NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets strike gold in win streak, take over No. 1 spot

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As it has been for weeks, there is little separation among the top five teams in these rankings, so whoever gets hot for a couple of weeks climbs to the top. This week that is the Denver Nuggets, but the margins remain slim.

 
Nuggets small icon 1. Nuggets (16-7, last week No. 5).. They should be ranked this high just because of the sweet city jerseys, but also they are winners of a very impressive six in a row, which includes victories at Oklahoma City, Portland, Minnesota, and Toronto. They are the hottest team in the NBA right now. Much like the Nuggets’ season, it’s been a lot of Nikola Jokic with everyone else pitching in, for example, Gary Harris missed a couple of games then returned and dropped 27 on Portland. Paul Millsap has averaged 14 points and 8.4 rebounds a night, shooting 51.9% and knocking down 44.4% of his threes in the last five games. Also, I know the shot was late but this Jokic heave should have counted just because.

 
Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (20-5, LW 1). What team has the best net rating on the road this season? These Toronto Raptors, who are +8.4 per 100 possessions when they travel south of the border this season. Monday’s loss to Denver snapped an 8-game winning streak that included knocking off Golden State and a win at Memphis. Toronto now has 5-of-7 on the road and the two home games in that stretch are the 76ers and Bucks. That road net rating is about to be put to the test.

 
Thunder small icon 3. Thunder (15-7, LW 4). Russell Westbrook has tied Jason Kidd on the all-time triple-doubles list and will pass him soon enough — and of late Westbrook has played more like late-career Kidd, taking more three pointers and attacking the rim a little less. The Thunder and their elite defense feasted on a soft November schedule — as they should — but now things get tougher as Monday’s win in Detroit started 5-of-6 on the road, and the opponents get tougher.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (16-7, LW 2). When Avery Bradley is on the court, the Clippers defense is good — 104.7 points per 100 possessions allowed, which would be top five in the NBA. When he is off the court their defense ranges between average and bad. The problem is when Bradley is on the court his lack of scoring drags one of the NBA’s top five offenses down to below average. It’s so bad the Clippers have been 2 points per 100 possessions worse with Bradley this season (there is a lot of noise in that number, but it has relevance). It leaves Doc Rivers with some tough choices to make, both at the end of games and overall as the season progresses. The Clippers need Bradley to find his shot.

 
Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (15-7, LW 3). The Bucks have lost 2-of-3 and what’s disturbing is who they lost to, Charlotte and the Knicks. The problem is on the defensive end, which has been bottom five in the league over their last five games. It’s likely just a blip, some mid-season slippage, but Mike Budenholzer and crew need to get it together fast because a tough stretch of games comes up including the Warriors (Friday) and at Toronto (Sunday). That Raptors game also starts a run of 7-of-9 on the road.

 
Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (17-8, LW 6). Obviously, the key to the team’s recent 8-of-9 win streak is the matching white headbands of Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons, the guys Brett Brown calls the “defensive brothers.” However, everything on the defensive end is based around the decisions Joel Embiid makes — they call his defensive position “Batman.” Literally. That’s the team name for it, because whatever he does everyone else has to read and play off or it.

Pistons small icon 7. Pistons (13-8, 9). Detroit had sone 5-in-a-row (including spoiling Stephen Curry’s return to the Warriors) before running into OKC Monday, and the Pistons still have won 9-of-12. The key? Health. Blake Griffin is playing the best basketball of his career as the fulcrum of the offense, he’s going to be in consideration for an All-NBA spot if he keeps this up, but the most important thing is he’s been in all 21 games. Same with point guard Reggie Jackson. The schedule gets tougher — the Bucks and 76ers are the next two games — but the Pistons look like a solid playoff team. If they can just stay healthy.

 
Warriors small icon 8. Warriors (16-9, LW 7). Stephen Curry is back in the lineup and will bring a boost to an offense that was good, but not special, without him. However, just how much the Warriors miss Draymond Green’s defense has been evident in the last 9 games he missed — the Warriors defense has been 20th in the league in those games, surrendering 110.8 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors defense has been 9.8 points per 100 better when Green is on the court this season. Getting Curry back helps, but Golden State needs Green, too.

