Drafting a two-way forward suddenly grows into a pressing priority, though the Cavs could reasonably deviate to a best-player-available scenario. If he stays put for his shot at a ninth consecutive Finals appearance, then the Cavs have to address an actual positional need.
Let's split the difference.
Trae Young may well be the best player left on the board if all goes according to expectations with the first half-dozen selections. His combination of playmaking skills and shooting prowess forces jaws to make contact with floors, and he might grow more dangerous still when surrounded by other NBA talents who don't allow defenses to focus on him as exclusively as they did at Oklahoma.
The Sooners product would make for an ideal point guard next to James, presumably capable of filling the old Kyrie Irving role by taking over key offensive possessions down the stretch and also thriving as a spot-up shooter. Even if the four-time MVP departs, he'd be a strong fit because of his takeover instincts and ability to function as a scoring centerpiece.
You can reasonably argue for a number of different prospects as the dream selection for the defending runner-ups, but those contentions only become definitive if we can guarantee the upcoming decision of the world's best basketball player. Right now, we can't.
Other picks: None
Dallas Mavericks at No. 5: Mohamed Bamba
Let's pretend a uniqueness scale does exist.
If that were the case, Mohamed Bamba would swing out all the way to the fringes. A 7'1" center with the longest wingspan in combine history, he's a prospect with a heretofore unseen physical build that should allow him to morph into a defensive menace.
Throw in three-point upside (that will admittedly require years of work), ambidexterity and passing skills that belie his size, and you have a new big-man mold—one that can't be replicated by anyone in this class or another.
Bamba falling to the Dallas Mavericks at No. 5 is realistic, but only barely. Though that scenario would require the convergence of many other factors (health from Michael Porter Jr., a team falling in love with Trae Young, etc.), it isn't too far outside the realm of possibilities for our purposes. And even more importantly, it would be perfection for the Mavericks.
Not only does Dallas need a rim-protecting presence at the 5, but the Mavs also need to start thinking about new ways to provide frontcourt spacing. Dirk Nowitzki, assuming the Mavericks pick up his option or decline it and ink him to another team-friendly deal, should be there in 2018-19 to serve as a mentor. He's not, however, going to stick around forever.
Other picks: Nos. 33, 54
Denver Nuggets at No. 14: Zhaire Smith
I'm not sure a more perfect marriage exists between team and prospect.
While the Denver Nuggets surely wouldn't mind a traditional point guard who could assume distributing responsibilities and alleviate the burdens of bigger players in the starting five, that's more luxury than necessity with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris already comprising one of the NBA's best young backcourts. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic have the two biggest positions locked up, and they're backed up nicely by Mason Plumlee, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, Juancho Hernangomez and more.
But small forward? Therein lies the problem, especially if Wilson Chandler opts out in pursuit of a new deal. Worse still, the Nuggets basically have to fill that slot through minimum contracts or the draft, because Jokic's inevitable max contract will push this organization closer to the luxury-tax threshold.
Enter Zhaire Smith. Not only does he have the ability to play small forward in the NBA, but he's also a defense-first player who excels on offense as a cutter. Give him a working jumper, and he'd have no shot at falling all the way down to the last pick of the lottery.
Smith was a point-preventing menace for Texas Tech, using his relentless hustle and boundless athleticism to produce the nation's No. 20 score in defensive points saved, per NBA Math. The vast majority of those topping his mark were big men, too. Given his ability to soar through the air, he also profiles as an ideal cutter who could make the most of Jokic's awe-inspiring passing—and, to a lesser extent, Millsap's.
With Murray, Harris, Millsap and Jokic already in place, the Nuggets are in position to select this limited offensive presence whose shortcomings would typically mitigate the effect of his strengths. The fit is perfect.
Other picks: Nos. 43, 58
Detroit Pistons at No. 42: Landry Shamet
If you're still convinced Reggie Jackson is the point guard of the future for the Detroit Pistons, I have some oceanfront properties in Colorado that may interest you.
The 28-year-old floor general may yet bounce back from his injuries and become a convincing starter, but he's not going to be the man who maximizes the frontcourt pairing of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. A floor-spacing 1-guard is necessary for that, and Jackson has never shot better than 35.9 percent from beyond the arc, while his career mark sits at 32.0 percent. Ish Smith isn't going to be a savior, either.
