The NBA draft lottery is still a week away and the NBA playoffs are getting down to the nitty-gritty.
So we’re going to distract everyone by getting a jump on the proceedings and preview which prospects might go where, if the lottery were held and there was no movement at all.
Yes, the odds of every team drafting in the place they were given according to their finish are probably about the same as the Denver Nuggets have at winning the right to no. 1 with 0.5 percent odds.
There wasn’t a whole lot of movement last year with the Boston Celtics (via last place Brooklyn), retaining the first pick. The Lakers and Suns flip-flopped the second and fourth picks in the lottery.
This year, the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns have the top odds at retaining the first pick overall at 25 percent and Memphis has second best odds at 19.9. After that the chances fall off precipitously.
We have taken the time to rifle through a few prospect boards and had a look at each non-playoff team’s greatest need. With that, we give you just who they should select, with the added wrinkle of three playoff teams and their choices (based on trades that netted them picks in the top 14). Starting with lowest to highest pick.
17. Detroit Pistons, 42nd Overall – SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
The likelihood the Pistons retain the no. 12 pick, which they sent to the Clippers in the Blake Griffin trade, are slim to none. They have to land in the top four and have a miniscule 2.5 percent chance at top 3, so that point is moot. Thus, the 39-43 Pistons will have to content themselves with a first pick at no. 42 in the second round. Given that they dealt competent three-point shooters Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris to the Clips in the Griffin swap, the Pistons should target a shooting guard. A player that shows up anywhere from 37th to 43rd on some in-the-know draft prospect lists is Kentucky SG Hamidou Diallo. The freshman from Queens, N.Y. put up pretty good numbers for a first-year player in the SEC. In 37 games, he averaged 10 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, while shooting 33.8 percent from beyond the arc. That percentage may not be eye-popping, but remember that he shared floor time and touches with high profile players like Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Consider him a project player worthy of a second round selection.
16. Brooklyn Nets, 29th Overall – C Brandon McCoy, UNLV
This will be the last year — it’s been way too long — that the Nets don’t own their destined first round pick. Cleveland, of all teams, owns the Nets 8th overall pick (pre-lottery) but the Nets did re-coup a 2018 first rounder. That pick is courtesy of the Toronto Raptors, who sent what is now the 29th pick in the draft to the Nets in the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade last summer. The biggest holes Brooklyn needs to fill are in the front court, specifically at center. Neither Jarrett Allen, the Nets 2017 first rounder (22nd overall) or the steadily declining Jahlil Okafor, picked up from Philly, look like long terms solutions at this point. Brandon McCoy, a 7’1″ freshman with the UNLV Rebels looks like a player and could at worst push Allen and Okafor to step it up. McCoy led UNLV in scoring with 16.9 PPG in 33 contests, recording 10.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He had 18 double-doubles this season in the Mountain West Conference, including a season ending double-double against 22nd ranked Nevada. Back-up plan: PF/C Moritz Wagner of Michigan.
15. Los Angeles Lakers, 25th Overall – PF/C Jontay Porter, Missouri
The Lakers, like a couple of other non-playoff squads here, gave up a first rounder (slated at 10th overall) in a previous trade, but were able to salvage a first round pick from the Cavaliers in the trade involving Isaiah Thomas for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. Which means they will picking 25th overall. Not a great spot, but they should be able to add bench depth, at minimum. A center or power forward would be a logical choice, seeing as they have the least depth at that position. Slotted right at 25 on one particular draft ranking board is Missouri PF/C Jontay Porter. The brother of probable high first rounder and Tigers teammate Michael Porter Jr., Jontay finished fourth in Mizzou scoring with 9.9 points per game, along with 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 blocks. He plays a sound game and was decent against ranked opponents in his freshman year, including a 13-point, 8-rebound, 3-block effort in a win over Kentucky in February. Back-up plan: SG Tyus Battle, Syracuse.
