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NBA AM: How Mock Drafts Have Changed

Early mock drafts are fun, but even more fun is seeing how much things have changed in 18 months.

Joel Brigham

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How the Draft Picture Has Changed

The earliest mock drafts are often released almost two full years before the actual draft takes place. Considering how many of each year’s top prospects are one-and-done studs, these early mocks come out when the most notable players are still seniors in high school, which obviously leads to some early speculation that looks silly 18-24 months later when real life catches up to the some of the guesswork by even the business’ most esteemed draft experts.

While we here at Basketball Insiders publish our fair share of mocks over the course of the year, the good people at DraftExpress typically are the first to publish any sort of in-depth mock draft, and their first shot at the 2016 NBA Draft hit the web for the first time in September of 2014. Steve Kyler’s mock draft on-site here came out just this past October, about a month before the NCAA regular season got underway and any of these guys had played a single game.

Both sites got a lot of things right, but as is the case with these sorts of super-early predictions, a lot has changed.

March Madness is just around the corner, and as we all know there’s a lot that can happen both there and at that NBA Draft Combine later this spring that can change teams’ minds. But at this point, while the NCAA regular season heads toward its conclusion, we’re starting to get a sense of how the draft picture is going to shape out within a certain margin of error.

Seeing that picture round out makes it all the more interesting to have a gander at those earlier mock drafts that, while spot-on in regard to certain prospects, completely missed the boat on some others. The following is a look at the biggest changes between what experts thought would happen with this draft class and what actually appears to be shaping up a few months away from the draft itself:

Skal Labissiere’s Draft Stock Tumbles

Leading up to the 2015-16 college basketball season, there was an expectation that top prospects Ben Simmons and Labissiere would create considerable headaches for whatever NBA GM ended up with the top pick in this upcoming draft because both were viewed as elite, can’t-miss prospects. Now, all these months later, Simmons is being compared to LeBron James and Labissiere looks like he’ll be lucky to even be selected in the lottery.

Already 7’0 and unbelievably athletic, Labissiere has been muscled around all season as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats, and his poor rebounding numbers are a testament to his inability to establish himself as a presence in the paint. His numbers are even worse against top-50 teams than they are against the worse ones, and while he’s showed more than enough promise in terms of his defensive efficiency, he looks absolutely lost on offense more often than not. His instincts on that end are, so far, not very good.

Assuming he still declares for the draft this year (and he probably will), Labissiere is still a likely first-round pick based on athleticism and potential alone, but his actual play this year has been far from elite, and that’s not just because he plays for a loaded Kentucky team.

Brandon Ingram Establishes Himself as No. 2

While Ingram has been considered a top-five pick in this upcoming draft pretty much every step of the way, he has legitimately established himself as the second-best player in this draft, and there are some experts starting to wonder whether he should actually be getting more consideration as the No. 1 overall selection ahead of Simmons.

As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton points out, Ingram actually had a higher wins above replacement player projection for part of this season, and his skill set as a huge 6’10 shooter with range makes him an invaluable asset in today’s NBA. He’s also almost a year younger than Simmons (and several other prospects in this class), potentially giving him more time to develop and more elite years in the league.

But frankly, no one is taking Ingram over Simmons, despite the flashes of top-pick potential this year, but it’s also starting to look like nobody is taking anybody over Ingram at No. 2. At this point, that looks like his floor in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Malik Newman Goes From Top-5 to Second Round

Coming out of high school, Newman was one of the top five recruits of his class, which meant that the slashing scorer entered Mississippi State with big dreams of becoming a top-five draft selection the following June. A combination of inefficiency on offense and a few nagging injuries, however, has started to drop him out of first-round consideration, making it more likely that he’ll return to college for a sophomore year than accept such an uncertain NBA fate.

Newman is a scorer, but he just hasn’t shown the ability to create at the college level. That’s the kind of thing that worries NBA scouts and pushes a draft stock downward. Currently fighting a nagging back injury, Newman hasn’t even been given much of an opportunity to turn things around for himself. One thing’s for certain: he might not even be selected in the first-round this year, let alone the top five, so an extra year of seasoning could be in the books for him.

