It is widely assumed that Deandre Ayton, a 7-foot-1 center who played one controversial season at Arizona, will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Ayton said he will be the top pick, and offshore oddsmakers agree.
Ayton is an overwhelming odds-on favorite — anywhere from 1-10 to 1-25 — to go first. All things considered, that’s a preposterous price. In a league going the way of small-ball and scoring guards and wings, traditional centers are becoming dinosaurs. Ayton will be a standout player at the next level, no doubt, but those who believe this is an easy pick for the Phoenix Suns to make are not thinking it through.
Point guards are more valuable, and 6-8 Luka Doncic from Slovenia probably would be a better top pick for the Suns. Marvin Bagley III, a power forward from Duke, is a freak athlete who can score on anyone around the rim and shoot it from the perimeter. The Phoenix pick, in my opinion, should be a coin flip between Doncic and Bagley. Las Vegas bookmakers are greeting this NBA Draft with such indifference that we might not see propositions posted this week. That is understandable. This event has nowhere near the public appeal of the NFL Draft, and about 90% of the action would come from sharps while the Average Joes sit on the sideline.
Still, two props posted offshore are worthy of analysis:
* Trae Young draft position: 6.5 (Over -165) — The comparisons to Stephen Curry, which started to fly in December, do not fit. Young is too small (6-2, 180 pounds) to defend NBA shooting guards, his turnover rate is a real problem and his shot selection is poor. Curry struggled with injuries for years before blossoming into the league’s MVP. Young, who was exposed during the second half of his freshman season at Oklahoma, does not have Curry’s same ceiling. But so many teams are desperate for shooters, someone will fall in love with Young’s scoring potential. This draft class is absolutely loaded in the top 10, and Young is too much of a gamble to go in the top five. If he does, it’s a mistake. The highest Young should go is No. 7 to Chicago. It’s doubtful he slips lower than No. 10. Lay the price and play this over.
* Will Grayson Allen be selected in the first round? Yes (plus 130) — Duke’s bad boy is a better athlete than most think and a better shooter than he showed last season. Shooters are tremendously valuable and at least two teams (Boston and Golden State) drafting near the end of the first round know it. Allen looks like a fit for the Celtics. If Danny Ainge does not pick Allen 27th, the Warriors could take a shot on Allen with the next pick. Late in the first round is the right time to roll the dice on a shooter who can be a quality rotation player. Take the plus price.
This is an unpredictable draft, and if Ayton does not go first, expect this mock to get mucked up. But here’s a shot at how the first round could develop:
1. Phoenix: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona First, the positives: Ayton is a monster rebounder, strong low-post defender and has a soft touch on his jumper. Now, the negatives: He’s perceived to be a great athlete, but in reality he’s mechanical when compared to Bagley. He’s seldom a highenergy guy. His 3-point shooting for the Wildcats (12-for-35, 34%) was nothing to brag about. His outside game is overrated. The Wilt Chamberlain comparisons that some have made are ridiculous. But the Suns see a potentially dominant big man, so they likely make the pick that will be most popular in Arizona.
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke The Suns would make a mistake by passing on Doncic, but it seems the top of the draft will play out this way. Sacramento already has De’Aaron Fox to run the point, so Bagley is the obvious choice here. The knock on Bagley is he’s weak on the defensive end. His offensive game is enormous, though. He made 39.7% of his 3-pointers as a freshman and his shot will continue to improve. The 6-11 Bagley is a dynamite athlete with a nonstop motor. He will score and rebound at a high level immediately.
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic, PG, Slovenia In two or three years, expect Doncic to be regarded as one of the NBA’s elite point guards. Listed at 6-6 and 6-8, he’s got the size and skills to be a star. Doncic is a sensational passer, playmaker and scorer who can handle both guard spots. He’s tough, too, which is a question mark that shadows some European players. He turned 19 in February and was the EuroLeague MVP. The Hawks would be foolish to not take him if he’s on the board. If the Suns snag Doncic, Atlanta will go with either Ayton or Bagley, so they cannot screw this up, right?
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State Jackson emerged as a 6-11 freshman who put on dunking exhibitions, defended the paint and proved he could shoot from the perimeter, though his shot mechanics are awkward. His stock is rising and his potential as a two-way player is exciting.
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba, C, Texas The 7-footer is nowhere near as polished as Ayton or Bagley on the offensive end, but Bamba is the best rim defender in the draft. He totaled 111 blocked shots as a freshman. This would be a tough call for the Grizzlies because more talented scorers will be available. Bamba could slide.
6. Orlando: Wendell Carter Jr., PF, Duke How did Mike Krzyzewski fail to coach the Blue Devils to the Final Four? Bagley and Carter are similar in many ways. The 6-10 Carter made 41% of his 3s and averaged 2.1 blocks. The Mavericks will be tempted to take Carter with the fifth pick.
7. Chicago: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma Young is the wild card in the top 10 because he’s the most likely player to bust. His ability to score (27.4 points per game) is undeniable, yet his production declined when teams figured out how to defend him. He averaged 5.2 turnovers and his 3-point shooting slipped to 36%. Young is slight and will get pushed around by physical NBA guards.
8. Cleveland: Michael Porter Jr., SF, Missouri If not for back and hip injuries, Porter would go in the top five. He might go there anyway. He’s a versatile athlete at 6-10, and for a team on the brink of losing LeBron James, Porter is a decent replacement. The Cavs need a point guard, too, but there’s no way to pass on Porter.
9. New York: Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova The Knicks took a point guard in the top 10 a year ago, so expect them to go with a wing or big man in this spot. Bridges is skilled and tough on both ends, a Kawhi Leonard-type player, so if he’s on the board the Knicks would be crazy not to call his name. This draft is incredibly deep at the top and the Villanova star is a steal in this spot.
10. Philadelphia: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State If the Knicks fumble the ball, which is always possible, the Sixers are salivating at the thought of getting Mikal Bridges here. The other Bridges who starred for Tom Izzo is a good backup plan. He can shoot the 3 and is a prototype NBA wing as a highflying 6-6 athlete.
11. Charlotte: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
12. L.A. Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, SG, Kentucky
13. L.A. Clippers: Robert Williams, PF, Texas A&M
14. Denver: Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky
15. Washington: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami
16. Phoenix: Zhaire Smith, SF, Texas Tech
17. Milwaukee: Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky
18. San Antonio: Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia
19. Atlanta: Aaron Holiday, SG, UCLA
20. Minnesota: Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton
21. Utah: Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland
22. Chicago: Troy Brown, SF, Oregon
23. Indiana: Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State
24. Portland: Josh Okogie, SG, Georgia Tech
25. L.A. Lakers: Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State
26. Philadelphia: Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova
27. Boston: Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
28. Golden State: Melvin Frazier Jr., SF, Tulane
29. Brooklyn: Jacob Evans, SF, Cincinnati
30. Atlanta: Omari Spellman, PF, Villanova