14. Denver Nuggets, 14th Overall – SG Khyri Thomas, Creighton
So, here is where the lottery spots start and as we said above, we are ranking the non-playoff teams as is, without the lottery. The Nuggets, with a 0.5 percent chance of winning the no. 1 pick, aren’t likely to move up. The Nuggets, who barely missed the playoffs, could use another pure shooter at guard and Creighton’s Thomas was a prolific scorer in his third season with the Blue Jays. He finished second in team scoring at 15.1 points per game, while shooting a stellar 41.1 percent from three-point range. He also chipped in 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a team high 1.7 steals. The Nuggets will also benefit from his attention to defence, as they gave up 108.5 points per game last year, which was ninth worst in the NBA. He’s a bit of long shot at his age (22) and the fact that since he hasn’t yet hired an agent, he could still return to Creighton for his senior year. Back-up plan: SG Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech.
13. Los Angeles Clippers, 13th Overall – SF Miles Bridges, Michigan State
After the Blake Griffin trade, the Clips did better than most expected, but still missed the playoffs by five games at 42-40. They were smart to retain their 13th pick and astutely grabbed Detroit’s (which will be no. 12 if they don’t move up in the lottery, which is more than likely). The biggest need the Clips need to address is at small forward. Starter Danilo Gallinari was injured too much, getting into just 21 games and none of the bench depth forwards in Wesley Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell or C.J. Williams were anywhere near exceptional. Slotted in at least two big time draft boards, then, at no. 13 is Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. He was the Spartans’ top scorer and a First Team All Big 10 Coaches pick in his sophomore season. Bridges recorded 17.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in 34 contests. He also shot 36.4 percent from three-point range. Back-up plan: SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova.
12. Los Angeles Clippers, 12th Overall – PG Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, Kentucky
L.A. has about a snowball’s chance in hell of moving up from either their own 13th position in the lottery (0.6 percent) or at no. 12, the pick they got from Detroit in the Blake Griffin swap (0.7 percent). So, what we could see them doing is packaging both picks up to move up in the draft to maybe get a premier small forward in Luka Doncic. But for the sake of argument — and sanity — we’ll pretend the Clips take the best players available at 12 and 13, according to organizational needs. Since the 12th overall pick isn’t a headliner and more of a future impact player, L.A. needs to look at future guard needs. Austin Rivers and Patrick Beverley are both UFA in 2019, while recently acquired Avery Bradley is a UFA this year. There are some good guards available right around there, like Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, Lonnie Walker IV of Miami and Zhaire Smith of Texas Tech. We like Gilgeous-Alexander to L.A. if he is still available at 12. Back-up plan: Lonnie Walker IV, Miami.
11. Charlotte Hornets, 11th Overall – PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
There is a strong likelihood that Hornets All-Star point guard Kemba Walker might be traded this off-season, which means the Hornets need to stock the cupboard with a prospect. Walker’s name is being bandied about because they Hornets could go a number of ways after yet another disappointing season. Cutting salary, i.e. Walker’s last year at $12 million, while maximizing his trade value is definitely on the table. There are a number of good young point guards in this draft and a name that comes up most frequently from the ninth to 11th spots is Alabama’s Collin Sexton. The freshman guard easily led all Crimson Tide in scoring with 19.2 points per game, so he is a shooter. He contributed 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists to the Alabama cause in 33 games, too. Sexton was his team’s best player in a second round 81-58 loss to eventual champion Villanova at the tournament, dropping 17 points and adding four rebounds and three assists. Back-up plan: PG Aaron Holiday, UCLA
10. Philadelphia 76ers or Boston Celtics, 10th Overall (From the Lakers) – SG/SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Follow the bouncing ball on this one. If this lottery pick, courtesy of a trade, ends up being anywhere from a second to a fifth, it’s Boston’s. With a 4.0 percent chance at a top 3, not very likely. If it goes anywhere else or stays at 10, more likely, the Sixers get it. Thus, we are going to pretend that the lottery says no. 10 and that the Sixers don’t end up trading it for established pieces. What then, does Philadelphia most need? As the team is still in the NBA playoffs, it would seem they don’t need much, however, premier SG JJ Redick is a free agent after this season is over. Therefore, taking a bomber like Villanova’s Mikal Bridges at 10th wouldn’t be the worst pick. He was second on the national champions in scoring with 17.7 points per game and shot a blistering hot 43.5 percent from three point territory. At the tournament he was 16-for-36 from beyond the arc (44.4 percent), showing he can rise to the occasion. A solid pick at this spot, should they choose to keep it. Back-up plan: SF Kevin Knox, Kentucky.
