There are no perfect prospects in the 2018 draft class but, with less than three weeks to go until draft night, Arizona big man Deandre Ayton seems to be the safest bet to land in the top two. If anything, that has been the case for a while, with Ayton checking every old-school box for a wildly productive college big man and pairing that with an incredible physical frame and athleticism that would be appealing to the modern NBA.
Offensively, there are very few questions about Ayton, who averaged 20.1 points per game at Arizona on 61 percent shooting and even flashed the semblance of what could be an intriguing jump shot at the next level. He is a freak-ish athlete with a chiseled physique that plays against virtually any kind of defender, and that should allow him to have very little trouble adjusting to the NBA game with efficiency and potential dominance.
On the other end of the floor, there is also reason to believe Ayton could be an impressive force. After all, he is a tremendous athlete with the foot speed to be able to defend in space and the length to deter others at the rim. However, Ayton was anything but a finished product defensively at the college level and his ability to translate his defensive game to the NBA is, by far, his biggest question.
Some of Ayton’s defensive issues at Arizona can be traced back to head coach Sean Miller’s decision to deploy him regularly alongside another traditional center. That is a decision that most NBA types find inexplicable and, as a result, Ayton was often put in unfavorable positions. With that said, there has been some level of buzz that Ayton views himself as more of an all-court player than as a true center, which could prove to be a challenge when he arrives in the NBA.
If you believe in his ability to “turn it on” defensively, it is very easy to see Ayton as the no-doubt No. 1 pick in this class. Because, of course, he has the physical tools, it is easy to talk one’s self into his projection on that end. Still, Ayton’s mindset and basketball IQ will be equally important defensively and, as we’ve seen during the 2018 NBA Playoffs, it is sometimes quite difficult to deploy a center that isn’t capable of staying on the floor defensively against small ball lineups.
Other prospects have questions, ranging from Luka Doncic’s lack of elite-level athleticism to Marvin Bagley’s (similar) defensive uncertainty, but Deandre Ayton still may have the fewest. Evaluating him is tricky but, with that in mind, here is our latest 2018 NBA mock draft with a familiar face in the No. 1 spot.
1. Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton (C, Arizona)
All signs point to Ayton landing in Phoenix at this point. It has to be noted that the Suns could go in a different direction with Luka Doncic but, until something indicates that as a more likely outcome, the safe bet is projecting the Arizona product to stay close to home as the No. 1 overall pick.
2. Sacramento Kings – Marvin Bagley III (C/PF, Duke)
This is a weird spot. There is mixed information circulating with regard to how Sacramento feels about Luka Doncic and that is important to note. On my personal board, Doncic would be the no-doubt choice here but buzz about potential slippage is enough to project Bagley to Sacramento. The Duke standout is a worthy top-two pick in most drafts as a tremendous athlete with a great motor and the Kings could certainly use the infusion of talent in the frontcourt.
3. Atlanta Hawks – Luka Doncic (SF/SG, Slovenia)
The Hawks may not be in love with Luka Doncic. We just don’t know (yet). With that said, few teams need a No. 1 offensive engine more than this Atlanta squad and this would be a heist from a value perspective. Jaren Jackson Jr. would be a great potential fit with John Collins but Doncic would give Atlanta a new face.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr. (C/PF, Michigan State)
This isn’t a perfect fit by any means. Jackson Jr. is (very) likely a full-time center at the next level and, well, the Grizzlies still have Marc Gasol. However, the Michigan State big man represents the last player of the top tier, at least in my view, and Gasol would be a fantastic short-term mentor for Jackson Jr., especially on the defensive end of the floor.
5. Dallas Mavericks – Mo Bamba (C, Texas)
The Mavericks may choose to go the free agent route in order to find their next center but there is a reason this is a (very) popular mock draft pairing. Bamba is arguably the best player available and, with the Nerlens Noel experiment failing miserably, Dallas could use the infusion of talent and defensive upside.