An NBA draft class can’t truly be judged for three-to-five years, they say. Grading draft picks before these players ever take the court is a fool’s errand, they say.
Guess what: this is the internet, and we’re going to do it anyway. Welcome to SB Nation’s live draft grades. This is cannon.
We’ll be providing instant draft grades as each pick is made the entire night. Stay tuned.
1. Phoenix Suns - Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona
Ayton is going to put up huge numbers, there is no doubt. He has an elite combination of size and athleticism, and is also blessed with soft touch around the rim and a developing face-up game. He’s going to score and rebound from day one.
The question is how much of an impact he’ll have on the defensive end. He showed poor instincts and at times a low-motor defensively during his freshman year at Arizona. He has every physical tool to eventually grow into a quality defender, but he’ll have to grasp the nuances of the game on that end of the floor. That could take some time.
The ideal pick for Phoenix would have been Luka Doncic. Jaren Jackson Jr. is my pick for the best big man in the draft. Those players just fit better into today’s NBA than Ayton does, and for that reason the Suns can’t get anything higher than a B. Doncic and Jackson simply project to have a greater impact on winning games at a high level. Ayton isn’t a bad pick, just not the perfect one.
2. Sacramento Kings - Marvin Bagley III, F, Duke
Bagley shares a lot of similarities to Ayton, even if he isn’t quite as big. He’s an explosive 6’11 forward with an effortless ability to score inside and grab rebounds, but faces serious questions on the defensive end.
Does he block enough shots to be a five? Does he shoot well enough to be a modern four? Bagley’s awkward positional fit in the league is an issue, but he plays with such a high motor that he’s still likely to have a long and productive career. If he continues to develop as a shooter and ball handler, he could be a special offensive player.
The problem is that he isn’t Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. Each of those players would have been a better pick at No. 2. Because of that, we can’t go higher than a B.
3. Dallas Mavericks - Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia (trade with Atlanta)
Atlanta and Dallas have agreed to a deal, league sources tell ESPN. They'll trade Nos. 3 and 5 picks, sending Luka Doncic to Dallas and Trae Young to Atlanta, sources said. Dallas will send Atlanta a future first.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 21, 2018
The Mavericks traded up to get the best player in the draft. Dallas paid a heavy price, reportedly surrendering a future first round pick (protected in the top five) in addition to their own No. 5 overall selection, but Doncic’s combination of winning pedigree and advanced skill level is worth it.
Doncic can be a primary offensive initiator at 6’8, 230 pounds, offering a rare blend of playmaking and shooting potential. He’s a player who stuffs the stat sheet on a nightly basis and has proven he’s a winner at every level.
Dallas has found another international star to take over as Dirk Nowitzki exits. This was a bold move by the Mavericks, but it was worth it.
4. Memphis Grizzlies - Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State
No big man in the 2018 NBA Draft fits the modern NBA better than Jaren Jackson Jr. He didn’t put up big per-game numbers at Michigan State, but he’s an elite shot blocker who hit 40 percent of his three-pointers and comes with impressive quickness and agility.
This is a great pick for Memphis. There’s no one better to learn the nuances of the game from than Marc Gasol.
5. Atlanta Hawks - Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
Trae Young is the best shooter in the draft, offering a unique ability to hit pull-up jumpers with deep range. He might be the best passer in the draft, too. The only problem is that he’s not Luka Doncic, and that’s who Atlanta gave up to move back two spots to draft him.
The draft pick Atlanta gets back from Dallas is top-five protected next year, which certainly could be valuable. Still, I would have taken Doncic.
6. Orlando Magic - Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
Bamba has immense defensive potential. He has a historic 7’10 wingspan and advanced shot blocking instincts. He also has immediate offensive value as a lob catcher, and the potential to develop into a quality outside shooter, too.
Here’s the question: how much value does Bamba’s shot blocking have if he’s guarding a smaller player on the perimeter? And can he do anything with the ball offensively if his shooting potential never becomes fully realized?
He’s also a bit of an awkward fit for an Orlando team that already has Aaron Gordon (an upcoming free agent) and Jonathan Isaac in the front court. Still, if Bamba hits his potential, he could be a shot blocking, three-point shooting unicorn. I think he has some serious risk, but it’s worth taking a shot at his upside.
7. Chicago Bulls - Wendell Carter Jr., C, Duke
Wendell Carter Jr. does almost everything well on the basketball court. He’s a strong 6’10 center who can score inside, clean the glass and has developing touch on his face-up jump shot. My guess is that he’s going to be the second best shooter of any big man taken in the lottery outside of Jaren Jackson Jr.
