By MIKE McCURRY With just four months to go until the NBA Draft, ESPN released its post-trade deadline mock first round on Tuesday. This being the Year of the Big Man in college basketball, it should come as no surprise that five of the top eight projected picks are freshmen centers in No. 2 (Deandre Ayton), No. 3 (Mohamed Bamba), No. 4 (Jaren Jackson), No. 5 (Marvin Bagley III), and No. 8 (Wendell Carter Jr.).At the moment, it appears to be a two-man race for the top overall selection between 6-foot-8 Slovenian Luka Doncic, an 18-year-old lead guard for Real Madrid, and Ayton, Arizona’s 7-foot unicorn center averaging 19.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game on 61 percent shooting. Bagley entered the season very much in the discussion to be picked first overall but now could conceivably be the fourth center off the board. Per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, “there are some positional concerns regarding Bagley and his fit in the modern NBA.” Of course, it’s always important to remember with Bagley that he reclassified in order to enroll at Duke this season, meaning he should be currently consumed with settling on a high school prom date rather than terrorizing opposing frontcourts. Still, several NBA personnel told ZAGSBLOG that they don’t have Bagley lower than No. 3 on their mock drafts.
A look at where the top prospects might land: pic.twitter.com/oCeKurPTT4— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 20, 2018
Trae Young is slotted in at No. 7 to the Grizzlies, while Collin Sexton is right behind him at No. 9 to the Knicks. Team needs were considered, and many (including Givony and company) are under the belief that Frank Ntilikina, whom the Knicks took with the 8th overall pick last June, would be best served playing off the ball alongside a more advanced facilitator, hence why the cold-blooded Sexton makes sense here. Here are other worthwhile nuggets from the mock draft:
Talked to a few NBA guys and none of them has Bagley lower than No. 3. Most have Doncic-Ayton 1-2. https://t.co/avpDDfDKG7— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) February 20, 2018
- On Bamba (No. 3 to the Kings): “His unicorn potential gives him arguably the highest upside of any player in this draft.”
- Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4 to Cavaliers) has shown he can do it all, posting 11.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and a near-15 percent Block Rate while knocking down 44 percent of his three-pointers. As an added bonus, he’s the youngest player in this mock draft, having just turned 18-years-old in September.
- Michael Porter Jr. slides in at No. 6 to the Bulls. Per Givony, “NBA teams don’t appear to be especially concerned right now about the nature of his injury and his long-term prognosis.” MPJ has been limited to two minutes this season after undergoing back surgery in November. He is scheduled to meet with his doctor this Thursday. Missouri hasn’t completely ruled out their star freshmen being cleared to practice should that appointment go well.
- Mikal Bridges (No. 10 to 76ers) and Miles Bridges (no relation; No. 11 to Hornets) are back-to-back in the mock draft.
- Big Blue Nation is represented by Kevin Knox (No. 12 to Clippers) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 19 to Jazz). Kentucky is one of five schools with multiple projected first-rounders, joining Michigan State (Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges), Duke (Bagley and Carter), Miami (Lonnie Walker IV at No. 14 to Bulls; Bruce Brown at No. 23 to the Timberwolves), and USC (De’Anthony Melton at No. 27 to the Celtics; Chimezie Metu at No. 30 to the Warriors).
- The SEC leads the way with six projected first-rounders. The Pac-12 is next with five, the ACC has four, and the Big Ten and AAC have three apiece.