The NBA draft is still over three months away.
But, those teams in the NBA who aren’t going to the make the playoffs, along with a few on the bubble who may also be watching come mid-April, are already dreaming about the lottery and draft.
We’ve already told you what each contending team needs prior to the deadline, which goes hand-in-hand with have-nots (some who are also “contenders”) and the holes they have to fill in the off-season.
If the draft were held on Tuesday, Orlando would have first pick, based on a deplorable record.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, their first round selection, which would fall at no. 8, would go to Cleveland (via Boston and that stinker of a deal they made with the Celtics in 2014).
As there aren’t that many true contenders, we have a list of 20 also-rans, possible contenders and pseudo-contenders may be able to pick in the upper rungs of the draft.
Here are 20 great draft candidates, with the no. 1 going to the team with the worst record at no. 20 and so on.
20. Atlanta Hawks – C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
The Hawks need a big man with excellent scoring ability, along with some defensive acumen and smarts. Right out of the Bahamas is Arizona Wildcats’ freshman center DeAndre Ayton, who tops many mock draft sites as the no. 1 pick. If the Hawks were to draft today, providing they had won the lottery, Ayton could be their guy. At 7’0″ feet and 260 pounds, the Wildcats rookie still has some beef to put on, but he possesses the shot-making and rebounding capability a team like the Hawks covets. The man they have in the paint right now, Dewayne Dedmon, is a nice filler piece, while Ayton has the potential to be a homegrown superstar. In his first 24 college games, all starts, Ayton has recorded 19.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, along with 15 double-doubles. He was huge in a win over rival Arizona State in late December, pouring in 23 points, with a season-high 19 rebounds and three blocks.
19. Orlando Magic – PG Trae Young, Oklahoma
Orlando needs help in a lot of areas, most notably defence and to an extent, scoring. While Elfrid Payton is their starting point guard, today, nothing says he couldn’t be unseated by someone more dynamic. Enter Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young. As of Tuesday he led all NCAA players in scoring with a ridiculous 29.8 points per game. In his first 22 collegiate games, Young already has nine double doubles for the 16th ranked Sooners. And he’s been no wilting daisy against ranked teams like then no. 3 (now no. 22) Wichita State on Dec. 16. He poured in 29 points and added 10 assists in a 91-83 triumph. On Jan. 13 he had arguably his biggest game, pouring in 43 against no. 16 TCU, along with 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Magic could do worse drafting Young, who leads all college players with 9.3 assists per game.
18. Dallas Mavericks – PF/C Marvin Bagley III, Duke
The basketball factory run by Coach K might have two freshman jump ship from the NCAA right to the NBA in 2018. The first would be Bagley III, a freshman from Phoenix who is the Blue Devils leading scorer with 21.4 points per game. The Mavs would do well to get him in the draft, in that he could be the heir apparent to aging star Dirk Nowitzki (and gain some tutelage under him). The 6’11” Bagley is a fierce competitor, who, while his talents need polish, has dominated top tier NCAA opponents this season. For instance, in a late November tilt with then no.7 Florida, Bagley dropped 30 points and added 15 rebounds in a 87-84 victory. Later, in a 65-63 loss to no. 2 Virginia, he scored another 30 and added 14 rebounds. In all, he has 17 double-doubles for the no. 9 ranked Blue Devils.
17. Sacramento Kings – G Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
Slovenian star in the making Doncic has something that no one else in this draft class has and that’s experience playing against NBA caliber competition. The Real Madrid shooting guard/small forward won’t be 19 until later this month, but has been a fixture on the EuroLeague circuit since 2015-16. In 39 games with Real this season, he is enjoying his finest pro season yet, averaging 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He has some work to do on his overall game and lacks some explosiveness, but for Sacramento, which needs help in just about every area, Doncic would fit in pretty much right away. He has great ball-handling skills and is a good perimeter shooter, if scouting reports are accurate.
