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2018 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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It’s been a long time since there was so much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick was pretty much a lock with the Suns taking DeAndre Ayton, things were wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery.

We were on top of all of the big news on draft night.

Here is a breakdown of every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings.

Suns small icon 1. The Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.

Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). One of the best athletes in the draft and a natural scorer, he’s going to be able to get buckets in the NBA. He’s got a great bounce (an amazing second jump), attacks the glass, can finish at the rim and shot 40 percent from three for the Blue Devils. The question is can he defend — he showed poor defensive instincts and Mike Krzyzewski had to play zone at Duke last season because Bagley (and Wendell Carter) could not handle pick-and-roll coverages. He’s got to get better on that end to reach his NBA potential.

WE HAVE A TRADE: As had been rumored for a while, the Dallas Mavericks are trading with the Atlanta Hawks — the Mavericks have wanted Luka Doncic and the Hawks will take him at No. 3, then the Mavericks will take Trae Young at No. 5. (The Hawks will also receive a future first-round pick).

Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Slovenia). He will not play for the Hawks, he will be traded to the Dallas Mavericks (selecting No. 5). Doncic is the most decorated European player ever to enter the NBA Draft (EuroLeague champion and MVP, ACB champion and MVP), he is a phenom off the pick-and-roll and a great playmaker in transition. He has shooting range from the NBA three and he can finish inside. He’s been putting up numbers against men in Europe and should adapt to the NBA fairly quickly. The doubts are he’s not an elite athlete, not explosive by NBA standards. Can he defend well enough at this level, and how will he handle being guarded by those kinds of athletes?

Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). Has the look and game of the prototypical modern NBA center — he’s got a great wingspan (7’5”) and uses that to protect the rim and block shots. He’s a good shooter out to the arc, can finish inside with either hand. He’s got to learn to play consistently harder and be better on the glass — it’s not all highlight plays, but he’s one of the youngest players in the draft and will grow. Needs to improve his passing as well. Son of 13-year NBA vet Jaren Jackson.

Mavericks small icon 5. Dallas Mavericks: Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). He will not be Maverick, he will be traded to the Atlanta Hawks (for Luka Doncic and a future first-round pick). Young is a fan favorite for many because he has Stephen Curry-like range on his three out to 30 feet, plus he’s a gifted passer who sees the floor incredibly well. Scouts mostly like him, but there is some concern he’s got more Jimmer Fredette in him than Curry. Young has to learn to manage the game, not be so turnover prone. The bigger issues are defensively, he’s not big and not an elite NBA athlete like many guys he’ll be asked to guard — and his defense was poor at Oklahoma. Can he stay playable in an NBA of switching defenses?

Magic small icon 6: Orlando Magic: Mohamed Bamba 7’0” center (Texas). Maybe the highest ceiling in this draft. He has a crazy wingspan of 7’9.5” and he can be a Pterodactyl on defense that flies in and blocks or alters everything. He’s athletic and mobile enough to hold his own on switches on the perimeter. A lot of Rudy Gobert comparisons, but like Gobert he has to work hard adding muscle and getting stronger without losing quickness to reach that potential. Does Bamba have the love of the game to put in that work? He played casually at times in college. Offensively, he’s raw and has a long, long way to go. This is a high ceiling, but low floor pick.

Bulls small icon 7: Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). He’s a throwback, physical force inside around the rim, but more well rounded than that on offense. He can back guys down in the post, has an outside shot, is a fantastic passer, and shows impressive footwork for someone so young. Very versatile on offense (think Al Horford). On defense, however, he’s slow-footed, doesn’t move great laterally, and could find himself exposed against pick-and-rolls. Can he stay on the court late in games in a switching, speedy NBA?

Cavaliers small icon 8: Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). You remember him as the guy who dropped 40 when Alabama had to play 3-on-5 early in the college season, Sexton has the potential to be a very good at the one in the NBA. He’s long (6’7” wingspan), athletic, and with a great work ethic. He attacks the lane and knows how to draw fouls. He’s got to become more consistent as a shooter and a decision maker to thrive in the NBA, but he has the potential. Could play with LeBron James or be a building block if he bolts (although shoot-first Sexton and never-pass Jordan Clarkson might literally fight over the ball).

Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky ). A guy who shot up draft boards with his showings at the NBA Draft Combine and private workouts. He can be an athletic three or a small ball four — if he can solidify his inconsistent jump shot (he shot 34 percent from three in college, he will find more space to shoot in the NBA). He struggled to defend quicker players in college (there are more of them in the NBA) and there are concerns about his toughness. A lot of potential here to be a quality NBA player at a position of need.

Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers: Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova). He has been traded to the Phoenix Suns. Bridges is a solid role player on the wing who can guard multiple positions (the 7’2” wingspan helps) and knock down threes (43.5 percent last season). He’s also performed well on the big stages of the NCAA tournament, he can handle pressure. He has to prove he’s an elite defender on ball, but this guy is a solid NBA player and will be in the league for years.

Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). He will be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers (scroll down a little for the details). A fast-rising point guard on draft boards this season, Gilgeous-Alexander is a big point guard (7’0” wingspan) and is not explosive but finds open spaces in the defense. He needs to become an improved shooter, especially from three, and his handles and game management need to take steps forward. Still a lot of potential as a rotation point guard and he showed that growth potential in Kentucky becoming the leader of that team.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Hornets are going to trade Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Clippers for the No. 12 pick plus two future second-round picks. The Clippers have wanted a point guard who could be a core part of their future (with all due respect to Austin Rivers).

Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers: Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). He will be traded to the Charlotte Hornets as part of the deal mentioned directly above. Bridges’ return to college to lift his draft stock didn’t really work that way, but he still looks like a quality NBA wing rotation player. He can hit threes (36.4 percent shooting them last season), he’s strong on the glass, and he’s an athlete who knows how to attack the rim. He can guard threes and fours and will be able switch and fit in the modern NBA.

Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Jerome Robinson, 6’5” point guard (Boston College). He played point in college — and was very productive there — but likely will be more of a combo guard in the NBA. He brings a high IQ game, three point shooting and he can shoot off the bounce. Is he athletic enough and with that can he defend well enough to be a regular rotation guy for the Clippers? Teams thought so as he shot up draft boards at the end.

Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). He slid a long, long way down the board but this is a good gamble for the Nuggets at 14. Before the injury he was thought of as a top-three pick, play like that and this is a steal. There are concerns about his back injury (a microdiscetomy that forced him to miss much of last season) and a rumored “diva” attitude (already). The physical tools and potential is what had teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete. Will he put in the work to reach his potential?

Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards: Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). Another draft board climber in recent weeks. He has great length (6’11” wingspan) and was one of the top recruits in his class. He brings the kind of versatility on the wing that NBA teams crave. However, there are questions about how good of an athlete he is and his shooting needs work to be consistent. That said, he’s one of the younger guys in the draft and should develop over time.

Suns small icon 16. The Phoenix Suns: Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). He has been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges and Miami’s 2021 first-round pick. This is a pick about potential — on paper he’s what teams are looking for in a modern NBA swingman. Smith fits with the Sixers’ style, he’s of the best athletes in the draft, has a 6’11” wingpan, and showed good defensive instincts. He’s got a lot of work to do on offense, his handles need work, his instincts aren’t sharp, and scouts don’t trust his shot. High upside, but it’s going to take some development.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Sixers are not keeping the hometown kid — Mikal Bridges of Villanova is being traded to Phoenix (where he will pair with Josh Jackson on the wing) for Zhaire Smith and Miami’s 2021 first-round pick. Smith fits right in with the Sixers drafting pattern — long, athletic, and a real project.

Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo, 6’5” point guard (Villanova). You may remember him as the hero of the NCAA Championship game (31 points for the Wildcats), but after that he turned heads at the NBA Combine by testing better athletically than expected. He can play either guard position, can space the floor as a shooter (but needs to be more consistent), is a good passer, and plays hard at both ends. Coaches will like him and his effort, and he should be a solid rotation guard player.

Spurs small icon 18. San Antonio Spurs: Lonnie Walker IV, 6-‘4” shooting guard, (Miami). Good gamble this far down in the draft by the Spurs, some teams thought he was a lottery pick. Walker is all about the upside — a tremendous athlete who has a 6’10” wingspan and has shown he can be a playmaker. He’s got a lot of work to put in to live up to that potential at the NBA level — his handle needs to get better, his shot needs to get better, he needs to show a real commitment on the defensive end. Was he just misused in Miami? No better spot to develop than on the Spurs.

Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: Kevin Huerter, 6’7” shooting guard (Maryland). He turned some heads with a strong showing at the NBA Combine and climbed draft boards after that. Could develop into a catch-and-shoot specialist with some positional versatility that teams crave. He’s not an elite athlete or ball handler, his ability to defend at the NBA level is in question, but he showed an ability to shoot the rock, is a good passer, and he plays smart. He had surgery on ligaments in his right wrist before the draft and he will be out through Summer League but should be ready for training camp.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Josh Okogie, 6’4” shooting guard (Georgia Tech). He had a strong NBA Combine and impressed in team workouts, which helped him climb the board. He’s a good defender with a long wingspan (7’0”) and the potential to be a multi-positional defender — which is how you get drafted by Tom Thibodeau. He’s athletic, can shoot the ball off the dribble or on the move (and man, does Minnesota need shooting, but Okogie needs to be more consistent). He looks like he could become a useful rotation player in the modern NBA.

Jazz small icon 21. Utah Jazz: Grayson Allen, 6’4” shooting guard (Duke). A very good shooter (if a bit streaky, he had a major slump in the middle of last season) he is athletic enough to create space off the ball then turn and hit the open look. As a four-year senior, he comes in more ready to contribute now than most in this draft. There are questions about his defense and his decision making as a passer, but if he can shoot the rock in the NBA like he did as a Blue Devil he will fit in perfectly (and from Day 1) with the floor-spacing Utah Jazz.

Bulls small icon 22: Chicago Bulls: Chandler Hutchison, 6’7” wing (Boise St.). He fits in the modern NBA — the guy is a smooth athlete who just knows how to get buckets, and he shoots well on the move. He needs to improve that shooting and add some range to really impact the NBA, but he should be a good fit as a rotation player.

Pacers small icon 23. Indiana Pacers: Aaron Holiday, 6’1” point guard (UCLA). A point guard who showed this season he can handle the ball and run an offense, but the previous season played well off the ball with Lonzo Ball. A good shooter who can space the floor. There is some real upside, although he projects more as a backup PG/rotation player, but one who can defend and make plays. His brothers are Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans and Justin Holiday of the Bulls.

Blazers small icon 24. Portland Trail Blazers: Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard (IMG Academy). Considered one of the top recruits last season, he returned to prep school to make a high school to NBA jump (same as Thon Maker). He’s an elite athlete with a lot of upside, he has a good shot that needs polish, but he knows how to score (Simons tends to be ball dominant, plays more like a combo guard). He’s a project but a guy with a high upside.

Lakers small icon 25. Los Angeles Lakers: Moritz Wagner, 6’11” center (Michigan). He helped his stock in the NCAA tournament, being a key to the Wolverines’ run. He is a good shooter who can knock down threes and space the floor, but can also score off the dribble or in the post. He needs room to get off that jumper (slow release) and he doesn’t do much other than score (not a rebounder or shot blocker of any note). Likely a reserve big in the NBA.

Sixers small icon 26. Philadelphia 76ers: Landry Shamet, 6’4” point guard (Wichita St). He can shoot, he plays smart, he knows how to run an offense, and all that makes up for him being an average athlete (by NBA standards). He’s versatile, can fit the Sixers system, and projects as a backup point guard in the NBA. That’s not a position of need for the Sixers, but he could be a third guard or get a chance at the two.

Celtics small icon 27. Boston Celtics: Robert Williams, 6’10” center (Texas A&M). Things keep breaking Danny Ainge’s way — this is a steal at 27, some teams thought he could go in the late lottery. Williams has the tools to be an elite NBA defender — he’s got a 7’5.5” wingspan and incredible athleticism — and in college he used those tools to be a shot blocking and rebounding force. Can rim run and catch alley-oops but needs to expand his offensive game beyond that. This is a guy with a high ceiling, but there are serious questions about his work ethic and love of the game — is he going to put in the work to reach that potential?

Warriors small icon 28. Golden State Warriors: Jacob Evans, 6’6” wing, (Cincinnati). He passes the eye test as an NBA wing — he has good size, he defends well, and he can knock down threes. So yes, he sounds like a perfect fit on Golden State. He’s a player who is good at just about everything but not necessarily elite at any one thing. The concern is that he can just blend in and not be aggressive enough, but he does understand how to play a role, something he will get a chance to do in Golden State. Also, what’s his ring size?

Nets small icon 29. Brooklyn Nets: Dzanan Musa, 6’9” small forward (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He’s an aggressive swingman who is best attacking off the dribble and getting into the paint, where he’s a good scorer and playmaker. He plays with his heart on his sleeve (and occasionally goes over the top with it). Average athlete by NBA standards who has to prove he can defend at the NBA level. Heavily scouted for years, he’s just 19 with room to improve. He played last season in the Croatian league and wants to come over now, we’ll see if the Nets want to draft and stash for a year or two.

Hawks small icon 30. Atlanta Hawks: Omari Spellman, 6’9” power forward (Villanova). He plays a bruising style inside, but he can shoot the rock from the outside and has the handles to get a basket against a closeout. He plays below the rim and will have to find out ways to use his shooting to find space on the floor where he can operate. His conditioning needs to improve. Think a younger Mo Speights kind of game.

SECOND ROUND

Suns small icon 31. The Phoenix Suns: Elie Okobo, 6’3” point guard (France). He played last season for Pau-Orthez in the top level French league and averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from threee) plus 4.4 assists per game. A 44-point game in the French playoffs turned some heads. He’s athletic, knows how to score, and has all the physical tools teams look for in a point guard. He’s going to have to develop and adapt to the NBA game, but this could be a very smart pick in the second round.

Grizzlies small icon 32. Memphis Grizzlies: Jevon Carter, 6’2” point guard (West Virginia). He’s aggressive defensively (maybe the best defensive PG in the draft), and he’s a good shooter and playmaker. He’s not an elite athlete, his first step isn’t going to blow by anybody, but he’s gritty and tough — perfect for the Memphis grit n’ grind. He should make a quality backup point guard behind Mike Conley in Memphis.

Hawks small icon 33. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen Brunson, 6’2” point guard (Villanova). He is bound for the Dallas Mavericks via trade. As he showed leading the Wildcats to the NCAA crown, he’s a high IQ player whose game is polished and NBA ready — he’s a pass-first point guard with great vision. Could be a Fred Van Vleet type. However, not athletic by NBA standards and struggled to defend elite point guards in college. Will make a good backup point guard who can help a team quickly, coaches will love him, but the ceiling is not that high.

Mavericks small icon 34. Dallas Mavericks: Devonte’ Graham, 6’2” point guard (Kansas). He is bound for Charlotte via trade. A four-year senior who was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, he is a skilled point guard who can gets buckets and knows how to run a team. He’s not the level of athlete and has average size, but he projects as someone who can help an NBA right away as a solid backup point guard off the bench.

