The 2017 NBA draft has come and gone. There is no better time to look ahead to the 2018 NBA draft.
If this year’s draft class was all about the point guards, next year’s class will have a heavy emphasis on versatility. Real Madrid’s 18-year-old wunderkind Luka Doncic leads the way with a unique ability to orchestrate an offense at 6’8. There’s also Michael Porter Jr., the Missouri-bound combo forward with the size, athleticism, and developing shooting ability that NBA general managers will love.
The following is our best attempt to set the table for the next draft a year in advance. I did pretty well on my initial take this past year. Two years ago, I had Skal Labissiere as the preseason No. 1 ... before he ended up being drafted at No. 28 by the Kings. That should tell you how much stock to put into this, but it won’t stop us from trying.
1. Luka Doncic, F, Real Madrid
Doncic is the best European prospect since Ricky Rubio. There are some who think he might be the best prospect to hit the NBA draft since LeBron James. At just 18 years old, Doncic is already one of the best players on one of the best teams in the world outside of the NBA. He profiles as a 6’8 point-forward with preternatural vision and advanced passing and ball-handling skills. He also has a nice three-point stroke and a crafty repertoire of floaters to score around the rim.
Best of all, Doncic has an escape clause in his contract which should mean he plays in the NBA as a rookie. The hype is going to be off the charts for this young man over the next year. Get familiar with him now:
2. Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri
It only takes one look at Michael Porter Jr. to see why scouts have been closely monitoring him for years. At 6’10, he can put the ball on the floor and shoot it with range. He’s an elite athlete who should be a matchup nightmare at either forward spot. He’s also a gifted scorer who already counts Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant as mentors before he plays his first college game.
It will be fascinating to see if Porter can drag Missouri to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. After Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz missed the big dance the last two years, NBA fans are due for a potential No. 1 overall draft pick playing deep into March.
3. DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
Ayton looks like the type of big man the modern NBA demands. He has ideal size for an NBA center at 7-foot, 250 lbs with a 7’5 wingspan. He’s more comfortable shooting jumpers on the perimeter than asking for the ball in the low post. He’s also a fluid athlete who who prefers defending the perimeter to protecting the rim.
Ayton’s interior defense will be something to monitor during his season at Arizona. Scouts will want to see if he consistently plays with a high motor. If he puts it all together, Ayton has the pure talent to stack up with the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. The difference is both of those players are game-changers on the defensive end.
4. Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
Bamba’s 7’9 wingspan will make him the longest player in the NBA from the moment he signs his first contract. He projects as a Rudy Gobert-level rim protector who should be able to anchor a defense while his offensive skill develops.
5. Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State
Bridges’ decision to return to school for his sophomore season was legitimately shocking. He would have been a late lottery pick in this year’s draft because of his strong build and explosive athleticism. Now he’ll be expected to be the best player in the country for a Michigan State team that could start the year as No. 1 in the polls. Scouts will want to see if his shooting numbers (56 makes at 39 percent) stay consistent.
6. Trevon Duval, PG, Duke
Duval is an explosive 6’2 point guard who will remind a lot of people of Dennis Smith Jr. The difference is that Duval is entering a much better college situation at Duke. I could try to describe how athletic he is, or you can just watch this:
7. Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State
Jackson was always a great get for Tom Izzo and Michigan State, but his performance on the All-Star circuit elevated him to a legitimate top-10 overall recruit. His combination of size (6’10), length (7’4 wingspan), and three-point shooting ability is going make him a commodity in the draft. He’s also entering a great college situation next to Bridges and sophomore post scorer Nick Ward.
8. Wendell Carter, C, Duke
My prediction is that Carter will be one of the most polarizing players in this class from an NBA perspective. One thing is for sure: He’s going to be a dominant college player as a 6’10, 260-pound big man who can score at will on the block. Is his game antiqued in today’s NBA, or does he have enough perimeter skill and rim protection ability to adapt? Some scouts have likened the Atlanta product to Al Horford. Sounds like a pretty great player to me.
9. Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky
Knox profiles as the type of oversized wing every team wants right now. I see him as the Jonathan Isaac of next year’s draft. His offense might be a little less refined, but he’s just as good (if not better) athletically. We’ll see if he commits himself to the defensive end as much as Isaac did.
10. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M
Williams made a strange decision to return for his sophomore year. He would have been a late lottery pick in this year’s draft because of his length (7’4 wingspan), leaping ability, and timing as a shot blocker. At least Bridges is returning to a great team. Hopefully Texas A&M can at least make the NCAA tournament this year.
11. Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky
Robinson was originally committed to Texas A&M when Rick Stansbury was an assistant there and he followed the coach to Western Kentucky when Stansbury got the head coaching job. Either way, getting Mitchell to come to play for the Hilltoppers feels like one of the greatest recruiting jobs of all time. Robinson an excellent athlete at 7-foot and profiles as a center who can protect the rim and catch lobs. Conference USA won’t know what hit them.
12. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
Sexton is a joy to watch. He’s a relentless scoring point guard who led Nike’s EYBL circuit by averaging 31 points per game. He’ll spend his one year of college ball playing for Avery Johnson at Alabama alongside another dynamic scoring freshman guard in John Petty.
13. Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky
Did Diallo make the right move returning to Kentucky rather than essentially trying to enter the this year’s draft out of high school? Time will tell. He certainly has the length and athleticism pro teams look for in a shooting guard. If he shoots the ball well from three, he’ll be a lottery pick.
14. Justin Jackson, F, Maryland
Jackson decided to go back for his sophomore year, sparing us the Justin Jackson (UMD) > Justin Jackson (UNC) takes in this year’s draft. I would have had him as a safe first rounder if he stayed in. He has an impressive combination of length and shooting ability that should allow him to slide up and down any lineup.
15. Isaac Bonga, F, Germany
Isaac Bonga spent much of the 2017 season with Frankfurt's second team in the German Third Division, where he averaged an impressive 10.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4 assists per game amid appearances in the German First Division. A 6'9 wing/point forward with a budding skill-set, a sky-high basketball IQ, a 7'0 wingspan, and tremendous versatility, Bonga is just scratching the surface on the player he'll be in the future. Scouts will be keeping a close eye on his decision-making with the ball and ability to hit jump shots consistently.
That sounds intriguing. Maybe Nic Batum-ish?
16. Troy Brown, G, Oregon
At 6’6, Brown came up as a point guard. He was impressive enough from an early age that I even wrote a trend piece on tall point guards focused on him and De’Aaron Fox back in July of 2015. At a certain point, it became the consensus that Brown is better off the ball. That’s where he’ll be at Oregon next season next to incumbent floor general Payton Pritchard. His versatility on both ends of the floor is still intriguing. The Ducks have a ton of turnover from last season’s Final Four team, so they will need him to produce right away.
17. Rawle Alkins, SG, Arizona
Alkins made a deadline decision to return to Arizona for his sophomore season. The Wildcats are going to be loaded with the trio of Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Alkins leading the way. Alkins is a strong, 6’5, New York-bred guard with two-way potential. He reminds me of a more modest Lance Stephenson.
18. Bruce Brown, G, Miami
Brown will be a major candidate to put together a breakout sophomore year. The 6’5 guard showed an all-around game at Miami as a freshman, proving he could pass, shoot, and get buckets in a pinch. With him and incoming freshman Lonnie Walker in the backcourt, the Hurricanes will be a team to watch next season.
19. Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova
Bridges is a versatile defensive weapon. He was a big part of Villanova’s run to the 2016 national championship and made major strides as a shooter last year, jumping from 29 percent from three-point range to 39 percent. He could be due for a breakout season.
20. De’Anthony Melton, G, USC
Melton was a bit under the radar as a recruit, but quickly shined through as a jack-of-all-trades guard for USC as a freshman. He averaged nearly two steals and 3.5 assists per game last year. The biggest question remains his jump shot.
21. Arnoldas Kulboka, F, Lithuania
22. Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami
Lonnie Walker has three-level scoring ability and good size for an off-guard at 6’5 with a 6’10 wingspan. I saw him a few times as a high school player and he was better at every stop. Seriously: watch some Miami games next year. The Canes are going to be fun.
23. Brian Bowen, SG, Louisville
Bowen was the last five-star recruit to commit out of the class of 2017, but it worked to his benefit by finding a great situation at Louisville. As the Cards’ nominal replacement for Donovan Mitchell, Bowen brings superior size (6’7) and three-point shooting ability to the position. The Cards can run some really interesting lineups next season with Bowen, Deng Adel, and V.J. King. If Louisville is one of the top teams in the country (possible), Bowen could see his stock really start to rise.
24. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, PG, Virginia Tech
A 6’6 point guard who can shoot, Alexander-Walker is going to play a coach at Virginia Tech — Buzz Williams — who makes his players better. Let’s see if he improves the same way Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler once did.
25. Chimezie Metu, C, USC
Metu is a versatile, athletic front court player at 6’11. He took a big jump as a sophomore for USC, averaging 14.8 points per game (up from 6.4 PPG as a freshman). USC is going to be loaded next season and Metu is a major reason why.
26. Nick Richards, C, Kentucky
Richards is an athletic, shot-blocking center who will probably remind Kentucky fans a lot of Willie Cauley-Stein.
27. Kostja Mushidi, SG, Belgium
Mushidi played in the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit where he showed off a nice shooting stroke from three and intriguing defensive potential with a 7-foot wingspan.
28. Shake Milton, G, SMU
SMU has a way of producing interesting draft prospects like Semi Ojeleye and Sterling Brown. Milton will be the guy next year. He’s a 6’6 point guard with a 7-foot wingspan who hit 42 percent of his threes this past season.
29. Andrew Jones, G, Texas
Jones is the shifty combo guard who will pair with Mo Bamba at Texas next season. Outside shooting is his question mark.
30. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, SG, Kansas
Svi Mykhailiuk is a pure shooter at 6’7. Kansas has been waiting for him to break out the last two years. Next season is his big chance.