 
Lakers small icon 9. Lakers (14-9, LW 11). Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant have expressed frustration with how the Lakers have started to run everything on offense through LeBron James, saying the Lakers are playing too much like last year’s Cavaliers. Which is true. But what exactly did Magic expect, this “roster of playmakers” he wanted doesn’t actually have quality playmakers outside LeBron and maybe Lonzo Ball (unless you want to run a lot of moderately efficient isolations for Brandon Ingram). The Lakers will look like the Cavs until they land another superstar. The Laker offense in the last 9 games, since Rajon Rondo went down, is bottom five in the league. However, the Lakers are 6-3 in that stretch thanks to top five defense and some timely plays from LeBron.

 
Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (13-10, LW 13). Since starting to come off the bench, Gordon Hayward has started to find his groove. Hayward is averaging 13.8 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting, up from 10.1 on 39.9 as a starter. Hayward is hotting 39.1 percent from three as a starter, his assists are up (4.5 a game) and he is an average of +8.3 per game in the bench role. Boston has won three in a row and is in a soft part of the schedule for the next couple of weeks, so the wins should keep piling up.

 
Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (14-10, LW 8). Indiana is 5-4 without Victor Oladipo in this stretch, and while the offense misses the All-Star the defense has (surprisingly) been one of the top 5 in the NBA in that stretch, allowing just 101.5 points per 100 possessions. The one guy who has stood out during the Oladipo absence has been Domantas Sabonis, who was looking like a Most Improved Player candidate before but in the last nine games Indiana has had to run their offense through him more and Sabonis has been up to the task. He looks like the big of the future in Indy (sorry Myles Turner, who has played decently).

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (13-9, LW 10). Jaren Jackson Jr. is injecting himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation with his play, and he made a statement last Friday in Brooklyn scoring 7 points in the final 27 seconds to help force OT, and finishing the game with 36. He’s the best two-way rookie player by far. Despite Jackson’s play, the Grizzlies have hit a rough patch dropping 4-of-5, and now their next four games are other potential/likely West playoff teams (Clippers, Pelicans, Lakers, Nuggets).

 
13. Timberwolves (12-12, LW 21). Minnesota is now 8-3 since the Jimmy Butler trade and the key has been the second-best defense in the NBA in that stretch (despite not being able to stop Gordon Hayward last Saturday), led by Robert Covington, who even has Karl-Anthony Towns focused and protecting the rim well on that end. Towns has taken a step forward, Andrew Wiggins… is still Andrew Wiggins. Tonight against Charlotte is the end of a home-heavy stretch (10-of-12) and Minnesota heads out on the road for four, including at Portland and Golden State.

 
Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (12-10, LW 16). Dallas has won 9-of-11, including knocking off the Clippers and Trail Blazers this week. The Mavericks have been solid on offense — with rookie Luka Doncic leading the way — but the big key to the streak has been on the defensive end, where they have allowed just 101.6 per 100 (third best in the NBA in that stretch). What’s most impressive is Dallas has done this against a run of games against other potential playoff teams in the West, the kind of wins that signal this could be a playoff team in Dallas after all.

 
Blazers small icon 15. Trail Blazers (13-11, LW 12). This ranking almost feels too high for Portland the way it has played the past couple of weeks, having dropped 6-of-7 with a -13.1 net rating. Damian Lillard and the offense have struggled some in those games, but by far the bigger problem is a disastrous defense surrendering 119.5 per 100 possessions in those seven games. Lillard said after the game the team needs to look at itself in the mirror. It does. Portland also needs a better effort on defense and to spread the floor more and have someone other than just Lillard and C.J. McCollum shooting threes.

