With a month to go before the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, itís time to look ahead with an initial first-round projection.
While the official draft order wonít be set until May 15, the NBA broke a handful of important ties last week, giving us a more accurate look at how the order is most likely to turn out. Dallas and Chicago were the big winners, winning tiebreakers over Atlanta and Sacramento, respectively, to improve their lottery odds.
The league also settled a few non-lottery ties. Most notably, the Bucks ďlostĒ a tiebreaker with the Heat and will keep their pick at No. 17, while other tiebreakers were necessary to settle picks 18 and 19, as well as 20 through 23.
As a reminder, prospects have until Sunday, April 22 to officially declare for the draft. Theyíll then have until May 30 to decide whether or not to remain in the draft.
1. Phoenix Suns
DeAndre Ayton | C | Arizona
Phoenix has swung and missed on three big men with top-10 picks in the last five drafts, but Ayton is in an entirely different realm, in terms of talent, than Alex Len, Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss.
While Arizonaís unceremonious first-round exit may have left a bad taste in the mouths of evaluators, Aytonís dominant run through the latter half of the conference schedule and Pac 12 Tournament were enough to justify the comparisons to Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. He still has some major questions to answer, particularly on the defensive end, but the Suns are in a position to accommodate that development. They could do much worse than heading into next season with a core of Ayton, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren -- plus, theyíll be in position to pick up another young asset with the 16th pick.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Luka Doncic | G | Real Madrid (Slovenia)
Doncic isnít a perfect fit for a franchise thatís already committed $100 million to a primary ball-handler, but the Grizzlies are in a unique position as a 45-win team masquerading as a 22-win team. With Mike Conley back next season, the playoffs will be an expectation, and Doncic, even at his age, is more ready than Jackson, Bagley or Bamba to help make that happen. Doncicís rookie-year production might look better if he lands in Atlanta or Orlando, but sharing playmaking duties with Conley and Marc Gasol for a few years wonít erase his superstar potential.
3. Dallas Mavericks
Jaren Jackson | F | Michigan State
Bagley and Bamba will certainly be in play here, but Jacksonís ceiling as a two-way player is enticing enough to give him the edge. At 6-11 with a 7-4 wingspan, Jackson fills a positional need, adding shooting (40% 3PT) and shot-blocking to what was one of the worst rim-protecting teams in the league last season.
4. Atlanta Hawks
Marvin Bagley | F | Duke
Iím a little lower on Bagley than most, but this is, after all, meant to reflect what I think will happen -- not what I think should happen. If Jackson happens to be on the board here, Atlanta should pounce. But assuming heís gone, the Hawks go best talent available and pull the trigger on Bagley. His skill set is a bit redundant next to John Collins, but the hope is that Bagley develops a more consistent jumpshot and is dominant enough as a scorer to cancel out his defensive shortcomings.
5. Orlando Magic
Mo Bamba | C | Texas
With the exception of Ayton (probably), Bambaís upside is the highest of any prospect in the draft. A legit seven-footer with canoe paddles for arms, Bamba has the frame, instincts and fluid athleticism to be the best defensive big man in the NBA in five years. While heís struggled in the areas young big men often struggle -- physicality, foul rate, passing, free throw shooting -- Bamba was as good as advertised as a rim-protector, and he already has the framework in place for what will hopefully be a more reliable three-point shot (14-51 3PT) down the road. While he should be able to stretch the floor to some degree, Bamba remains very underdeveloped as a low-block threat, subsisting almost exclusively on lobs, tip-ins, and catches in the restricted area.
6. Chicago Bulls
Wendell Carter | F/C | Duke
Do the Bulls draft for need for for talent? The answer to that question will determine who they take at six. Trae Young will get some consideration, but the Bulls already have Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, who both look like long-term pieces. With his ability to pass, rebound and defend, Carter would be an excellent complement next to Markkanen up front. Carterís upside is on the low-end when compared to other high-lottery prospects, but heís among the safest players in the draft.
7. Sacramento Kings
Michael Porter | F | Missouri
The freshman was a shell of himself after returning from back surgery to play in Missouriís last two games. He looked sluggish, sloppy and uncomfortable -- in other words, about exactly what youíd expect from someone coming off of back surgery.
The lack of usable college tape may hurt him but, when healthy, Porter fits the profile of a prototypical NBA combo-forward, capable of hitting tough shots from anywhere on the floor and elevating over smaller defenders. His handle needs some work, as does his body, but if heís able to pick up where he left off before the surgery, Porter could end up as the steal of the lottery. For a team thatís picked in the lottery for 11 straight years with very little to show for it, Porter is worth the risk.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn)
Mikal Bridges | G/F | Villanova
Itís tough to find critics of Bridges, whoís widely considered the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft. The knock on Bridges is heíll turn 22 in August, but thatís less of a concern for an organization aiming to present the best possible win-now roster to a certain free-agent-to-be come July.