Unfortunately, the Pistons will have trouble remedying this in the draft unless they trade up for a superior pick. The elite talents are all gone by the time we enter the 40s, which means Detroit has to take a shot on a lesser prospect with the potential to become a second-round gem.
Who better than Landry Shamet?
The Wichita State standout is a lackluster athlete whose diminished speed will make it tougher for him to create separation against NBA defenders or hold his own on the stopping side. But he's also coming off a season in which he averaged 14.9 points and 5.2 assists while slashing 48.9/44.2/82.5. Better still, that middle percentage came with remarkable volume.
Throughout the NCAA, only 10 qualified players could match his three-point percentage while taking at least 5.9 shots per game from beyond the rainbow. If that shooting stroke translates, which it might on a team with two capable distributors lining up at the biggest spots, teams will inevitably regret passing on this Shocker.
Other picks: None
Golden State Warriors at No. 28: Elie Okobo
A message to the NBA's other 29 organizations: If you're looking to increase parity and prevent the Golden State Warriors from experiencing more dynastic success, please talk the Chicago Bulls out of selling them another pick for nothing more than cash.
By buying a second-round selection from the Windy City and using it on Jordan Bell last summer, the Warriors continued proving they could unearth gems deep into the proceedings. Now they'll try doing so again, this time with their own first-rounder.
Assuming Kevin Durant returns after opting out of his deal's final season, the Warriors won't need any new pieces for their starting lineup. But the back half of this roster is still gutted—at least until ring-chasing veterans flock to the Bay Area in pursuit of a championship earned off the pine. The Dubs could reasonably go after a contributor at any position, opting for the best-player-available strategy and then filling the cracks during free agency.
But an ideal course still exists, and it involves finding a replacement for Shaun Livingston. The lanky floor general has shown signs of decline when spelling Stephen Curry, and it would behoove the defending champions to find another player who can knock down shots off the bounce.
That's the primary skill Elie Okobo has as he transitions from France to the NBA. He's a raw prospect who still makes careless mistakes with his ball-handling, but he has plenty of scoring upside that could work nicely in small doses off an elite organization's bench.
Golden State can afford to chase a high-risk, high-reward prospect deep in the first round, and that's exactly how you should describe the 6'3" point guard. If he takes a few years to develop or never turns into anything of note, the Warriors will still be fine.
If he does morph into something special...
Other picks: None
Houston Rockets at No. 46: Moritz Wagner
Let's run through the Houston Rockets' list of big men:
- Ryan Anderson: proved unusable against the Golden State Warriors and is having more trouble getting onto the floor.
- Tarik Black: played only 10.5 minutes per game during his fourth professional season and is now an unrestricted free agent.
- Clint Capela: hitting restricted free agency after becoming an All-Star-caliber center during the 2017-18 campaign.
- Chinanu Onuaku: played a total of 22 minutes as a sophomore.
- Nene: will celebrate his 36th birthday before the start of 2018-19 and posted a negative box plus/minus this year.
- Zhou Qi: played garbage-time minutes in 18 appearances during his rookie season.
Even when Capela returns (likely on a max or near-max contract), he'll be coming off a year in which he logged just 27.5 minutes per game. Depth behind him is necessary, and the Rockets have a host of players who haven't proved themselves in rotation roles or are enduring downward spirals that go hand-in-hand with career twilights.
In other words, Houston might as well take a second-round shot at another 5 with its lone pick of the 2018 NBA draft. And with a thin crop of centers in this year's class, Moritz Wagner is rather easily the best option. If he's off the board, it's time to go with Brandon McCoy or Chimezie Metu.
Wagner's defense would give Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni some heartburn. But that's a price worth paying for the Michigan product's offensive game, which includes intelligent passing from all spots of the floor and plenty of three-point ability—39.4 percent on 4.1 attempts per game as a junior one year after shooting 39.5 percent on an even 3.0 deep tries per contest.
Something tells me the Rockets wouldn't mind that last part.
Other picks: None
Indiana Pacers at No. 23: Anfernee Simons
As Ryan Jones wrote for SLAMOnline.com, Anfernee Simons is a special prospect, able to overcome the doubts that could accompany a player who's attempting to make the prep-to-pro leap in 2018:
"Whatever skepticism might still exist in 2018 among certain so-called draft experts about a player skipping college for the League, most observers agree on Simons' potential—he's a consensus top-20 pick in most of the reputable mock drafts.