16. Phoenix Suns – SF Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
The Suns have pretty much cleared the decks for new talent to come in. If the draft were held today, the Suns would pick fifth, meaning a stud like Porter Jr. would fall into their slot. The thing that will give the team pause, though, is the fact he was shut down after playing just one NCAA game and has had back surgery. Otherwise, Porter Jr. is as highly regarded as Marvin Bagley III at Duke. He may yet return late in the season to help the 33rd ranked Tigers make a run at the SEC title. A native of Columbia, Missouri, the book on Porter says he is a very good rebounder and great scorer off the dribble, but can be streaky and not overly physical (which may be compounded by any recurring back problems).
15. Chicago Bulls – C Mohamed Bamba, Texas
After blue chippers DeAndre Ayton and Michael Bagley III, there is no better front court prospect that the Longhorns’ Bamba. Projected to go anywhere from fourth to eighth, the freshman power forward from Harlem is having quite a season for no. 36 Texas. He is tied for eighth in rebounding in the NCAA at 10.8 per game, adding 13.0 points and a whopping 4.4 blocks (second in the nation). He nearly recorded a rare triple-double of points-rebounds-blocks when he had 22 points, 15 rebounds and a season high eight blocks in a loss to no. 9 Kansas in late December. Bamba has 11 double-doubles this season, quite a few of them against ranked teams. The Bulls, who have veteran Robin Lopez at center, could be the perfect landing spot for Bamba to come in and apprentice.
14. Memphis Grizzlies – F/C Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
The Grizz haven’t had a top 10 pick since taking failed C Hasheem Thabeet second overall in 2009 and the way they are playing, they have a shot at a top 10/lottery pick. Given the choice now, at no. 7, a player like the Spartans Jackson would fulfill a couple of needs. One, to learn from and eventually replace 33-year-old Marc Gasol, and two, to be the two-way big man in the paint that Memphis has never been able to draft. Some scouts say he is better defensively than DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III and shoots better than Mohamed Bamba, all who are rated higher. For a big guy, he has soft hands and can shoot 3’s, as evidenced by his 43.3 percent average just 25 games into his collegiate career. Jackson Jr., the son of former NBAer Jaren Jackson, is also an adept shot blocker, logging 3.6 per game, good for third in the nation (just behind Bamba).
13. Cleveland Cavaliers – F/C Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
That Brooklyn Nets ill-fated trade with Boston in 2014 will finally run its course this spring, when the Cavaliers, who got Boston’s first rounder in 2018 (via Brooklyn) in the Kyrie Irving trade, make their pick. And, judging by how it’s going for the Nets, it will be at minimum a top 10. Given the Cavaliers woes, especially at the center position, Duke Wendell Carter Jr. would be a solid selection. Carter Jr., like teammate Marvin Bagley, is a better than average shooter with outstanding rebounding (9.6 per game) and shot blocking (2.1 per game) capabilities. The knocks on the Blue Devils freshman are that he isn’t particularly explosive and that the pace of the NBA game might hamper his effectiveness. He’s proven to rise to the occasion, though, registering 14 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and four shot blocks in a 65-63 loss to no. 2 Virginia on Jan. 27.
12. Philadelphia 76ers – F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
If the draft order works out the way it is looking, the Sixers might be gifted a top 10 from the Los Angeles Lakers (from a long ago trade that is too complicated to denote here). While picking the straight up best player at no. 9 says it should be PG Collin Sexton, the last thing the Sixers need is another floor general, in that they already have Ben Simmons and the injured Markelle Fultz, among a few others. Thus, taking Kentucky freshman forward Knox at this spot makes sense. He’s a 6’9″ PF/SF who leads no. 24 Kentucky in points with 15.1 per game, while shooting 34.6 from three-point range. He has also contributed 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists to the effort. The con to his game is that he is streaky, alternating superb efforts (34 points and seven rebounds against no. 7 West Virginia on Jan. 27) with mediocre (five points, three rebounds against Missouri on Feb. 3).