 
Rockets small icon 16. Rockets (11-12, LW 14). Just when you think things are turning around… Chris Paul returned (they are 0-5 without him) and the Rockets’ offense clicked in weekend wins against the Spurs and Bulls, it felt like Houston was finding a groove, then Monday the Timberwolves smacked them around. That was a cold shooting night for Houston but they scored just 9 points in the fourth quarter, which is disturbing. Plus they could not slow Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, something they did last season in the playoffs (when Minnesota had less shooting, so help was easier to give) but had no answers for Monday. The issues with the Rockets are real.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (12-13, LW 15). Julius Randle is having a Sixth Man of the Year level season in the Big Easy, scoring 18.3 points per game of 54.9 percent shooting, pulling down 9 rebounds a night, with career high PER of 22.6. But Randle and MVP-level performances from Anthony Davis are not enough right now, as the Pelicans have dropped 6-of-8 due to a struggling defense. That end of the court needs to get fixed fast as their next five games are against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (12-11, LW 20). After Sacramento got a win with Willie Cauley-Stein’s putback dunk, the Kings improved to 9-3 in clutch games this season (within five points in the final five minutes). That’s likely not sustainable, and why they have the net rating of a 10-13 team, but to their credit this Kings team just keeps finding ways to win. Tuesday’s win in Phoenix started a string of 6-of-8 on the road where getting tough wins will be put to the test.

 
Magic small icon 19. Magic (12-12, LW 19). They went a very respectable 3-3 on a six-game road trip, and two of those losses (Golden State and Portland) had something to do with Aaron Gordon’s back issues flaring up. Nikola Vucevic continues to put up numbers, and while it is tempting to think about the trade offers the Magic might get for him at the deadline, but this team is currently 7th in the East and if they are in the middle of a playoff chase he — or Terrence Ross, or anyone on the roster — is likely not available. At least at a reasonable price.

 
Jazz small icon 20. Jazz (12-13, LW 23). Last week the Jazz traded for Kyle Korver and he has been the spark they needed. Since the trade the Jazz are 3-1 and shooting 43.3% from three, including dropping a franchise record 20 threes on the Spurs Tuesday. That may not be sustainable (and the wins didn’t come against top tier talent) but it’s a start. The Korver effect will be put to the test with games against Houston and OKC this week, plus 4-of-6 coming up on the road.

 
Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (11-12, LW 17). Marvin Williams is going to miss at least a week with a shoulder injury, which isn’t major but the Hornets have been getting hit with a lot of bumps and bruises in the past couple of weeks and it exposes the lack of depth when this team’s key starters can’t go. The Hornets have lost 4-of-6 but have been able to hang around the playoff bubble in the East, but this team needs Kemba Walker to be Mr. Everything to win and he has been good but not his earlier MVP level of late.

 
Spurs small icon 22. Spurs (11-13, LW 18). They have had the worst defense in the NBA over the last 15 games allowing 115.4 points per 100, and with that have slid all the way down to the 14 seed (but still just two games out of the playoffs in the bunched up West). It’s just not like a Gregg Popovich team. Starting Friday when the Lakers visit the Spurs have six in a row at home and 8-of-10, this could be a springboard for them to bounce back up the standings in the West (if not… it would be concerning).

 
Heat small icon 23. Heat (9-14, LW 26). The inconsistent Miami Heat continue along, a team that lost to Atlanta and followed it up with wins over New Orleans and Utah. The Heat have been a gritty, tough-to-play against team that has overachieved the past couple of seasons, we’ve come to expect that from them, but this season Miami only shows that in flashes. Friday night in Phoenix starts a six-game road trip through the Western Conference.

 
Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (10-14, LW 22). Tomas Satoransky has moved into the starting lineup, with Scott Brooks saying he likes having a player who will accept a role. That’s a hint. However, if you want to focus on the Wizards’ issues start with John Wall, both on defense and his speed of play.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (8-17, LW 24). New York has had a series of improbable wins this season, the latest one being an overtime win against the bucks last Saturday at the Garden. That despite the fact Tim Hardaway Jr. is in a deep slump, shooting 34.2% in his last five games (he’s under 40% for the season, this has not been his year, but it’s been worse lately). Of course, there is only one play everyone wants to talk about with the Knicks.