"A 6-3, 185-pound combo guard, he possesses an explosive and versatile offensive game, and he's as comfortable getting to (and above) the rim as he is splashing from deep. He knows his strengths—and he knows who to share the credit with. 'I'd say it's my shooting and playmaking ability, and my IQ—that came from my dad,' he says. 'He made me think about the game a lot more—to be instinctive, but at same time, think about it before it happens.'"
But as you might expect from a 19-year-old prospect with no experience above the high school level, Simons will need development. He has to add significant strength to his 6'4", 183-pound frame before he can body up against NBA backcourt members. His shot selection and shooting form both need work. When the going gets tough, he starts looking to score even more and forgets about his distributing responsibilities.
That's all fine, especially for a team like the Indiana Pacers that might prefer a day-one contributor but can also onboard a prospect who requires grooming. Not only will his timetable mesh nicely with Victor Oladipo's ascent, but the Eastern Conference up-and-comers also have the ability to be patient.
Darren Collison is still a legitimate starter who plays with remarkable offensive efficiency, both as a sharpshooting floor-spacer and a careful ball-handler. However, he's preparing to celebrate his 31st birthday with a game predicated upon his foot speed.
An understudy is necessary.
Other picks: No. 50
Los Angeles Clippers at No. 12: Wendell Carter Jr.
Wendell Carter Jr. makes sense for the Los Angeles Clippers, regardless of whether DeAndre Jordan declines his $24.1 million player option with the intent of departing for greener pastures.
If Jordan stays, this Duke product would be able to slot in as a power forward alongside the incumbent big man or as a primary backup. His shooting range allows for more positional flexibility, and the same is true for the rest of his dizzying list of talents. Carter is solid at the skills required of traditional bigs (rebounding, interior defense, rolling instincts), but he's also a gifted passer with quickness cloaked by his 6'10" frame. Ask him to exhibit that lateral agility when switching onto smaller players, and he should still flourish.
Of course, the rationale is more obvious if Jordan departs.
Then Carter could slot in as the primary 5 for the Clippers, taking advantage of this draft's relative scarcity of second-tier talent at center. After Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley III and Jaren Jackson Jr. are off the board, teams looking for a true pivot must turn toward Carter and Robert Williams. Once they're gone, the true reaches begin with unproven commodities such as Mitchell Robinson and Moritz Wagner.
Even if Jordan isn't long for Los Angeles, the Clippers could still have 11 players under contract for 2018-19: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Jawun Evans, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, Wesley Johnson, Boban Marjanovic, Austin Rivers (player option), Milos Teodosic (player option), Sindarius Thornwell and Lou Williams. They're set in the backcourt, and they have big-name wings ready to go. Center is the one glaring gap, and that's what must be addressed with one of their back-to-back lottery picks.
With the other, anything goes. Ideally, they'd invest that second selection on a high-upside wing such as Zhaire Smith in case Gallinari is unable to regain his pre-hand-injury level.
Other picks: No. 13
Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25: Shake Milton
Desire No. 1: a 2-guard who can line up alongside Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma on the off chance that the Los Angeles Lakers fail to attract any of this year's top free-agency targets.
Desire No. 2: a defender who can build upon the momentum the Lakers earned on the preventing end throughout the 2017-18 campaign.
Desire No. 3: a shooter who can continue spacing the floor for driving attacks and capitalize on the brilliant setup feeds thrown by Ball.
Well, it just so happens that Shake Milton checks all the boxes.
The 21-year-old, 6'6" shooting guard averaged 18.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks during his final season at SMU, and he did so while slashing 46.2/43.4/84.7. He's a versatile, two-way threat whose weaknesses should be mitigated by those surrounding him in purple-and-gold uniforms.
Does he play the 2? Check. Is he a strong defender? He is indeed, capable of switching onto smaller and bigger players alike as he makes the most of his lateral quickness, lanky wingspan (7'1") and off-ball instincts. Is he a shooter? Well, he was one of 35 players throughout the NCAA who made at least 43 percent of his triples while taking more than five per game, and his free-throw percentage is another sign his long-range work should translate.
Maybe Milton doesn't have the upside possessed by other guards projected to come off the board in the 20s. But that shouldn't dissuade the Lakers from calling his name when they have go-to players at three other positions and a chance to lure someone of LeBron James or Paul George's caliber during free agency.