Magic small icon 35. Orlando Magic: Melvin Frazier, 6’6” small forward (Tulane). Great second round pick, a lot of teams projected him late in the first. Potential future “3&D” wing — he has a 7’2” wingspan and shot 38.5 percent from three. The questions revolve around whether he is really that good a shooter — he hit 55 percent of his free throws last season. He’s good at scoring on the move, but he’s going to have to learn how to move off the ball and catch-and-shoot at the NBA level. Still, great potential for a need position.

Knicks small icon 36. New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” center (Western Kentucky). One of the top recruits of 2017, he signed with Western Kentucky, changed his mind and wanted to transfer out but couldn’t, said he wanted to return, then just spent the year in training for the draft. He’s a big man with elite athleticism and plays an old-school style as a rim protector on one end and a rim runner on the other. Going to take some time to develop, but a good gamble in the second round for the Knicks, if they can develop him.

Kings small icon 37. Sacramento Kings: Gary Trent Jr., 6’5” shooting guard (Duke). He has been traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he will fit in as a floor spacer. Trent Jr. is one of the best and most fearless shooters in this draft — he has NBA range and then some. His handles need to improve as do his playmaking to handle the closeouts that will come in the NBA, but if you can shoot (and shoot on the move) there is a place for you in the NBA.

Sixers small icon 38. Philadelphia 76ers: Khyri Thomas, 6-3 shooting guard (Creighton). He will be traded to Detroit, which is a steal for the Pistons. Thomas projects as a “3&D” style two-guard who was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year (the 6’10” wingspan helps) and shot 41 percent from three. His ball handling needs to improve, he’s going to have to get his shot off a little quicker at the NBA level, and he’s not the level of athlete that gives him a super-high ceiling, but he also has a high floor — he’s going to fit in and be able to help.

Sixers small icon 39. Philadelphia 76ers: Isaac Bonga, 6’8” small forward (Germany). A lot of potential but also a long way to go to get his skills to an NBA level. He’s a ball-handling wing with great pick-and-roll instincts both as a scorer and playmaker. His game overall, and his shot in particular, need to take leaps forward and against superior competition. A good roll of the dice in the second round that could pan out down the line.

Nets small icon 40. Brooklyn Nets: Rodions Kurucs, 6’9” forward (Latvia). Very possibly a draft-and-stash who stays to develop in Europe. He plays for FC Barcelona, although his minutes have been limited this past season. Plays hard and is a decent athlete who loves (and is good at) the midrange game but needs to stretch out his shot at the NBA level. His tools are intriguing but he has a lot of work to do to bring it all together.

Magic small icon 41. Orlando Magic: Jarred Vanderbilt, 6’8” small forward (Kentucky). He has been traded to the Denver Nuggets. He’s a physical player who is strong on the defensive end, and can score off the bounce on the other. He needs to improve his shot to stick in the NBA. He comes with foot injury concerns. He injured it twice in high school and it forced him to miss the start of the Wildcats’ season last year.

Pistons small icon 42. Detroit Pistons: Bruce Brown, 6’5” shooting guard (Miami). He has all the physical tools — good size, long wingspan (6’10”) and is athletic. Shows a lot of promise on the defensive end. The challenge is the offensive end, where he struggles with his shot and is turnover prone. Has potential as a rotation two guard with some development, but he’s a project.

Nuggets small icon 43. Denver Nuggets: Justin Jackson, 6’7” forward (Maryland). He has potential as a “3&D” wing with some development. He has great length for his size (7’3” wingspan) and in college he guarded positions 1-4. He plays with a high motor but is not an elite athlete. If his handles can improve and his jump shot becomes consistent — and his release becomes faster — he can find a role in the league.

Wizards small icon 44. Washington Wizards: Issuf Sanon, 6’4” guard (Ukraine). Likely a draft-and-stash, but one the Wizards could bring over in a few years. Sanon turned heads at the NBA Global Camp in Treviso, Italy, because he was a high-motor player who could both score and defend well. His shot needs to become more consistent, his defensive understanding needs to improve, but he’s not yet 19 and could develop into a solid NBA player.

Nets small icon 45. Brooklyn Nets: Hamidou Diallo, 6’5” shooting guard (Kentucky). He has been traded to the Charlotte Hornets. He is incredibly athletic and also incredibly raw. There’s a lot of potential here but he needs to develop his skills (which could mean stints in the D-League if he sticks with the Hornets, maybe a candidate for a two-way contract). He’s best in transition, and he attacks in the halfcourt with a fantastic first step. He can become a good defender, but his jumper still needs a lot of work.

Rockets small icon 46. Houston Rockets: De'Anthony Melton, 6’3” guard (USC). You may remember him as the focus of the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball, and with that he did not play last season. He spent the season working out then had to impress teams in workouts. He was a top recruit because of his athleticism, can guard positions 1-3, and he can do some ball handling.

Lakers small icon 47. Los Angeles Lakers: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6’8” shooting guard (Kansas). He’s from the Ukraine originally and averaged 14.6 points per game for Kansas last season. He’s got a good basketball IQ, can shoot the rock (44 percent from three last season), and has good size for the position. Real questions about his athleticism and if he can hang at the next level.

48. Minnesota Timberwolves: Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7 forward (Ohio St.). He’s got good size to play on the wing in the NBA, with the skills to post up smaller defenders and is a good shooter out on the perimeter. Out in transition he can be a force. However, he’s a bit slow footed and that shows up in both his first step on offense and concerns about him being a target of switches on defense. Can develop into a solid NBA role player.

Spurs small icon 49. San Antonio Spurs: Chimezie Metu, 6’10” power forward/center (USC). The man knows how to get buckets. He’s very athletic and put up some poster dunks. He’s also very raw and needs a lot of polish (a G-League stint is not out of the question). Good roll of the dice here deep in the second round for the Spurs.

Pacers small icon 50. Indiana Pacers: Alize Johnson, 6’9” power forward (Missouri St.). A power forward who can handle the rock and can do a little bit of everything, but doesn’t have that one standout NBA-level skill. Will have to earn his way onto the roster with Summer League/training camp play.

Pelicans small icon 51. New Orleans Pelicans: Tony Carr, 6’3” point guard (Penn St.). He’s got good size for a point guard, shot 43 percent from three last season, and has an old-man-at-the-Y game that gets him to the rim. The problem is his lack of athleticism means he struggles to finish when he does get to the rim, and there are questions about his defense.

Rockets small icon 52. Houston Rockets: Vince Edwards, 6’8″ forward (Purdue). He knows how to get buckets, averaging 14.6 points per game his senior season, and he can score on the move well. However, he is not athletic on the NBA level and with that struggles defensively. He’s going to have to show consistent shooting and improved defense to stick in the NBA.

Thunder small icon 53. Oklahoma City Thunder: Devon Hall, 6’5” shooting guard (Virginia). Good roll of the dice by the Thunder this deep in the draft. Hall was a core two-way player for the Cavaliers, and he has NBA level shooting ability and basketball IQ. There are questions about him being athletic enough for the next level, but he is the kind of guy who could develop into a role player.

Mavericks small icon 54. Dallas Mavericks: Shake Milton, 6’6” guard (SMU). He is headed to Philadelphia in a trade — and this could be the steal of the second round by the Sixers. Milton could play the one or the two, and has the length (7’1” wingspan) to defend 1-3. He battled injury at SMU and is considered a better shooter than he showed in college, and he has the handles to create space then shoot well off the bounce. He’s pass first as a PG and can force some things that become turnovers when he should have gotten his own shot.

Hornets small icon 55. Charlotte Hornets: Arnoldas Kulboka, 6’9″ forward (Lithuania). This is a draft-and-stash pick. A very good shooter with range who plays well off the ball with a high IQ game, but the question is does he have the athleticism to play in the NBA.