11. Charlotte Hornets – PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
Given a top 10 pick, the Hornets might draft ‘Bama freshman Sexton, who could learn the ropes from the excellent Kemba Walker (provided he isn’t traded before the NBA deadline this week). Charlotte has Michael Carter-Williams as back-up, but his production and minutes have gone way down since his first three seasons in the NBA. He’s got the aggression (often causing other teams to foul him) and shoot-first mentality some scouts look for. On the other hand, he isn’t an elite decision maker with the ball, yet, and sometimes struggles to finish against much bigger men in the paint (he’s just 6’2″). Sexton leads the Crimson Tide in scoring with 18.7 PPG in 20 games, along with 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He’s had the odd blip in his initial NCAA season, but so far Sexton has been consistent, even pouring in 40 in a loss against a ranked Minnesota team in late November.
10. Utah Jazz – SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Playing for the top-ranked team in the nation, there is laser sharp focus from scouts watching junior forward Mikal Bridges’ every move. He is a great two-way player for the no. 1 Wildcats, combining great offensive skill (16.9 PPG) with outstanding defensive attributes (5.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 1.2 blocks in 23 games). In three seasons at ‘Nova, Bridges has become more aggressive and has learned to defend well at four positions on the floor. The Jazz have veteran Joe Ingles at small forward, but he is 30 and could act as a mentor for an up-and-comer like Bridges. The Wildcats haven’t played against a ton of ranked opponents, however, Bridges had a good game against then no. 10 Xavier on Jan. 10, contributing 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in a 89-65 victory.
9. New York Knicks – SF Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Miles Bridges, no relation to Villanova’s Mikal, is a sophomore small forward the Knicks could draft. The only homegrown they have at that position is Tim Hardaway Jr. Other than him, it’s a mixed bag of journeymen like Michael Beasley and Lance Thomas. Bridges is Michigan State’s leading scorer this season, as well as their second leading rebounder with 7.4 per game. The book on him says he is a dogged competitor and capable defender, who is also prone to streaky scoring and a limited ability to create offence off the dribble. A look at his body of work in his second NCAA season with the Spartans says that he has been fairly consistent and a thorn in the side of Big 10 opponents. In one stretch he scored 22, 31 and 24 points in consecutive victories over Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. In a close loss to Duke early in the year, he had 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
8. Detroit Pistons – SG/SF Dzanan Musa, KK Cedevita
The Pistons may have Blake Griffin now, but the are still in a position to pick 13th in the upcoming draft and at that position Bosnian swing man Musa could be available. Musa is playing for Cedevita Zagreb of the Croatian League and for a teenager has played exceedingly well. He averaged 12.2 points in 46 games this season, with 3.6 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.5 assists. He has improved as a playmaker and stood out in international play, but he’s not very big (6’9″, just 185 lbs.) and doesn’t defend particularly well. However, he is a pure shooter with the versatility to play multiple positions, two things that set him far apart from other international prospects.
7. Los Angeles Clippers – PF/C Robert Williams III, Texas A&M
Blake Griffin is long gone and so to might be center DeAndre Jordan at the trade deadline. If that is the case come draft time, the Clippers best option at no. 14 could be Aggies sophomore Williams. He was suspended for two games to start the year and missed three others due to injury, so those two factors have hampered his overall effectiveness. When in the line-up, he has been inconsistent, to a point, yet has still logged four double-doubles in just 18 games and leads Texas A&M in rebounds with 9.6 per game. In his last game against a ranked opponent, no. 10 Kansas on Jan. 27, Williams scored 11 points, along with nine rebounds and four blocks (part of a 2.6 average which is 19th in the NCAA).
6. Philadelphia 76ers – Lonnie Walker IV, Miami
The Sixers, who aren’t half bad this season, may have the luxury of two first round picks, both in the top 15. If they take a forward like Kevin Knox at no. 9, a shooter like Lonnie Walker IV might be a nice pick at 15. The freshman shooting guard struggled with the college game until about the middle of January (coming back from a torn meniscus, no less), when he caught fire. In his last seven games, all against top level competition (two of them ranked) Walker has averaged 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals. He also shot 21 for 51 from three point territory for a 41.2 percent average. If he can keep up that pace, his draft stock will only improve.