Other picks: No. 47
Memphis Grizzlies at No. 4: Luka Doncic
Let's assume the Memphis Grizzlies are incapable of moving the No. 4 pick and Chandler Parsons—a possibility reported by Michael Scotto of The Athletic. Someone might be willing to bite if Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton falls outside the top three, but assuming the remaining portion of Parsons' albatross contract ($24.1 million in 2018-19 and $25.1 million in 2019-20) would still create serious hesitation.
Kudos to the Grizzlies for doing their due diligence. That still won't happen.
Not only is Parsons' pact that unpalatable, but also, no situation exists in which Ayton will fall beyond the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks. And though Doncic is far more likely to slip past the top three, his presence should make Memphis far less willing to trade down. The young point guard is, after all, a perfect fit for the franchise's direction.
Perhaps more so than any other lottery organization, the Grizzlies should be motivated to win right now.
Marc Gasol is still effective, but the 33-year-old is moving outside his prime years and no longer taking over contests as a two-way standout. Mike Conley is 30 years old and coming off a season plagued by maladies and the corresponding injury-created ineffectiveness. Parsons' salary and a number of other questionable investments make it tough to pick up any key free-agent pieces, to the point that the Grizzlies should be hoping Tyreke Evans is willing to return on the mid-level exception.
Adding a high-upside piece who's already prepared to contribute at a high level is their dream draft scenario, and Doncic fits. He's operating with a number of professional seasons under his belt, and he's proved himself against the highest level of competition you can find outside the NBA.
So long as the Grizzlies are convinced he can fit alongside Conley (and he can), they shouldn't hesitate to snatch him up if he slips.
Other picks: No. 32
Milwaukee Bucks at No. 17: Lonnie Walker IV
How do you maximize Giannis Antetokounmpo?
That's the only question that matters for the Milwaukee Bucks, and the answer is simple: Surround him with secondary ball-handlers who can also knock down jumpers to space the court for his relentless assaults on the rim. Of course, if those players grew on trees, Brewtown would already boast more of them to pair with Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton.
Because of the Greek Freak's positional malleability, the Bucks don't have to seek out any one spot in the lineup with their lone draft pick. If they find a shooter who can handle the rock at the 5, they should leap at the chance to upgrade from John Henson and Thon Maker. A true point guard could work and push the 6'1" Bledsoe one spot up in an undersized backcourt. Any wings are fair game.
Lonnie Walker IV, though, is the best of the bunch.
Rising up draft boards as he impresses with his athleticism and sweet stroke, the 6'5" shooting guard fits each of the Bucks' needs. He still has to add muscle and learn how to create for his teammates, but he's a seasoned scorer who can operate off the bounce or hit catch-and-shoot jumpers.
Don't be fooled by his lackluster numbers at Miami, since he was working in a guard-laden system and didn't have a well-defined role until the later stages of his freshman season. He still knocked down 34.6 percent of his triples while taking 5.1 per game, and his shooting mechanics should translate to the NBA with more seasoning.
Walker, due to his unproven nature and scoring-dependent upside, might be a risky selection at this stage of the draft. But given how his skill set might mesh with the key Milwaukee pieces, that's a risk the Bucks should be fine taking.
Other picks: None
Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 20: Kevin Huerter
Let's not overcomplicate this.
The Minnesota Timberwolves desperately need more shooters to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. Their offense was operating at elite levels in 2017-18, but its sustainability depends on taking pressure off the key pieces through egalitarian schemes that require more all-around shooting prowess. They need to take the best marksman available at No. 20.
It's that simple.
Fansided's Brandon Jefferson recently ranked the best pure shooters in this year's draft class, and Maryland's Kevin Huerter checked in at No. 3: "Huerter, a 6'7" New York native, mostly spotted up around the perimeter and waited for Melo Trimble drive-and-kick passes, catch-and-shoot opportunities off offensive rebounds or kickouts from post players to get off shots."
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Trae Young hold down Jefferson's top two spots, but neither makes sense for the Wolves with their first-round pick. No scenario exists in which the latter falls to Minnesota, and the Kansas product may well go undrafted if he doesn't jump off the board late in the second round.
Coming off a season for the Terrapins in which he knocked down 41.7 percent of his triples while taking 5.5 attempts per game, Huerter is an elite sniper who'd be a reasonable choice just outside the teens.
