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NBA mock draft 2018: Luka Doncic vs. Deandre Ayton is the draft’s great debate

What will Phoenix do with the No. 1 pick?

We’re just three weeks from the 2018 NBA Draft. The Phoenix Suns are on the clock with the No. 1 pick, and they’re expected to chose between Arizona center Deandre Ayton and Slovenian teen prodigy Luka Doncic.

The debate at the top of the draft offers a lens into the type of player teams will value as the NBA game continues to evolve. Ayton is the type of dominant center that would have been a no-brainer top pick for much of the league’s history, but he’s entering the pro game at a time when traditional centers are becoming marginalized, particularly when they struggle on the defensive end.

Doncic isn’t the type of pure athlete that typically goes No. 1 overall, but his skill level is so advanced and his production is so impressive that he’s turned himself into a worthy candidate.

What will Phoenix do? We’ll know soon enough.

1. Phoenix Suns - Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia

We’ve had Doncic at No. 1 on our board since last June, and we’re not changing it until there’s real confirmation Phoenix is going in another direction. Ayton remains the popular choice in most mocks to go No. 1, but there’s still reason to believe Doncic could be the pick. For one: the Suns made an outside-the-box coaching hire with Igor Kokoskov this summer, who coached Doncic to a gold medal with Slovenia at EuroBasket. Phoenix will be more familiar with Doncic’s game than any other team in the lottery.

Doncic is also a great fit around Phoenix’s existing roster. He would give the Suns an offensive initiator who could play well off Devin Booker. Doncic’s box score numbers might never look as eye-catching as Ayton’s, but there’s a good argument to made that his all-around game is simply more conducive to helping win games.

2. Sacramento Kings - Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona

Ayton being available at No. 2 is a dream scenario for a Kings team that has been looking for the next face of the franchise since trading DeMarcus Cousins. Like Boogie, Ayton is a supremely gifted 7-footer who can score with his back to the basket or with a face-up jumper while dominating the glass. The defensive concerns with Ayton are real. He simply didn’t show good instincts during his one year at Arizona. That said, his combination of size and explosiveness is as good as any player to come through the draft this decade. He has every physical tool necessary to become a star.

3. Atlanta Hawks - Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State

There are a ton of big men projected to go at the top of this draft. None of them fit the modern NBA better than Jackson. Don’t let his modest per-game numbers at MSU fool you: this is a mobile 7-footer who hit 40 percent of his threes, posted elite shot blocking numbers and is starting to develop his handle. If this were a big board, we’d have him No. 2 over Ayton because his skill set is more complete.

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

Bagley is a great fit in Memphis. He’s an ultra-athletic, high-motor 6’11 big man who posted monster scoring and rebounding numbers at Duke. There are concerns on the defensive end, but that’s where Marc Gasol comes in. Gasol’s newfound shooting touch from distance should also help Bagley on the offensive end by giving him more space to operate. If Bagley develops as a shooter and ball handler, he could become one of the most unique offensive players in the game.

5. Dallas Mavericks - Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas

This is where the draft gets interesting. The Mavericks could go a number of different ways, from Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. to Duke big man Wendell Carter to Bamba. We’ll go with Bamba for now due to his immense potential as a rim protector and lob catcher. Bamba will be the real deal defensively, where he will use his historic 7’10 wingspan and keen instincts to be one of the league’s best shot blockers. His offensive game is less refined, but he has flashed potential as a shooter.

6. Orlando Magic - Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

The Magic need to find their point guard of the future. The question is if they like Young enough to take him at No. 6. This might be the most polarizing player in the draft, a brilliant shooter and passer who has obvious deficiencies in terms of size, athleticism and defensive production. Young won’t be the next Steph Curry, but if he turns out even 75 percent as good as Steph, he’s going to have a great career.