9. New York Knicks, 9th Overall – SF Kevin Knox, Kentucky
At this spot, it’s a toss-up as to who the Knicks might target. As they need a ‘3’ who can shoot, make plays and defend, one of either Villanova’s Mikal Bridges or Kentucky’s Knox fit the bill. For argument’s sake, we say they take Knox, who is young but has a high ceiling. For historical perspective, the last time they picked ninth, in 2003, they took Georgetown PF Michael Sweetney, who didn’t last all that long. The last small forward they took in the first round of any draft was Danilo Gallinari at no. 6 in 2008, and he’s long gone to the Clippers. Given their kind of erratic drafting, Knox might make sense for them at nine. He comes from a big-time school and is a project player. He can shoot (he led the Wildcats in scoring at 15.6 PPG) and rebound (5.4 per game), while tossing in the odd steal (0.8 per game). As a freshman, he made as many mistakes as he had successes, however, in Kentucky’s Sweet 16 loss to Kansas State at the tournament, Knox was the second best player on his team, dropping 13 points and adding eight rebounds, a steal and a block. Back-up plan: SG/SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers, 8th Overall – PF/C Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
Like they needed it, but the Cavs own Brooklyn’s eighth overall pick. The only thing that could make it better is that the pick moves up, for which it has a 2.8 percent chance. The Cavaliers could move up to the top three, considering there is a 9.9 percent chance of that happening. If all goes according to typical lottery history, Cleveland will pick eighth and there are some good players slotted here. Where they could use depth, to start, is in the front court and Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. can fill both power forward and center positions. He had a great freshman season for the Blue Devils, scoring 13.5 points per game, while chipping in 9.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and a team high 2.1 blocks. Carter was true to form at March Madness, averaging 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. His best effort was a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) against Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Back-up plan: PG Collin Sexton, Alabama.
7. Sacramento Kings, 7th Overall – PG Trae Young, Oklahoma
The Kings were brutal last year and barring a movement to the top 3 (they have a 5.3 percent chance at no. 1 and a 18.3 percent chance at top 3), they will pick seventh at the draft. They have needs at every position, so we think they’ll take the best player available and right now that guy is projected to be Oklahoma PG Young. He was a scoring machine for the Sooners, leading the NCAA in points per game at an astounding 27.4. The outstanding freshman also led the nation in assists at 8.8 and recorded 3.9 rebounds, and 1.7 steals, while shooting 36 percent from three point territory. The Sooners guard had four games with 40 or more points, including 43, with 11 rebounds and seven assists against then no. 16 ranked TCU in January (Oklahoma won 102-97 in overtime). He won the Wayman Tisdale Award as the top freshman in the NCAA and was a consensus All-American First Team selection. Back-up plan: PG Collin Sexton, Alabama.
6. Chicago Bulls, 6th Overall – SF Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
The Bulls have many up-and-coming youngsters at just about every position. The one we’ve identified as being deficient, though, is small forward. Second year man Denzel Valentine could use an understudy at forward and if the Bulls don’t magically move up, Mizzou’s Michael Porter Jr. just might be available at no. 6. Two well-known draft prospect boards have tagged him at sixth and considering he played just three games in his freshman season with the Tigers, he probably shouldn’t go any higher than sixth (wait and see). Of those three games, though, one was against Georgia (a loss) in the second round of the SEC tournament and the other in a loss to Florida State in the first round of March Madness. Against the Bulldogs, Porter had 12 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a block. In the 67-54 defeat to the Seminoles, Porter, who didn’t start, had the second most points by any player (16) and grabbed a game high 10 rebounds and three steals. Back-up plan: SG/SF Luka Doncic, International Player.
5. Orlando Magic, 5th Overall – SG/SF Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
It is said in some places that the Magic really need a point guard, but we think that if international player Luka Doncic, who is rated to go anywhere from second to sixth, is available, they should take him. Yes, he’s 6’7″ but as a teenager playing with pro club Real Madrid, his numbers more resemble those of a PG/SG than a wing. In 27 Euro League games Doncic averaged 16.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Then, in 24 Liga ACB contests, he logged 12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.0 steals. The native of Ljubljana, Slovenia was a two-time EuroLeague Rising Star and made the Spanish League’s All-Young Players Team two years in a row in 2016 and 2017. He just turned 19 and having spent three seasons in the top Spanish League, he is plenty polished. Back-up plan: PG Trae Young, Oklahoma.