 
Cavaliers small icon 26. Cavaliers (5-18, LW 27). Collin Sexton continues to be up-and-down, he was red hot for five games, then in his last five he’s shooting 37.6% overall and 25% from three. Rookies, that’s what you get. The Cavaliers did well — or, as well as they were going to do at this point — in the Kyle Korver trade. While they will save money going into next season with Alec Burks off the books, this season he can give them some minutes and buckets off the bench — and he gave them a game-winning dunk this week.

 
Nets small icon 27. Nets (8-17, LW 25). Brooklyn’s net rating on the season of -2 suggests this team should have an 11-14 record, three games better than what it does. Why have the Nets been “unlucky?” Because they struggle to close out close games, having gone 4-11 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes. The Nets system and hustle make up for a lot, but in close games they just don’t have the talent of many of the teams they go up against. The Nets have lost seven in a row with the Thunder and Raptors next on the schedule.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (5-19, LW 28). Atlanta has moved Kevin Huerter into the starting lineup and Kent Bazemore to the bench, and that sparked them to a couple of wins before dropping their last three. Taurean Prince is going to be out at least three weeks with a sprained ankle, that is a blow the Hawks’ frontcourt rotation. Still, tune in to watch Trae Young because whether he’s red hot or ice cold — and it can be either at any time — he puts on a show.

 
Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (5-20, LW 29). Fred Hoiberg is out as coach and now Jim Boylen is tasked with getting this team to play with a little more grit and fire than the mild-mannered Hoiberg could get out of the crew. Smart move giving Boylen the head coaching job for the rest of the season — and saying they want him to be back next season — so he has some leverage to get the players to buy into whatever changes he makes. That said, the biggest problem with this team was not Hoiberg, he just wasn’t the answer either.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (4-20, LW 30). They have dropped six in a row, but if you’re looking for a bright spot rookie De'Anthony Melton stepped up with 21 points in the Suns’ loss to the Kings and looked like a player who needs some more run. Melton was a second-round pick who barely played in college, but out of high school was considered a big-time talent, maybe the Suns lucked out and got a steal with him. We need to see more of him to understand just what the Suns might have.

John Wall believes Wizards have chance in wide-open East

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LeBron James — the man who has led his team to eight straight NBA Finals — has moved from the East to the West and the Los Angeles Lakers. With that has come the perception that the Eastern Conference is more wide open than it has been since LeBron started to dominate it.

Is it? Toronto and Boston were the top two regular season seeds in the East and both should be seriously improved — the Celtics will have a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward on a team that almost made the Finals without them, and the Raptors just upgraded with a potential MVP in Kawhi Leonard. Plus, the Sixers should get noticeably better with their young roster of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz (now with a jumper) all a year older and having worked on their game this summer.

That’s not even getting into the potential of the Milwaukee Bucks with a new coach, and what should be an improved Indiana Pacers team.

John Wall believes it will be more open.

And he believes his Wizards can be part of that mix, just like he thinks they could/should have been the past couple of years. Here is what he said in Las Vegas at the USA Basketball mini-camp, via Bleacher Report.

“I think we have a better team now, and the East is more wide-open now that [LeBron James is] out of the picture,” Wall said…

“I think we could have competed the last two years if we didn’t have to deal with injuries,” Wall said… “Falling to the eight seed (last season), playing Toronto, a heck of a team, I felt like we should have beaten those guys, but they came out the better team at that time,” Wall said…

“I think we have a better team now.”

On paper, the Wizards can be dangerous. Wall at the point, Bradley Beal at the two, and Otto Porter at the three makes up a terrific perimeter starting group. With them are solid role players such as Markieff Morris, Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and then they now have Dwight Howard in the paint. (Howard can be a fit with the Wizards, if he plays his role, but that hasn’t always gone smoothly.)

However, I need to see it before I buy in.

I need to see Wall play all-out on both ends and look more like an All-NBA level player (he’s only made that team one time). Beal and Wall both need to stay healthy. Howard needs to set picks, not demand the ball in the post a lot, and be a nightly force on defense, not an occasional one. Most importantly, will their notoriously troubled locker room chemistry improve with the addition of Howard to the mix?