Carter’s biggest question mark is his lateral quickness, which is an issue in a league that often demands its bigs switch onto guards defensively. Still, his combination of length and basketball IQ should offset some of the mobility concerns.
The Bulls ideally wanted a wing with this pick, but instead they found another young big man to pair with Lauri Markkanen. In a league that’s downsizing, the Bulls are going big. In Carter, Chicago is getting a player with a high floor and All-Star level upside.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers - Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
Sexton has beaten people with size and athleticism his entire life. That’s unlikely to work in the NBA. He’ll need to get better as a shooter and passer while still maintaining his ability to get into the lane and draw fouls.
I would have taken Shai Gilgeous-Alexander over him if Cleveland wanted a point guard.
9. New York Knicks - Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky
I liked Knox more as a a recruit than a college player. He’s a big, athletic forward with shooting ability, but he showed poor playmaking ability and feel for the game at Kentucky. Maybe those things can improve in time when he’s not playing with three other power forwards at the same time as he was in college. He’s also one of the youngest players in this draft.
Knox needs to learn to leverage his physical tools to make an impact on defense. Once the game slows down for him, he could be a solid small ball four option for the Knicks next to Kristaps Porzingis.
10. Philadelphia 76ers - Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova
Update: Bridges is going to Phoenix
A pure 3-and-D guy. Bridges spent four years at Villanova growing into one of the best shooters in this draft. Now he’s ready to thrive spotting up off Ayton. Bridges is also a pesky defender who lacks strength but can smother opposing ball handlers with his 7’1 wingspan.
Bridges struggles to create his own shot, which is the biggest hole in his game. Phoenix really needs to find a young point guard to get these guys the ball. Is that player Elfrid Payton?
11. Los Angeles Clippers - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
Clippers will send the 12th pick and two second-round picks to Hornets for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, league sources said. https://t.co/IfMknfp5Hm— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 22, 2018
A 6’6 point guard with a 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander is a versatile defender, crafty finisher and developing playmaker. As a mere four-star recruit, it wasn’t certain that he’d even be in Kentucky’s rotation this year. Instead, he became John Calipari’s best player.
The only hole in SGA’s game is his pull-up jump shooting ability. If he can develop that, he should be the best point guard in the draft.
12. Charlotte Hornets - Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State
In an era when everyone wants wings, why did Miles Bridges fall all the way to No. 12? An elite athlete at 6’6, Bridges doesn’t have any elite skills, but he’s competent as a shooter, passer and ball handler. He’s a perfect fit for the modern NBA.
13. Los Angeles Clippers - Jerome Robinson, G, Boston College
Robinson proved he can score the basketball efficiently from all three levels during a breakout year for Boston College in the ACC. The problem is that he’s a poor defender who will give back as many points as he scores.
It’s absolutely shocking that Robinson went ahead of Michael Porter Jr. No one would have predicted that a year ago.
14. Denver Nuggets - Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri
What a fall from grace for Michael Porter Jr. Projected as our No. 2 player in the class one year ago, Porter had back surgery that limited him to two unimpressive games at Missouri this past season. His health remains a major issue going forward, but he can be a dynamic talent if he stays healthy. At this point in the draft, the reward is worth the risk.
Porter still has questions to answer about his skill set. Does he use his scoring to make his teammates better? Can he make an impact defensively? Where is his shooting and ball handling at? Still, if he pans out and stays healthy, Porter can be a go-to scorer who can get buckets from all three levels. I can’t believe he fell this far.
15. Washington Wizards - Troy Brown, G, Oregon
At 6’6, Brown was raised as a point guard his entire life before moving to the wing when he got to Oregon. He’s a versatile defender who has retained his passing and ball handling ability from all those years spent playing lead guard. His biggest issue is his outside jump shot. This is a solid pick, but I would have taken Zhaire Smith and Robert Williams over him.
16. Philadelphia 76ers - Zhaire Smith, G, Texas Tech
Philadelphia trades the rights to Mikal Bridges to Phoenix for Miami’s 2021 first rounder and the rights to Zhaire Smith. For as much as Philadelphia would have embraced a hometown product like Bridges, this is a great trade for the Sixers.
