The 2018 NBA Draft arrives Thursday. Here, theScore predicts the first round for the final time, offering an in-depth look at the most realistic option for all 30 spots.
After a long back-and-forth between Ayton and Doncic, the Suns seem to have settled on selecting the 7-foot-1 Bahamian to pair with 21-year-old stud Devin Booker. If that's the case, Phoenix is setting itself up with an elite inside-out duo on offense that could dominate the league if both players reach their ceilings. However, question marks linger around Ayton's efforts at the other end of the floor, and the Suns' young core is already defensively inept.
After 36-year-old Zach Randolph led the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game, Sacramento is likely seeking someone that can cure what ails its offense. Bagley was a force to be reckoned with at Duke, providing Coach K's squad with a versatile scorer who's capable of beating opposing big men off the dribble and dominating the interior with a bevy of post moves. He'd be a significant offensive upgrade to the Kings' crop of post players, but he was a major liability on defense for the Blue Devils. Of the draft's best prospects, Bagley may be the weakest on that end despite his elite athleticism.
The Hawks need to target whoever they believe is the best player in the draft. They're rumored to have reservations about Doncic, so they should aim for Jackson, who arguably has the highest ceiling (and lowest floor) of any lottery selection. Beyond John Collins and Taurean Prince, there's little talent on Atlanta's roster. Jackson can become a stretch-center and one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA, giving the Hawks a formidable post combination for the future. Jackson's physical attributes and efficiency make it easy to understand why scouts are so high on him, but will he continue struggling to stay on the floor because of foul trouble and mental lapses?
Doncic's slide down the draft board is mostly due to franchises' fear of taking a European player so high, but the Slovenian isn't your average international star. He's the youngest player to ever win MVP in EuroLeague - the second-best basketball league in the world. After missing the postseason for the first time since 2010, the Grizzlies are built to win now with a healthy Mike Conley, who's set to make north of $97 million over the next three seasons, and 33-year-old Marc Gasol. Doncic gives Memphis an NBA-ready playmaker and jump shooter that could become the best player in the draft. Concerns about the 19-year-old's athleticism may be premature; a lack of dedication to his body could be a bigger issue.
The Nerlens Noel debacle and Dirk Nowitzki's approaching retirement will leave a gaping hole in Dallas. The goal is to pair Dennis Smith Jr. with a future star, and Bamba could be just that after measuring a jaw-dropping 7-foot-10 wingspan and showing off elite speed to scouts. The duo's sheer athleticism could help strike fear into opponents, giving Rick Carlisle the building blocks for a high-tempo offense. Bamba looks like the best transition big man in the draft, while also supplying rim protection and a great touch on his jump shot. However, the raw and rangy center needs to prove he can handle the physicality of the NBA.
The days of Dwight Howard and consistent playoff appearances are very far behind the Magic. Now under new management, bringing in a stable presence to run their broken offense is a good place for Orlando to start fixing its issues. Young became a superstar last season before faltering in the second half of the year as defenses focused on his shooting ability. After several seasons in Orlando without any long-range shooting at point guard (blame Elfrid Payton's hair), adding college basketball's points and assists leader would sure help.
The Bulls are desperate to fill the remaining starting slots next to Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen, and Porter would slide in nicely. If Dunn's work ethic improves, Chicago will be a rim-protector away from joining the East's young elite. Despite the injury scare that effectively dropped Porter outside the top five, he's got the scoring ability of a poor man's Tracy McGrady, and if he avoids re-aggravating his ailing back, Chicago could end up with the draft's best player.
Cleveland owned the second-worst defense in the league last season, and a big part of the problem was zero rim protection. After failing to supply LeBron James with support in the NBA Finals (and pretty much all season), rumors are swirling that he'll likely leave his hometown team. Carter isn't a sexy pick and he isn't a franchise-defining talent, but what he can be is a young cog in the middle who can defend and shoot from behind the arc. And if James does decide to return, he'll be comforted to know there's a rim-protector on the roster.
