DeAndre Ayton – Atlanta
DeAndre Ayton has been dominant for Arizona this season. The 7’1″ 250 pound big man has looked like a man among boys in the college game, reminding many of David Robinson or Patrick Ewing. Ayton has torched the NCAA for 20.0 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game on 62.3% shooting. The last time a player cleared those numbers was when Chris Kaman did it in 2002-2003, and he did that as a junior.
Ayton gives Atlanta a clear franchise player. Dennis Schroeder has played decent for Atlanta, but he is simply not good enough at both ends of the court for him to be their long-term number one guy. With Schroeder, Taurean Prince, John Collins, and Ayton, Atlanta becomes one impact wing away from having a long-term core group.
Trae Young – Orlando
Trae Young has been unbelievable for Oklahoma. The 6’2″ freshman point guard for Oklahoma is averaging 29.4 points, 10.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game on 47.1% shooting and 40.2% from three on 9.8 three point attempts per game. Young has scouts bringing out Stephen Curry comparisons, and after watching his highlight reel, it is more than fair to say Young has played like Curry in the collegiate game.
Many of his nearly ten three pointers per game at Oklahoma are at NBA three point range, and Young has had little trouble scoring against elite programs like Oregon, TCU, Wichita St., and USC. He’s averaged 35.0 points, 10.0 assists, and 1.5 steals in those games on 44.7% shooting. No other player has put up numbers like this since they’ve been recorded in College Basketball, and he’s doing it as a Freshman. Elfrid Payton isn’t getting the job done for Orlando at point, they need a game-changer like Young.
Marvin Bagley – Memphis
Marvin Bagley is having a fantastic season for the Duke Blue Devils. He’s averaging 21.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game on 63.0% shooting on a team loaded with future NBA players like Grayson Allen, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval. No player has put up those numbers and Bagley’s insane 33.0 PER before since the stats have been recorded, and he is ust a freshman. The 6’11” big man is an unbelievable talent, and he’s beginning to showcase a three-point shot too (35.7% from deep).
Bagley is the franchise-changing talent Memphis needs. Memphis is a team that has seen its identity go with the departures over the years of Rudy Gay, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph. The team has shuffled through coaches in recent years, firing Dave Joerger after the 2016 season, David Fizdale 19 games into this season, and J.B. Bickerstaff doesn’t seem to have much job security at the moment with a 5-15 record and Marc Gasol shooting 41.4% on the year. Whether or not Gasol and Mike Conley stay to facilitate, Memphis can rebuild around Bagley.
Michael Porter – Sacramento
Unfortunately Michael Porter suffered a season-ending injury before his freshman season at Mizzou started, but that doesn’t change the fact that Porter was seen as a better recruit than all the great players on this list. Michael Porter is the latest of the game changing point forwards to come to the NBA recently. Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and to an extent, LeBron James are stylistically and physically similar to Porter. The question is whether Porter can match the effective play-style with the level of competence in manning the role.
Sacramento would be the best team for Porter. They are a team that is not in a rush to compete, and thus would not try to accelerate his recovery and put him in danger. They do have talent though at complimentary positions. De’Aaron Fox is a very smart young guard who is quick and defensively tenacious. Buddy Hield is another guard who can shoot the lights out from three, and would do wonders for spacing on Porter’s drives. The team also has a plethora of young (Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere) and veteran (Kosta Koufos) centers to help rim protect and rim-run. What Sacramento doesn’t have is a clear long-term answer at both forward spots, and Porter could very well develop into a star at either.
Mohamed Bamba – Boston (via Los Angeles)
Bamba might look very raw on either end, but the Longhorn big man is dropping 11.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks per game with a 26.1 PER. No other player in history has recorded that stat-line since their recording began. Bamba is even experimenting with his three point shot, and while it hasn’t been entirely effective (5/23), there is a lot of room for Bamba to grow.
It is because of that room to grow that Boston would be a great team for him. The only thing they seem to be lacking from an otherwise incredibly coached team, is their field goal percentage (.452, 20th in the NBA). This would be helped by adding a talented true center like Bamba because their current centers, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Daniel Theis, all are either too unskilled (Baynes), not traditional centers (Horford), or both (Theis). Bamba allows for Boston to switch Horford to the four more comfortably than the current arrangement with Baynes and Horford starting together. This is a rich get richer situation, but there is no doubting that Bamba would give them a new element.
Luka Doncic – Charlotte
Many people think Doncic is the best talent in this draft. There is some merit to that even though the other players are torching college basketball, the best players in the world outside the NBA play in Euroleague, and Doncic is putting up 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game against those guys on 49.1% from the field as a 6’8″ 18 year old. Needless to say, any team that gets him is getting one heck of a prospect.