There are a lot more questions than answers for Washington heading into next season. It’s on Wall and company to answer them.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown: I wanted LeBron James to stay in Eastern Conference

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The 76ers’ Dario Saric and Wizards’ Tomas Satoransky each said they wanted to avoid LeBron James in the playoffs – and both got their wish. Philadelphia and Washington got eliminated before facing LeBron’s Cavaliers.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown is taking a different approach with LeBron leaving Cleveland for the Lakers.

Brown, via Tom Westerholm of MassLive:

“To be honest, I wanted him to stay,” Brown said. “I was kind of mad, I wanted to be the team to go through him. I feel like we could have had it last year, but we fell a little bit short. But I applaud someone doing what’s best for him. He did what’s best for him in that situation. I wanted him to stay in the East. People say, I don’t like when people say ‘Now that LeBron’s gone, y’all are the favorite.’ That irks me. A lot of us, we feel the same, because we feel that whether he was there or wasn’t there, we was coming out.”

LeBron has looked back fondly on his rivalry with the Celtics during his first Cleveland tenure and time with the Heat. It was just beginning to reignite. The Cavs swept Boston in the 2015 first round, beat Boston 4-1 in the 2017 Eastern Conference finals then escaped Boston 4-3 in the 2018 conference finals.

The younger Celtics would have eventually overtaken Cleveland, even if LeBron had stayed, but this hastens their ascent. Boston will battle the 76ers (and maybe others) for Eastern Conference supremacy, but the road is far clearer with LeBron gone.

Yet, Brown opposes in a commendable display of competitiveness. That’s part of what makes him such a promising player.

But I bet he’ll still appreciate all the winning the Celtics do with LeBron in Los Angeles.

Report: Clippers trade Austin Rivers to Wizards for Marcin Gortat

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DeAndre Jordan could leave the Clippers, either by opting out to enter unrestricted free agency or opting in to facilitate a trade.

If he does, L.A. will be prepared.

The Clippers are sending Austin Rivers to the Wizards for Marcin Gortat in an exchange of expiring contracts.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This trade could improve the mood in both locker rooms.

By dealing Rivers – son of coach and former team president Doc Rivers – the Clippers are eliminating a political problem. Teammates resented Austin’s favored status, and it might have even contributed to Chris Paul‘s exit. Though the situation was more complex than that, perception matters greatly. The only way to move past the issue was firing Doc or dropping Austin. Once the Clippers extended Doc’s contract and Austin opted into his $12.65 million salary, trading the guard become favored.

Gortat always seemed to have tension with John Wall. Though they managed it well enough, that gets exhausting.

Beyond the interpersonal dynamics, Rivers was expendable in L.A., and this trade saves Washington money.

The Clippers have Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams as lead guards and just drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson in the lottery. Beverley and Williams are better than Rivers. Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson have higher upsides.

Based on their current roster, this puts the Wizards in line to save $3,203,263 – $915,218 in salary and $2,288,045 in luxury tax. They could trim payroll even further.

In Washington, Rivers will slide behind John Wall and/or Bradley Beal at guard. The Wizards especially need another backup shooting guard after Jodie Meeksperformance-enhancing drug suspension, but they also don’t seem to believe enough in promising Tomas Satoransky as backup point guard.

Washington might seek another center in free agency. It’ll be a buyers’ market at that position. A hodgepodge of Ian Mahinmi, Markieff Morris and Jason Smith is far from inspiring.

Gortat could start at center in L.A. if Jordan leaves. If Jordan returns, Gortat would be a good backup. The Clippers also have Boban Marjanovic at center, though none of his three teams (Spurs and Pistons previously) have figured out quite what to do with him.

2018 NBA Mock Draft of entire first round

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The ping-pong balls have bounced and the basketball gods have shined on the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks.

Will the Suns take Deandre Ayton No. 1? Will Luka Doncic slip down the board? Where will Trae Young land?

