Bold Predictions for 2018 NBA Draft

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 21, 2018

Bold Predictions for 2018 NBA Draft

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    The unexpected is a given in the NBA draft. It involves dealing with unproven prospects and requires us to project teenagers' futures. Plus, trades appear without warning.

    Brash front offices reach for players nobody expected to come off the board in the lottery, and conservative operations snatch up top-end stars-to-be that slip through the cracks.

    It's more art than science. More improv theater than scripted drama. That makes the concept of bold predictions tricky since the entire process is a giant heap of guesswork.

    Anthony Bennett was drafted first overall in 2013, for crying out loud! Nothing about the draft is predictable.

    The best way to approach this, then, is to understand that a bold prediction is almost supposed to be wrong. Otherwise, what's bold about it?

    Establishing a cutoff is tricky, but let's go with this: If it seems like the prediction in question is less than 20 percent likely to come true, it counts as bold. There has to be something that loosely tethers these guesses to reality, but there can't be anything indicating they're likely.

    Good enough? Great. Let's be bold.

Luka Doncic Is Involved in a Trade

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    The Dallas Mavericks reportedly have their sights set on Luka Doncic at No. 5, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (via Rob Lopez of Def Pen Hoops), which is where this bold prediction gets its legs.

    Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has Doncic as the top prospect on his final big board, but several of the teams near the top of the draft seemingly don't share the same view. The Sacramento Kings are reportedly "not high" on Doncic, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony, while the Atlanta Hawks aren't necessarily sold on him at No. 3, either.

    The Hawks are reportedly open to trading down, according to Wasserman, while The Athletic's Michael Scotto reported the Memphis Grizzlies are looking to deal their fourth overall selection to get off Chandler Parsons' contract.

    The entire league can't agree that Doncic isn't worthy of being taken within the top few picks. Somebody is bound to trade up to grab him, or a savvy club may trade down a slot or two, add an asset and still snag him.

    Either way, the pick used to select Doncic will be involved in a trade.

Mo Bamba Winds Up Being the Best Big Man in the Draft

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    Jaren Jackson Jr. is already a fantastic, switchable defender at the 5. Deandre Ayton has a 20-10 season in the books at Arizona. Marvin Bagley is a young Amar'e Stoudemire clone, although The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor made the case that Wendell Carter's superior defense, feel and passing make him the better prospect from Duke.

    That leaves Mo Bamba as a fringe top-five center in this draft.

    Except...he's going to be the best of the lot.

    A combine-record 7'10" wingspan means Bamba is equipped to challenge shots inside like a longer Rudy Gobert. Quick feet and shocking agility for a player so rangy suggests Bamba could be even more useful than the Utah Jazz's perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate as a switch stopper. Throw in a three-point stroke that looks impressive after some retooling, and you have a player capable of making a major impact on both ends in the modern NBA.

    That's where Bamba may have an edge on Ayton and Bagley, both of whom are offense-first prospects who fit the conventions of the NBA as they existed a decade ago. Jackson is a subpar athlete who may struggle to score. Carter's unspectacular at everything.

    Bamba won't go first among the bigs, but he has the tools to be better than whoever does.

There Will Be No Fewer Than Three Lottery Salary Dumps

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    At least three teams in the lottery will trade their picks to offload bad salary.

    The Denver Nuggets sit at No. 14 and may finally move on from Kenneth Faried by attaching his contract to the pick, according to Wojnarowski (via Ryan Blackburn of Denver Stiffs). The Cleveland Cavaliers have loads of reasons to swap their No. 8 overall selection, namely in hopes of convincing LeBron James to stay. But if James intimates he's gone, Cleveland may instead package the pick with some bad money to clear its books for a more immediate, complete rebuild.

    Don't forget the Grizzlies, who would like to be rid of Chandler Parsons, as noted before.

    Why is this bold? Because it'll be a bad prediction if only two of the three teams mentioned give up a valuable draft asset to erase bad signings.

    It's sad when you think about it: Several teams made such awful financial decisions in the recent past that righting the wrongs requires giving up a lottery pick.

    You make the bed, you lie in it, right?

The Sacramento Kings Will Get It Right

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    This is easily the boldest prediction yet, as the Sacramento Kings are veritable savants at getting things wrong.

    They shouldn't even be in position to draft second overall after signing overpriced vets last offseason in hopes of chasing...something. (A winning record, maybe?) Thanks only to blind luck, Sacramento vaulted from its pre-lottery position of seventh to second in the draft.

    In other words: The Kings' greatest achievement in years happened in spite of their best efforts to make that achievement impossible.

    Naturally, Sacramento is eyeing Michael Porter Jr., according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, even though he played only 53 collegiate minutes due to back surgery. Marvin Bagley III is also under strong consideration, according to ESPN's Jonathan Givony.

    Porter was one of the top players in his high school class, but even if you ignore the injuries and scrutinize his game—which features substandard defense, little explosion, poor shot selection and a weak handle—it's difficult to imagine how he'll fit into an NBA that demands stopping power and smarts from its wings.

    The red flags come complete with ominous personality issues, as ESPN's Mike Schmitz relayed on the Dunc'd On podcast: "The intel from his time at Missouri was very, very poor. I think he has a lot of questions to answer about how is he gonna fit in an NBA locker room, and if he's not the No. 1 option, how's that going to go for him? How is he gonna handle adversity? I think he is just a little bit incubated in some ways."

    Taking Porter second overall would seem like an absolute disaster—the kind Sacramento typically sprints toward with eyes glazed and arms open. The same goes for Bagley, another no-defense big who looks like a player whose game will produce stats but few wins.

    This is why predicting that the Kings won't take Porter or Bagley at No. 2 is so brave.

The Cavs Get Kemba

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    Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon reports Kemba Walker "could be in play" for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a trade target, which is vague and nonspecific enough for us to run with it as a bold prediction. 

    There's some sense in Cleveland getting Walker, almost certainly by dealing the No. 8 pick. Walker would give LeBron James a lot of what Kyrie Irving used to: loads of possessions off the ball during which the league's best player could rest and watch a dynamic scoring guard go to work.

    The biggest hurdle to this move is that it presupposes James is staying in Cleveland. It's hard to imagine the Cavs pulling the trigger on Walker, who will be a free agent after the 2018-19 season, if they didn't have assurance that James would stick around. 

    So, for this prediction to come true, James has to stay...which seems ridiculous.

    Another perfect bold prediction.

Rapid Fire!

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    This space is reserved for the truly bold, truly unlikely predictions. If we get one or two right, it'll be a miracle.

    • NBA Commissioner Adam Silver does not mispronounce a single name in the first round, though he's especially careful with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dzanan Musa.
    • Precisely three draftees wear a shorts suit.
    • As bigs fly off the board in the early lottery, we hear talking heads opine "the center position is back!" at least 19 times.
    • Not remotely bold sub-prediction: The talking heads will be super wrong about this.
    • LaVar Ball will somehow involve himself in the draft broadcast, possibly by rappelling onto the stage from the rafters, towing LiAngelo behind him and trying to convince everyone that instead of Lonnie Walker IV, the Los Angeles Clippers actually drafted his middle son. He will deploy a smoke bomb, snatch the Clippers hat from a very confused Walker and disappear into the night.
    • Draftees will get to select their walkup music when chosen. Mo Bamba does not pick "La Bamba," much to the disappointment of the attendees.
    • Aaron Holiday does pick "La Bamba," for reasons nobody can guess.
    • The Golden State Warriors buy a second-round pick, this time using it to select Doncic, whom everyone else forgot about while rocking out to "La Bamba" and admiring all of the shorts suits.