Other picks: No. 48
New Orleans Pelicans at No. 51: Devon Hall
When you're building around a superstar frontcourt duo, you have to surround them with as much shooting as possible. Such is the case for the New Orleans Pelicans while they're working to make the most of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, assuming the latter is re-signed to an eye-popping new deal in free agency.
If that shooting comes in a three-and-D package, even better. Tantalizing as it may be to pair the fire-and-ice combo with more spacing, it's just as appealing to wonder what the two could do on the preventing end with Jrue Holiday and a prospect such as Devon Hall locking down the perimeter.
"A competitive two-way player who can hit spot-up threes and defend multiple positions, which makes him a valued commodity," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote about Hall, comparing him to Danny Green, Royce O'Neale and Keith Bogans. And based on the numbers, that's not a stretch.
During his senior season at Virginia, the 6'6" wing took 3.9 triples per game and connected at a 43.2 percent clip. As if that weren't enough of a demonstration of his shooting prowess, which includes a sweet lefty stroke and the ability to achieve a vertical takeoff even when darting through traffic, he also knocked down 89.4 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Couple that with his fourth consecutive season posting a defensive box plus/minus north of four, and you have the makings of a legitimate three-and-D prospect who won't likely come off the board until, at the earliest, the middle portion of the second round. And in case you're wondering how rare that last feat is, only 70 players since 2010-11 have produced four-plus DBPMs for each of their four collegiate campaigns.
Other picks: None
New York Knicks at No. 9: Mikal Bridges
Though his analysis was geared around free agency, Bleacher Report's Dan Favale broke down the New York Knicks' biggest need perfectly. It still applies to the draft, especially because that's the team's most realistic shot at filling this glaring hole:
"The New York Knicks need more of the most important asset in basketball. Total shocker.
"Courtney Lee satisfies the three-and-D requirements, but he's 32. He doesn't share the Knicks' timeline. Lance Thomas can line up against most wings and is knocking down more than 40 percent of his triples over the past three seasons, but he turns 30 in April, and his efficiency comes amid modest volume.
"Tim Hardaway Jr. doesn't meet even the most fundamental three-and-D standards. He's shooting under 32 percent from beyond the arc this season, and the defensive boon he enjoyed with the Hawks has faded while logging more time against rival starters."
Mikal Bridges, however, does check both the boxes. Better still, he has a serious chance to be on the board when the Knicks get their turn at No. 9 because NBA general managers inexplicably turn up their noses at upperclassmen prospects year after year.
Yes, Bridges is close to celebrating his 22nd birthday and needed to make strides throughout each of his collegiate seasons to break into the lottery party. He sometimes struggles to create his own looks and fades into the background when his first few shots draw iron rather than net. Even with an impressive 6'10" wingspan, the 6'7" Bridges might not be big enough to switch onto true frontcourt players.
He's still an all-around prospect with an undeniable list of successes from his time at Villanova. Even if he's "only" a spot-up shooter with convincing range who's capable of locking up opposing wings and forwards, that's a valuable archetype.
Since the 2010-11 NCAA season, 339 collegiate players have taken at least six triples per game and connected at no worse than a 40 percent clip. Bridges was at 6.0 and 43.5 during his final go-around with the Wildcats, and he led all of those marksmen in defensive box plus/minus. He's the living embodiment of a three-and-D prospect.
Other picks: No. 36
Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 53: Jevon Carter
The Oklahoma City Thunder must find a capable backup for Russell Westbrook as they seek to keep him fresh for the inevitable playoff push, which means they're not just looking for the highest-upside talent at the 1. They also need to unearth someone who can contribute from day one, because Raymond Felton is about to turn 34 years old, isn't as impactful as he once was and is preparing to enter free agency.
Fortunately for OKC, that type of prospect exists.
During the 2017-18 NCAA season, not a single player earned higher marks in NBA Math's TPA metric than Jevon Carter. The West Virginia floor general was a bona fide two-way stud, playing pesky defense that should translate to the NBA when he wasn't calmly spearheading the Mountaineers' attack. Even if he struggles to finish on the inside against bigger defenders, the 6'5" Carter has the spot-up acumen necessary to avoid becoming a complete offensive liability as he moves toward functioning as one of the NBA's best defensive guards.
