Marvin Bagley III went on SportsCenter late Monday night to tell the entire world he’s going to Duke. But just before he announced his college decision, Bagley said something else that was far more meaningful to NBA general managers.
“My family and I decided I’m going to forgo my senior year and graduate with the class of 2017.”
Bagley has been the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2018 for the entirety of his high school career. In the immediate, his decision to reclassify is a huge boost for Duke’s national championship hopes. More importantly, it also means the 2018 NBA draft now has another potential stud.
NBA fans just spent the last six months hearing about how great the 2017 draft class was. Is it possible the 2018 class can be even stronger? With the addition of Bagley, it certainly looks that way. There now appears to be four legitimate options for the No. 1 pick, as well as two productive college sophomores and a pair of enticing freshman bigs that fall just below the top tier.
It’s going to be a great year to tank in the NBA. Here are the prospects fans of bad teams like the Knicks, Bulls, Cavs (thanks Nets!), 76ers, Suns, and Hawks should pay attention to immediately.
8. C Robert Williams, sophomore, Texas A&M
Williams was only ranked as the No. 50 recruit in his high school class before blossoming into a certain lottery pick during his freshman season at Texas A&M. He made the surprising decision to return to College Station for his sophomore year, where NBA scouts will hope he shows growth on the offensive end.
Williams combines two things NBA teams love: length and athleticism. He’s able to effortlessly make plays above the rim on both ends of the floor with his 7’4 wingspan and elite leaping ability. He profiles as a rim protector at the next level who can catch lobs and hopefully hit a 15-foot jump shot.
He fits the Suns’ model of high-upside players with extreme athleticism.
7. C Mohamed Bamba, freshman, Texas
Bamba will have the longest wingspan in NBA history the moment he gets drafted. He measured with a 7’9 wingspan at the 2017 Nike Hoops Summit, which is a half-inch longer than the player he’s most often compared to — Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
Bamba has the chance to be a star rim protector. Scouts will want to see him dominate defensively during his year at Texas to prove he plays with a high motor. The other big question is what he gives you on offense aside from catching lobs. He lacks ball skill and doesn’t have a reliable jumper yet.
He could be devastating for a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been looking for an interior anchor on the defensive end.
6. C/PF Jaren Jackson Jr., freshman, Michigan State
Jackson is a 6’10 big man with a 7’4 wingspan who can really shoot the ball. NBA teams will hope he can grow into a stretch-five who can run the floor and use his length to protect the rim.
Scouts will want to see Jackson really commit to defending at a higher level. He figures to spend most of his time playing power forward at Michigan State next to sophomore center Nick Ward, which could make it difficult to evaluate his shot blocking and rebounding skills. But as long as his jumper is as good as advertised, it feels like Jackson will be a prospect that rises up draft boards throughout the season.
Jackson would look awesome developing in the Atlanta Hawks’ spread offense.
5. F Miles Bridges, sophomore, Michigan State
Bridges is another player who would have been a lottery pick in June’s draft if he decided to come out. He’s a powerful, 6’6 forward with killer athleticism who hit an impressive 39 percent of his three-pointers on five attempts per game as a freshman.
NBA teams will want to see if that jumper is for real while also looking for growth as a playmaker. As a freshman, Bridges finished with 66 turnovers to 58 assists. Those are similar numbers to what Jayson Tatum put up at Duke and he still went No. 3 overall.
It’s also unclear what position Bridges plays at the next level. His game feels more suited for the power forward spot in the modern NBA, but he lacks ideal size at 6’6 with a 6’8 wingspan.
Bridges could be a great fit on the Kings getting up and down the floor with De’Aaron Fox.
Future franchise players
4. C DeAndre Ayton, freshman, Arizona
Ayton starts the run on players who could go No. 1 overall. He has ideal size for a center at 7-foot, 245 pounds with a 7'5 wingspan. He’s more comfortable playing on the perimeter than in the paint, where he’s a capable shooter and has shown the ability to slide his feet defensively. He’s also a plus athlete who can run the floor and get off the ground quickly.
Ayton has the physicality and skill level to be a star in the NBA. Scouts will want to see if he has a good feel for the game and if he can commit himself to using his tools to become a dominant defensive player.
He’d be perfect for an Orlando Magic team that has been looking for a franchise center since trading Dwight Howard.
3. PF/C Marvin Bagley III, freshman Duke
Bagley is a super athlete at 6’11, 220 pounds who can finish inside and clean the glass. If he can continue to refine his ball skills and shooting stroke, he’ll have a chance to be a star in the NBA.
Bagley’s offensive game is reminiscent of Anthony Davis’. The question is if he can be as good defensively as Davis is. Davis has five inches of wingspan on Bagley and he was also a committed shot blocker.
Still, Bagley’s combination of speed, agility, and coordination makes him an easy top-five pick and someone with an incredibly high ceiling if he continues to improve as a player who can attack from the perimeter.
We’d love to see him on the Knicks forming a killer front line with Kristaps Porzingis.
2. F Michael Porter Jr., freshman, Missouri
Michael Porter Jr. has the size of a big man and the skill set of a wing. He can create his own offense off the dribble, shoot it from deep, and is blessed with great leaping ability. It’s easy to see him in the mold of Paul George or even Kevin Durant.
NBA scouts will want to see if Porter can make the right reads as a passer with the ball in his hands. They will also want to see if his handle is tight enough to make plays against stronger, more aggressive defenders than he saw at the high school level. He’s going to be a matchup nightmare during his one season at Mizzou.
The Cavs would love to have him as their co-star next to LeBron James.
1. G Luka Doncic, Slovenia, Real Madrid
At a time when his peers in the United States would have been in high school, Doncic is already one of the best players in one of the best leagues in the world. He’s been undeniably productive as a guard for Real Madrid, showcasing the ability to shoot, pass, and handle while displaying an advanced feel for the game.
Doncic can play either backcourt spot at 6’8. He can score all over the floor and plays with a rare creativity to his game. NBA teams will wonder if he’s athletic enough to match up with the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall, but there’s no questioning his skill level.
We’re entering a time in the NBA when it feels like skill is taking precedence over athleticism. That makes Doncic an ideal talent for this new era.
He could be great as the Chicago Bulls’ new leading man.