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NBA mock draft 2018: Luka Doncic is No. 1, but Mohamed Bamba and Trae Young are charging

The Texas center and Oklahoma sharpshooter are rising up draft boards as the college basketball season enters conference play.

Real Madrid v Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Emilio Cobos/EB via Getty Images

The 2018 NBA Draft class keeps looking better and better. As Luka Doncic continues to put up historic numbers in Europe, top NCAA freshmen like Arizona center Deandre Ayton and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III have lived up to every bit of recruiting hype they entered college with.

The college season has also given us some new breakout stars. Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young has become the story of the season, leading the NCAA in points and assists with dazzling play that’s drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry. There have also been some breakout upperclassmen, led by Villanova’s long-armed defensive ace Mikal Bridges.

With conference play in full swing, it’s time for a new mock draft. Let the tank-off begin.

1. Atlanta Hawks - Luka Doncic, G, Real Madrid

Luka Doncic might be the best player in Europe right now. Not the best prospect — best player. The 18-year-old is an advanced stats monster, leading Euroleague in BPM, posting a sterling 65 percent true shooting percentage, and saving some of his best games for the biggest competition.

Doncic is not an elite athlete like many of this draft’s other top prospects, but he checks every other box. At 6’8, he plays as an oversized point guard, showing off excellent passing ability, a capable three-point stroke, and a great feel for the game. There has never been a more accomplished European teenager to enter the draft.

For as good as many of the NCAA freshmen look right now, Doncic deserves to be the clear favorite for the No. 1 pick.

2. Boston Celtics - Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas

Bamba has the potential to be the type of player the NBA has never seen before. With a 7’9 wingspan, he’ll be the longest player in the league from the moment he’s drafted. He’s been an excellent rim protector for Texas as a freshman, posting a block rate of 16.8 percent (No. 4 in the country) and showing off the quickness and agility to stick with opposing guards.

Bamba’s offense is less polished, but it remains intriguing. He’s hit only two fewer three-pointers than Arizona’s Ayton on a similar number of attempts. He certainly doesn’t have Ayton’s post moves, but Ayton doesn’t have his defensive gifts. More than anything, he seems like a perfect fit for a Celtics team that can afford to wait for his potential to turn into production.

3. Orlando Magic - Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona

The Magic just need the best pure talent available. Ayton might not be a perfect fit for a team already featuring Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac in the front court, but that should be of no concern if he’s is on the board. He’s simply too talented to pass on.

Ayton has been the most physically dominant player in college basketball this year, a 7’0, 260-pound center with remarkable athleticism, touch around the basket, and a developing skill set. He’s averaging 20.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game while posting a 66 percent true shooting percentage. He needs to improve his instincts and effort on the defensive end, but he has all the tools to be a legitimate star in the NBA.

4. Memphis Grizzlies - Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, Duke

What do we make an 18-year-old big man who can score and rebound at will at the college level but doesn’t block shots or shoot threes the way NBA teams would like? That’s the rub with Bagley, who believes he’ll need to land in a good situation to maximize his unique talent.

There’s no better place for him than Memphis. With a center like Marc Gasol who can space the floor and anchor the defense, Bagley can be free to score inside as his skill level develops. In the short term, he’ll succeed with elite athleticism, agility, and a non-stop motor.

5. Dallas Mavericks - Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Porter has been sidelined with a back injury the entire year at Mizzou, but NBA teams are very familiar with his game. Porter was arguably the top recruit in the country entering the season, a reputation he built by starring on big stages for USA Basketball and at the McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit.

Porter is an explosive 6’10 combo forward who does his best work out on the perimeter. Not many players this size can create their own shot off the dribble so effortlessly. Scouts would have wanted to see just how good of a three-point shooter he could be at the college level. They also wanted to check in on his handle. But even if he doesn’t play this year, his natural talent alone makes him likely to be a top-five pick.

6. Sacramento Kings - Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

While Porter was always projected as a top-five pick, few would have expected his grassroots ball teammate on Mokan Elite to be in the same conversation. Young was a McDonald’s All-American in high school, but he wasn’t a consensus top-20 recruit or a projected one-and-done. That’s changed now that he’s the biggest story in college hoops.

Young has essentially broken college basketball. He’s leading the NCAA in points per game and assists per game, a feat that’s never been done. He’s undersized at 6’2 and is a below the rim athlete, but he can shoot from anywhere, he’s a brilliant passer and he has a surprising knack for getting to the foul line.

Forget Young as the Next Steph — he’s actually the first Post-Curry player. The confidence, the craftiness, the propensity to break the rhythms of the game ... it could only come from a youth spent watching Curry. Young is going to have a great NBA career in his own right.

