The next wave of talent is set to hit the NBA through the draft, taking place on Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The 30 teams, assuming they haven’t traded their selection, will choose from a pool of players over two rounds, with 60 picks in total.
Some teams will have more picks than others because of previous trades, while draft night brings with it the possibility of more movement as teams can continue to deal throughout.
Here, we predict how the first round will shake out with our mock draft.
1. Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton, centre, Arizona
It seems like a lock Phoenix will take Ayton, who has all the physical tools and skills to be a franchise cornerstone, although his defence needs plenty of work.
2. Sacramento Kings – Marvin Bagley, forward, Duke
Bagley isn’t one of the more skilled players in the draft, but there’s no doubting his athleticism. Still, Sacramento may end up regretting passing on Luka Doncic.
3. Atlanta Hawks – Luka Doncic, guard, Slovenia
A teenager who dominated among men in the EuroLeague, Doncic has proven he’s advanced for his age. Atlanta will be thrilled to add his playmaking.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr, forward, Michigan St
An ideal big in today’s game, Jackson can protect the rim and space the floor with his shooting. His two-way potential is just what the Grizzlies need to build around.
5. Dallas Mavericks – Mohamed Bamba, centre, Texas
Bamba’s 7-foot-10 wingspan is off the charts, making him a special rim protector, while his shooting appears to be improving. A high upside pick for Dallas.
6. Orlando Magic – Trae Young, guard, Oklahoma
Young looked like the second-coming of Steph Curry at Oklahoma, but was also wildly inconsistent. For Orlando, it’s between Young and Collin Sexton.
7. Chicago Bulls – Michael Porter, forward, Missouri
A back injury hurt his draft stock, but if he’s fully healthy, Porter has the potential to be a steal. The mystery around his health should drop him into the Bulls’ laps.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers – Wendell Carter Jr, forward, Duke
If the Cavaliers keep the pick, Carter would be a safe pick to begin Cleveland’s potential rebuild. He can do a little bit of everything and would anchor the Cavaliers.
9. New York Knicks – Kevin Knox, forward, Kentucky
Knox is the second-youngest player in the draft and unpolished, but the upside is evident for a combo forward who has seen his stock rise after team workouts.
10. Philadelphia 76ers – Mikal Bridges, forward, Villanova
A 3-and-D wing that should come in and help immediately as a rotation player, Bridges fills multiple needs the Sixers have. Plus he’s a local kid.
11. Charlotte Hornets – Collin Sexton, guard, Alabama
Kemba Walker may not be with Charlotte much longer, which would open up a hole at point guard that Sexton could fill well with his scoring and intensity.
12. Los Angeles Clippers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, guard, Kentucky
The Clippers could package 12 and 13 to move up, but if they stay put Gilgeous-Alexander would give them a combo guard at a position they need to get younger.
13. Los Angeles Clippers – Robert Williams, forward, Texas A&M
After going guard at 12, LA can nab an athletic big in Williams who can take over when DeAndre Jordan is no longer around and do similar things.
14. Denver Nuggets – Zhaire Smith, guard, Texas Tech
He’s raw, but the tools are there between his shooting stroke, athleticism and defensive versatility. Denver can afford to be a little patient in developing him.
15. Washington Wizards – Miles Bridges, forward, Villanova
A wing who projects as a solid role player, Bridges would fit well with Washington, where his weaknesses as a ball-handler and creator won’t be magnified.
16. Phoenix Suns – Lonnie Walker IV, guard Miami
Walker’s freshman season didn’t start as expected, but he finished strong and showed the ability to create his own shots as an explosive guard.
17. Milwaukee Bucks – Aaron Holiday, guard, UCLA
It’s obvious Milwaukee need shooting and Holiday can certainly provide that with his smooth stroke to help space the floor for the Bucks’ athletes.
18. San Antonio Spurs – Troy Brown, guard, Oregon
It looks like Kawhi Leonard may be gone soon, so someone like Brown, who also fits the Spurs’ profile as a high-IQ playmaker, makes a lot of sense.