Sixers small icon 56. Philadelphia 76ers: Ray Spaulding, 6’10” center (Louisville). He is headed to Dallas as part of a trade. He passes the eye test and moves well for a big man. He came to Louisville highly recruited and with a world of potential, but he never seemed to live up to it. He needs to get stronger and be more consistent with his shot, but the big questions are about his motor. The potential is there.

Thunder small icon 57. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Hervey, 6’7” small forward (Texas Arlington). He tore his right ACL in high school, and his left ACL last year. Considering that, it’s impressive that he bounced back to average 20.5 points per game this past season, then look good at the NBA Draft Combine. He can score around the rim and has a solid jumper. The concerns, as might have been expected, are how his knees hold up. There are also serious defensive concerns.

Nuggets small icon 58. Denver Nuggets: Thomas Welsh, 7’0″ center (UCLA). An old-school, throwback big man who knows how to score around the basket and has a midrange game out to about 15 feet. However, he’s not athletic enough and his game doesn’t fit with what is asked of the modern NBA big man. He entered the NBA a couple decades too late.

Suns small icon 59. The Phoenix Suns: George King, 6’6” small forward (Colorado). This was the Raptors’ pick before they traded it. He’s got an NBA-ready body, is plenty athletic, and knows how to shoot the rock. That all sounds good, but at age 24 already there are questions about how much better he gets, and he doesn’t have an NBA level first-step — he’s not quite able to create space at this level. Still, good roll of the dice this deep.

Sixers small icon 60. Philadelphia 76ers: Kostas Antetokounmpo, 6’10” forward (Dayton). He is headed to Dallas as part of a trade. The other Antetokounmpo — yes, he is Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s brother — isn’t the same level of prospect, but he has potential. The younger Antetokounmpo is raw — he is years away. He’s going to spend time in the G-League. He’s not a ball handling point forward, more of an athletic big who can block shots and run the floor — he does move with the speed and long strides of his brother. There’s a long way to go on his jumper.

Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic lead tiered 2018 NBA draft board

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
6 Comments

How this works:

Draft for need or take the best player available?

It’s the question as old as drafts themselves. Personally, I favor the middle-of-the-road approach – the tier system. I judge prospects on three attributes:

  • Current ability
  • Potential
  • Likelihood of meeting that potential

Obviously, assessing those attributes is not easy. It’s really hard.

That’s why I don’t like taking the best prospect – based on all three criteria – available. It’s just too difficult to split hairs between players with so many variables.

But overly considering fit is problematic for the same reason. Rosters churn, and it’s foolish to pass on a clearly better prospect – in the cases that becomes clear – just because he doesn’t fit the current version of the team.

So how does the tier system work?

Divide players into tiers based on their value regardless of fit. Don’t worry about differentiating prospects with nearly identical values. Find natural cutoffs.

Then, within each tier, rank the players based on fit for the specific drafting team.

Theoretically, a draft could have anywhere between 1 and 60 tiers. A 1-tier draft would mean every prospect – from the top pick to Mr. Irrelevant – holds the same value. A 60-tier draft would mean every prospect is clearly distinguishable based on value. Obviously, neither is likely.

The size of tiers should be organic, and therefore, the number of tiers is also organic. Naturally, tiers tend to be smaller near the top of the draft, where lines between players are sharper.

Here are the 16 tiers necessary to get through the first round. Within each tier, I rank players as if the drafting teams had empty rosters. Obviously, actual NBA teams would need to consider other information when assessing fit of players within a tier.

Tier 1

1. DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona

His physical profile – 7-foot with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, muscular, smoothly fast, high jumper – is nearly mythological. He has nice touch on his shot near the basket, in mid-range (though he shoots from there too often) and maybe eventually beyond the NBA 3-point arc. The big red flags come on defense, where Ayton far too often looks lost. At least he has the tools to excel on that end if he figures it out, though I have major questions whether he will.

2. Luka Doncic, PG, Real Madrid

Just 19, Doncic is already starring in the highest levels of European basketball. Nobody has ever done that before. He flat out knows how to play. His ball-handling and passing are expert level, and he’s a good shooter, particularly off the dribble. At 6-foot-8, he’s fairly position-less on the perimeter, but I’d want the ball in his hands enough to consider him a point guard. His underwhelming athleticism is concerning. Athletic wings – far more common in the NBA than Europe – could give him trouble, especially in his ability to create separation. His defensive upside is also limited. But Doncic plays a strong all-around game, including as a rebounder, which speaks to his functional athleticism.

Tier 2

3. Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

Young’s combination of scoring and shooting gives him elite potential – if he’s not too small. He can make all the standard passing reads required of a starting NBA point guard, which is no small achievement for a 19-year-old. He’s also at least a good 3-point shooter with ability to hit pull-ups and spot-ups. But he’s small, 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan. Can he defend anyone? Can he finish inside? Can he make cross-court passes through defenses? Young’s diminutive frame threatens to undermine him, but he is a skilled, high-upside prospect.

4. Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State

Jackson has shown all the main skills for a modern center. He shoots 3-pointers, protects the rim as a help defender and switches onto forwards and guards. But he too often played timid, exemplified by frequently fouling rather than battling physically. Is that because he’s soft or because he was just 18 playing for a hard-driving coach who never seemed to figure out quite how to use him? Jackson’s offensive upside is limited by his lacking court vision and explosiveness. But teams shouldn’t fear drafting a player high just because he doesn’t project well as a scorer. That’s only one skill of many. Jackson would fit well with nearly any set of teammates on both ends of the court.

Tier 3

5. Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas

Ayton might be the only prospect who matches Bamba’s ceiling. Bamba is huge – 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-10 wingspan. Reasonably mobile and a high leaper, he covers a lot of ground. And he often must defensively, because he’s not always in ideal position due to recognition and/or effort issues. Yet, he’s already still quite effective. Does that indicate his potential to get even better? Or does it show his intelligence doesn’t cleanly translate to visual/spatial awareness? I believe in his ability to become an elite rim protector much more than I do his switchability on the perimeter. With the athleticism necessary to do it in the modern game, Bamba fills the role of a fairly traditional center – blocking shots, rebounding, finishing inside. He’s developing his 3-pointer, though that remains largely hypothetical as an asset.

6. Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova

Bridges projects extremely well as a 3-and-D role player. It can be tempting to reach for someone with higher upside, but there are plenty of players with high-usage starring styles. Good teams need players like Bridges, who has a good feel for how to help as a complementary player. He’s a good 3-point shooter, and he can penetrate against closeouts and in the pick-and-roll, finish well at the rim or dishing as he drives. He’s also an active cutter and capable post-up player against smaller players. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Bridges has the length – though not necessarily strength – to defend several positions. He possesses plenty of functional athleticism defensively thanks to his high basketball intelligence. He just lacks the aggressiveness and off-the-dribble shooting ability to take over games.

Tier 4

7. Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri

Porter’s back injury scares me so, so, so much. He’d rank much higher with more dependable health. Porter is a good shooter from deep and mid-range. With a smooth stride, ball-handling ability in the open court, ability to shoot on the move and a 6-foot-10 frame, he can get his shot off at will. Relatedly, he too often settles for bad shots once he gets the ball. On the flip side, he works hard off the ball to get in good scoring position. His defensive indifference puts his length to waste. Likewise, he doesn’t make enough effort offensively to do more than just get his points.

8. Miles Bridges, PF/SF, Michigan State

Bridges should be more effective as a small-ball power forward in the NBA. Though his length – 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan – isn’t ideal, he has the strength and competitiveness to hold up inside. He could guard bigger, more athletic small forwards, too. At power forward, his speed and shooting become weapons. Bridges already does a fine job creating shots for himself, and he’d fare even better if his ball-handling improves.

