Biggest 2018 NBA Draft Steals and Reaches
The 2018 NBA draft wasn't the chaotic, trade-riddled free-for-all many expected, but we got several surprises anyway.
Every team's big board looks different, so you're always going to see a few players drafted much earlier or later than expected. It only takes one enraptured general manager getting all starry-eyed to vault a projected late first-rounder into the lottery.
It's unlikely we'll get clarity on these picks as quickly as we did a year ago, when Donovan Mitchell revealed himself to be a steal the second he took the floor for the Utah Jazz. Let's also hope we don't have another top selection look like a reach as quickly as Markelle Fultz did.
We all know evaluating rookies takes time. A clear picture of the 2018 draft's true steals and reaches won't present itself for years. But we can still pass judgment using the knowledge we have right now.
Steal: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Regarded by many (points to self) as the best prospect in the draft, Luka Doncic didn't come off the board with the first overall pick. So by definition, the Dallas Mavericks, who traded up from the fifth spot to grab him at No. 3, got themselves a steal.
The price was high; Dallas forked over the No. 5 pick Trae Young and next year's top-five-protected first-rounder to the Atlanta Hawks.
Doncic was the best player in Europe as a 19-year-old, and his playmaking instincts on the wing should make him an instant contributor in head coach Rick Carlisle's offense. Dallas is already hinting at its plans to utilize Doncic at the 4, where his versatility, ball-handling and scoring knack will make him a matchup nightmare—especially in transition, where traditional forwards will struggle to keep pace.
"We’re very fortunate," Carlisle said, according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "Luka Doncic is the guy we targeted in this draft if there was any way possible to do it. ... We get a guy that we think is a franchise foundation piece."
Other than Deandre Ayton, who went first overall, I'm not sure that's a statement you could make about anyone in the draft but Doncic.
Reach: Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Any time you can grab an offense-only big man with dubious floor-stretching ability at an already crowded position, you've got to go for it, right?
That seems to have been the Sacramento Kings' approach, which is how Marvin Bagley III wound up as the second overall pick.
Bagley is a supreme athlete who'll wreak havoc on the offensive glass, run the floor and maybe prove his small-sample three-point shooting at Duke wasn't a complete aberration. But in a league that demands outside excellence, defensive versatility and guard skill from its frontcourt players, Bagley feels like an anachronistic selection. Ten years ago, this move would have made more sense.
In 2018, Bagley is a massive defensive liability who'll be targeted relentlessly by opponents.
It's possible Sacramento went this direction because Bagley agreed to work out for them, while Doncic and others opted not to. But this was a reach, one that makes even less sense in light of the Kings' glut of non-spacing bigs, a list that already includes Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere and Kosta Koufos. You don't draft for positional need this high in the proceedings, but Doncic would have filled a clear void on the wing.
Steal: Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
The red flags have been whipping around in the breeze for weeks, and if Michael Porter Jr. had gone in the high lottery, he almost certainly would have earned the team drafting him a "reach" designation.
But here, at 14th overall, he's a terrific value play.
The Denver Nuggets snagged a highly skilled, oversized wing who, just over a year ago, was widely viewed as the nation's best high school prospect. Even with health issues limiting him to only 53 collegiate minutes and contributing to what could be a redshirt rookie season, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN, Porter Jr. is worth the gamble at this spot.
If he pans out, fantastic! The Nuggets have an instinctive scorer with 6'10" size and elite-prospect pedigree. If not, no big deal. Denver probably wasn't getting a franchise-changer at this spot otherwise, as some of the recent No. 14 draftees suggest. Among players taken at that spot since 2010, either Marcus Morris or Patrick Patterson have had the best careers so far. Those are fine role-fillers, but Porter Jr.'s upside is miles higher.
Reach: Jerome Robinson, Los Angeles Clippers
Let's just say it's a good thing the Los Angeles Clippers had two lottery picks...because they might have botched one.
According to The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks, their selection of guard Jerome Robinson at No. 13 was hard to defend:
"Robinson's meteoric rise to the lottery is a bit of a head-scratcher. The positive is he's a great three-point shooter who proved he could run the pick-and-roll at Boston College. The negative is he's an average athlete at best who may not be able to defend either backcourt position and won't offer much value without the ball in his hands."
Compounding matters, both Porter Jr. and high-upside athlete extraordinaire Zhaire Smith were still on the board.
FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine didn't like the move, either: "As for first-round reaches, it's hard to find one more glaring than the L.A. Clippers' selection of Boston College guard Jerome Robinson at No. 13. Robinson ranked 59th overall in the Stats & Info model, with a 44 percent chance of being a bust."
Not great, Clips.
Steal: Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia 76ers
Zhaire Smith's shooting mechanics are suspect, and he didn't show much acumen as a playmaker in his freshman season with Texas Tech. He'll also need added strength to reach his defensive potential.
But when you have lateral quickness, a high motor and springs like the ones Smith flashes in the above clip, as a GM, you can comfortably start there and figure out the rest later.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic was high on Smith, which is why he criticized the Phoenix Suns for trading up from No. 16 (while also surrendering the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-rounder) to get the Philadelphia 76ers' 10th overall selection, Mikal Bridges: "I just think that the price was a bit too heavy. The Heat are in a strange place, where that pick in 2021 could be incredibly valuable. And while I really like Bridges as a prospect, I'm not sure the difference between he and Smith is a future first-rounder that is unprotected."
If Smith and Bridges are comparable talents, Smith, taken six picks later, has to register as a steal.
Reach: Troy Brown, Washington Wizards
With Smith, Lonnie Walker IV, Kevin Huerter, Josh Okogie, Khyri Thomas and several other capable guards still on the board, the Washington Wizards opted for Oregon's Troy Brown at No. 15.
Brown isn't much of an outside shooter (29.1 percent on 110 three-point attempts in college), which makes his selection here a bit curious. He'll be an odd fit if he ever plays alongside John Wall, and the Wizards' offensive spacing could suffer.
Brown can pass, and he's got good size for the off-guard position at 6'63/4" with an 8'9" standing reach. But he's not a great penetrator, and defenses will dare him to fire, which means he doesn't have a reliable offensive skill to lean on.
Other players available at this spot would have given the Wizards a better role-filling option. Thomas and Huerter, for example, would have been far better at chipping in with their knockdown shooting.
If Brown defends at a high level and retools his jumper, the Wizards will have made a fine selection. But they had better, readier options on the board.
Steal: Robert Williams, Boston Celtics
A high-lottery talent who slipped because of concerns about his effort level and many teams' inability to get his medical records, Robert Williams gives the Boston Celtics a starting center who'll defend guards on switches and protect the rim. Offensively, he's limited, but can rise and finish lobs like few others in the draft.
At No. 27 overall, Boston gets a player who could conceivably outproduce every big but Ayton as a rookie, if given the opportunity.
Here's ESPN's Mike Schmitz:
"While there are clear questions about Williams' motor, the rangy big man is without a doubt a top-10-caliber talent when fully engaged. He's much more suited for the open NBA game than the role he played as a power forward with clogged paint at Texas A&M. Boston is the exact environment that Williams needs to rev up his focus and commitment to his craft."
There's a chance even Boston's functional culture can't coax better conditioning and focus from Williams, but the upside is all that matters at the end of the first round. Williams' is exceptionally high.
Reach: Moritz Wagner, Los Angeles Lakers
Williams was still on the board at No. 25, and his potential should have been too much for the Los Angeles Lakers to resist.
Even if we don't focus on the guy L.A. should have taken, it's still objectively true that this was a bit early for Michigan's sweet-shooting center to come off the board. Wagner can stripe it, there's no doubt on that point. He nailed 39.4 percent of his treys (160 attempts) last year with the Wolverines.
He's extremely limited on defense, though, and it's difficult to envision him developing the agility and foot speed he'll need to survive in even the most conservative pick-and-roll schemes. Switching onto guards or wings seems out of the question.
The Lakers were wise to grab a smart, skillful offensive weapon. They just did it about 10 picks too early.
Steal: De'Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets know what they like, and they followed up on last summer's accumulation of rangy, defensive wing acquisitions by grabbing USC's De'Anthony Melton with the 46th overall pick.
Melton didn't play at all in the 2017-18 season following a suspension related to the NCAA's FBI investigation. Even midway through the second round, clubs don't want to feel like they're flying blind. And though they could still study Melton's 2016-17 season with the Trojans (not to mention individual workouts), it's understandable that many organizations were hesitant.
Ready to contribute defensively right away, Melton will fit perfectly in the Rockets' switchy schemes. In today's NBA, his aggressive ball pressure and relentless motor would have played well anywhere. Taken at least 20 picks too late, the 6'4" guard landed in an ideal spot.