19. Atlanta Hawks – Elie Okobo, guard, France
After taking Doncic at 3, why not keep the international trend going with a point guard that has plenty of ability to shoot and score?
20. Minnesota Timberwolves – Keita Bates-Diop, forward, Ohio State
His length makes him a versatile chess piece that can be used in a variety of lineups, while also allowing him to hold his own defensively after a switch.
21. Utah Jazz – Donte DiVincenzo, guard, Villanova
His explosion in the NCAA title game put him squarely on the radar and the Jazz will welcome his long-distance shooting off the catch and off the dribble.
22. Chicago Bulls – Chandler Hutchison, forward, Boise State
There’s been noise Chicago gave Hutchinson a first-round promise, and the senior’s mature game would be valuable for the Bulls.
23. Indiana Pacers – Kevin Huerter, guard, Maryland
Huerter has apparently done well in team workouts and is considered one of the best shooters in the draft, something the Pacers should covet.
24. Portland Trail Blazers – Khyri Thomas, guard, Creighton
Portland need better defence from their backcourt and Thomas will help with that instantly, while also offering outside shooting on the other of the floor.
25. Los Angeles Lakers – Jacob Evans, forward, Cincinnati
The Lakers will try to assemble a super team this summer, which means they’ll need 3-and-D role players like Evans to fit around their potential stars.
26. Philadelphia 76ers – Mitchell Robinson, centre, Chalmette High School
After getting a much-needed wing at 10, the Sixers can take a flier on the raw but talented Robinson to improve their front-court depth.
27. Boston Celtics – Grayson Allen, guard, Duke
Boston is loaded on the wing, so they’ll likely take a guard or big man, and Allen is the exact type of player Danny Ainge loves having on his team.
28. Golden State Warriors – Jerome Robinson, forward, Boston College
The Warriors will look for young players who can help right away and Robinson fits the mold as a junior who can play on or off the ball.
29. Brooklyn Nets – Dzanan Musa, forward, Bosnia and Herzegovina
He has experience as a pro, but still needs time to develop and get acclimated to the NBA game. Brooklyn are in no rush so they can take the chance.
30. Atlanta Hawks – Josh Okogie, guard, Georgia Tech
Another 3-and-D candidate, Okogie can switch onto multiple positions and still has room to get better. Atlanta might also look to move this pick.
*Pulls up chair, flips it backwards and plops down with arm on top of backrest*
So… you want to learn about the NBA draft. Not sure how it all works? Don’t understand why you keep hearing ‘wingspan’ over and over?
Well, you’ve come to the right place. You’re about to get a crash course on the NBA draft, just in time for this year’s edition, taking place on Thursday.
You won’t become an expert on how to draft and evaluate players, but rest assured no one is really an expert at that. The draft is, at the end of the day, a crapshoot and while the front offices of teams actually making the picks know a lot more than anyone else, it doesn’t mean they’re always right – or even right most of the time.
What you will learn is how the draft works and what about it is worth paying attention to. Whether you want to start following the NBA more closely or are just interested in the draft as a one-off, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
What is the NBA draft?
If you’re unfamiliar with America’s four major sports leagues – the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL – a draft is used for the selection of incoming players, consisting of amateurs from college and professionals from overseas.
Unlike the Premier League or other football leagues, teams in the NBA are franchises, not clubs. As such, a socialist system is used whereby the worst teams at the end of each season, determined by record, have the best odds of drafting the top incoming players. A lottery is held to solidify the draft order, which you can learn more about here.
The actual draft itself will take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where NBA commissioner Adam Silver will announce the first-round picks before giving way to deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, who will call out the round two selections.
Many of the top players expected to go in the first round have been invited to attend the draft, and whoever shows up will walk across the stage and greet Silver when their name is announced. This is actually one of the best parts of the draft because we get to see the outfits the players are wearing, which have seemingly become more and more bombastic over the years.
