NBA mock draft 2018: Phoenix Suns won the great tank-off. Who should they choose?

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The college season is over, the playoffs are starting and the lottery standings are all but settled, save for a few ties. Draft season is about to begin in earnest and with it comes a new mock draft from us, your friends at SB Nation.

Kudos to the Phoenix Suns for winning the great tank-off in the last year before lottery reform rule changes take hold. The Suns have picked fourth in the last two drafts and No. 5 in 2013, but they’ve never had the No. 1 overall pick in franchise history. The bounce of the ping-pong balls will determine their fate, but at least Phoenix has math on its side this time.

This is a fascinating draft class. It’s heavy on big men during a time the league is shifting to a more perimeter-oriented style. There’s a star European prospect in Luka Doncic who fills the box score and wins at every level but faces questions on how he’ll be able to adjust to the speed of the game.

Draft season is here. Let’s mock.

1. Phoenix Suns – Luka Doncic, F, Real Madrid

Phoenix has top-10 picks at center, power forward, and small forward, but it still doesn’t have a lead offensive initiator or a true star. Doncic can be both of those things. He’s the most accomplished player in this draft, turning into one of Real Madrid’s best players in Europe’s top leagues before he even turned 18 years old. Doncic has a case as the draft’s most skilled player, a 6’8, 230-pound point forward with preternatural court vision and passing skills paired with outside shooting ability. He isn’t an elite athlete, but there are very few holes in his skill set. We’ve had him No. 1 since last June and that isn’t changing even after terrific college seasons from Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, and Trae Young.

2. Memphis Grizzlies – Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona

Ayton is the total package physically. Huge (7’1, 250 pounds), fast, and alarmingly quick off ground, he’s a monster interior scorer and rebounder just based on his sheer size and explosiveness. He also has soft touch around the rim and a developing face-up jumper. The problem is defense, where he showed poor instincts protecting the rim and making proper rotations at Arizona. Who better to teach him how to read the floor defensively than Marc Gasol? This isn’t a perfect fit for Memphis with such a great center already in place, but Ayton feels like the prospect with the highest ceiling in this big man-heavy draft.

3. Dallas Mavericks – Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State

Jackson didn’t put up gaudy stats like Ayton or Bagley, only averaging 11 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He wasn’t even on the floor much in Michigan State’s NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse (yes, that was a problem). He’s not a ready-made contributor yet, either, entering this draft as one of the youngest players in the class. Still: Jackson’s combination of shot blocking and three-point shooting is a perfect fit for the modern NBA. No other big man in this draft can match him in those two areas. For a patient team, Jackson could be a gem down the line.

4. Atlanta Hawks – Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas

The conversation with Bamba always starts with his length. He’ll have the longest wingspan in the NBA (7’9) from the moment he’s drafted. Bamba is already a skilled shot blocker, finishing No. 5 in block rate (13.2 percent) during his one season at Texas. He should also grow into a monster lob target on offense if used as the rim runner in a spread pick-and-roll attack like Houston’s Clint Capela. There’s potential as an outside shooter here, too. Bamba is a bet on tools over production, but a team committed to developing him could one day have a modern day center that’s both terrifying and unique.

5. Orlando Magic – Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

Marvin Bagley III or Michael Porter Jr. could make a case for the best available player here, but the Magic already have Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon in the front court. What they don’t have is a young point guard after the decision to trade Elfrid Payton to Phoenix earlier this season. Young is small and relatively unimpressive athletically and decidedly turnover prone, but he’s still the best shooter and passer in this draft. His skills have never been more in demand than they are in today’s game, giving him the type of offensive ceiling that could potentially dwarf any of his shortcomings. Expect Young to be the most polarizing player in the draft.

6. Sacramento Kings – Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Drafting Porter requires a leap of faith. It never seemed like it would be this way a year ago, when Porter was something of a golden boy as a 6’10 combo forward entering college as the No. 1 recruit in the country. A back injury halted what many believed would be a coronation of his greatness. Instead, he missed all but two games at the end of the year, where he looked like a shell of his purported self. Still: Porter can be an athletic forward who can shoot from deep and finish at the basket. That’s the type of player every team needs … if he can actually still be that.