Charlotte would be the perfect place for Doncic. The team’s starting five of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Dwight Howard has played great together, but their bench has been awful this season. Batum has struggled with his shooting and defending smaller guards this season, and relegation to a bench role, where he can be the main facilitator as well would be ideal for the Hornets.
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Cleveland (via Brookyln through Boston)
Jaren Jackson Jr. has showed a lot of talent in limited minutes. Jackson’s per 40 minute numbers go as follows: 19.2 points, 12.1 rebounds, 5.7 blocks, 1.7 steals, 49.0% field goal shooting, 43.2% from three on 4.9 attempts. Jackson is also leading the NCAA in defensive rating, and Michigan State’s only loss this season came to Duke, where Jackson had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a steal on 70% shooting and 3/5 from three. He also held Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. to just 16 points total on 5/13 shooting that game.
Giving LeBron James a capable rim protector that is this talented on the offensive end is very intriguing since James was able to make Timofey Mozgov look as such. Boston getting a top pick in the draft is the rich getting richer, but what about LeBron James, maker of seven (going on eight?) straight NBA Finals getting a top ten pick (assuming the Brooklyn Nets don’t change course) for the first time since Cleveland drafted Luke Jackson in 2005? As a team with a lot of talent on top but questionable role players otherwise, Cleveland could go many directions, but the Spartan fills the biggest hole with the most talent.
Collin Sexton – Chicago
He’s being called the Russell Westbrook of College Basketball. Collin Sexton has helped turn around an Alabama Basketball program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since the 2011-12 season. He’s averaging 20.4 points per game on 45.8% shooting, 39.1% from three, and a 27.5 PER. The only other freshmen to post that stat-line have been Trae Young this season, and Markelle Fultz last season. If there is doubt about Sexton’s ability to finish at the rim against top talent, maybe the 30 points he had against DeAndre Ayton and Arizona, or the 40 points he had against Minnesota playing 3 on 5 will silence the critics.
Its only appropriate Chicago drafts the Russell Westbrook of College Basketball. Not only did they pass on Westbrook to draft Derrick Rose in 2008, but the team is currently rolling with an out of position Kris Dunn at point. Adding Sexton to a young core that already includes a continuously improving Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Zach LaVine, Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic, and Bobby Portis that is now 10-5 its last 15 games could bring Chicago back to the promised land much sooner than expected.
Miles Bridges – New York
Why Bridges didn’t leave for the NBA Draft last season continues to baffle. A guaranteed top-ten pick last season, Bridges is now just a slight lock to get selected in the lottery. The sophomore’s scoring, shooting percentages, rebounding, steals, blocks, and minutes have all gone down to give Brides the stat-line of 16.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.1 steals per game on 47.2%. The 6’7″ wing could have sold a 38.9% freshman three point percentage as NBA-ready, but not so much for a 34.9% shorter collegiate three point percentage his Sophomore campaign. Still, Bridges is a clear star for an elite Michigan State team this season.
Putting Bridges on New York gives the Knicks a toughness they always lack, but currently need and could feasibly make the playoffs with. The small forward spot has seen all sorts of players at the position for New York this season. Doug McDermott, Michael Beasley, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Lance Thomas are the main ones. McDermott and Beasley are pretty one dimensional as scorers, Hardaway Jr. is similarly one dimensional and out of position, and Thomas is just not talented enough to be a long term option. Frank Ntilikina, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Miles Bridges, Doug McDermott, Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter, and Willy Hernangomez is a group with some upside, and might be able to make the playoffs in the East if they catch the right year.
Mikal Bridges – Los Angeles (Clippers)
Mikal Bridges has had arguably the most favorable circumstances of any player in this draft. The 6’7″ wing became an NCAA champion as a freshman playing 20.3 minutes per game off the bench. Then Bridges became a starter last season and played alongside an incredible talent like Josh Hart his sophomore year. Now Bridges is leading Villanova as a junior, and doing well. The forward is averaging 17.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game on 52.0% shooting and 45.6% from three. The players in Power Five Conferences to put up those numbers without the three point percentage include Josh Howard in 2002-03, Dwyane Wade in 2002-03, Shane Battier in 2000-01, Shawn Marion in 1998-99, and Grant Hill in 1992-93, and none of them shot the three nearly as well as Bridges.
As if there was such thing as too many versatile wings with a three point shot on an NBA team in today’s league. The Clippers, however, are in need of some wing talent, as the team is currently rolling with low-end starters like Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson, and Sindarius Thornwell. When Chris Paul was point guard, their issues were muted, but with a mortal like Milos Teodosic or Patrick Beverley at point, a team needs competent surrounding talent. Bridges is a talented player, a champion, and a great start at that.