Tier 5

9. Marvin Bagley, PF/C, Duke

Bagley is an elite above-the-rim finisher, and he does plenty to generate those efficient shots. He’s extremely quick for 6-foot-11, and he runs the floor hard, often beating his man to the rim. He’s also an excellent rebounder, taking advantage of his quick multi-jump ability. Until he becomes a better screener, he’ll be limited in base halfcourt offenses. More troublingly, he provides so little as a rim protector due to poor defensive awareness, a relatively short 7-foot-1 wingspan and middling core strength. He might have to play power forward defensively, but I don’t trust his outside shot enough for him to be anything but a center offensively, which creates complications.

Tier 6

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

A 6-foot-6 point guard with a 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander always looks in control by the way he smoothly changes speed and direction. He uses his length to finish, with both hands, from many angles and evade defenders. But when he can’t get going downhill against defenses going under on pick-and-rolls, his pull-up jumper becomes a liability. He’s developing as a distributor, and playing in an offense with more spacing than Kentucky’s last year should help. His defense is already solid and could get even better if he gets significantly stronger/more physical – natural for a 19-year-old but questionable for someone with his narrow frame.

11. Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

Sexton relentlessly and ferociously attacks the rim with the ball in his hands – sometimes when lesser players couldn’t, sometimes when he shouldn’t. He must play a little more under control in the NBA, which should be easier with more spacing. Along with that, he must develop as a passer. But those are steps many point guards must make at his age, and few match his athleticism. Sexton – 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan – has the length to defend well, but he’s probably a little overrated on that end. Perhaps, with a more reasonable offensive load, his overall defensive output will catch up to the flashes he showed.

Tier 7

12. Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

The 6-foot-7 Huerter is an excellent 3-point shooter. He can also score inside the arc with plenty of lift and, importantly, keeps his head up looking for passes as he drives. He takes too many risks on those passes, though. He’s neither fast nor strong enough to project as a good defender, though effort helps.

13. Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami

Walker – 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and explosive athleticism – looks the part of an NBA player. He just didn’t put those physical traits to good use at Miami. He settled for too many bad shots, showed little court vision as a passer and locked in too rarely defensively. Still, it’s hard to turn down someone with so much potential at a scarce position. Maybe he’ll eventually translate his impressive tools into better production.

Tier 8

14. De'Anthony Melton, PG/SG, USC

Melton plays hard and smart, a combination that goes a long way. At 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and an aggressive physicality, he defends well on and off the ball. He rebounds at an elite rate for his position, and his court vision as a passer is tremendous. He doesn’t shoot well. He doesn’t have many moves with the ball. He doesn’t finish well in traffic. So, he won’t be an easy fit. But smart teams will figure out how to utilize him, and he’ll contribute to winning.

Tier 9

15. Wendell Carter, C, Duke

Carter can do a lot of things offensively, and because one of them is pass, it’s fine to give him the ball a lot. He’s not great at anything, but that’s OK. His ability to play inside and out will serve him well as he faces different defenders in a switch-heavy NBA. Carter has a long way to go defending in space, which is a major red flag. That deficiency can simply make bigs unplayable in the modern game.

Tier 10

16. Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M

Modern NBA offenses, with all the spacing they create, set the stage for bigs like Williams – 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and impressive leaping ability – to roll to the rim and finish lobs against minimal defensive pressure. On the other end, he’s an impressive shot blocker. His motor, while improved, remains questionable. That particularly shows in his rebounding. Perhaps, he’ll look more motivated while playing his optimal position after getting jammed into big frontcourt at Texas A&M.

17. Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

DiVincenzo is a dangerous 3-point shooter with a high release point on and off the ball. He can wiggle his way to the rim and, with major hops, he finishes well. He’s a fine passer, though I consider him far more of a shooting guard than point guard. He just lacks the playmaking ability to run an offense, and he’s a little too slow to defend many point guards. His lackluster length – 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan – doesn’t help against shooting guards, either.

18. Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky

Still just 18, Knox is one of the youngest players in this draft. That’s important to remember, because he’s more of a project than many realize. He has a nice shooting stroke and the size (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan) to become a versatile defender. But he’s too limited as a ball-handler and distributor to trust with a major offensive role. And he’s not physical enough defensively or as a rebounder. Knox is a fine athlete, though hardly an eye-popping one, which raises questions about how high in the draft a team should bet on him.

Tier 11

19. Zhaire Smith, SF, Texas Tech

Smith played like a big man in college – defending, rebounding and using his elite hops to finish above the rim. He found many ways to help. At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, that won’t fly in the NBA. He’ll have to develop more of a perimeter game. Smith’s star potential is limited. He performs poorly off the dribble – whether it’s driving to the rim, pulling up for a shot or drawing attention to kick to teammates. A player – especially someone guard-sized – can influence the game only so much if he’s not a threat with the ball in his hands. But Smith, who just turned 19, is young enough and has a strong enough work ethic to develop ball skills.

Tier 12

20. Dzanan Musa, SF, KK Cedevita

Musa is a gunner. The 6-foot-9 wing relentlessly hunts his own shots using advanced ball-handling in isolation and running the pick-and-roll. He can shoot from deep, in mid-range and on floaters. For someone with such a high usage, he’s quite efficient. But he’s probably not a good enough scorer to stick with this style in the NBA. How will he adjust? His all-around game is also lacking. At just 19, he already excels at the facet of play he has clearly committed to developing. Could he build a wider skill set if he so chooses? Would he expend energy on areas less flashy than scoring?

21. Troy Brown, SG, Oregon

Brown plays physically on both ends of the floor. He’s comfortable amid contact while driving to the basket, still finding the right blend of hunting his own shot and using his impressive court vision to find teammates. That playmaking is also helpful in creating transition opportunities, as Brown is comfortable grabbing rebounds and pushing the ball up court. He’s a good rebounder for his position. At 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, he has the strength to defend multiple positions. Speed is an issue in some perimeter matchups. The big catch: Brown is a poor 3-point shooter, though he could develop there.

Tier 13

22. Jacob Evans, SG/SF, Cincinnati

Evans – 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan – does a great job anticipating and moving his feet to stay in front of his man defensively. But his so-so athleticism will limit him in some matchups. His basketball intelligence also extends to passing, but the usefulness of that skill is limited by lackluster ball-handling and burst. Though he won’t tilt defenses, he is a reliable spot-up 3-point shooter, giving him a true 3-and-D skill set.

23. Josh Okogie, SG, Georgia Tech

Quick and long (6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan), Okogie covers a lot of ground defensively. He has the strength to defend three, maybe even four, positions. He was miscast as a go-to offensive player at Georgia Tech. Limit him mostly to spot-up 3-pointers, and he’ll look better, though not necessarily great. How well he hits those 3s from NBA distance will go a long way in determining his value.

Tier 14

24. Grayson Allen, SG, Duke

Allen is an elite shooter who plays passionately, for better or worse. Sometimes, that means winning hustle plays. Sometimes, that means tripping opponents. But get past the name, and don’t overlook his ability to play. Shooting is an ultra-important skill, and Allen has it. He fortifies it with enough athleticism to attack closeouts and improved point-guard skills. Defense, particularly lateral quickness, remains a big concern.

25. Shake Milton, SG/PG, Southern Methodist

Milton is a smooth shooter on 3-pointers and in the mid-range. His ball-handling and burst are too lacking for him to be a point guard full-time. He doesn’t get to the rim enough, and when he does, he finishes poorly. But playing on the ball in college should serve him well at the next level. He has developed nicely as a passer. Though he’s 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, his slender frame will narrow the defensive matchups he can handle.

