After months of rumors, innuendo, lies, leaks, gossip and #fakenews media reports, we’ve finally made it. It’s draft night, people! The night where we can push aside the crap your favorite team has been peddling for months – and find out where your favorite player will actually play his professional basketball next year. What a time to be alive!
And when Adam Silver does step to that podium this evening, oh what a night it will be. Understand that while this event is always marred by chaos, tonight could be extra chaotic. After DeAndre Ayton goes No. 1, it feels like Sacramento could go two or three different ways, which could ultimately shake up what everyone does from there. Add in the fact that a major NBA star is potentially on the trading block (Kawhi Leonard) and an NBA title contender has a Top 10 pick which they could possibly move (Cleveland) and woooooah buddy could tonight get wonky.
Therefore who better than to do a little draft preview than your favorite resident college basketball insider. I’ve been watching most of these guys for three or four years dating back to their high school days and know more about them, than some of my own family members. Sorry Aunt Millie, it’s true.
It’s time to preview the draft and talk some of the biggest names and most overrated players available tonight.
The Best Player in the Draft: DeAndre Ayton
Ayton is quite possibly the most unique potential No. 1 draft pick in years for one specific reason: He is both the most talented player in this draft while also doubling as the player with the most upside as well. Usually when you’re taking a guy in the top spot you feel like he’s pretty close to a finished product. Yet even after averaging 20 and 12 his freshman year and winning Pac-12 Player of the Year, it really does feel like Ayton is only now starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
Seriously, just simply watching him play at Arizona was breathtaking this year. He has size, skill and athleticism that is virtually unmatched for any center prospect to come through college basketball in recent years – yet what I personally love about him is his ability to do the things that aren’t the obvious stuff. He’s got incredible footwork for a guy his size, is an unbelievable passer out of the double-team and has a fluidity to his game that you just can’t teach. Watch him catch a ball at the top of the key and quickly go up for a three-point shot and it’s as effortless as if he was Klay Thompson or Steph Curry. Then you realize that he’s 7’1 one, and go “Man, is that guy is special.”
Ultimately I’ve been saying throughout this year at Arizona that he has an upside – at least offensively – of Hakeem Olajuwon, and over the last couple weeks I’ve seen more and more media folks come around on that comparison. Will he ever get there? Who knows. But even if he doesn’t, he’ll still be a perennial All-Star for years to come.
That’s also why he’s a no-brainer at No. 1.
The Safest Pick in the Draft: Marvin Bagley III
To me, Ayton is the best player in the draft, but I’m not necessarily sold he’s the “safest” pick. Again I’ve been watching all these guys since high school, and there were definitely times when Ayton hit cruise control, didn’t really try as hard as he should, and left you wanting more. To his credit, Ayton seemed to have flipped that script at Arizona and was absolutely phenomenal all year. But now that he is about to make big money, could I see a scenario where Ayton gets comfortable and never reaches his full potential? I can.
But Marvin Bagley? Barring injury, I simply cannot see any scenario where this kid fails. He’s too talented and plays way too hard. And while Ayton is the “best” player in this draft, Bagley is the safest pick.
To Bagley’s credit, he has essentially been tabbed one of the top players in his class since he was in seventh grade – SEVENTH GRADE! – and despite the hype, never stopped working. The result was what we saw at Duke last season – a kid who was supposed to be a senior in high school, that instead stepped onto a college campus a year early and was dominant from Day 1. To go along with innate skill, he also played with an effort and energy rarely seen from such a highly-ranked player at the college level. Bagley brought it every single damn night, resulting in a 21-point, 11-rebound per game average.
And that’s why I like Bagley so much. Not only is he as skilled as anyone not named “DeAndre Ayton” but he works harder than anyone else. This is a kid who – when he reaches his potential – will be a nightly, walking 20 and 10 guy. There are other players Sacramento can take at No. 2. But Bagley is the one they should take.
The Big Risk… Who Isn’t Really A Risk at All: Michael Porter Jr.
Look, I’m no expert at playing the stock market (I once had a chance to invest in Netflix about 10 years ago and passed – had I, I’d probably be writing this article from a beach in the Caribbean somewhere). But I can’t think of a more possible “buy low” risk than Michael Porter Jr. Coming into the year he was the consensus best player in this draft. If he plays up to that potential he will be a perennial All-Star. Yet now everyone is afraid to draft him because of a back injury in college, and he might fall to the back end of the Top 10 because of it. And I for one, think it’s silly.
Personally, there are a few reasons that his back injury wouldn’t concern me as much as has been reported. One, there’s only a 10 percent chance he’ll ever need a follow-up surgery, and even if he needs it, there’s no guarantee that it happens during his NBA career. What if you get 8-10 good years out of him before he needs another surgery? What if he never needs one at all? Not to mention that he also blew through every timetable for recovery and somehow made it back on the court for Missouri when everyone said that Porter had suffered a season-ending injury when he went down.