Plus, the players usually do a brief interview in which we get to see their emotion after they’ve fulfilled a lifelong dream. It’s a big night, after all.
Who can be drafted?
Some of the greatest players in NBA history never went to college – most famously LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. But since 2006, the NBA has had a rule in place that states players are only eligible for the draft one year after their high school graduation, and that they must by 19 by the end of the calendar year of the draft.
That’s basically resulted in the top prospects spending a lone year at college before declaring their eligibility, but in some cases players have chosen to spend their gap year overseas with a professional team.
With the NBA being as global as it is, there’s no shortage of international players in the draft these days.
Just two years ago, the 2016 draft featured a record 26 international players selected, with 14 of those taken in the first round.
With how much more information and video is available now, foreign players don’t carry the same cloud of mystery they used to. Even so, international players who’ve not played in an American college and enter the draft from overseas remain an unknown in the eyes of many because of the difference in competition.
Luka Doncic, a 19-year-old who plays for Real Madrid in the EuroLeague, is this year’s top international prospect and considered a top-five pick.
Finally, if you follow the draft close enough – the lead-up and the event itself – you’ve been subjected to a number of buzzwords that are impossible to avoid this time of the year.
The aforementioned ‘wingspan’ is one of the most common, as are ‘upside’, ‘high-motor’ and ‘raw’. Here’s a translation:
‘Wingspan’ refers to a player’s… well, wingspan of course. The larger a player’s wingspan, the better. Length of all kind is coveted in the NBA for obvious reasons.
‘Upside’ is simply potential. If a player has high upside, they have a high ceiling and could develop into a star one day.
‘High-motor’ is another way of saying a player constantly hustles and gives effort.
‘Raw’ references how underdeveloped a player is. The tools may be there, but they haven’t been utilised all that well yet.
These terms can be important in evaluating prospects, but they’re definitely used more than they need to be. Don’t get bogged down by them.
After a tense season that highlighted a rocky relationship between Leonard and the Spurs, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP has expressed a desire to play elsewhere, according to various reports.
Every team in the league should be interested in acquiring a star who, when healthy, is a top-five player in the league. Two factors in particular, however, make trading for Leonard a gamble.
One, he’s effectively under contract for just one more season as a player option for 2019-20 allows him to hit free agency next summer.
And secondly, Leonard reportedly prefers the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only was he born in LA, but he went to college nearby at San Diego State.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
There’s a chance Leonard’s camp is using the leak of his desire to be traded as a negotiation tool. With the frenzy created by the report, the Spurs could feel more pressure to offer Leonard the five-year, $219 million supermax contact.
San Antonio could also approach the situation with patience by holding onto Leonard this summer with the hope the relationship can be mended next season.
The upcoming NBA draft, held on Thursday, throws a wrench into the mix because if the Spurs want to trade Leonard for a pick in this year’s draft, they would want to get the deal done before then.
With all that said, here’s a look at possible trades for the teams appearing to be most in the mix for Leonard.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Even though the Lakers have been reported to be Leonard’s preferred destination, they don’t hold much leverage over the Spurs, who will care more about the assets they get in return than who they trade with.
San Antonio won’t acquiesce Leonard out of the kindness of their hearts. If anything, they may want to steer clear from sending Leonard to a conference rival and instead ship him to the East. But again, all of that takes a backset to the Spurs’ main priority of getting a worthwhile haul back in a deal.
The Lakers don’t have a top pick in this draft to offer – it’s owed to Philadelphia from a previous trade – but they have young talent that could appeal to San Antonio between Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
It will likely require two of those first three to get Leonard, but San Antonio may not want to touch Ball (and by extension his dad LaVar) with a 10-foot pole, especially after reportedly having issues with Leonard’s uncle.