9. New York Knicks
Trae Young | G | Oklahoma
Young has the widest range of potential outcomes of any player in the draft. If you told me five years from now heís a two-time All-Star with a scoring title, Iíd be surprised but Iíd believe you. If you told me heíd just edged out Isaiah Thomas and Andray Blatche for his second straight Chinese League MVP, Iíd also believe you.
For a player of Youngís profile, playing in New York would raise the stakes even higher, but the Knicks desperately need backcourt scoring and have struggled to find a consistent lead guard. Young would be an intriguing fit next to Frank Ntilikina, whoís essentially the Trae Young of defense.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via L.A. Lakers)
Collin Sexton | G | Alabama
If Bridges is still on the board at 10, the Sixers will likely grab him without much hesitation. But in this scenario, theyíre presented with a more interesting decision. With Markelle Fultz back and playing much more like a point guard than an off-guard, Sexton doesnít make a ton of sense from a positional standpoint. That said, heís the best player available and would, at the very least, provide low-cost insurance. In a frontcourt-dominant draft, Sexton will be in high-demand, so itís possible the Sixers could end up moving the pick if the right fit isnít there.
11. Charlotte Hornets
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | G | Kentucky
With Sexton off the board, the Hornets go back to the Kentucky well for the second straight year. Gilgeous-Alexander may not have Sextonís upside, but heís a polished prospect for his age and could immediately step in as the backup to Kemba Walker following the failed MCW experiment.
At 6-6 with a seven-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander has the same size and length that intrigued fans of Carter-Williams, but heís a much more polished spot-up shooter and halfcourt playmaker.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit)
Robert Williams | F | Texas A&M
With DeAndre Jordan potentially on his way out this summer, the Clippers turn to another hyper-athletic, Texas A&M product to be his long-term replacement. Williams (6-9 or 6-10, depending who you ask), isnít quite as imposing as Jordan, especially on the defensive end, but heís a top-tier athlete who projects as the same type of vertical-spacing, lob-finishing rim-runner.
Like Jordan, Williams was inconsistent for much of his time in College State, but he boosted his stock with a strong run in the NCAA Tournament, including a 13-point, 14-rebound, two-block performance in a win over Providence.
13. Los Angeles Clippers
Kevin Knox | F | Kentucky
With their own first-rounder, the Clippers go with another relatively raw prospect in Knox, who wonít turn 19 until mid-August. Knox has the size (6-9) and athleticism to play both forward spots and could be groomed as the long-term replacement for Tobias Harris, whose contract is up after next season.
14. Denver Nuggets
Miles Bridges | F | Michigan State
Bridgesí decision to return for his sophomore season was a surprising one, but in the end it likely wonít drastically impact his draft slot. The 20-year-old is a top-tier athlete -- particularly for a big-bodied wing -- but he didnít demonstrate significant progression as a sophomore, essentially reproducing the same numbers as his impressive freshman campaign. If Bridges can be a consistent enough shooter (career 37.4% 3PT), concerns about his lack of a true position could be overblown.
15. Washington Wizards
Mitchell Robinson | C | No College
After the Williams/Knox/Bridges grouping, thereís a bit of a cut-off point, with the rest of the first-round likely to be a matter of individual preference. Opinions on Robinson are all over the board -- mostly because he hasnít played a competitive game of basketball since the end of his senior season in high school.
Robinsonís commitment to Western Kentucky ultimately fell through, but his upside as an athletic, shot-blocking big remains. The 20-year-old may be more of a project player than the Wizards would prefer, but at this point in the draft there arenít any sure things.
16. Phoenix Suns (via Miami)
Zhaire Smith | F | Texas Tech
A late-riser on draft board, Smith isnít a lock to declare, but itís hard to imagine his stock rising much higher after Texas Techís run to the Elite Eight. Smith is the most explosive leaper in the class and has great potential as a defender, but heís only 6-5 and doesnít have the ball-handling or three-point shooting of a traditional NBA wing. For Phoenix, though, the 18-year-old would be another high-upside wing to add to its young core.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Khyri Thomas | G | Creighton
The Bucks have a big decision to make with Jabari Parkerís future, but outside of that theyíll have minimal roster flexibility this summer. As such, Milwaukee will be looking for an immediate contributor, and Thomas projects to step in and, at the very least, competently defend multiple positions.