Rob Dauster of NBC’s College Basketball Talk and myself spent hours after the lottery ended putting together a full first-round mock draft. You can listen to the two-part podcast here and see how we argued and reasoned our way into these picks. Dauster brings incredible knowledge of these college players (and an international), and I tried to think like these teams and what they will prioritize in the draft (usually just the best player on the board, but still).

Here’s how we see the first round shaking out.

Suns small icon 1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). The consensus No. 1 pick could be a franchise-changing player with unlimited skills on the offensive end — he can finish at the rim, face up, hit threes or midrange jumpers, is mobile and can play in transition, and just generally looks like a modern NBA five. The only knocks are consistent effort questions, which show mostly on the defensive end (he can block shots but is not consistent there). If he lives up to his potential, he will be a dominant force who will make many All-NBA teams and more. He can be the inside to Devin Booker’s outside in Phoenix.

Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Serbia). He put up good numbers against men in the EuroLeague and ABC League last year, leading powerhouse Real Madrid at age 19. He’s a gifted passer and playmaker who is at his best in transition or coming off the pick and reading the play. He’s the most NBA-ready player in this draft. The only question is his ceiling, he’s not al elite NBA-level athlete and struggled some when defended by NBA-level athletes in Europe (the NBA’s speed and length will be an adjustment). Will make a strong playmaking combo with D’Aaron Fox.

Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks:. Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). Just a pure scorer who is an elite athlete and may have the fastest second jump in this draft. He has the full bag of tricks on offense — can shoot the three and is strong around the rim — and is going to be able to score at the NBA level right away. There are real questions about his defense (Duke went to a zone last season in part because of how he got torched in pick-and-rolls). Bagley and John Collins can be Atlanta’s front line of the future.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). The Grizzlies have a center (Marc Gasol) but can’t pass up the best guy on the board right now and a prototypical center for the direction the NBA is going — 7’5” wingspan, a good rim protector who can block shots but also can switch on the perimeter and stay in front of smaller players, can finish around the rim with either hand, and can shoot the three (despite a slightly odd shot). He’ll need to get stronger and prove he can be consistent (and stay out of foul trouble) on defense, but he’s young and some scouts think he could be the best player in the draft eventually.

Mavericks small icon 5: Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, 7’0” center (Texas) The Mavericks have been looking for a center ever since the DeAndre Jordan debacle, this can be there answer. Bamba has the potential to be an elite rim protecting center with his 7’9.5” wingspan and instincts, plus he moves well enough to cover on the perimeter on pick-and-rolls. A lot of comparisons to Rudy Gobert here, and like Gobert he’s got a lot of work to do to get strong enough to make this work.

Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: . Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). The Elfrid Payton era is over, the Magic are in the midst of another rebuild, and whoever the new coach ends up being he is going to need a point guard to lead the squad (and the Magic need a name to help them sell tickets). Young has shooting range out to 30 feet and isn’t afraid to show it off, he also sees the court well and makes entertaining passes — he also commits a lot of turnovers by not making the simple pass. There are questions about his defense. A lot of fans want to compare him to Stephen Curry, but if he doesn’t put in a lot of work and accept his role there is Jimmer Fredette potential here.

Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). Long term, Carter can be the more traditional big man the Bulls play next to Lauri Markkanen on the front line. He has an NBA body and a varied offensive game — he can post up back-to-basket, has a variety of moves, can face up, and can hit a three. Carter is strong on the glass, too. The big concern is defense, where he’s slow footed and (along with Bagley) struggled so much on that end Coach K was forced to play zone at Duke. What happens when he gets dragged into NBA pick-and-rolls?

Cavaliers small icon 8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn): Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). Koby Altman and the Cavs front office is not going to know LeBron James’ plan when they pick, which puts them in a very tough spot. Bridges is a guy who can help on the wing now if LeBron returns. He’s very athletic, can knock down threes, can guard either wing spot, and knows how to play a role. He could step right into a “3&D” role. If LeBron leaves Bridges can be part of the future, but he’s not a franchise cornerstone guy (there are none left on the board at this point).

Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). This would be a roll of the dice by the new Knicks front office, but a good one at this point in the draft. Coming into this season Porter Jr. was projected as a top-three — potentially No. 1 — pick but a back injury sidelined him for most of the season, and he didn’t look 100% upon his return. The medical reports on him will play a key role in where he goes. He’s also rumored to have a real ego. That said, the man when healthy is an elite athlete who can score inside and out and will just get buckets on the NBA level. Potentially a good pairing with Kristaps Porzingis on the front line.

Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova) The Sixers need shooting from the wings — Marco Belinelli, Ehsan Ilyasova, and J.J. Redick are free agents and not the long-term answer — so they will take the guy already beloved in Philly who is a perfect fit. Bridges shot 43.5% from three last season, although he needs to improve his defense he has the athleticism and length (7’2” wingspan) to do it.

Hornets small icon 11.Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). Whether new GM Mitch Kupchak decides to keep Kemba Walker or trade him and start a rebuild, they still could use depth and playmaking at the point (the Hornets fall apart with Walker off the floor). Sexton is a hard-working, exceptional athlete who loves to drive the lane (but needs to work on his decision making) and could be an elite defensive point guard in the NBA. Fans are going to love his aggressive style of play that borders on reckless, new coach James Borrego maybe not as much.

Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). While Los Angeles has a lot of guys at the point — Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic — none of them are the future for the franchise at that position (unless you’re a much bigger Austin Rivers fan than the rest of us). With Gilgeous-Alexander Los Angeles gets a big point guard who has a nice jump shot and can hit threes, and who is crafty and slithery more than classically explosive, and he knows how to manage a game. He will fit in well with this team (whatever DeAndre Jordan decides and what direction the franchise goes).

Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Robert Williams, 6’10” power forward/center (Texas A&M). If DeAndre Jordan leaves in free agency the Clippers will want a new big man, if he stays they could use some depth behind him (or next to him at the four if Doc Rivers wants to play big). Williams is an elite athlete, long and can jump out of the building, and he should become a strong rim-protecting center. He’s also a bit of a development project, particularly on the offensive ends. Will Williams put in the work to get where he needs to? If so, this becomes a good pick.

Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets:. Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky). He has the potential to be the kind of switchable forward NBA teams covet these days, with good shot mechanics (despite hitting just 34% of threes in college) and good athleticism. His defense needs to improve to cover smaller wings at the NBA level. One of the youngest players in this draft, so a lot of room to grow.

Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards: Aaron Holiday, 6’1” point guard (UCLA). When John Wall sat last season, the Wizards were 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse, and coach Scott Brooks doesn’t seem to fully trust Tomas Satoransky in the backup PG role (hence too much Ty Lawson in the playoffs). Enter Holiday (the younger brother of Jrue Holiday), he is a very smart game manager who can light it up and averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 42.9 percent from three last season. Can play well off the ball, too (as he had to next to Lonzo Ball the season before). Not a high ceiling, but will be a quality backup PG in the NBA for a long time.

Suns small icon 16. Phoenix Suns (via Heat): Lonnie Walker IV, 6-‘4” shooting guard, (Miami). The Suns have wings, but for a team looking for high-upside players to develop this is their guy at this point in the draft. One of the best athletes in the draft, he’s a good shot creator who can get to the rim and finish. He has the skills to be a very good NBA defender, but he needs to put them to use. To thrive at the NBA level, his jumper has to be more consistent and his handles need to improve. He may not have been used properly in Miami and could thrive in an NBA setting, but he needs to put in the off-season work.

Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks. Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). The Bucks love to draft long, high-upside projects, and Smith is all of that. 6’11” wingspan, crazy athletic, and he has show the potential to be a very good defender. He needs to show consistency with his shooting (he hit threes at a 45% clip but didn’t take many) and his handles need to improve. He’s a project but could develop into a steal and another long athlete for the Bucks.

Spurs small icon 18. San Antonio Spurs: Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7 forward (Ohio St.). The guy is a shooter, although his three-point percentage in college may not show it. Not an explosive athlete but smart, still he’s going to have to become a better defender to earn regular minutes at the NBA level.

Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves):. Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). A top high school prospect who didn’t blow people away in college, he is a valued NBA commodity — a shot creator on the wing who can play and guard multiple positions. He’s not an elite athlete and his shooting has to improve, but he’s young and can develop into a quality wing.

20:Minnesota Timberwolves: Chandler Hutchison, 6’7” wing (Boise St.) Minnesota has Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, but Hutchinson can bring scoring off the bench behind them. He’s a fluid athlete whose shot needs to get better, but he’s got the potential. A four-year college guy he can likely help right away, he just needs to add some range to his shot.

Jazz small icon 21. Utah Jazz: Melvin Frazier, 6’6” small forward (Tulane). This may be a little high for Frazier (most teams have him later first or early second), but we’re a little higher on him than most. With a 7’2” wingspan he has the potential to be a very good NBA defender. The question is his shooting — he hit a respectable 38.5% on threes, but a lot of people are convinced he’s not that good a shooter (which is why he could fall to the second). If the Jazz can develop that shot they will have a player who will fit what they do on the wing.

Bulls small icon 22. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans): Khyri Thomas, 6’3” shooting guard (Creighton). He’s going to be kind of a “3&D” two guard who can cover both wing spots (thanks to a 6’11” wingspan) and he can hit spot up jumpers. This is not a high ceiling player, but is a high-floor one — he’s not going to be a bust, he will be part of an NBA rotation.

Pacers small icon 23. Indiana Pacers: Jacob Evans, 6’6” wing, (Cincinnati). In an NBA where versatility on the wing is what all 30 teams are seeking, Evans will fit right in. He’s a good defender at multiple positions and can hit the three. He’s an NBA role player, coming off the bench at first, but has real value for the Pacers.

Blazers small icon 24. Portland Trail Blazers: Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” center (Western Kentucky) An elite recruit coming out of high school who never played at Western Kentucky because he wanted to transfer but would have had to sit out under NCAA rules, he’s still got the size and physical tools NBA teams want in a center. He can be a shot-blocking rim-runner with a couple of years of development. It’s a good risk at this point in the draft.

Lakers small icon 25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cavaliers): Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard (IMG Academy). A top-10 prospect who decided not to go to college and headed to prep school instead (ala Thon Maker). He is a project who is going to take a couple of years to come around, but could be worth the wait. He’s a versatile combo guard who should play off the ball mostly (which is fine next to Lonzo Ball). This is a good spot in the draft to roll the dice, and the Lakers did just that.

Sixers small icon 26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). De’Anthony Melton, 6’3” guard (USC). He sat out this season with Southern California due to being at the heart of the FBI investigation into college basketball, which means workouts will be huge for his standing. He needed to improve as a shooter with the season off, but he was a very good defensive guard who could do some playmaking when called upon.

Celtics small icon 27. Boston Celtics: Bruce Brown, 6’3” shooting guard (Miami)He has the versatile skills set that Brad Stevens likes and could fit into the Celtics’ rotation. He’s a very strong defender who is physically gifted, but he needs to work a lot on his shot and handles to really impact the NBA game.

Warriors small icon 28. Golden State Warriors: Jalen Brunson, 6’2” point guard (Villanova). The point guard who led Villanova to a national title, he’s a high IQ player who is polished, can manage the game, and is a good facilitator of the offense. He’s not going to be elite (not athletic enough) and could struggle some defensively, but coming off the bench for the Warriors and feeding their shooters is something he can do. Brunson will stick in the NBA a long time.

Nets small icon 29. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors): Tyus Battle, 6’7” wing (Syracuse). He had to carry the Syracuse attack last season as their only good shot creator, so his efficiency should go up in the NBA. He has NBA size, can play with the ball in his hands, and he has the potential to be a good NBA defender.

Hawks small icon 30. Atlanta Hawks (via Raptors:. Shake Milton, 6’6” guard (SMU). A tall point guard who can play the two as well, he’s got a good shooing stroke. He battled injuries last season, which kept his production down. This guy could be a steal this deep in the draft.