5. Chicago Bulls – SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky
When the Bulls dealt Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans, they picked up another first rounder. If the draft were held today, that pick would fall at 16, right where an athletic type like Diallo from a big time basketball school could land. The Bulls don’t have a lot of dynamism at the shooting guard position outside of Justin Holiday, so drafting a project like Diallo could make sense. The freshman from Queens is a raw gem who may require a lot of development, however there is no denying his elite running and jumping capability. The 6’5″, 200 lbs. Diallo has been somewhat enigmatic in his first season of NCAA ball against mostly elite level competition. He’s played very well in stretches and then disappeared, just as much. A highlight game was a 14-point, five-rebound, four assist effort in a loss to no. 10 Kansas early in the year.
4. Phoenix Suns – PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
At 6’6″, Kentucky freshman Gilgeous-Alexander is an intriguing mid-first round prospect. A trade three years ago that sent Goran Dragic to the Heat may pay dividends for a Suns team with two first round picks, both potentially in the top 20. Getting Kentucky’s floor general at no. 17 could help shore up a position in sore need of depth. In his first year of collegiate basketball, Gilgeous-Alexander sits second in Wildcats scoring with 12.7 points, just behind another blue-chipper in Kevin Knox. He has also registered 3.6 rebounds, a team high 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals in 23 games. The Toronto, Ontario native has been mildly streaky this season, but even when he’s failed to hit double digits in points he has contributed in other areas.
3. Portland Trail Blazers – SG Bruce Brown Jr, Miami
The Trail Blazers may not own the 18th pick at the end of the 2017-18 season, but if they do, choosing depth at shooting guard might not be a bad option. Miami’s Brown isn’t a great scorer, but he his a better-than-average defender who could put in quality minutes in place of CJ McCollum. Brown Jr. is second on the Hurricanes in scoring with 11.4 points and first rebounds (7.1), assists (4.0) and steals (1.3). A sophomore, Brown has regressed in offensive categories like three-point percentage (34.7 last year to 26.7 this season) but has increased his overall effectiveness in rebounds and blocks. Evidence of pro-level defence, but so-so offence, can be seen in his slash line against ranked Duke on Jan. 15, when he had seven rebounds and two steals, but only seven points. A work in progress, but worth a first round selection.
2. Denver Nuggets – SG Grayson Allen, Duke
There aren’t many seniors listed on various mock draft boards and the best among them is the Blue Devils Allen. The Nuggets, like Portland, could move up or down the draft order and are currently in a playoff position. If they were to choose 19th, we are fairly certain a player of Allen’s ilk will still be there. Allen is a shooter who has competed hard year in and year out and the Nuggets could certainly do worse than to add him to a position fronted by Gary Harris. He’s third in Blue Devils scoring at 14.5 points per game, but second in assists (4.4) and steals (1.4). He is a mature player with little left to prove at the NCAA level and would fit in with pretty much any team picking mid to late first round.
1. Indiana Pacers – PF/C Chimezie Metu, USC
With the loss of Paul George, the Pacers could use a little more depth in the front court. If they were to pick 20th, as they are slated today, the Trojans’ Metu wouldn’t be a bad choice. A talented big man with shot-blocking ability and some scoring touch, Metu does have some bugs to sort out, like in-game awareness and overall maturity (he punched a teammate in the groin this year). However, he is a leader on the Trojans, in points (15.8), rebounds (7.5) and blocks (1.7). The third-year man has had some of his best games against Pac-12 competition, too. In a tight loss to rival UCLA on Saturday, he Metu had 11 points, a season high 12 rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. In early January, he was tough on Pac-12 foe Colorado, too, dropping 14 points, along with 13 rebounds and a season-best six blocks during a 70-58 win.