7. Chicago Bulls - Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Porter feels like the biggest boom-or-bust pick in the draft. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country entering Missouri, projecting as a 6’11 forward who could handle the ball and score from all three levels. His freshman year was quickly derailed by back surgery, limiting him to two unimpressive games at the end of the season. The injury remains a real concern. Teams also don’t really know where Porter’s shooting and ball handling are at right now. Even so, his size, athleticism and offensive potential is intriguing enough to gamble on in the top-10, maybe even the top-five.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers - Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State

This will be a fascinating selection for Cleveland on the eve of LeBron James’ free agency. The Cavs could go a number of different directions, but Bridges fits the bill because he could either play alongside James or act as a pillar of the next rebuild should he bolt. Athletic wings who can shoot, handle the ball and switch defensively have never been more valuable. That’s exactly what Bridges is. NBA teams might be disappointed he didn’t show more development during his sophomore season at Michigan State, but there’s still so much to like about his game and his fit in the modern NBA.

9. New York Knicks - Wendell Carter, C, Duke

Carter feels like one of the safest picks in this draft. He’s a bruising big man who can score inside and rebound, and has also shown he’s going to be a good shooter. His only real knock is his lack of lateral quickness, but his potential pairing with Kristaps Porzingis in the New York front court should help cover up the defensive concerns. Carter is too good to last until No. 9, but the glut of bigs in this draft might make it happen.

10. Philadelphia 76ers - Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova

Bridges is going to be a popular pick here because he’s a Philly kid who won two titles at local powerhouse Villanova. Even aside from that, he’s also a good fit for this roster. He turned into one of the better shooters in the country during his fourth year in college basketball. He’s always been a plus defender despite his skinny frame, thanks mostly to his 7’1 wingspan. The Sixers could also use a guard who can hit dribble-pull-up jumpers, but there’s reason to believe Markelle Fultz can still be that guy. Should Fultz reach the potential he showed in college, taking a 3-and-D guy like Bridges in this spot would be a great fit.

11. Charlotte Hornets - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Charlotte just needs to take the best player available. Gilgeous-Alexander is that. A 6’6 point guard with a 7-foot wingspan, “SGA” went from an overlooked recruit to Kentucky’s best player in a matter of months. He was responsible for providing so much of the Wildcats’ offense in the halfcourt, combining advanced finishing skills with solid facilitating ability. If you’re looking for a sleeper at the end of the lottery, Gilgeous-Alexander is a great choice.

12. Los Angeles Clippers - Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

The Clippers need to take a shot at star power. Collin Sexton is a worthy bet. He’s a hell-bent scorer at point guard who excels by getting into the paint and drawing fouls. He also has the mindset and ability to be a disruptive defender who can force turnovers and turn defense into offense in transition. The Clippers would be lucky to see him last this long.

13. Los Angeles Clippers - Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky

Knox is a 6’9 ball of clay. He’s an athletic combo forward with a developing but still unrefined skill level. He’s shown enough of a jump shot to go in the lottery, and he’s also one of the youngest players in this class.

14. Denver Nuggets - Lonnie Walker IV, G, Miami

Walker tore his meniscus in the preseason, and didn’t always score efficiently when he returned. When he was at his best, though, it was easy to see the raw talent level that made him a McDonald’s All-American. This is a bet on the eye test over stats: his 53 percent true shooting percentage as a freshman is underwhelming, but his physical tools are worth a gamble.

15. Washington Wizards - Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M

The Wizards need some youth and athleticism in the front court. Williams is an ideal fit. He’s a long and bouncy center who can run the floor, catch lobs and block shots. He has the type of game Clint Capela has helped make trendy for modern centers. The fact that he had an awkward fit at Texas A&M next to another traditional center in Tyler Davis means he could be much better as a pro than he was in college.

16. Phoenix Suns - Troy Brown, G, Oregon

Brown was raised as a 6’6 point guard before moving off the ball. He’s retained so many of those lead guard skills as a wing, giving any team another sharp passer and ball handler that can initiate offense. He also brings it on the defensive end as someone who can switch and potentially defend up to four positions one day as he gains strength. Shooting is his biggest question mark.