That's the type of point-preventing potential we're talking about. Carter should be an impact stopper right away with his lengthy experience in a havoc-wreaking system and his fine-tuned instincts on the less glamorous end. As JZ Mazlish wrote for The Stepien while attempting to ascertain the 22-year-old's best-case scenario:
"Carter winds up next to an initiating wing, and thrives in the role. His sparse creation offense limits him to high-end backup or very low-end starter status, but he is a legitimate All-Defense candidate at the point guard spot. He's not quite Patrick Beverley. Beverley's athleticism and size allowed him to contribute on both ends in ways Carter cannot. But he is a reasonable facsimile of Beverley and the type of guy who consistently shows up on good teams."
Having a niche is important for second-round prospects—or anyone attempting to carve out a non-starring role in the NBA, for that matter. Felton didn't have one last year, and that's part of the reason the Thunder saw their net rating plummet 10.9 points per 100 possessions without Westbrook on the floor.
Carter would immediately change that.
Other picks: No. 57
Orlando Magic at No. 6: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Though Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon (assuming whatever offer sheet he signs as a restricted free agent gets matched right away) might make the Orlando Magic hesitant to invest in yet another up-and-comer who'll inevitably spend some time at the 4, Jaren Jackson Jr. is too talented to be overlooked at No. 6. Not only does he have one of the highest ceilings in this draft class, but his well-rounded skill set also makes for a lofty floor.
Let's allow John Denton to explain, as he did for NBA.com:
"Jackson Jr., or '3-J’' as he's affectionately nicknamed by those who watched him dominate games in a variety of ways this past season at Michigan State, possesses the kinds of skills rarely seen in big men still three months shy of their 19th birthday. How about this sort of diversity in his game: He blocked three-or-more shots in a game 20 times, while also registering eight games with two-or-more 3-point shots.
"He is, some NBA scouts think, the poster boy for the prototypical big man in today's small-ball, space-and-pace NBA because of all the things he can do."
The Magic could go in plenty of directions at No. 6—a luxury afforded to them by their shapeless rebuilding over the last few years, which has left them looking for top-tier talent at just about every position. Trae Young and Collin Sexton would make for intriguing point guards of the future. They could seek out a go-to scorer such as Michael Porter Jr.
But the idea of Isaac and Jackson teaming up on defense is tantalizing, especially since the latter can also space the floor from beyond the three-point arc and excel as an athletic cutter. If he falls outside the top five, the Magic's amorphous plan will still yield a resolute decision.
Other picks: Nos. 35, 41
Philadelphia 76ers at No. 10: Mikal Bridges
We've already established that Mikal Bridges is a three-and-D prospect. But he might be an even better fit on the Philadelphia 76ers than the New York Knicks. The Eastern Conference up-and-comers would just have to hope some other tantalizing prospect is still on the board that makes the Big Apple residents pass on Bridges.
As Bryan Toporek explained for Fansided, Bridges' fit with the Sixers would supersede the purported upside of other prospects expected to go around this spot:
"If Mikal Bridges is still on the board at No. 10, the Sixers likely wouldn't think twice before selecting him. He's the ideal combination of talent and fit for this young Philadelphia roster, even if he doesn't have the superstar upside of a Michael Porter Jr. or Trae Young. ...
"If the Sixers hope to emulate the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics by assembling a collection of switchable wings, Bridges would give them a leg up in that regard. Pairing Bridges with Robert Covington on the wing would be downright unfair."
With enough money to go after LeBron James or Paul George in the free-agency market, enough assets to call the San Antonio Spurs about Kawhi Leonard and plenty of incumbent talents, the Sixers don't have the needs you'd typically expect of a squad selecting in the top 10. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons eliminate any holes at the biggest and smallest starting spots, while Robert Covington and Dario Saric have the forward positions locked down. Throw in Markelle Fultz, and you might even have that dynamic off-the-bench scorer who could force head coach Brett Brown to think about messing with a successful starting five.
But you can never have enough three-and-D wings or forwards in today's NBA. Bridges is the best option there, even if one of the top-tier prospects not named Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton inexplicably falls into Philadelphia's lap.
Other picks: Nos. 26, 38, 39, 56, 60
Phoenix Suns at No. 1: Deandre Ayton
The Phoenix Suns could talk themselves into taking EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic with the No. 1 overall pick, counting on his strong fit alongside star shooting guard Devin Booker. But Deandre Ayton seems like the prospect of choice for the downtrodden franchise, considering his all-around offensive dominance as a modern-age center.