7. Chicago Bulls – Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, Duke

Bagley could go as high as No. 3 in this draft, but shaky positional fit and defensive shortcomings risk pushing him down the board. There’s no doubt he’s a fantastic scorer, so skilled at using his body to create space and finish inside. His jumper remains a work in progress, as does his ball handling, though he displays visible potential in both areas. Defense is the bigger concern. He simply doesn’t make many big plays on that end, finishing with only 29 blocks and 27 steals all season. The Bulls will take the offense and figure everything else out later. The thought of Lauri Markkanen’s shooting and mixed with Bagley’s inside scoring skill is too much to pass up.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Cleveland’s going to need a point guard regardless of what LeBron James does in free agency. Alabama’s Collin Sexton would be a popular pick here, but Gilgeous-Alexander has advantages in size (6’6), length (7-foot wingspan), finishing craft, defensive versatility, and maybe even quickness. Alexander had a higher assist rate, true shooting percentage, and three-point percentage (on half as many makes) than Sexton. Few thought Alexander would even be a starter for Kentucky, but he turned into their best player. He might have made himself a top-10 draft pick in the process.

9. New York Knicks – Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova

Bridges’ relative limitations of an offensive creator might fool you into thinking he doesn’t have a high ceiling. The truth is that Bridges’ refined 3-and-D game is the type of skill set that can immediately elevate the value of all of his teammates. He’s worked his way into a knockdown shooter at Villanova over four years, topping out at 43.5 percent on six attempts per game this season. He’s also a long-armed, agile defender who can check a variety of players and use his combination of instincts and length to make big plays. Really good 3-and-D guys are immensely valuable, and that’s why Mikal Bridges deserves to be a top-10 pick.

10. Philadelphia 76ers – Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State

Bridges would be a nice addition to the Sixers’ fleet of explosive young athletes. He could play either forward spot and position himself as an athletic glue guy, someone who could get out in transition runs to the rim with Ben Simmons or spot up around the arc as a shooter. His ball handling and half-court shot making might not be enough to make him a primary offensive option as originally hoped, but he’s such a good athlete with a nose for the ball and a developing skill level that he can still be a highly effective role player in the right system.

11. Charlotte Hornets – Wendell Carter Jr., C, Duke

Carter could potentially go five spots higher than this, but the glut of big men makes it likely one of them is going to fall. He’ll be an amazing value at this spot for Charlotte if it happens, giving them a 6’10, 250-pound big man who has drawn comparisons to Al Horford for his wide frame and heightened skill level. Carter is a great rebounder, a developing threat in the pick-and-pop, and a bully finisher inside. His defensive quickness and instincts will ultimately decide his ceiling.

12. Los Angeles Clippers – Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

Sexton is a hard-charging point guard who thrives getting into the teeth of the defense and drawing fouls. He had some magical moments this season, like when he almost led Alabama to a 3-on-5 victory (seriously) and his buzzer-beater in the SEC tournament. Sexton’s all-out style makes him a joy to watch, but he’ll need to refine his skills as a passer and shooter to become a special player. Adding a dynamic backcourt scorer like Sexton would be a gift for the Clippers at this point in the draft.

13. Los Angeles Clippers – Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M

Williams’ wide shoulders, long arms and explosive leaping ability has led some to compare him to another Texas A&M product — Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. At his best, Williams’ projects to offer similar value as a lob catcher and rim protector. Jordan has a player option for next season, so the Clippers could be in the market for a long-term replacement.

14. Denver Nuggets – Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami

Walker is a former McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit who worked to overcome a slow start at Miami after tearing his meniscus in the preseason. When he was at the top of his game, he was a long shooting guard (6’10 wingspan) who could make athletic finishes at the rim and fill it up from deep with a compact shooting stroke. His talent is more impressive than his numbers.

15. Washington Wizards – Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky

The Wizards were rewarded for their patience with the development of former first-round pick Kelly Oubre this season. Knox enters the draft under similar circumstances: an obviously talented freshman wing who is still learning how the play the game. The hope is that he can eventually grow into a combo forward who can hit shots all over the floor.

16. Phoenix Suns – Mitchell Robinson, C

Robinson would have been at Western Kentucky this season if not for some bizarre circumstances that led him to instead spend the entire year preparing for the draft. The former five-star recruit is a super athletic 7-footer with limited offensive skill level who projects as a shot blocker and lob catcher. He’s one of this draft’s biggest boom-or-bust picks.

17. Phoenix Suns – Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Smith went from a three-star recruit to a likely first-round pick thanks to elite athleticism and ultra aggressive two-way play at Texas Tech. His freshman season was full of highlight reel plays, with tip-dunks and chasedown blocks becoming nightly occurrences. This is the type of player that simply makes winning plays.