Which brings me to my most important point, and something that I am amazed no one else is talking about: Porter’s dad worked for the team at Missouri. His mom lived right down the street in Columbia. Do you think either of them – let alone Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin – would ever risk letting Porter come back if he wasn’t 100 percent healthy and at a very low risk for injury? Especially when he was set to become a millionaire just a few months later? I find it impossible to believe.
Therefore, while I understand the concern, I myself am not as concerned as most. And I simply don’t think it’s worth potentially passing on the best player of the draft starting at No. 3 with Atlanta because of it.
Biggest Bust Potential: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson is the perfect example of why – in almost all cases – you should trust college basketball writers in their NBA Draft evaluations more than NBA writers who are trying to swoop in for a couple weeks and report on the draft (with a few exceptions). The reality is, we as “college basketball guys” have been watching these players dating back three or four years to their high school days. There is simply no way an NBA writer can make up that knowledge in a 2-3 month period in the draft process. Ultimately all these NBA writers do is talk to the same handful of sources, watch a couple YouTube clips and regurgitate the same mis-information that everyone else does. A perfect example of that was last year when everyone (except me) said that Markelle Fultz was the unquestioned No. 1 pick in the draft (more on that coming).
Which leads me to Jackson. Ask the “NBA experts” and they’ll spit back out what every NBA source tells them – that Jackson is a workout freak who is built like a grown man, with quick feet, incredible shot blocking ability and three-point range that extends to the three-point line. Add all that up and it’s led NBA scouts to gush about Jackson throughout this draft process. Heck, an NBA buddy of mine who worked out all the top players in the draft admitted to me that seeing him in person was “staggering.” Again, if you have no background on him, it’s easy to fall in love.
Except here’s the thing: Ask us guys who watched Jackson in college and we’ll tell you that while we “get” the fascination with Jackson (I truly, honestly do) there’s also something that’s just missing when he takes the court. It’s not that he’s “bad” player per se, as much as just that all that skill doesn’t naturally translate in game action. During this past season Jackson tended to always be in foul trouble and even when he was on the floor looked lost on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. It’s funny, I’ve actually seen NBA writers say that “Tom Izzo didn’t know how to use Jaren Jackson” which is quite literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Tom Izzo is a Hall of Famer and knew exactly what he was doing. The reality is, Jaren Jackson took himself out of games more than Tom Izzo did.
Add it up and it’s why I think Jackson has the biggest boom or bust potential in this draft. Again, I “get” why people like him, but if you’re a GM whose job is on the line do you really want to risk making a selection on a guy who could take 2-3 years to develop, or heck, might not develop at all? Like seriously, would it surprise anyone if Jackson never averages more than 11 and 7 in the NBA?
Me neither. Which is why, as much as I like him, I also think it might be best to stay away.
This Year’s Markelle Fultz, aka “The Guy Who Puts Up Good Stats But Has No Impact on Actual Games”: Mo Bamba
So a few weeks ago I was sitting around on a Sunday morning, and I saw an ESPN article come across my Twitter timeline. The headline read: “Mo Bamba’s growing case as the best player in this draft.” At that point I almost spit out the Pedialyte I was drinking to nurse my hangover. Mo Bamba? Best player in the draft? What draft exactly are we talking about?
That headline also led me to throw out the tweet below, where I said that Mo Bamba is this year’s Markelle Fultz. Not surprisingly, virtually no one on Twitter understood the context of what I was saying. To be clear, no I am not comparing Bamba to Fultz. One is a 7’1 center with a 7’10 wingspan. The other is a 6’4 point guard. I am fully aware of that.
Oh geez, just stop. Mo Bamba is this year's Markelle Fultz – the guy the "experts" love because of physical tools, yet those tools never seem to have any actual impact on wins and losses on the court. Give me Ayton/Bagley/Porter/Doncic over Bamba any day https://t.co/lORUT2qypk
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) June 10, 2018
Instead, what I’m comparing is the impact that they have on the game. Seriously, do you guys remember watching Markelle Fultz last season at Washington? And do you remember how Fultz would routinely put up insane stat lines, go for 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists every night… and it had no tangible impact on his team winning or losing? Ever notice how his demeanor never changed? How he never rose to the occasion? That’s the No. 1 reason I was out on Markelle Fultz at NBA Draft time last year. All you heard about was his size, wingspan and change-of-direction skill. Never once did anyone talk about his impact on games.
Well to me, Mo Bamba has the same impact as Fultz. Seriously, when we talk about Bamba, what are the things we talk about? His wingspan, his end-to-end speed on the court. Why don’t we ever once talk about his tangible impact on games? Because it’s non-existent. He’s a guy who would go out, get you a workmanlike 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks every night… and it’d have absolutely no impact on a single game he played.
And that’s also what concerns me as a prospect: I’ve seen other guys rise to the occasion. I’ve seen DeAndre Ayton put his team on his back and refuse to let them lose. Same with Marvin Bagley. And Collin Sexton. Heck, I saw it from Kevin Knox (more on him coming) when he put up 34 points at West Virginia. But Mo Bamba? He never rose to the occasion, never had a moment where he put it all together.
Therefore, what I think about Mo Bamba really does depend on the situation he’s put in. If you’re asking me, can he be a productive role player that protects the rim, crashes the boards and is a contributor on a good team, I can absolutely see it.