Ayton's defensive concerns won't help drag the Suns' 30th-ranked defense out of the dumps, but he would give the team a new focal point next to Booker. With his combination of raw physicality on the interior, deft shooting touch from outside the paint and range that extends all the way beyond the arc, he's a versatile scoring threat with serious star potential. The thought of him running pick-and-roll/pop action with the incumbent 2-guard has to have members of the Phoenix front office drooling.
Lest we forget, the offense needs just as much work as the defense. It too finished dead last during the regular season, able to muster nothing more than a meager 100.8 points per 100 possessions.
Ayton is already a hometown hero after his work at the University of Arizona. Keeping him in Phoenix caters to a fanbase still excited about the upside of the Booker-Josh Jackson combination. It would give the Suns another high-upside prospect with a skill set that fits nicely next to the already-installed pieces.
Unlike the rest of the NBA's organizations pinning hopes of growth on this prospect pageant, the Suns don't have to dream. If Ayton is No. 1 on their draft board, they can grab him.
Other picks: Nos. 16, 31, 59
Portland Trail Blazers at No. 24: Jacob Evans
The Portland Trail Blazers showed signs of defensive life throughout the 2017-18 season. They even finished the year ranked No. 8 in points allowed per 100 possessions, sandwiched directly between the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat.
But so long as they continue building around a starting backcourt comprised of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, they'll need to continue finding more pieces who are capable of engaging in positive work on the less glamorous end. Improved as the guards may be, the sustainability of their efforts rests on the backs of those who surround them in the lineup.
You don't have to watch Jacob Evans long to realize what he can do in spite of his limited athletic tools.
The Cincinnati standout is a cerebral defender who understands how to diagnose and react to virtually every situation. Whether he's rotating away from the primary action to help his teammates, mirroring his mark while assuming tough assignments or showing off his length on switches, he's always capable of impacting the proceedings.
Plus, the player he claims to model his game after, per NBA.com's Kyle Ratke, speaks volumes:
"I love Jimmy Butler, you know, just love the fact that he digs in and plays both sides of the ball. He worked his butt off in the offseason to become a better offensive guy...He had to work on his shooting, but he prides himself on defense. You see him every night, he's guarding James Harden or Kevin Durant or LeBron James, whoever the guy is on the other team, he takes pride in guarding him. That's what I want to do also."
That quote is positive enough on the surface level, since Evans correctly identifies his biggest strength. But he also tacitly reveals awareness of an area that needs work, realizing that his 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc doesn't make him a surefire offensive prospect; he has to work there, too.
If Evans does become Jimmy Butler 2.0, whoever lands him—the Blazers or some other organization—will have unearthed a gem outside the lottery. But even if only his defense translates, he'll still be a strong value at No. 24.
Other picks: None
Sacramento Kings at No. 2: Deandre Ayton
Unlike the team selecting at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings do have to dream.
If the Phoenix Suns do the expected and grab Deandre Ayton with the first overall selection, the Kings will need to either take Luka Doncic or reach for a second-tier prospect. At the moment, Marvin Bagley III seems to be trending up the board, potentially climbing all the way to the Kings' clutches at No. 2. As Noel Harris revealed for the Sacramento Bee, we're now looking at "a two-man race" between Doncic and Bagley.
But this is about dream selections, and Sacramento is still in realistic position for an Ayton pursuit. If the Suns buck convention and decide they're enamored with a Doncic-Devin Booker backcourt pairing, the Kings would be able to sprint to the podium and grab this former Wildcat before the announcement of the No. 1 selection is even finished.
This organization doesn't have too many prospects who are guaranteed building blocks. It can grow reasonably excited about the long-term upside of De'Aaron Fox. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles and Willie Cauley-Stein are all young and talented enough to factor into a competitive rotation at some point in the not-too-distant future.
But the Kings need a bona fide star capable of shouldering an immense scoring load night in and night out. Enter Ayton, who was a consistent offensive threat during his freshman season at Arizona. With his inside-outside skills and NBA-ready body, he could immediately contribute to a climb out of the Western Conference basement like no one else in this draft.
Other picks: No. 37
San Antonio Spurs at No. 18: Dzanan Musa
Not all international draft prospects fit the same mold, but the San Antonio Spurs have to feel confident about their ability to evaluate players who never graced the March Madness stage. They've hit on a number of those contributors over the years: Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Luis Scola, Leandro Barbosa, Beno Udrih, Ian Mahinmi and Tiago Splitter chief among them.
