Will there be a Kyle Kuzma type of jump from somebody in Chicago? There are plenty of candidates, that’s for sure.
1, Luka Doncic, Ball Handler, Real Madrid (-)
The Slovenian phenom has maintained his top spot throughout this season and he will remain there for me up until draft night. Ayton has made a heavy case to dethrone him this entire time, and I wouldn’t doubt he’s on many teams boards at the top, including the Suns.
What continues to separate these two elite prospects for me is their flaws. Doncic doesn’t have top-notch athleticism, but Lonzo Ball wasn’t considered to have significant bounce either and is doing just fine. Meanwhile, Ayton’s lack of rim protection instincts continued to rear its ugly head with no progressions seen there outside of small flashes.
For a comparison of Doncic, I continually come back to a hybrid of Ben Simmons with the instinctual on-court savvy of a Manu Ginobili or Lonzo.
In a league that continues to be built more on the perimeter than inside, Doncic will remain No. 1 until June 21.
Also, the unique qualities a trio of Booker-Jackson-Doncic would bring is something no other team would have. Three ball handlers who could equally share that duty for one another.
Doncic to me is a can’t-miss prospect who’s flaws are less severe than his counterpart below him.
2. Deandre Ayton, Big, Arizona (-)
When comparing Ayton to other modern-day bigs that have entered the league recently — Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns — Arizona’s Bahamian beast closely resembles Boogie’s game when looking back on how he was at Kentucky.
Not only was Cousins able to get his own shot at will down low, but he also flashed unique qualities as an above-average rebounder and passer for someone who is close to 7’ tall.
Then, when I went back and watched Ayton, they mimicked one another in similar manners in their negatives, too.
Don’t get me wrong, Ayton offensively is much more advanced than Cousins was at 18 or 19 years of age, but the non-progressions we saw from him on defense has the possibility of capping his astronomical ceiling.
There’s no denying that Ayton will be an immediate 20 and 10 contender once October rolls around, there’s more quote-unquote “bust potential” if all goes wrong in prospects’ games with Arizona’s cyborg.
For a player who possesses insane measurables and 40+” vertical leap, it could easily be taught to him with discipline but this season was worrisome as far as that aspect goes.
Doncic and Ayton are in their own tiers, by the way. It’s of utmost importance for Phoenix to land of these two on draft night if the lottery balls fall their way. That’s at least the feeling I have felt.
3. Michael Porter Jr., Wing, Missouri (+3)
If MPJ reaches his Mokan Elite (AAU) form from a health perspective, I’m okay with moving him all the way up to No. 3 here. After going in and diving into more of that, Porter Jr. could be the prized wing in this class for many teams in the top five.
Porter Jr. coming back to try and help Missouri should be commended not something that should be used against him. Even though it was obvious he had no explosiveness, he still was able to contribute for Mizzou and make a positive impact.
Place him in the correct system to utilize his blend of scoring tricks and he could become a 20 ppg scorer ASAP. The pre-draft process will likely be the most important part for MPJ compared to any other prospect.
If he returns to his high school form, Porter Jr. will not only be a top three pick for me but also a multi-time All-Star.
4. Jaren Jackson Jr., Big, Michigan State (+4)
His NCAA Tournament performance scared many, but I’m still not deterred from what JJJ will become on a team that actually uses him correctly.
Throughout this entire season, Tom Izzo had JJJ used as his third option on offense and for some reason played 6, sometimes 7 bigs in his rotation. Why top prospects go there to be developed is beyond me, because his track record as of late isn’t great.
From an NBA point of view, Jackson Jr. should be placed as an anchor on defense who can stretch the floor as a 5. I can’t think of many rim protecting stretch bigs outside of Kristaps Porzingis, but there’s two in this draft with JJJ and Carter.
Advanced metrics continue to point towards the Carmel, Indiana native (shoutout 317!) taking an AD or KAT trajectory if he’s placed around the right players and coaches. In a game of drafting where finding the next star is prioritized, JJJ stands out the most.
5. Marvin Bagley III, Big, Duke (-2)
Unlike Ayton or JJJ, Bagley has actually taken developmental steps forward compared to them. He’s shooting over 50% from 3 over his past 12 games, which is a rather significant note because many thought he wouldn’t be able to consistently stretch the floor.
As Bagley continues to prove them wrong, he needs to improve on defense, though. I still see him as an uber-athletic 5 who could take advantage of mismatches constantly but will he be taken advantage of himself on the other end? That’s a worry with Bagley that won’t go away over the next few months.