But if you’re drafting him to be the face of your franchise, the best player on your team? Well, plan to be in the lottery next year.
The Best Point Guard in the Draft: Collin Sexton
There is no need to debate and no need to analyze. Sexton has prototypical NBA size, an insane work ethic – and as I mentioned above – put his team on his back time and time again at Alabama.
There’s a reason they call Sexton the “Young Bull.” And he should be the first point guard off the board on Thursday night.
The Biggest Disappointment Relative to the Hype: Trae Young
Throughout the college basketball season I got a bit of a reputation as a “Trae Young hater.” The reality is that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Look, I liked Trae Young. Enjoyed watching him play. The thing I didn’t like however is how at some point, the entire college basketball media became obsessed with him. How ESPN would literally run “Trae Young scoring meters” during games and lead Sportscenter with his highlights every night. How everyone started comparing him to Steph Curry… even though he’s admitted publicly that he modeled his game after Steve Nash. How every time his team lost it was someone else’s fault. How people would gush after he’d shoot 15 for 40 from the field, and totally excuse the fact that he was singlehandedly losing his team games. How I kept hearing how much he “elevated” Oklahoma’s program… even though they went 18-14 and didn’t win a game away from home after December.
So yeah, forgive me if the hype got a little suffocating at times. At a certain point I was convinced Young might win National Player of the Year, two Academy Awards and Nobel Peace Prize by the time the season was done. That’s how bad it got.
And honestly, that’s what concerns me about Young at the next level. Do I think he’ll be a “bust” in the traditional sense? Absolutely not. I think he’ll be a solid player in the NBA, a guy who can get his points at times and get others involved.
The problem is, that’s not the expectation for Young. The expectation – thanks to overbearing media hype – is that he’ll transform the game of basketball, somehow average 30 while also becoming the best passer in the league, elevating whatever team drafts him to the NBA title and maybe a couple Super Bowls as well. Which I’m sorry, I just don’t see (and not just the Super Bowls part).
In the end, I think he’ll be really effective, but as a relative small and skinny point guard I just don’t think he’ll be able to score as effortlessly as he did in college or have nearly the impact. By the time he gets to his third or fourth year I think he can become a top-half of the NBA point guard. But if you’re looking for a franchise changer, you’re looking in the wrong place.
Most Underrated Player in this Draft: Kevin Knox
To me the “draft story” with Knox goes back to the Final Four. At the time I remember going out for drinks with a buddy, right as Knox was making a decision on whether to stay at Kentucky or return to school. I remember saying at the time that I didn’t really understand why he would come back. There wasn’t any one thing that Knox could “improve” necessarily to better prepare him for the next level. He had the requisite size, skill and athleticism necessarily.
If anything, when Knox was on his game he was – in my mind – one of the Top 10 players in this draft. In the modern NBA, he’s a 6’10 guy who shoot, take people off the dribble and score anywhere from 25 feet in. Everything you needed to know about Kevin Knox we saw in that 34-point performance at West Virginia. Against one of the best defensive teams in the country, Knox was unstoppable. And that’s what I think he’ll bring to the NBA level.
In the end it turns out I was right, as Knox’s draft stock seems to surging heading into draft night.
I have no idea where he’ll be drafted, but Knox will end up as one of the 10 best players in the draft. And any team who passes on him in that range will live to regret it.
Let’s get to a couple other short thoughts on some other draft prospects:
Luka Doncic: I love his “feel” for the game, but am not sold he’s athletic enough to make plays at the NBA level. I think he’ll be a fine NBA player with a long career. I’m not sold he’ll be a franchise changer.
Miles Bridges: Love him. He’s a modern wing who will be able to score and defend at the NBA level. Like Kevin Knox, feel free to bet against him at your own will. He should be a Top 10 pick.
Mikal Brides: He reminds me of Wesley Johnson when he came out of Syracuse in 2010; everyone is focused on his talent. I’m focused on the fact that he’s three years older than most players in this draft. Bridges will be a fine NBA player. He won’t be a superstar.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: With that kid’s work ethic, and how much he improved throughout the season, I’m not betting against him. Sorry.
Wendell Carter: He came into the NBA 10 years too late. Had he been born in 1989 instead of 1999 he could have evolved into a potential All-Star. But he’s just too bulky and not athletic enough to be truly impactful as a big guy in the modern NBA.
Robert Williams III: Biggest boom or bust potential in the draft. Has the upside of a Top 5 pick. Has the work ethic of your cousin who sits at home and watches re-runs of Price is Right all day. I wouldn’t be stunned if he has a 15-year NBA career. Also wouldn’t be surprised if he was out of the league all together in 4-5 years.
Donte DiVencenzio: At some point he stopped being a “draft sleeper” and just became a “really good draft prospect.” In the modern NBA there are no longer “true point guards” and “shooting guards.” Just guards, who need to be able to shoot, handle the ball and pass. DiVencenzio can do all three and he’ll be a Top 10 pick because of it.
Enjoy the draft everyone!