Kyrie Irving and his Cleveland discombobulation notwithstanding, the NBA offseason is winding down, so let’s look ahead to the next interesting period in professional basketball:
the 2018 regular season. the 2018 playoffs. the 2018 offseason. Everything kicks off with the draft (date/location TBA), and that includes the speculation, odds, and props.
ODDS TO BE #1 NBA DRAFT PICK (2018)
MICHAEL PORTER JR, F, MISSOURI: 7/3
Michael Porter is one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory. Anyone that has “BABY KD???” in the title of their highlight reels is on a hype rocket with enough energy to exit the Earth’s orbit, and he’s been projected to be at least top-two in this class since his prenatal ultrasound.
The comparison to Kevin Durant isn’t entirely unwarranted. Porter is a shockingly lithe and athletic 6’10 forward with advanced passing skills, solid range, and no obvious weaknesses. Sure, there isn’t a lot of diversity in his offense — he’ll generally catch and shoot over defenders instead of creating space and opportunities — but he also shot 47-percent from three and is nearly automatic from midrange so … why not?
His recruitment was one of the most interesting stories in recent memory, and his commitment to Missouri sent shockwaves through the basketball world. He has a decent chance to lead the Tigers to its first NCAA tournament berth since 2013, or he could be the third-straight number top prospect to miss out (Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz). It doesn’t really matter from a draft-perspective. He’s a guaranteed one-and-done, and as long as he performs individually, NBA teams won’t care about a lack of team success (see again Simmons and Fultz).
Recently Luka Doncic, DeAndre Ayton, and a few others have made a case to go first overall, and there’s another major threat lurking in the murk (more on this below), but MPJ remains the early favorite.
LUKA DONCIC, F, REAL MADRID: 4/1
Luka Doncic is one of the most promising European prospects in the history of the NBA draft. As an exciting, dynamic guard/wing, he puts up great stats for Real Madrid, generally regarded as one of the best teams not in the NBA, and in doing so draws comparisons to a pretty diverse cast. Is he the next Ricky Rubio, a star youngster with skills that don’t translate as well as you’d think? Or is he Danilo Gallinari, who’s good enough for a Bird contract and coming up on twenty points a game? If you look closely enough, you’ll find people comparing this teenager to LeBron James, which is utter nonsense but gets my point across: he’s really good, and could be great.
Doncic has visible skills and experience playing against elite competition, so NBA scouts are sure to like him. How they’ll overcome their preference of American college stars, and their bone-deep risk aversion, is another story. No international player has gone first overall since Andrea Bargnani in 2006, and his -0.9 career value-over-replacement has cast a pall over every Euro prospect since.
MOHAMED BAMBA, C, TEXAS: 5/1
Here’s a fun fact: Mohamed Bamba’s 7’9 wingspan will make him the longest player in the NBA, and among the longest in NBA history. His length and surprisingly fluid movement make him arguably the best defensive prospect in the draft, and his efficient-if-not-spectacular scoring have NBA scouts speculating as to where his ceiling is. Can he develop into a prolific scorer? Can he —dare I say it — develop a shot from deep?
He may need to if he wants to hear his name called first. It’s unlikely that teams will use the #1 pick to grab a player most known for his defensive acumen (it’s real hard to sell tickets that way). But Bamba has the physical tools and obvious potential to become one of the best centers in the game.
Adding to his troubles, Bamba got entangled in an unpleasant situation in which his half-brother accused him of receiving illegal inducements and being the subject of multiple recruiting violations. Nothing ended up coming of that — and the accusations seem unfounded — but GM’s can get flighty, and the NCAA can get unpredictable.
DEANDRE AYTON, C, ARIZONA: 6/1
Another seven-footer, DeAndre Ayton was rated as the #1 prospect in his class for the bulk of his high-school career. His speed and athleticism, especially at his size, evoke Kevin Garnett and Kristaps Porzingis, unreasonably skilled big-men who play(ed) like wings. Everyone loves Ayton’s skills, but there’s been some doubt on his work ethic and motivation, seemingly playing at less than full effort much of the time. (Can you blame him, though, when he dominates regardless?)
Once Ayton starts playing against serious competition at Arizona, these concerns may vanish. If the Bahamian rises to the occasion and leads the Wildcats to their first Final Four under Sean Miller, he’ll have a lot of teams a lot more interested in him. This is a guy with the potential to develop into a once-in-a-generation big, if he’s got the necessary work ethic, mindset, and attitude. Upside tends to loom large on draft night.
MARVIN BAGLEY III: OFF
Remember the “major threat” I said was lurking? It’s Marvin Bagley. He has to be mentioned, but doesn’t get odds just yet. He’s trying to reclassify but, as of right now, he’s not part of this class, and it’s not set in stone that he will become part of it. If he does, he’ll be the instant favorite; the near-as-makes-no-difference seven-footer likely would have been picked ahead of Markelle Fultz this year.
Bagley is tall and, while this gets said about any big who can dribble with his left hand, has the skills of a guard. His movement and body control are world-class. He plays above the rim with touch and finds shots from anywhere. He can even (kind of) shoot from three-point range.
All the players on this list are very, very good, but Bagley could be the future of the sport. Stay tuned for
2018 NBA DRAFT PROPS
ODDS TO HOLD THE #1 PICK
Thanks to the lottery system — and the fact that the season hasn’t even started — we obviously don’t know who will pick first. But we know a few things that help set these odds: (a) the Boston Celtics have the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick, and (b) the Nets suck. No team is projected to win fewer games than Brooklyn (about 20.5), so there’s a good chance that the Celtics will have another year atop the conference leaderboard and the draft board. Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Orlando will also have short lottery odds, and we’d be remiss to leave out the Knicks, who hang on to their 2018 first rounder, and are trash.
- Boston Celtics: 5/1
- New York Knicks: 6/1
- Philadelphia 76ers: 8/1
- Phoenix Suns: 8/1
- Orlando Magic: 10/1
MOST FIRST ROUNDERS (BY SCHOOL)
This has been a two-horse race between Kentucky and Duke for a while, and John Calipari and Coach K will be happily collecting five-stars like the Super Mario Brothers for … forever? We’re true to form in 2018. Duke has four players that are projected to go in the first round (Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr, Trevon Duval, and Grayson Allen) as does Kentucky (Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox, and Hamidou Diallo). I’m going to give Kentucky the advantage here, because PJ Washington could very well creep up, and if Grayson Allen has another underwhelming season, he could slip. Plus Kentucky gets bonus points for almost getting Hamidou Diallo drafted this year.
- Kentucky: 1/1
- Duke: 3/2
- Arizona: 9/1
ODDS THE #1 PICK IS A ONE-AND-DONE: 1/3
A one-and-dones has been the #1 pick in the draft for the last eight years, and there’s good reason for that. The best one-and-dones don’t belong in the amateur ranks in the first place. This year looks set to continue the streak, with Michael Porter Jr, DeAndre Ayton, and Mohamed Bamba leading the odds for the #1 pick, but Slovenian international Luka Doncic could break the streak. Some people are wickedly, borderline insanely hot on Doncic, and if the right team ends up with the first pick the streak will be broken.
FIRST POINT GUARD SELECTED
The top prospects in this draft are all forwards, a reversal from the 2017 draft, so it’s an interesting question which point guard will be selected first. Likely suspects: Collin Sexton from Alabama, and Trevon Duval from Duke. Tricky Trey has the mixtapes, but Sexton is an idealized scoring point guard who averaged over 30 points per game and can shoot from anywhere.
- Collin Sexton (Alabama): 11/14
- Trevon Duval (Duke): 3/2