26. Jerome Robinson, PG/SG, Boston College

Robinson didn’t become good until his junior year. Don’t trust players who became good only as upperclassmen. Many of them just figure out how to produce at a lower level against younger competition. But some develop in ways to translate to the NBA, and Robinson looks good enough to fool me. He has a lightning-quick release on his jumper, which extended efficiently to 3-point range this season. He plays with patience, allowed by a tight handle. He might be more of a combo guard, but at least he’s 6-foot-5. Athleticism is a major concern, which could affect him as a finisher and defender.

27. Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Holiday is tough to contain when he has the ball. Play too far off him, and he’ll splash 3-pointers. He’s unselfish, but a bit too sloppy as a distributor. He lacks the athleticism of his brothers, Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday. That holds back Aaron as a finisher and defender and raises overall questions about his ability to translate to the next level.

Tier 15

28. Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky was an odd choice for a five-star recruit like Robinson, and he apparently agreed. He enrolled and left. Twice. College isn’t for everyone, but that odd saga raises red flags about Robinson’s life-management abilities. On the plus side: He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and bouncy, and his hands are big and soft. He finishes well inside, hits the glass hard and blocks shots. He even flashes jump-shooting ability. But he’s unrefined and a major project in every way.

29. Elie Okobo, PG, Pau-Orthez

The 20-year-old looks ready to graduate from France’s top league. Is he ready for the NBA? Probably not. He’s a good shooter, but his release is low. His court vision has gotten pretty good, but he doesn’t always put enough on his passes when identifying skip and cross-court targets. There’s time for him to develop.

Tier 16

30. Jevon Carter, PG, West Virginia

Carter is a tenacious defender at the point of attack, and he has the strength and competitiveness to defend bigger players on switches. But at 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-4 wingspan and subpar athleticism, it’s far from guaranteed his defensive attitude will actually yield positive results at the next level. He lacks the explosiveness and moves to really lead an offense, but at least he looks good as a spot-up 3-point shooter.

31. Anfernee Simons, SG, IMG Academy

Simons, who comes as close as possible nowadays to jumping to the NBA straight from high school, is a major project. A 6-foot-4 scoring guard, Simons has a tight handle and quick feet that he uses primarily to generate jumpers. He shoots with a quick release and has range beyond the NBA 3-point arc. He’s reliant on floaters inside, as he’s not nearly strong enough for the pros. He must also develop as a passer. Nobody drafting the 19-year-old should depend on him anytime soon.

32. Melvin Frazier, SF, Tulane

The 6-foot-6 Frazier brings a lot to defense – a 7-foot-2 wingspan, hyperactivity and supreme hops. He has made strides as a 3-point shooter, and his development there will be instrumental. He also works well as a cutter and can finish above the rim. Subpar ball-handling caps his ceiling and usefulness of this next skill, but he seems to possess good court vision.

NBA Power Rankings: After the big four at the top everything is wide open

Associated Press
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The top four on this ranking are fairly locked in, the top two teams in each conference. After that, it’s almost even down deep into the teens (how much gap is there between the Pelicans at 5 and the Jazz at 16?). The bottom eight are the same way, although Memphis has established itself as the tanking master right now. Sorry Gasol.

 
Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (50-13, Last Week No. 1). Winners of 16 straight, a clear title contender, and that only leaves two questions now: Can Houston set a new franchise record win streak (the current is 22-games during the 2007-08 season)? Second, can they hold off the Warriors for best record in the NBA? Golden State is 0.5 games back but has an easier schedule the rest of the way. That said, the Rockets care more about the top seed than the Warriors. Interesting matchup Friday night against Toronto.

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (50-14 LW 2). That Warriors’ malaise from right before the All-Star break is forgotten now. Coming out of the time off the Warriors are 6-0, their defense is focused again giving up a point per possession (100.1 per 100 possessions, fourth best in the NBA in that stretch), the Warriors are outscoring teams by 17.1 per 100 since the ASG, and they have become a team that starts fast thanks to the energy JaVale McGee brings as a starter (he doesn’t play much still, less than 15 minutes a night, but he gives them some athleticism and energy at the start they lacked).

 
Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (46-17, LW 3). Rookie starting small forward OG Anunoby has missed three games now with a sprained ankle, but there are signs he should return soon. Norman Powell couldn’t grab the job with Anunoby out. What has made Toronto the No. 1 seed in the east is depth — Fred VanVleet and the bench are outscoring opponents badly and turning small leads into blowouts. The Raptors are up just 2 games up on the Celtics for the top seed but have an easier schedule the rest of the way (including a couple tanking teams this week). Fun test Friday night at the Air Canada Centre when James Harden and the Rockets show up.

 
Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (45-20, LW 4). Boston’s defense has been good but not great since the All-Star break (although certainly better than it was in the run-up to the break), however, the offense has been phenomenal scoring 117 points per 100 (second only to the Warriors). Helping with that is Jayson Tatum, who was hot to start the season (better than 45% from three in Nov. and Dec.) but hit the rookie wall in January (plus teams adapted and challenged him more), when he shot 34.1% from deep. While he has taken fewer shots in February and March (he’s taking what the defense gives him), he’s shooting well again (39.1% in Feb.).

 
Pelicans small icon 5. Pelicans (36-26, LW 12). Winners of nine in a row to move all the way up to the four seed in the West, they have impressed of late. Anthony Davis is understandably the focus as he has played at an MVP level during this stretch (34.8 points, 15.2 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game in his last 5) but it’s been a team effort on the defensive end during the run when the Pels are a top-10 defense. The Pelicans can secure a playoff slot (as much as anyone can in the West) over the next few weeks because after playing at Sacramento Wednesday night New Orleans has 9-of-11 at home.

 
Pacers small icon 6. Pacers (37-27, LW 11). What matters most in a tight race for playoff seeding in the East is beating other playoff teams, which is why the Pacers three-game win streak against the Bucks, Wizards, then Bucks again is big and has vaulted them up to the four seed. The Pacers have done that with all defense (3rd in the NBA since the All-Star break) and in spite of the offense (25th). Darren Collison is expected to still be out this week (knee) and they miss the depth he brings at the point.

 
Blazers small icon 7. Trail Blazers (39-26, LW 14). Damian Lillard is in full-on beast mode — in his last 10 games Lillard is averaging 35.4 points and 5.3 assists per game, plus shooting 43 percent from three — and has the Trail Blazers on a eight-game win streak that has bumped them up to the three seed in the West. What’s gotten overlooked in the flash of Lillard is the Blazers have the second best defense in the NBA during this eight-game stretch, giving up less than a point per possession.

 
8. Timberwolves (38-28, LW 5). Minnesota, still without Jimmy Butler (as it will be until, at best, near the end of the season), have started 0-2 in a tough eight-game stretch against other teams in the playoff mix. They are still projected to finish with 47-48 wins, which will be enough to get in, but Minnesota is just two games up on the nine-seed Clippers and they need to find a way to bank a few more wins. Some help from veteran Jamal Crawford would be nice, he’s shooting just 32.8% in his last five games, averaging 10.2 points on 11.6 shots in those contests. They need his spark of the bench.

 
Spurs small icon 9. Spurs (37-27, LW 6). They have gone 3-8 in their last 11 and the reason is their usually-stout defense has fallen off, giving up 6 more points per 100 than their season average in those last 11 games. Their transition defense in particular has been an issue during this stretch. Getting Rudy Gay back is not going to help the defense, but they need his shot creation until (if?) Kawhi Leonard returns. Rough stretch with the Warriors, Thunder, and Rockets on the road this week.