So to make the money work with a package centred on Ingram and Kuzma, the Lakers would need to include Luol Deng’s mammoth contract – three years left at an average of around $18m annually – while taking back Patty Mills, who will be owed over $12m next season. The Deng contract is not something the Spurs would be at all interested in, so the Lakers would have to include at least the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft, along with a future first-rounder to sweeten the pot.
Is it the best deal the Spurs can get on the open market? Maybe not. But other teams could be scared away by Leonard’s apparent interest in the Lakers.
Celtics receive: Kawhi Leonard
If Kawhi Leonard does become available in trade talks, the Boston Celtics will be interested in probing the Spurs about a deal, league sources tell ESPN. Boston inquired about a trade prior to the February deadline, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
Indiana had little interest in Paul George trade w/ Lakers -- and that'll be case for Spurs too. Boston gives Spurs best building blocks of assets -- one of young forwards (likely Jaylen Brown), its own 18 pick/19 protected Kings pick, etc. Lonzo to Spurs? Don't hold your breath.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
If Leonard is available and the Celtics want him badly enough, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to land him as Danny Ainge has the best assets of any general manager in the league to work with between his talented phenoms and stocked cupboard of draft picks.
Jayson Tatum may be untouchable after playing close to an All-Star level by the end of the playoffs in his rookie year, so Jaylen Brown looks like the more gettable player of the two young wings. Brown isn’t Leonard, but the strides he’s already made two years into his career put him on a trajectory to become one of the better players in the league.
Add in Terry Rozier, who proved he’s a starting calibre point guard after Kyrie Irving went down last season, and the Memphis Grizzlies’ top-eight protected first-rounder in 2019, and Boston has a strong package to throw at the Spurs. Considering Leonard is a flight risk next summer, Ainge would be hard-pressed to give up Brown AND the Sacramento Kings’ top-one protected 2019 pick.
The rest of the trade features salary filler, although Marcus Morris’ inclusion is nothing to sneeze at as he’ll be paid just over $5m next season, making him a value for any team. Boston would also miss Semi Ojeleye, who did well defending Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round of the playoffs, but it would be a necessary evil needed to make the salaries on both sides match.
The Celtics can certainly entice San Antonio, but they’re also in the enviable position of not needing Leonard. After getting within one win of the Finals without Irving and Gordon Hayward, Boston will still be title contenders if they simply run it back with a healthy roster. And with Tatum and Brown, they’ve managed to build a core that should keep them competitive for years to come.
Leonard would raise the Celtics’ ceiling immediately, but the move would also leave them exposed to potentially losing both him and Irving in free agency next year, or put them in luxury tax hell if they want to keep all of their stars long-term.
This may be the rare case where not trading for a star is the better move.
76ers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
The 76ers should and will do everything in their power to land another star this summer, whether it’s through free agency or via trade. Pairing Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with a star wing like Leonard, LeBron James or Paul George would push them to the next level of contention right away.
Their ability to acquire Leonard, however, hinges on Fultz and what his trade value is at the moment. The Spurs may view Fultz as something close to the top prospect he was coming out of college, or they may be terrified of what happened to his shot and why he had to sit out for most of his rookie season. San Antonio may trust their coaching staff, especially famed shooting coach Chip Engelland, to fix Fultz’s issues and develop him going forward. Still, it seems like a lot to bank on for the centerpiece of a trade in which you’re losing a star.
Covington and Saric don’t have the same upside as Fultz, but they have a much higher floor as known commodities that would be reliable role players for the Spurs from the get-go. Their salaries would force Mills’ inclusion.
The 10th overall pick, meanwhile, gives San Antonio another chance at netting a star. It’s not top-five, but it’s still a selection which can yield a franchise cornerstone – Leonard himself was picked 15th back in 2011.
All in all, it’s a decent package to throw at the Spurs, but it feels underwhelming, mostly because of Fultz being somewhat of an unknown. But if Boston don’t want to pull the trigger and there’s hesitation for San Antonio to help build a monster on the West Coast, that could leave the 76ers in the catbird seat.