But it's not Dzana Musa's international status that makes him the choice here. That would be reductive and a discredit to the NBA-caliber talents of the small forward from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Ringer uses "Rodney Hood, jumbo Jordan Crawford, mondo Marco Belinelli" as the primary comparisons for this 19-year-old prospect. If that doesn't sell you on his fit in San Antonio, consider what JZ Mazlish wrote for The Stepien back in mid-April:
"Musa’s quickness and handle have allowed him to impress at every level of competition he’s played at thus far, but it is fair to wonder if his creation will take a big dip in the NBA and cripple his overall value. Wings with Musa’s creation attributes almost always find a way to stick, but he will need to add strength to his frame and shore up his shooting to turn into a plus NBA player. Look for him to go anywhere in the 14-30 range if he stays in the draft."
Don't be scared off by the layer of doubt; that's natural for any draft-eligible player who's not projected to come off the board in the lottery. If Musa were a sure thing, he'd be selected long before San Antonio had a chance to add to its list of across-the-pond success stories.
But he's still exactly what the Spurs need. Their desire for a secondary scorer was obvious throughout the season, and that'll only grow doubly true with LaMarcus Aldridge aging and Kawhi Leonard looking to move on from the organization, per Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania.
Other picks: No. 49
Utah Jazz at No. 21: Chandler Hutchison
Scoring, scoring, scoring.
It speaks volumes, both to Donovan Mitchell's remarkable talent and the Utah Jazz's dearth of established options, that a rookie 2-guard was tasked with carrying such a heavy offensive burden throughout Salt Lake City's two-round playoff run. During the regular season, the distribution wasn't much better as only Mitchell and Rodney Hood, prior to his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaged even 15 points per game.
Utah needs more firepower if it wants to make the proverbial leap. Even if the burgeoning star at shooting guard is capable of becoming a generational talent on the offensive end, he alone can't elevate the Jazz offense enough to turn this squad into a legitimate title contender. Postseason appearance and all, it ranked only No. 15 in offensive rating during the regular season by scoring 106.2 points per 100 possessions and then logged 3.3 fewer in the playoffs.
In other words, the Jazz have to be looking for a pure scorer such as Chandler Hutchison with the No. 21 pick.
Why the Boise State prospect? Not only is he a gifted talent coming off a season in which he averaged 20.0 points per game while slashing 47.5/35.9/72.8, but he also has a game that should immediately translate to the pros. A sneaky athlete who can catch a defense unaware with his bursts to the rim, he's comfortable creating looks for himself and working as a spot-up marksman—the latter skill should also help him continue to play beneficial defense through sheer energy conservation.
Utah is ready to win right now as it tries to maximize the Mitchell-Rudy Gobert pairing. Other high-scoring candidates can be found in this range, but the idea of a four-year prospect coming aboard and providing an immediate offensive boost could be too much for the Jazz to overlook.
Other picks: No. 52
Washington Wizards at No. 15: Robert Williams
The Washington Wizards can remain convinced that John Wall is their point guard of the foreseeable future, even if they experienced some degree of success while he was out of the lineup during the second half of the regular season. Bradley Beal is coming off the first All-Star appearance of his career, and Otto Porter Jr. remains one of the league's most underrated commodities due to his spot-up prowess and defensive versatility.
Power forward is a bit more questionable with Markieff Morris and Mike Scott (a free agent this offseason) combining to fill the void, but the center position is where most attention is needed. Marcin Gortat is no longer the dominant pick-and-roll threat he was during his prime years (13th percentile as a roll man in 2017-18), and his diminished mobility has become problematic on the preventing end.
The Wizards have to find a replacement if they intend to keep battling with the current core.
Ideally, Wendell Carter Jr. would slip outside the lottery and fall to them. But that flies in the face of the intended realism for this article, since too many teams could use a modern big in the lottery. That means a slight reach might be necessary, and Robert Williams is, rather easily, the best choice.
The former Aggie is an unpolished prospect who needs to work on his focus and fundamentals. His screens, for example, won't serve as anything more than a mere simulacrum of the bone-rattling picks set by Gortat.
But he's already an elite lob threat who can exist in the DeAndre Jordan/Clint Capela mold alongside Wall. That alone, even without factoring in his interior defense, makes him an intriguing enough prospect in the nation's capital.
Other picks: No. 44