 
Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (37-26 LW 8). No Tristan Thompson for two weeks or so due to his sprained ankle, which means Larry Nance Jr. starts at center, Rodney Hood is on the wing, and Cedi Osman is coming off the bench. It looked great against the struggling Pistons, but the Cavaliers now head out on a six-game road trip against three teams in the playoff mix (Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers) and a Lakers’ team playing well. That will be the real test for the new starting five.

 
Sixers small icon 11. 76ers (35-28, LW 9). Philly is headed to the playoffs this season, but looking ahead they still need to add more shooting next summer — the team is getting a below-average 0.98 points per possession on spot up looks (via Synergy Sports). That’s why they brought in Ersan İlyasova and Marco Belinelli off buyouts. Philly can try to retain J.J. Redick, or go after guys such as Wayne Ellington this summer, but they need shooters. The Sixers are a dominant home team (they have won 11 straight there) but started 1-1 in a string of 5-of-8 on the road.

 
Thunder small icon 12. Thunder (37-29 LW 13).. It can’t be said enough how much this team misses Andre Roberson: They are just 8-9 since his injury. Oklahoma City’s starters (Russell Westbrook, George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams) were +14.8 per 100 possessions with Roberson but just +1.8 per 100 with anyone else in that fifth spot. It’s not just the defensive end, the offense has been worse without him (while Roberson can’t space the floor as a shooter they had figured out how to make him a cutter and hide his deficiencies). On the bright side, Anthony just passed Jerry West to move into 20th on the league’s all-time scoring list.

 
Wizards small icon 13. Wizards (37-28, LW 7). The Wizards are 13-14 this season in close games (within three points in the final three minutes), but they are shooting just 37.1% in those clutch minutes and 30.8% from three. To be fair, they do get to the free throw line more than any other team in that setting (2.7 times per game in those three minutes). Bradley Beal is shooting 34.1% in those three minutes, and 31.3% from three (he missed a few chances to tie or take the lead against the Pacers Sunday). Just something to remember as we head into the playoffs.

 
Nuggets small icon 14. Nuggets (35-29, LW 18).. Paul Millsap has played four games since coming back and the Nuggets are working to get him integrated into the offense again (he had some nice two-man dribble hand-off action with Gary Harris Tuesday), and is averaging 11.8 points on 41% shooting, plus grabbing 6.5 rebounds a game. Denver needs him to come around and as a team to bank some wins now — they have 4-of-5 at home and 6-of-8 against teams below .500 (although two of those are the feisty Lakers), then the schedule gets much more difficult.

 
Clippers small icon 15. Clippers (34-29 LW 16). Since trading Blake Griffin, the Clippers have gone 9-5 and have a top-10 offense scoring 111 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan get the attention, but Tobias Harris has been key to the surge (his play in Orlando was overlooked by many this season, he’s been impressive). The Clippers have started out 2-2 on a six-game homestand, but starting next Tuesday have 9-of-11 on the road.

 
Jazz small icon 16. Jazz (34-30, LW 15). Utah’s run before the All-Star break was fueled by a few things, like getting healthy, but also near the top of the list was three-point shooting. However, after the break, Utah is shooting just 29.2% as a team. It’s one thing that has their offense fourth worst in the league since the ASG (the Jazz have still gone 4-2, their defense is saving them). If Utah misses the playoffs, it will be because of their offense, despite the emergence of Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz have won three in a row but now head out on the road to face the Pacers, Grizzlies, and Pelicans.

 
Heat small icon 17. Heat (34-31, LW 17). Since their December-to-January seven game winning streak, Miami is 9-14 (which is a little unlucky, they have a 0.1 net rating in that window). The issue has been the offense, which is bottom 10 in those 23 games. That said, thanks to Detroit’s collapse, Miami is going to make the postseason, however, it looks like they are going to land Boston or Toronto in the first round and that’s going to be a tough road.

Bucks small icon 18. Bucks (34-30 LW 10). Milwaukee’s bench is one of the key reasons the team has lost 5-of-6, the team lacks depth and it can’t just be the Giannis Antetokounmpo show (with a little help from Eric Bledsoe). I like that coach Joe Prunty has started playing Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker together, he needs to give that time to work (after some rough starts early).

 
Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (28-35 LW 20). In his last 20 games, Lonzo Ball is shooting 41.2% from three. It’s a big change from the 24% from the first 20 games. What is different? First, he’s gotten more comfortable with the speed of the NBA game and has a better understanding of how and where to get his shot off. The second part, the book on him is to go under picks and let him shoot — Gregg Popovich said as much after Lonzo drained threes to beat the Spurs last week. The second part of that is about to change.

 
Hornets small icon 20. Hornets (28-37, LW 19). With four losses in a row, the Hornets are now six games out of the last playoff spot with 17 games to go. It’s mathematically possible, but it’s not happening. To focus instead on the future, the Hornets have opened up the their GM search to a handful of up-and-comers from other organizations — that makes more sense than a retread, even if said new guy does not have North Carolina ties.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (29-35, LW 21). They have lost three in a row, 9-of-11, they have yet to beat a team not on a back-to-back since the Blake Griffin trade, and with all that their dreams of the playoffs have gone the way of the Dodo Bird. Since the trade, the Pistons have scored just 103.8 points per 100 possessions on offense, 24th in the NBA in that stretch. They could use Reggie Jackson back at the point, but Stan Van Gundy said this week “there’s nothing imminent with him.”

 
Mavericks small icon 22. Mavericks (20-45 LW 22). Dallas is giving Nerlens Noel some run to see what they’ve got, and in six games he’s averaged 4 points a game shooting 50% and has looked okay on that end, plus averaged a little over two blocks a game, but Dallas has struggled overall with him playing, getting outscored by 17.3 per 100 with him on the court (very small sample size alert). Nobody blows leads quite like the Mavericks, who have five times this year led by double digits in the last 10 minutes and still lost (the most recent was to Chicago last Friday).

 
Magic small icon 23. Magic (20-44, LW 26). Listen to the scuttlebutt around the league right now and Frank Vogel should be polishing up his resume. It’s never a good sign for a coach when the management above him changes, then the team doesn’t win (even if it’s not his fault, and I don’t lay most of the problems there at Vogel’s feet). Orlando won its first two games in March thanks to some hot shooting from Evan Founier, but lost at Utah to start a string of five games on the road against the West.

 
Hawks small icon 24. Hawks (20-45, LW 27). They have won 2-of-4, with a surprising win over the Pacers then Taurean Prince knocking down the game winner against the Hawks. Part of the reason for that is coach Mike Budenholzer has the Hawks defending fairly well again, over the pat 15 games the Hawks are 12th in the NBA on that end of the floor. It’s a foundation to rebuild on.

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (20-44, LW 28). Is the De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic pairing the backcourt of the future in Sacramento? It’s early, but those the team is -10 per 100 with the pair on the court for the season, and in the last 10 games that is -10.5 per 100 (Sacramento has a -8.6 net rating for the season, for comparison). The Kings picked up a couple of recent wins against other tanking teams (the Knicks and Nets).

 
Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (24-41, LW 23). They are 2-15 without Kristaps Porzingis this season, and now have lost 13 of their last 14. Without KP for this last stretch the New York offense is terrible as you would expect, scoring less than a point per possession, but Porzingis’ presence in the paint is missed as well, with the Knicks allowing 112.2 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the NBA for that stretch. The Knicks took a flier on Emmanuel Mudiay, but through 9 games he is shooting 33% overall, 12.5% from three, and has been a defensive mess.