Buddy Hield’s Meteoric Rise

One thing nobody will argue with: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield is one of the most entertaining players in college basketball right now. As a 6’4 senior, he doesn’t offer quite the same promise as some of the other players being considered around the 10-15 pick range in the draft, but he is having one of the more notable out-of-nowhere seasons in college basketball right now and generating a lot of buzz for himself in the process.

No mock draft from a year or two ago featured Hield anywhere on it unless it was deep into the second round, but now he’s shooting threes at an elite clip, which is a perfect skill to develop ahead of entering a league where few things are valued more.

Hield works his butt off and has proven his maturity and leadership over the course of this season in Oklahoma. That, combined with his actual numbers, have made him an intriguing player for middle-to-late lottery teams in need of a shooter. Nobody has risen more in the last six months than Hield.

Buying Into the Luwawu Hype

Outside of Dragan Bender, who generally has been labeled the top Euro player in this draft class, French prospect Timothe Luwawu has come into his own as one of the most intriguing international kids available this year. Currently playing for Mega Leks in Serbia, the same team that brought up Nikola Jokic, Luwawu has transformed into the sort of two-way wing that NBA teams salivate over. He’s tall (6’7) with a massive wingspan (6’11) and he offers both athleticism and shooting ability, according to DX’s Jonathan Givony. Defensively, he can guard four positions well and has the sort of quick hands that help make the Mega Leks defense so formidable.

He’s 20 years old and didn’t gain much traction with scouts a year ago when he first entered his name for draft consideration. His move to the Adriatic League this season has massively improved his stock, though, which is why it looks like he could be a first-round pick (and maybe even a lottery selection).

Calming Down on Diallo

Because of some questions about his high school transcript, Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo was forced to sit out the first five games of this season, which turned out to be a huge problem for a really talented kid that just hasn’t been able to carve out a role for himself on Bill Self’s loaded Jayhawks roster since.

Diallo, the former No. 7 overall prospect in the country, is long, quick and talented, especially defensively. But he hasn’t gotten the playing time at Kansas to help him stand out as a potential lottery pick, playing more than 20 minutes just once this season. Early mock drafts had him as a borderline lottery pick or better, but now he’s fallen into the late first round or early second round, with his seemingly limitless potential still serving as his strongest selling point.

Perry Ellis (29+ MPG) graduates this year, so minutes are in theory opening up for the Kansas frontcourt moving forward. Another year at school might be the best bet for Diallo at this point, because he still has a ton to prove before teams consider him as a sure-thing first-round selection, let alone a lottery possibility.

Kentucky Proves Fatal for Isaiah Briscoe

When Isaiah Briscoe, a former McDonald’s All-American with charisma for days, made the decision to attend the University of Kentucky, he did so with the understanding that UK would be the machine that catapulted him into the first-round of the NBA draft after just one season in the NCAA.

He probably thought at the time of declaring that he’d prove valuable enough in a crowded point guard rotation to get the minutes he needed to make his point, but thanks to massive years from Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, that just hasn’t been the case. Scouts can forgive a lot in terms of playing time and production when it comes to Kentucky players, but Briscoe will have a big decision to make this spring. Should he declare despite a less-than-stellar freshman year or come back next season when those point guard minutes should be all his?

Once a sure-thing mid-first rounder, Briscoe now looks like a second-round pick with a tough decision to make about his future.

*****

By no means does any of this mean that the draft picture is settled. A strong tournament or impressive combine showing could turn things around for a few of these bubble guys, but the point is that from the time we all start looking at mock drafts to the time that the mock drafts actually start carrying some credence, a lot can happen. Plenty of things change even after these guys are ranked appropriately and drafted onto NBA teams. Nothing is a given in this league, obviously, but it never stops being interesting watching how expectations shift and players respond.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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