If the Knicks view Frank Ntilikina as a two-guard that can play the point on occasion, Sexton would be a fun pick to develop next to Ntilikina, Kristaps Porzingis, and Tim Hardaway Jr. New head coach David Fizdale adores tough-minded workhorses like the 19-year-old. A Sexton-Porzingis pick-and-pop would be one of the deadliest in the NBA, and the defensive prowess of their young backcourt could dominate the league under Fizdale's tutelage.
Bridges was born an hour outside of Philly, and Villanova is just a half-hour's drive from the Wells Fargo Center. The junior swingman would fit in nicely with the 76ers, providing a high-level 3-and-D presence next to Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington - and all of them are at least 6-foot-7. Bridges is a safe pick late in the lottery. He's got little-to-no potential to become a superstar, but his reliable jumper and strong defensive acumen should lead to a long pro career.
With Kemba Walker entering the final year of his deal, a replacement at point guard may be the most logical selection for Charlotte. It would still be difficult to pass on the ultra-talented Knox, who's shown flashes of excellent athleticism and seems capable of becoming a terrific shooter at the next level. He'd immediately help upgrade the Hornets' loaded frontcourt of below-average athletes and could be a focal point as Michael Jordan and Co. begin to rebuild.
Drafting a "tweener" in basketball was once taboo, as few panned out or could find a home in the league. However, the modern NBA allows undersized forwards like Bridges to flourish, and drafting a mini-Blake Griffin without the nine-figure contract would surely satisfy the Clippers. The Michigan State sophomore will enter the league with the versatility to defend three positions and can shoot from distance. He could quickly become a starting piece for Doc Rivers.
With their next pick, it's essential for the Clippers to ensure lead guard is locked up, since they currently don't have a consistent answer at point guard. Gilgeous-Alexander is 6-foot-6 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, and could quickly turn into one of the best young defenders in the league, potentially forming an elite pairing with Patrick Beverley. On offense, the Canadian unexpectedly provided Kentucky with a reliable playmaker, and that skill should translate at the next level. If he can't become a consistent shooter, though, it could put a damper on his NBA prospects.
Walker may sneak into the lottery despite a choppy freshman campaign in Miami. He fits the physical profile of a high-ceiling wing, possessing a solid jumper and a 6-foot-10 wingspan. With Denver potentially losing Wilson Chandler and Will Barton, Walker's an insurance policy that can immediately turn into a rotation player for Denver. He'd make for a great transition player next to Jamal Murray and give the young Nuggets a tough-minded defensive wing to play with Gary Harris. Denver would love to hit a home run in the first round, but the club will be lucky to settle for a solid long-term option.
After five seasons with Marcin Gortat at center, it's time for the Wizards to move on. It'll be an ideal scenario if Williams slips to them, as Washington's desperate for a rim-running big man to clean up its errors around the basket. At 6-foot-10 and 250 lbs, Williams has an NBA-ready build and could be the D.C. version of Clint Capela or DeAndre Jordan. He'd be a dream center for John Wall, who hasn't played with a gifted lob-catcher in a long time.
Suns receive Heat's top-seven-protected first-round pick
Smith made his way onto draft boards despite not being considered an ESPN Top 100 prospect in 2017. He's an elite athlete and his defensive numbers provide reason for hope, but he's certainly a project. Though Phoenix is ready to move towards a winning culture, Smith's upside could be worth the wait - especially if he can find a consistent offensive game under Igor Kokoskov, who's known as one of the better developmental coaches in the league.
The Bucks have built a long, athletic roster that's struggled to produce positive results on either end of the floor. Holiday's an undersized guard lacking the elite athleticism generally desired in today's game. However, with Malcolm Brogdon more ideally deployed as a combo guard and the Bucks desperate for stability next to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 6-foot-1 Holiday could become an underrated value pick that excels defensively thanks to his 6-foot-8 wingspan.
Though he lacks a perimeter shot, Brown is otherwise something of a Swiss Army knife, capable of defending multiple positions and running an offense at 6-foot-7. Next to Dejounte Murray and Kyle Anderson, the Spurs and their structured system could use the versatile Oregon forward to help build a bright future regardless of the drama surrounding Kawhi Leonard.