Plus, you know Vivek Ranadive can’t pass on anyone who draws comparisons to Curry.

7. Chicago Bulls - Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State

The secret to the Bulls’ surprising recent success is front court spacing. When Nikola Mirotic returned and paired with rookie Lauri Markkanen up front, Chicago suddenly had a wide open floor for Kris Dunn to pick apart. Now that the Bulls are expected to trade Mirotic, they would be wise to find another big man who can shoot.

That’s where Jaren Jackson Jr. comes in. The Michigan State freshman is only averaging 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game — numbers that pale in comparison to what Ayton and Bagley are putting up. The difference is Jackson’s skill set might fit the NBA better than both. He’s proved to be an effective shooter (43.5 percent on 2.7 threes per game) and shot blocker (3.2 blocks per game), something neither Bagley or Ayton can claim. He would be a great fit next to Markkanen and give Chicago a perimeter-oriented front court to build around in the future.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers - Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

Will the Cavs trade this pick for a veteran in hopes of winning the NBA title and keeping LeBron James as a free agent this summer? It’s possible, but if Cleveland hangs onto the pick Alabama point guard Collin Sexton would be an ideal selection.

Sexton is a certified bucket-getter, averaging 20.6 points per game on a 59.5 percent true shooting percentage. His three-point stroke (38.8 percent) has been solid, but Sexton’s bread-and-butter is driving to the basket. He’s top 10 in the country at drawing fouls, per KenPom, and he’s an 80 percent shooter at the line when he gets there. Sexton’s intensity would make him a great running mate for James, or a stellar first building block if he leaves.

Sexton is so good, he almost won a game with just 2 teammates

9. Phoenix Suns - Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova

The Suns would ideally want a point guard with this pick, but in this scenario both Young and Sexton are off the board. They opt for Mikal Bridges, the redshirt junior who has grown into the type of 3-and-D wing NBA teams covet during his time at Villanova.

Bridges’ development has been slow, but he’s blossomed this year. He might be the best and most versatile perimeter defender in college basketball, combining a 7-foot wingspan with excellent quickness and anticipation. He’s also become a 45 percent three-point shooter this year. Combine both and he’s worthy of a top-10 pick even after four years in college.

10. Charlotte Hornets - Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Miles Bridges shocked the NBA world by deciding to come back to Michigan State for his sophomore season. He’s remained a great player for the Spartans, but he hasn’t improved in any big areas. His three-point shooting has fallen from 39 percent to 34 percent and he hasn’t made major strides as a ball handler. Still: Bridges is a crazy athlete who can play above the rim at either forward spot at 6’6. He might be even more effective with NBA spacing.

11. Utah Jazz - Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky

There are games where Knox looks like a surefire lottery pick and others where it’s hard to notice him on the floor. Case in point: these are his last two games.

  • Jan. 9 vs. Texas A&M: 15 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 shooting from three.
  • Jan. 6 at Tennessee: six points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field and 0-of-5 shooting form three.

Knox may be raw, but at 6’9 with good athleticism and a developing shooting stroke, he has a lot of attributes NBA teams like. The guess here is that he ends up in the lottery unless his shooting really falls off.

12. Los Angeles Clippers - Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M

Williams is a center from Texas A&M with long arms, explosive leaping ability, and the potential to turn into a great rim protector and lob target. Sound like someone else? That would be Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Get a younger version like Williams in the mix, and LA suddenly has a valuable trade asset in Jordan.

13. New York Knicks - Troy Brown, G, Oregon

Brown was an oversized point guard early in his high school career before his coaches realized he was more valuable on the wing. Still, a lot of those point guard skills Brown honed over the years continue to come in handy: he’s a good passer and ball handler at 6’7 and is knocking down 35 percent of his threes. He’s also a quality defender. Brown is the type of player who fills in the cracks. The Knicks could use him.

14. Philadelphia 76ers - Lonnie Walker, G, Miami

Walker missed the early part of the season as he recovered from a torn meniscus, and he’s still working his way back into shape for Miami. After a strong early season start, he hasn’t scored in double-figures the last six games. Still, at his best, Walker is an athletic 6’4 off-guard who can drive to the hoop and is developing as a shooter.

15. New Orleans Pelicans - Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia

Musa is a 6’9 shooter. There’s always a place in the league for someone like that:

16. Denver Nuggets - Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky

Diallo is an A++ athlete. That’s the first thing everyone knows about him after he posted a record 44.5-inch vertical jump at the NBA draft combine last year. Kentucky fans had to enjoy this huge dunk against Louisville:

Diallo has also showed his skill level is rising, hitting 14-of-38 threes this season (36.8 percent). If he can learn to leverage his physical gifts on the defensive end, he should be a solid two-way player with better NBA spacing around him.

