The tanking Hawks – and I don’t say that with disapproval – tied with Dallas for the NBA’s third-worst record. According to the invaluable site Tankathon, they have a 13.8 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick via the lottery and a 42.8 percent shot of selecting in the top three. They cannot fall lower than No. 7.
NBAdraft.net assigns the No. 3 pick to the Hawks and has them taking Michael Porter Jr. of Missouri. ESPN Insider and SI.com have them picking No. 3 and taking Jaren Jackson Jr. of Michigan State. Until the actual lottery, which is more than a month away, mock drafts are – meaning no disrespect to any mocker – largely empty exercises. Of greater use is a breakdown of the top seven (or so) candidates. Toward that end, here we go.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona: He’s regarded as the biggest talent in this draft. (All three mocks have him going No. 1.) He’s 19 and already a massive man, huge in the upper body and across the shoulders. Even if you hang around basketball and are used to seeing big guys, your first reaction to Ayton is, “He’s a REALLY big guy.” He can shoot a little – he made 12 treys this season – but isn’t close to being a finished offensive product. Of greater concern is his defense. He blocked only 66 shots in 35 games and doesn’t seem to possess real defensive instincts, which would be a major concern in a league where every team is seeking – apologies for use of the buzz phrase – “rim protection.”
Marvin Bagley III, Duke: Considered the presumptive No. 1 pick in preseason, there’s a chance could fall out of the top five. This wouldn’t seem to make much sense – he was the ACC player of the year as a freshman – but the growing consensus was that he and his Blue Devils mates never meshed. (Grayson Allen seemed to play better when Bagley was out hurt; so did fellow freshman Wendell Carter Jr.) He’s powerful leaper and a more polished scorer than Ayton, but there’s belief that he’s not really a center – he’s 6-foot-10 – and not quite a stretch-4, either. Questions regarding defense apply here, too. Bagley’s inability to guard was a key reason Duke switched to a zone defense. Fun fact: In 150 NCAA tournament minutes, Bagley didn’t block a shot.
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Save for two minutes in the opener, he missed the entire regular season because of a back issue that required surgery. He returned in the SEC tournament against Georgia and missed 12 of 17 shots. He missed eight of 12 in a Round 1 NCAA loss to Florida State. Fun fact: In games in which the nation’s No. 1 recruit – at least until Bagley reclassified – played more than two minutes, Missouri was winless. The uninspiring two-game return left scouts wondering if Porter is a difference-maker or just a 6-10 perimeter player who’ll put up numbers but never become the face of a franchise. But are such doubts an overreaction to two games worked by a guy who wasn’t close to being himself? Safe bet: Porter will be the most-discussed player on the board.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: He’s 6-11 and can work comfortably on the wing. He made 39.6 percent of his 3-point tries. That said, he averaged only 10.9 points on what would become a disappointing team, and he was utterly at sea against Syracuse in the Spartans’ Round 2 NCAA loss. He played only 15 minutes and didn’t make a basket. He had six games that saw him score four or fewer points; he broke 20 just twice. He’s the rawest of the freshmen apt to be taken in the lottery, and therefore the furthest from being an impact player. He’s also a major talent.
Luka Doncic, Real Madrid: He’s from Slovenia. He’s 19. He’s a 6-foot-8 shooting guard who’d worked his way to the top of some mocks. He’s often likened to Toni Kukoc, who was a darn good NBA player, but the issue for most lottery teams is this: Do we dare to take a perimeter type with so many big men available? Doncic can really shoot it, but he’s loose with the ball and not a creator on the order of, say, Ben Simmons. He also has played more games – between club and country, he went more than a year without much of a break – than any of the collegiate freshmen. It would a surprise if he doesn’t go in the top five; it would take guts for an NBA team to make him No. 1 overall.
Mohamed Bamba, Texas: He’s 7-foot and very thin. (The anti-Ayton, if you will.) He also averaged 3.7 blocks per game, meaning: Here’s your rim protector. He’s not an artist with the ball in his hands – he had 15 assists against 46 turnovers – but he can make a shot in the low post. He won’t be among the top three picks and maybe not the top five, but he might be the best value to be found in this lottery.
Trae Young, Oklahoma: He led the nation in scoring and assists. Had the college player of the year been named before New Year’s, he’d have been it. The latter part of his season was less spectacular and saw the Sooners barely scrape into the NCAA tournament. His status as the best point guard in this draft has been threatened by the late-season emergence of Alabama’s Collin Sexton.
Wendell Carter Jr., Duke: Some scouts believe he’s a better NBA prospect than Bagley, though Carter has conceded that Bagley is the superior talent. Carter is the better passer and defender, and he seems more of a center – or what passes for a center these days – than Bagley. There are times when Carter reminds you of Al Horford, which isn’t a bad thing. He’ll almost certainly go between Picks No. 6-9.