17. Milwaukee Bucks - Zhaire Smith, G, Texas Tech

Smith might be the most athletic player in the draft. He only measured at 6’4 at the combine, but he’s a two-way force who could just be scratching the surface of his talent level. Smith was barely a top 300 recruit out of high school and immediately turned into one of the most valuable players in college hoops as a freshman for a Texas Tech team that reached the Elite Eight. He could be a high-upside steal at this point for the Bucks.

18. San Antonio Spurs - Elie Okobo, PG, France

Okobo is a 6’3 point guard with a 6’8 wingspan who excels at off-the-dribble shooting. He’s been killing it lately for his French pro team and is making an argument to be the fourth best point guard in this draft.

19. Atlanta Hawks - Anfernee Simons, G, IMG Academy

Simons was once projected as the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft by ESPN before declaring for this draft as a fifth year high school player. The 6’4 guard is super athletic with the ability to hit pull-up jump shots. He badly needs to hit the weight room.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves - Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State

Bates-Diop is a big wing at 6’7, 223 pounds with a 7’3 wingspan. He turned into a 20 point-per-game scorer in his fourth year at Ohio State, providing dependable inside-out scoring ability thanks to an improved jumper. The question is whether he has the quickness required to make a switchable NBA defender against guards.

21. Utah Jazz - Dzanan Musa, F, Bosnia

The 6’9 forward comes with a reputation as a streaky scorer who can get hot in a hurry. He’ll be at the NBA Global Camp in Treviso next month, which will give him the opportunity to cement his status as a first round pick.

22. Chicago Bulls - Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State

There are rumors the Bulls have already promised Hutchison. He’s a 6’8 forward who went from slasher to a shooter during his four years at Boise State. Watch him drop 44 points against San Diego State in his signature performance of the year:

23. Indiana Pacers - Landry Shamet, PG, Wichita State

The Pacers have a good young core in place, but still need to find a long-term fit at point guard. Shamet is a 6’4 scoring guard who hit over 44 percent of his threes in his final two seasons at Wichita State. He’d provide some off-the-dribble scoring ability that could eventually take some pressure off of Victor Oladipo.

24. Portland Trail Blazers - Jacob Evans, SG, Cincinnati

Portland seems to be perpetually searching for 3-and-D wings. Evans could be just that. He was a vital cog in Cincinnati’s No. 2 overall defense this year and also the team’s leading scorer.

25. Los Angeles Lakers - Mitchell Robinson, C

Mitchell is rumored to have a promise from the Lakers. He’s an ultra athletic 7-footer who projects as a shot blocker and rim runner in the vein of Hassan Whiteside. The McDonald’s All-American was headed to Western Kentucky until he left school and decided to train for the draft all year.

26. Philadelphia 76ers - Kevin Huerter, G, Maryland

Huerter was one of the big winners of the combine. He’s a 6’8 guard who can handle and pass a bit while also being one of the top shooters in the draft. The Sixers need all of the shooting and playmaking around Ben Simmons they can get.

27. Boston Celtics - Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova

Most expected DiVincenzo to return to school before his star turn in the national title game, where he sparked Villanova’s offense off the bench to win Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He posted the best vertical jump at the combine (42 inches) and projects as a microwave scoring guard who can also play tight on-ball defense.

28. Golden State Warriors - Kevin Hervey, F, UT-Arlington

A big forward with apparent but inconsistent shooting ability, Hervey has the type of skill set that’s in demand in today’s game. He averaged 17 points per game or more during each of his last three seasons at UT-Arlington.

29. Brooklyn Nets - Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova

Brunson won’t blow anyone away with his size or athleticism, but he simply knows how to play the game and comes with a knack for hitting big shots. He is one of the most accomplished players to come out of college basketball in the last decade.

30. Atlanta Hawks - Josh Okogie, F, Georgia Tech

Okogie is another combine winner. He’s a high motor, two-way wing who makes up for his lack of height (6’4) with a 7-foot wingspan. He hit 38 percent of his threes each of his first two years at Georgia Tech.