18. San Antonio Spurs
Lonnie Walker | G | Miami
Production-wise, Walker was up-and-down throughout his freshman season, but heís a good athlete with long arms who can create his own shot. Walker might not be ready to contribute much in Year 1, but heíd be a nice long-term piece for a Spurs team with somewhat of a murky future for the first time in recent memory.
19. Atlanta Hawks (via Minnesota)
Troy Brown | G/F | Oregon
The Hawks have hit on a few players in the mid-first-round over the last two drafts, landing John Collins at 19 last June and trading for Taurean Prince two weeks after he was drafted 12th by Jazz in 2016. Brown was inconsistent as a shooter at Oregon, but he wonít turn 19 until late-June, and at 6-7 heíd give the Hawks another long, multi-positional defender on the wing.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Oklahoma City)
Keita Bates-Diop | F | Ohio State
Bates-Diop was as productive as any player in the draft as a senior at Ohio State, coming out of nowhere to take home the Big Ten Player of the Year award in convincing fashion. At 6-7, 235, heís versatile on both ends, but as a 22-year-old redshirt junior, heíll be inherently downgraded.
21. Utah Jazz
Aaron Holiday | G | UCLA
Another older prospect, Holidayís perceived ceiling will likely keep him out of late-lottery consideration, but he was among the most consistently productive guards in the country last season. Holiday averaged 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shot 43 percent from beyond the arc (6.2 3PA/G) as a junior, punctuated by back-to-back 34-point games in the Pac 12 Tournament. While heís a little undersized at 6-1, Holiday has long arms and should be able to play both on and off the ball.
22. Chicago Bulls (via New Orleans)
Anfernee Simons | G | IMG Academy
If the Bulls want to draft for upside after taking Carter at No. 6, Simons is the guy. The 18-year-old would likely spend much, if not all, of next season with the Windy City Bulls.
23. Indiana Pacers
DeíAnthony Melton | G | USC
Melton sat out all of what would have been his sophomore season amid an improper benefits investigation. That prevented him from building on a productive freshman season that saw hima verage 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. The rebounding and defensive numbers are particularly impressive for a 6-4 guard, but Melton struggled shooting the ball (28.4% 3PT; 70.6% FT) and has the profile of a player who may be somewhat of a defensive specialist in the NBA.
24. Portland Trail Blazers
Dzanan Musa | F | FC Barcelona (Latvia)
With limited cap flexibility, the Blazers go with a potential draft-and-stash at 24. Musa is only 18 and has been playing professionally in Europe for several years. He fits the mold of the stereotypical Euro stretch-four and has been productive for his age -- 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 5.0 FTA per 40 minutes -- this season.
25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cleveland)
Bruce Brown | G | Miami
Brown didnít have the sophomore year he hoped for, and it ended with him missing the Hurricanesí final 12 games with a stress fracture in his foot. Brown put up a triple-double in his first game but that ended up being the high point, as his shooting efficiency plummeted across the board following a breakout freshman season. On a more positive note, Brown increased his assist rate and was one of the best rebounding guards in the country (7.1 RPG), while maintaining his reputation as a versatile, hard-nosed defender.
26. Philadelphia 76ers
Jacob Evans | G/F | Cincinnati
Evans is a junior, but heís young for his class and is coming off of another strong three-point shooting season. The Sixers may not need much from him as a rookie, but Evans can play and defend three positions.
27. Boston Celtics
Tyus Battle | G/F | Syracuse
A big, score-first guard, Battle has intriguing upside, but he was wildly inefficient as a sophomore (40% FG; 32% 3PT) and wouldnít be expected to contribute beyond the G League level for another year or two.
28. Golden State Warriors
Gary Trent, Jr. | G | Duke
Trent was an afterthought on a star-studded Duke roster, overshadowing his pedigree as perhaps the best pure shooter in the 2017 recruiting class. Trent hit better than 40 percent of his threes as a freshman, and while he didnít do much else, itís not hard to imagine him eventually finding his niche as a Wayne Ellington type in the NBA.
29. Brooklyn Nets (via Toronto)
Chandler Hutchison | F | Boise State
Hutchisonís two-year production as a junior and senior is formidable and heíll be the rare late-first-rounder who could step in and play some meaningful minutes as a rookie. The Nets have done a good job of stockpiling some cheap, young guards and Hutchison would add some depth on the wing.
30. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston)
Rawle Alkins | G | Arizona
Alkins is in virtually the same position as last year, teetering on the edge of the first round after another inconsistent season. Physically, Alkins is an imposing, 6-5 presence, but he still has question marks as a jumpshooter and is prone to playing out of control, at times. That said, Alkinsí upside is considerably higher than most players in the 25-40 range.