By Hocine LOUKKAF, 2/26/18

For this first mock draft, I decided to rank the prospects by group as the team that will pick will factor a lot in the identity of the players.

First group, the top bigs. Four players, Bamba, Ayton, Bagley and Jackson may end up as the number one pick with everyone of them having its own strengths and weaknesses. To me, Bamba has to be the number one pick. The Longhorn has a mix of size, length, footspeed and a developing jumper which put him above the others. He also already is the best defender of the crop with more than 10rbds and 4blks a game. Ayton is my second pick with a chance to be picked one by a team in need of a center, Atlanta for example. The Wildcat is the only pure center and can play in the post as well as shoot from mid range. Yet, he lacks the defensive impact of Bamba. Bagley wasn’t supposed to enter the draft this year but he reclassified and has dominated the NCAA right away with 21pts and 11rbds a game. He may be the safest pick but may already be peaking and is not a dominant factor in defense. Last of the group, Jaren Jackson Jr. He could end up the best of these four with his size, length (3.4blks a game) and shooting but he still needs time to be more consistent offensively and above all in rebounding (11.6pts 6rbds with six games with 5pts or less).

The next four may not have the length and size of their counterpart but nobody questions their talent. Teams in need of a PG like Orlando or Cleveland could pick Trae Young. The 6-2 PG has one of the best season ever for a freshman as he tied the NCAA single game assist record and averages 29pts and 9as a game despite hitting a wall recebtly. Now, his defense is as poor as his offense is incredible as he lacks the length and athleticism to be a factor on D. Luka Doncic  (19yo) is the other story of the draft as the 6-8 Slovenian is simply the best player (18pts 5rbds 4.5as) of Euroleague powerhouse Real Madrid with teammates like Rudy Fernandez, Jeffery Taylor or Anthony Randolph. Teams like Cleveland or Chicago would love to get Wendell Carter. The 6-10 Blue Devil may not be the most glamorous pick, but the throwback center will set screens, block shots and can even shoot from three (14pts on 60%FG, 43% from three, 9.5rbds and 2blks). Michael Porter was seen by many as a top three pick before his injury. If he comes back healthy for the workouts, teams like Sacramento, Memphis, Chicago or the Knicks could use their pick on him outside the top 5.

The surefire first rounders. NYC or the Bulls will be interested by Kevin Knox if Porter isn’t available. Mikal Bridges projects as a versatile swingman and I would love to see him alongside Fultz in the Sixers’ backcourt. Versatility is also the key for Shai Gilgeous Alexander. The Kentucky combo plays like a vet with 4.5as even if he has to work on his outside shooting.  He may help Batum play at his real small forward position. The Clippers need bigs as they lost Blake and may lose Deandre Jordan next summer. Robert Williams length and athleticism (9.6rbds 2.5blks) complement well with Miles Bridges shooting and versatility (17pts 7rbds 3as 38% 3pt). Sexton and Duval will be great fit for teams like the Jazz or Denver in need of a starting or a back up PG. Phoenix has always been known for getting steals and may use Austin Wiley defensive mindset alongside Bamba. The Auburn workhorse has been suspended this year but his 4.7rbds and 1.3blks in 18min last year as he entered college a semester early supposed that he would have demolished the SEC inside. New Orleans need a tall and gritty SG and that’s what the efficient freshman Gary Trent Jr (15pts 4rbds 46% 3pt, 87% ft) brings to the table

The probable mid-late first rounders. Vanderbilt (8rbds 0.8blk in 17min) was the top recruit for Kentucky. He’s struggled to score since he came back but will improve physically as the draft approaches. Portland may go local with Troy Brown, a cheaper Evan Turner with upside. McCoy (17pts 10rbds 2blks) is not perfect but a real big who doesn’t want to shoot from three could help the Wolves’ spacing. 6-5 Tony Carr has one of the best stats line this year (19.6pts 4.8as 4.5rbds on 46% 3pt) and could be an upgrade to Cory Joseph and a future starter for the Pacers. If it was not for Doncic, Musa would be the best European prospect this year. The 6-8 Bosnian scores 14pts a game in the solid Adriatic League and can play the 2 and 3 spot. Jalen Brunson is not the most freakish athlete but his 19.8pts on 54% FG (44% 3pt) and 3.1 a/to ratio show how efficient the Villanova alumni PG is.

My late picks may be discussed but I wil try to justify them. The Bucks need a center and they often go for the fences. Bitadze is the best European big, moves well and averages 7rbds and 2blks in the Adriatic League. He still has room tom improve and has the strength Maker will never have at the 5 spot. Daniel Gafford is very raw but his length and athleticism (6rbds 2blks in 22min) is something the Wizards may appreciate as Gortat is getting older. The Spurs need size and may find what they’re searching for with Yurtseven. The Wolfpack can play both inside position and has improved a lot on his outside shooting (14pts 7 rbds 48% 3pt). Spellman is the last Villanova kid I’ve picked. The 6-9 old freshman brings versatility as he’s a good shot blocker who can shoot from three (7rbds 1.5blks 43% 3pt) and complement well a wings stacked Celtics team. Brooklyn has also to go for the fences, They find pretty good success drafting Allen and  Jontay Porter would be  a great fit alongside him. The 99 born big is a jack of all trades  who can pass the ball, shoot from three and block shots (2as 2blks 33% 3pt in 23min) and may end up better than players picked before. Our Warriors steal of this draft is Mitchell Robinson. The Warriors are struggling against centers, Robinson maturity has been questioned but maybe he will have used the year to work and prepare for this draft. Finally, the Hawks may need help outside. Frenchman Okobo has been on a tear recently averaging 21.5pts and 6as over the last four games in the very tough French championship (13.3pts 4.4as 38% 3pt for the year). The deceptively athletic combo (6-4 w/ 6-8 wingspan) is to me a more complete and better prospect than kids like Shamet or Lonnie Walker.