If he would have gone somewhere other than Duke alongside Carter, how would he be doing? These internal debates are why I slotted Bagley down from No. 3 to No. 5 in my latest update until I see significant improvement on defense.
6. Trae Young, Ball Handler, Oklahoma (-2)
Like Bagley, MPJ and JJJ’s rise pushes them both down the board. However, the hate that Young has received lately doesn’t really make sense.
Compare his Oklahoma roster to Simmons’ LSU team. Not only is Young’s without any NBA talent, but his teammates seemed to let him down way too often throughout this season.
Young will benefit possibly more than other prospects from a pacing-and-spacing point of view. Plop him in Orlando or even Phoenix I believe he still produces at high levels.
This top six of mine — Doncic, Ayton, Porter, Jackson, Bagley, and Young — is likely going to solidify from now until June unless drastic changes occur.
7. Mikal Bridges, Wing, Villanova (+1)
With how 3-and-D wings are prioritized in the modern NBA, are we undervaluing Bridges? I’m not because I’m starting to feel a Victor Oladipo-like trajectory out of this lanky Villanova wing.
Bridges has had a highly productive tournament run thus far with hopeful Suns coaching candidate Jay Wright turning him into a reliable cog along the way.
This junior guard has elite measurables alongside proven consistency, especially from beyond the arc where he’s shooting 43%.
I will continue to bang the Mikal drum up until draft night, but if the Suns wanted to package T.J. Warren and one of their mid-firsts to get him, then that could end well for Phoenix in the long run.
8. Mohamed Bamba, Big, Texas (-3)
Bamba projects as an All-NBA Defensive Team candidate on a year-in, year-out basis but outside of that nothing else has shown itself through on Shaka Smart’s Texas squad.
I myself am a big believer in Bamba reaching his ceiling, but his lack of passing ability and overhyped shooting stroke in his high school days lead me to guess he will be the one top-notch prospect who slips on draft night.
His 7’9” wingspan will bode well for the next level in terms of adjustment, but he’s so raw on offense right now you have to worry how he reaches a Rudy Gobert level if his shot doesn’t come around.
There have been some more cold spots in Bamba’s college career, so he slides from the top five down to No. 8 on 3.0.
9. Wendell Carter Jr., Big, Duke (+2)
Many others have already pulled the trigger on ranking Carter above another big like Bamba, but I’m not there just yet. Where Bamba lacks, Carter excel.
Carter not only is the best passing big to enter the draft since Dragan Bender but his shooting stroke projects to NBA levels. Also, he’s a much better defender already than the likes of his teammate, Marvin Bagley.
At this point, Carter could turn into an Al Horford who’s even better as an anchor.
Even though many of the top prospects tend to skip out on the Combine, Carter should participate because he could start to gain attention alongside other top big men he’s well-deserving of.
10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ball Handler, Kentucky (+4)
I’m starting to fall head over heels for SGA and his pro potential, even without a consistent perimeter jumper yet. With a 7’ wingspan + great height for a PG at 6’6”, Gilgeous-Alexander is in a similar mold to Shaun Livingston but an even higher ceiling.
Over his last 10 games, Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 18 points, 6.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.7 steals while shooting over 50% from the field and on 3s, albeit in low attempts like Bagley. However, what he has shown over this stretch taking over as Kentucky’s main alpha should give you plenty of promise for how he fits his likely role a few months from now.
Slot him alongside a great shooter — cough, Devin Booker, cough — and SGA could become a pass-happy, lanky guard who can control his speeds to create havoc towards the basket. And after his tournament run, I’m now very comfortable getting ahead of the curve and slotting him above Sexton and into my top 10.
Who knows, if Gilgeous-Alexander participates at the combine and wows there, too, he might keep moving up more when 4.0 drops after my trek to Chicago.
11. Zhaire Smith, Wing, Texas Tech (NR)
Similar to Gilgeous-Alexander, Smith has burst onto the scene over the last few months and dazzled each chance he’s gotten.
I would have slotted Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter here but it seems like the word is he will return after breaking his wrist and likely cement himself as top 10, possibly top five pick in 2019.
Anyways, on Smith, there’s a lot to like in this explosive wing who compares well to All-Defensive prototypes such as Andre Roberson and OG Anunoby.
What pops on film with Smith is his innate ability to read defenses consistently getting into passing lanes for steals. Also, Smith is one of the top leaders in block percentages for guards/wings in this year’s class.
Teams who favor advanced stats will also be in love with the Texas Tech freshman as he is only one of five, who all are ranked ahead of him, in terms of box plus-minus metrics.