Smith is the best athlete in the draft, an explosive 6’4 guard who plays like a big man. He rebounds better than Jaren Jackson and blocks more shots than Marvin Bagley, making him one of the most unique prospects in this class. There is no better pure athlete in this class than Smith.
If his shooting eventually comes around, watch out. Until then, he’ll thrive running in transition with Ben Simmons and will be able to make plays above the rim on both ends of the court.
17. Milwaukee Bucks - Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova
DiVincenzo is a solid guard who can hit jumpers off the dribble and compete defensively. Will he be able to finish at the rim over NBA length? Does he have versatility defensively? Ultimately, it feels like the Bucks left better players on the board to take DiVincenzo at No. 17.
18. San Antonio Spurs - Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami
Walker has lottery-level talent. He’s an athletic 6’4 shooting guard with a 6’10 wingspan who can hit shots off the catch and make plays above the rim. His stats weren’t great as a freshman at Miami (53 percent true shooting percentage), but he did have to battle back from a torn meniscus in the preseason. In a draft filled with big men, the Spurs might have just gotten one of the best guards available at No. 18.
19. Atlanta Hawks - Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland
One of the best shooters in this draft at 6’8. Huerter also proved he can make quick, heady decisions as a passer. Atlanta has all of the shooters after pairing him with Trae Young in this draft.
Still should have taken Doncic.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves - Josh Okogie, G, Georgia Tech
I’m a big Okogie fan, who I listed as one of my top sleepers in this class. He’s a high-motor defensive wing at 6’4 with a 7-foot wingspan, and he also hit 38 percent of his threes in each of his first two years at Georgia Tech.
21. Utah Jazz - Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
Allen can move without the ball and hit shots with range off the catch. That has some value in the NBA. But can Allen do anything else? He’s not a strong defender and fails to leverage his athleticism in game situations. He also needs to improve as a ball handler and passer. There were better players on the board.
22. Chicago Bulls - Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State
Hutchison turned into a big-time scorer his last two years at Boise State. He was always a quality slasher as an agile 6’8 forward who can get to the rim. His biggest improvement as a senior came as an outside shooter. He knocked down 36 percent of his threes this season as a senior. He needs to figure out a way to use his tools to make an impact on the defensive end.
23. Indiana Pacers - Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA
A tough, smart guard who can defend other point guards and hit three-pointers. Can he finish at the rim over NBA length? Can he defend multiple positions? How good of a passer is he? These are the questions the youngest Holiday brother needs to answer.
24. Portland Trail Blazers - Anfernee Simons, G, IMG Academy
Simons is an intriguing upside player as a fifth-year high school guard with great bounce and some upside as an off-the-dribble shooter. He badly needs to add strength. He could be a valuable offensive player down the road, but he’s another small guard who doesn’t plY much defense for Portland. Does this mean C.J. McCollum is getting traded one day?
25. Los Angeles Lakers - Moritz Wagner, C, Michigan
Wagner can really shoot, but he faces serious questions defensively. It’s surprising the Lakers went with him over Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson, superior athletes who project as much better defensive players, even if they lack outside shooting touch.
26. Philadelphia 76ers - Landry Shamet, PG, Wichita State
Shamet thrives as a pull-up jump shooter, which is vital for Philadelphia given Markelle Fultz’s shooting struggles. He has good size at 6’5 and has plays with poise and pace. Is he strong enough to defend multiple positions? Can he run an offense? There were better players available.
27. Boston Celtics - Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M
This is wild. Williams is a lottery-level talent as a shot blocker and rim runner in the vein of Clint Capela. He already has NBA-level strength and can jump out of the gym. Incredible value for Boston. How do they always pull this off?
28. Golden State Warriors - Jacob Evans, G, Cincinnati
A 3-and-D guy. That’s all the Warriors need. Evans struggles to create in the half court and get all the way to the rim with his dribble, but he won’t really need to in Golden State. All the Warriors need is someone to hit catch-and-shoot threes and switch defensively. Evans can do that. He could have gone 10 picks higher than this. The Warriors and Celtics, man. They always crush it.
29. Brooklyn Nets - Dzanan Musa, F, Bosnia
A 6’9 shooter who plays with high swag level and can get hot in a hurry. A good value at this point.
30. Atlanta Hawks - Omari Spellman, C, Villanova
The Hawks get all of the shooters. You can argue they got the best shooter in the draft at point guard (Trae Young), shooting guard (Kevin Huerter) and maybe even center now with Spellman. His quickness will be a question mark, but he’s strong, long and has an impressive face-up offensive game.