17. Indiana Pacers - Wendell Carter, PF/C, Duke

Carter should get drafted higher than this on talent alone. Two problems: there are a lot of big men in this draft, and Carter hasn’t been featured in Duke’s offense much with Bagley putting up gigantic numbers next to him. Still: Carter is big (260 pounds), long (7’3 wingspan), can score inside, has a developing jump shot and is a monster rebounder. It’s worth noting that he’s been at least partially liable for Duke’s weak defensive performance this season.

18. Detroit Pistons - Trevon Duval, PG, Duke

Duval is a great athlete with long arms who thrives on driving to the hoop and putting pressure on opposing ball handlers. That’s the point guard archetype Stan Van Gundy loves. Unfortunately, Duval is extremely raw as an outside shooter (7-for-42 on threes this season), otherwise he’d be drafted much higher.

19. Milwaukee Bucks - Keita Bates-Diop, G, Ohio State

Bates-Diop is a rising senior who has blossomed into someone who deserves to be on NBA radars amid a breakout season. At 6’7, 235 pounds, KBD looks like a legit 3-and-D wing. He’s more than doubled his scoring average from last season (20 points per game) while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three.

20. Portland Trail Blazers - Anfernee Simons, SG, IMG Academy

Simons is a five-star recruit who could enter the draft as a fifth-year prep school player. He’s a late bloomer who still desperately needs to gain strength, but his natural talent for creating offense off the dribble is undeniable. That’s why ESPN initially had him projected as the No. 5 pick in their 2019 mock draft. It will be fascinating to see if he goes to college or chooses to enter the draft.

21. Minnesota Timberwolves - Shake Milton, PG, SMU

Milton isn’t the most explosive point guard, but he has great size (6’6) and has shot above 40 percent from three-point range every year of his college career.

22. Phoenix Suns - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Kentucky’s freshman guard was a relative unknown coming into the season, but he’s had some great games on big stages. Most notably: 24 points against Louisville on Dec. 29 and 21 points against Georgia on Dec. 31. With a 7-foot wingspan, he’s long and athletic. If his three-point shot is for real (9-of-20 on the season), he could be Kentucky’s best player and best prospect.

23. Washington Wizards - Lagerald Vick, SG, Kansas

The Kansas wing is quietly having a breakout junior year. Vick doesn’t have great size for a wing at 6’5, 175 pounds, but he’s becoming a knockdown shooter (46 percent from three) and has raised his assists from 0.9 to 3.3 per game since last season.

24. Atlanta Hawks - Mitchell Robinson, C

Robinson is an ultra bouncy 7-footer who should make his money blocking shots and catching lobs. It’s a damn shame college fans didn’t get to enjoy him at Western Kentucky this season.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers - Khyri Thomas, SG, Creigton

Thomas has a reputation as one of college basketball’s best perimeter defenders, and he’s hitting 39 percent of his threes for the second season in a row. Every NBA team needs 3-and-D guards. He can also do this:

26. San Antonio Spurs - Justin Jackson, F, Maryland

Jackson is out for the season with a shoulder injury, but don’t sleep on his NBA prospects. He’s a versatile defender with a 7’3 wingspan and hit 43.8 percent of his threes last year as a freshman.

27. Atlanta Hawks - Jevon Carter, PG, West Virginia

Carter is an absolutely ferocious perimeter defender who is bound to draw comparisons to Patrick Beverly. Just ask Trae Young. He’s also shooting 39.5 percent from three and is averaging 6.9 assists per game. Suddenly, Carter finds himself as the senior star of the No. 2 team in the country. He could end up a first rounder by June.

28. Brooklyn Nets - Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State

Hutchison has developed into an NBA sleeper during his senior year at Boise State. The versatile 6’7 wing is averaging 18.1 points per game as well as a career-high 3.5 assists per game. His three-point shot will likely make or break a pro career. At 37.5 percent on 3.2 attempts per game this season, so far, so good.

29. Boston Celtics - Jalen Hudson, SF, Florida

Hudson is a 6’6 redshirt junior wing who broke out during the PK80 tournament, dropping 25 points on Gonzaga and 24 points on Duke. He’s become an ace shooter this year, knocking down 44.4 percent of the six threes per game he’s attempting.

30. Golden State Warriors - Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

A tough point guard with good scoring instincts and a reliable three-point shooting stroke. There’s already two Holiday brothers in the NBA. Why not three?