4. Atlanta Hawks, 4th Overall – C Mohamed Bamba, Texas
The Hawks need a big man who can defend the rim and we firmly believe that if they don’t move up and have a shot at Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, the Hawks should go after Texas Longhorns’ 6’11’ center Mohamed Bamba. He is still a teenager and a work in progress having played just one season of college ball, but he has a 7’9″ wingspan, which makes his arms solid gold real estate. In 30 games with the ‘Horns, Bamba logged 30.2 minutes of floor time and registered 12.9 points per game. He also used that length to pull down a team high 10.5 rebounds and a ridiculous 3.7 blocks (111 total) which was second most in NCAA hoops. The Harlem native recorded 15 double-doubles this season and in one particular contest, against then no. 11 ranked Kansas, he nearly had a very rare triple double. In that 92-86 loss, Bamba had 22 points, 15 rebounds and had an admirable eight blocks. Back-up plan: PF Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State.
3. Dallas Mavericks, 3rd Overall – PF Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
Barring a lot of bad luck, or a trade, the Dallas Mavericks will have a top 3 pick for the first time in 24 years. They picked Jason Kidd at no. 2 in 1994 and in the history of the team they have had just one no.1 pick, he being Mark Aguirre in 1981. It speaks to the team’s relative success that Kidd and Aguirre were their only top 3 picks ever. However, after a generally lousy season, the Mavs need this third pick, or better. They need scoring from their front court, the biggest contribution there coming from soon-to-be 40-year-old center Dirk Nowitzki, who averaged 12 points per game. The best forward or center who will probably be available at no. 3 will be former Michigan State freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. In just over 21 minutes of average floor time in 35 games for the Spartans, the 6’11” power forward averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 blocks and 3.2 blocks (fifth in the NCAA). He’s also an above average shooter, having dropped 39.6 percent of his three point attempts. Back-up plan: C Mohamed Bamba, Texas.
2. Memphis Grizzlies, 2nd Overall – PF Marvin Bagley III, Duke
The Grizzlies are said to need a good man on the wings, but when huge talents in the front court like Duke PF Marvin Bagley III (or Arizona C DeAndre Ayton, if they win the lottery) are available, the best player needs to be taken. The only shooter we see being taken this high is Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic, which is a possibility, but he’s more of an unknown. Bagley III, on the other hand, was a monster with the Blue Devils in his lone season, leading the team in scoring with 21 points per game and 11.1 rebounds. In 33 games, he had 22 double doubles, the most significant of which was a massive 32-point, 21-rebound effort in a win over then no. 24 ranked Florida State late last December. In his only four games at the tournament, Bagley averaged 20.5 points, logged 8.2 rebounds and was successful on three of four three-point attempts (he shot nearly 40 percent all season from beyond the arc). He’s a talent who will be a lottery pick. Back-up plan: SG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid.
1. Phoenix Suns, 1st Overall – C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
Whether or not the Suns retain the first pick, which they have the best odds (25 percent) or retaining, the Suns also have the added bonus of the 16th pick. Arizona C DeAndre Ayton falls right into the Suns wheelhouse, as he is a big man who can defend and score. He’d be an instant upgrade on current centers Alex Len and Tyson Chandler, for sure. The 7’1″ freshman from the Bahamas was tops on his team in scoring with 20.1 points and first in rebounds with 11.6 and blocks at 1.9. Ayton logged 25 double-doubles in 2017-18, saving some of his best work for last in a Wildcats uniform. In the Pac-12 final on Mar. 10, a 75-61 victory over USC, Ayton was everywhere. He scored a game high 32 points and also pulled down 18 rebounds, one less than the entire USC line-up. He wasn’t as prolific in scoring during Arizona’s disappointing loss to Buffalo in the first round of March Madness, but he was game, recording 14 points, 13 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block to end his collegiate career. Back-up plan: PF Marvin Bagley III.