Hawks receive Timberwolves' lottery-protected first-round pick
The Hawks' post positions are set, so adding a combo guard who's frequently capable of taking the keys to the offense would give them a formidable young core. Robinson can shoot off the bounce and comes off of screens with NBA range. He has tremendous vision and could develop into a great scorer at the professional level. The 6-foot-5 guard should find an immediate role in Atlanta's rotation.
Timberwolves receive Thunder's lottery-protected first round pick
It's hard to imagine DiVincenzo was getting many looks prior to being named the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player. The Wildcats' sixth man could slide into the Timberwolves' rotation and help stretch the floor, a role Minnesota was rarely able to fill off the bench last season.
The Jazz have put together one of the most frustrating defensive rosters in the league, with Rudy Gobert manning the middle and Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio controlling the perimeter. Bates-Diop could fit right in as an undersized stretch-four that adds a young, two-way element that's ready to contribute now.
Bulls receive Pelicans' top-five-protected first-round pick
It's rumored that Hutchison pulled out of the combine because the Bulls made a promise to the senior forward. The 6-foot-7 point forward has shown he can run an offense and will feel comfortable playing off the ball, likely making him a solid fit to handle the bench unit. If the Bulls decide to select any of the remaining centers in the lottery, it could push Hutchison into a more prominent role with the starters.
The Pacers were the most surprising team in the NBA last season, finishing with 48 wins thanks to the emergence of newly acquired Victor Oladipo. Musa immediately enters as an experienced and fearless wing that excels as a scorer. Similar to Doncic, the Bosnian found success on the professional level overseas and could become a steal if given the opportunity.
With so much uncertainty surrounding Jusuf Nurkic, Portland could choose to draft a young center with a high ceiling to move on from the Bosnian big. Robinson was set to join Western Kentucky before choosing to take the year off to work on his game away from school. Regardless, the 7-foot-1 big man's potential as a rim-runner and shot-blocker could make him a cheap replacement for a franchise desperate for athleticism in the middle.
Lakers receive Cavaliers' top-three-protected first-round pick
Huerter has skyrocketed up draft boards thanks to his elite shooting potential and high IQ. With so much uncertainty surrounding the Lakers' roster, adding a safe bet like Huerter would give them an effective rookie capable of stretching the floor.
Snagging Brunson to back up Simmons with the 76ers' second selection gives them a point guard who can play off the ball and shoot from distance - things T.J. McConnell isn't capable of doing consistently. Brunson brings some valuable experience after winning a second national championship in three years. And if Philadelphia does select Bridges at No. 10, reuniting the leaders of college basketball's best team on an already competitive NBA squad can't hurt The Process.
Question marks surround what the Celtics are planning to do with Marcus Smart, but the franchise could simply move on from the four-year pro. Thomas comes in as one of the best 3-and-D players in the draft with a 6-foot-11 wingspan despite standing at just 6-foot-3. Boston could turn him into one of the premier bench players in the league if given the opportunity.
Golden State stacked its roster with big men and almost forgot to add shooting. If the Warriors are aiming for perimeter help next to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Allen is as NBA-ready as they come after four seasons at Duke where he provided the Blue Devils with playmaking and should excel as a shooter on the next level.
Nets receive Raptors' lottery-protected first-round pick
Despite finishing with one of the league's worst records, the Nets are stuck selecting near the back of the draft. They can essentially use anything outside of the center position, where big man Jarrett Allen should become the focal point for the lowly franchise. Adding Frazier is a safe bet, as the forward enters the NBA as one of the more unheralded talents that could carve out a long career thanks to his notable improvement from the perimeter and high-level defensive ability.
Hawks receive Rockets' top-three-protected first-round pick
Evans won't come into the league as an elite player in any single category, nor does he possess the potential to reach that level. However, he's one of the best and most reliable 3-and-D players in the draft and was fully capable of controlling Cincinnati's offense when called upon last season. He adds versatility to a young Hawks core that is desperate for talent.