 
Nets small icon 27. Nets (20-45, LW 24). While they still get outscored with him on the court (because this is not a good team), the Nets have been 6 points per 100 possessions better with D’Angelo Russell on the court during the last 15 games. He’s averaged 13.8 points per game in that time, but has not been efficient needing 13.2 shots to get there (and shooting 31% from three). The Nets have been 4.4 points per 100 better than their average when Russell has been paired in the backcourt with Spencer Dinwiddie, although the defense struggles with both of them on the court.

 
Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (21-42 LW 25).. The Bulls got their warning and we will see Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday back in the rotation (although likely in laminated minute). That said, the Bulls have found some success with a front court rotation of Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. That said, if the Bulls are trying to tank then playing Markkanen next to Lopez has proved an effective mess all season.

 
Suns small icon 29. Suns (19-47, LW 30). In his 10 games with the Suns, Elfrid Payton has averaged 15.7 points per game, dished out 6.3 assists per night, with a slightly below average true shooting percentage of 52.7, he’s been solid. That said, the Suns are -9.7 when Payton and Devin Booker are paired (they are -11.2 per 100 in those games total) and the defense struggles when both are on the court. I’m not sold this is the pairing of the future, that said in the draft the Suns need to take the best player regardless of position. They just need talent.

 
Grizzlies small icon 30. Grizzlies (18-45, LW 29). Losers of 14 in a row, that slides them down to the bottom of these rankings. They even lost to the Suns in a battle of losing streaks. This is good for the team heading into the draft, but Marc Gasol is frustrated with all the losing which could make this an interesting summer in Memphis. He wants to stay, but does he trust ownership/management enough to get this team back on track (just getting Mike Conley back is not enough).

Report: Bulls warned by league to stop resting healthy players

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo to all 30 teams recently saying that while developing younger players is a legitimate way to improve a team (especially late in the season for those out of the playoff chase) he would not tolerate tanking. That led to plenty of questions around the league about where that line is, especially for the franchises in the eight-team tankapaloza going on at the bottom of the NBA standings right now.

Chicago has rested veteran center Robin Lopez for six straight games and wing Justin Holiday five of the past six, instead starting David Nwaba (and playing heavy minutes for their young guys such as Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen who could be part of their future). That has crossed the line and the NBA league office warned the Bulls, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

After the NBA issued a warning to the Chicago Bulls this week about resting healthy players, the franchise now plans to play veteran starters Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday more extensively the remainder of the season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Bulls have lost 14 of their past 17 games and publicly stated in mid-February that they would begin sitting Lopez and Holiday….

The NBA and commissioner Adam Silver formally informed team owners about resting healthy players – perhaps an effort to diminish the league-wide verbiage of “tanking” – after the league moved up the start of this season to spread games out for coaches and players. The Bulls changed course on their plans to continue sitting Lopez and Holiday in the past day, league sources said.

Bulls president John Paxson discussed the issue with Nick Friedel of ESPN.

What exactly is “adhere to their recommendations” in practice? Do the Bulls start Lopez and Holiday, but play them 15 minutes or so a night and then get the young guys in? Exactly how much do they have to play them, because the Bulls currently would head into the lottery in eighth, giving them a 9.9 percent chance at a top-three pick. You can be sure they would like to “improve” those odds.

The Bulls didn’t go the full Mark Cuban and tell everyone tanking would be good for them, but their front office did say at the All-Star break they had instructed coach Fred Hoiberg to prioritize playing the young guys.

Three Things to Know: Kristaps who? Lauri Markkanen drops 33 and 10 on Knicks.

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kristaps who? Lauri Markkanen drops 33 and 10 on Knicks. In a season of surprise rookies having significant impacts — Donovan Mitchell in Utah, Kyle Kuzma is the Lakers’ best rookie, and OG Anunoby starting for a very good Raptors team, to name a few — Lauri Markkanen might be the biggest surprise of all. There were plenty of doubters — I’ll admit, myself included — about how well his game would translate from Arizona to the NBA, and Markkanen’s poor play at Summer League seemed to confirm that. However, he found his footing playing for Finland at EuroBasket then carried the momentum over to the NBA season, seemingly improving with each game.

Markkanen formally announced his arrival Wednesday, dropping 33 points and 10 boards on the Knicks — and doing in the face of Kristaps Porzingis, the guy Markkanen is most often compared to. Markkanen knocked down eight threes (the only other 7-footer to hit that many in a game is Dirk Nowitzki) and that wasn’t even his biggest highlight. The poster dunk of Enes Kanter was.

Markkanen had a monster game, but Bulls fans can chill on the “I’d rather have him than Porzingis” talk — KP is the better defender and has proven to be more diversified and efficient on offense over time. This was one game…. but what a game. Markkanen can shoot the three and most teams now body him up at the arc to try to take that away, but he has shown the ability to play in the post (exploiting mismatches off a switch), finish with his left hand in the paint, and even run the occasional fast break. Markkanen has some real versatility on offense, he’s not just a shooter. That’s why Nowitzki said Markkanen has the potential to be as good as Porzingis and the rookie lived up to that in Madison Square Garden.

Although he faded as the game wore on — Markkanen was just 1-of-9 in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes. The Bulls don’t stay in the game through three quarters without Markkanen, but in the fourth it was David Nwaba early and Justin Holiday late who made plays. Then in the OTs, it was Robin Lopez who had 6 points and 5 rebounds.

For a Knicks team two games out of a playoff slot in the East, this was the kind of game they need to win. And they didn’t.

2) Kevin Durant reaches 20,000 point milestone, but Lou Williams owns the night. Back after missing three games with a strained calf, KD returned to the court at Oracle Arena Wednesday night and became only the 44th NBA player in history to reach 20,000 points — and he is the second youngest to do it (LeBron James.

Durant is going to go down as one of the best pure scorers the game has ever seen. He’s rounded out his game — he can defend, run an offense, rebound, and do so much more — but few if any in the history of the game could create and score with him.

However, the night wasn’t Kevin Durant’s, it was Lou Williams’. The Clipper guard — by far the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year this season (although he started this one) — dropped 50 on the Warriors, leading the Clippers to a 125-106 road win that snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Warriors. Williams just knows how to get buckets, but this was a career high and came at a time the Clippers need it — no Blake Griffin and the Clippers are trying to stay relevant in the playoff race.

Williams’ name has come up in trade talks — a lot of playoff-bound teams could use a guy who knows how to score like that — but a report came out after the game that Williams and the Clippers have had talks of an extension. Maybe that’s trying to pump up his trade value (“if you’re not going to offer us much, we’ll just keep him”) but the idea the Clippers keeping the band together, re-signing DeAndre Jordan next summer, and trying to win with this core is not out of the question. Steve Ballmer and L.A. could have blown up the team and started a rebuild last summer when Chris Paul left, and they didn’t, so why start now?

3) Minnesota beats Oklahoma City in what may have been a first-round playoff preview. The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost three in a row and are 2-5 in their last seven — they went from looking like a team that had turned the corner to a team that was just making a U-turn. There are reasons for that — Andre Roberson has missed the last six games and they need his defense, plus the Thunder have little depth — but things still shouldn’t be this bad.

It was against the Timberwolves, players not named Russell Westbrook shot 17-of-56 (30.4 percent). That’s not going to cut it, and the Timberwolves won handily 106-88. Minnesota has played good defense of late and Jimmy Butler has looked like a bottom-of-the-ballot MVP candidate (not the top couple slots, but in a five-deep ballot he’s got to be considered), but you expect more out of the Thunder. As for the Timberwolves, they have been the best team in the NBA over the past 10 games (statistically), they have gotten healthy and found an identity, the only question is can they sustain it with the number of minutes Tom Thibodeau plays his starters?

Nothing is set in stone, but coming into Wednesday night this would have been the first-round 4/5 playoff matchup in the West. And that should make the Thunder worried because these teams are trending in opposite directions.