For a team in need of improving its overall length and speed on the perimeter, Smith could be a name general manager Ryan McDonough targets in the mid-first.
Who would’ve thought Smith would be in this position after not being highly regarded in AAU circuits, but he’s cemented himself as a lottery selection if he declares.
12. Collin Sexton, Ball Handler, Alabama (-4)
Sexton’s pre-draft hype will be something to follow. He’s a polarizing prospect because you either are all-in on him or not. Right now, I’m on the fence.
Alabama’s fiery leader in the backcourt does not look like a natural playmaker, so how will that go if he’s not a first or second option? That adjustment will be crucial if Sexton wants to be an immediate impact prospect.
He has the leadership qualities you look for and he will be a culture-changer, which could turn on a team like Phoenix with his never say die attitude always on the floor.
One area working in Sexton’s favor as well is his ability to draw contact and get to the free throw line. He ranks right alongside Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart for the best over the past decade in that metric.
If he’s able to hit his shot more consistently from the perimeter, an area that’s in his negatives right now, Sexton could become a more thick-framed Kemba Walker with even more competitive juices on the next level.
13. Miles Bridges, Wing, Michigan State (-2)
Bridges is still in the lottery for me, but he’s barely hanging on at the moment. It could be Izzo syndrome that JJJ had to deal with, but he’s also been there longer.
His versatility will allow him to comfortably play the 3, 4 or if you want to get crazy spot 5 in some death lineups based off of three-point snipers around him for spurts. Bridges also is a capable defender who should benefit more as a player tracking wings/bigs in the mid-perimeter off of screens and switches.
Bridges is a do-it-all type of prospect who can not only score from different levels but also rebound and pass at a rate that projects to quick production.
If he would have stayed in last year’s draft, Bridges would have gone higher than he will this time around. However, whoever he slips to is going to run up the card if they are in on him enough after workouts conclude.
14. De’Anthony Melton, Ball Handler, USC (NR)
When I brought up Melton in my Super Sleeper piece last month, I brought up Frank Ntilkina as a comparison and I can’t shake it. They both are lanky guards, but Melton is more thick-framed with more weight likely to be added on. Both of them couldn’t shoot either, but Melton was unable to play a single minute for the USC Trojans this past season.
He joined only Markelle Fultz and Dwyane Wade in 2016-2017 as the only freshman guards to ever average 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1 block. That means he knows how to stay active and move without the ball as a primary option.
If he was able to smooth over his shot mechanics during his year-long prep for the 2018 Draft, Melton should be a lottery pick.
Melton had a higher turnover rate compared to Sexton, but if you stretch their minutes out to per 36 Melton has him beat in almost every other metric. And Melton did so with way less usage.
He might be slipping through the cracks on some draftniks radar this year, but not here as he has a chance to climb even higher than No. 14 if he blows me and NBA executives away in Chicago.
Note: With me already going so in-depth with the lottery names, I will do a list of my prospects ranging from 15-30 to avoid making this a novel amount of words. Check out my Super Sleeper series for more on players who I love in this range + more coverage coming on others.
15. Daniel Gafford, Big, Arkansas (NR)
16. Robert Williams, Big, Texas A&M (-3)
17. Troy Brown, Wing, Oregon (-1)
18. Lonnie Walker IV, Wing, Miami (FL) (-3)
19. Jontay Porter, Big, Missouri (NR)
20. Kevin Knox, Wing, Kentucky (-11)
21. Keita Bates-Diop, Wing, Ohio State (-1)
22. Shake Milton, Ball Handler, SMU (NR)
23. Khyri Thomas, Ball Handler, Creighton (NR)
24. Mitchell Robinson, Big, High School (NR)
25. Jalen McDaniels, Wing, San Diego State (NR)
26. Dzanan Musa, Wing, KK Cedevita (NR)
27. Killian Tillie, Big, Gonzaga (NR)
28. Rawle Alkins, Wing, Arizona (NR)
29. Landry Shamet, Ball Handler, Wichita State (-9)
30. Jacob Evans, Wing, Cincinnati (NR)
Just Missed: Melvin Frazier, Wing, Tulane; Chandler Hutchinson, Wing, Boise State; Jarrett Culver, Wing, Texas Tech
In a draft that’s shaping up to fill many holes on the bottom half of the Suns’ roster, they could attack the draft from many different angles.
I have said it plenty before, but Phoenix alongside Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Los Angeles (Clippers) who also own multiple first-round picks hold the keys to this year’s draft and how active it truly becomes.
Who’s ready, because draft season is now kicking off into high gear with the lottery and combine less than 8 weeks away.