18. San Antonio Spurs – Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia

The Hawks need to go with a wing after taking Bamba with their first pick in this mock draft. Musa is a lanky 6’9 shooter who can get hot in a hurry and also score in transition. He has the skill set to be a natural fit in Atlanta’s system.

19. Atlanta Hawks – Troy Brown, SG, Oregon

Brown checks a lot of boxes for an off-guard. He’s got good size (6’6), he’s a skilled ball handler and passer from years spent being groomed as a point guard in high school, and he’s also a developing shooter. Ideally, he’s a versatile two-way player who won’t necessarily be a big scorer but can contribute in a lot of other areas.

20. Indiana Pacers – Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State

The second four-year college player in this mock draft after Bridges, Bates-Diop is another big wing who used his time in school to grow as a shooter. He’s a high motor player who can also crash the glass and finish in the paint as a cutter. He was a big-time scorer this season for Ohio State (20 points per game), but his NBA role projects as more of a glue guy.

21. Minnesota Timberwolves – Chandler Hutchinson, SF, Boise State

Another senior, Hutchinson is a 6’8 wing who started as a slasher and grew into a capable shooter during his time at Boise State. He put up huge numbers this season, averaging 20 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. In a draft light on wings, a player with his skill set is in demand.

22. Chicago Bulls – Anfernee Simons, G, IMG Academy (HS)

Simons is in the draft as a high school player through the same loophole that once allowed Thon Maker’s entrance. He was a five-star recruit who was originally pegged as a top-five pick in ESPN’s 2019 mock draft. He’s a 6’4 combo guard with explosive leaping ability and good scoring instincts who could one day grow into a lead initiator. His biggest need will be adding strength, which is why he chose to spend a fifth year in high school in the first place. The Bulls could use an upside pick in this spot, but they don’t have a great track record with developing young talent recently. They should take Simons to challenge themselves.

23. Utah Jazz – Shake Milton, PG, SMU

Milton is a 6’6 point guard who shot 40 percent or better from three-point range all three years of his college career. He’s not an elite athlete, but his skill set is well-rounded and he doesn’t take much off the table.

24. Portland Trail Blazers – Jontay Porter, C, Missouri

Jontay Porter reclassified late in the offseason to join his older brother Michael Porter Jr. in Missouri. As Michael missed almost the entire year due to back surgery, Jontay became a potential first-round pick in his own right. At 6’11, 240 pounds, he’s a capable shot blocker and three-point shooter who already has an advanced feel for the game.

25. Los Angeles Lakers – Jacob Evans, SG, Cincinnati

Evans is a 6’6 shooting guard who led Cincinnati in scoring and was also an integral part of its No. 3 overall defense. He hit 37 percent of his threes this season, but only shot 42 percent from the field. He’ll need to improve his handle and driving ability to be more than just a catch-and-shoot guy.

26. Philadelphia 76ers – De’Anthony Melton, SG, USC

Melton was held out the entire season by USC following the program’s role in the FBI investigation. What the Trojans missed was a bulldog defender and a skilled passer who found ways to impact the game even without a dependable jump shot. He has a Swiss Army Knife-type of skill set that would fit well on any bench.

27. Boston Celtics – Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Holiday already has two older brothers in the NBA, and he used his junior season at UCLA to prove he’s good enough to join them. He was a one-man show for the Bruins at times, averaging 20 points and nearly six assists per night on 43 percent shooting from three-point range (on 6.2 attempts per game). He’s only 6’1, but he has good defensive instincts and found a way to finish at the rim in college. We’ll see if he’s still able to do it over NBA length.

28. Golden State Warriors – Isaac Bonga, F, Germany

Bonga is the age of some high school seniors, but he’s already essentially playing as a 6’9 point guard for his German pro team. Part of that is because he’s a poor shooter and scorer who doesn’t make much of an impact off the ball. Still, he has interesting tools and could be a good draft-and-stash option late in the first round.

29. Brooklyn Nets – Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova

Jalen Brunson just became the fourth player ever to win two national championships and the player of the year award during his college career. He’s not the biggest (6’2) or most athletic point guard, but he’s a skilled scorer and a 40 percent three-point shooter who has a comprehensive understanding of the game. He should have a long career in the league.

30. Atlanta Hawks – Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Thomas has limitations as a ball handler and in-between scorer, but he’s great at what he does, and that’s playing tough defense and hitting three-pointers. He’s only 6’3, but he makes up for it with a 6’10 wingspan and an aggressive defensive mindset. He hit 41.1 percent of his threes this year.

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