Small ball has taken over the NBA. It seems every game you watch, fewer and fewer of the world’s largest athlete’s are on the floor in favour of more skilled, more efficient, generally smaller players. However, the 2018 Draft Big Board seems like one from the 80s or 90s with all the talented big men up high. Their task, to save the NBA from small ball and bring back the big man as we used to know. So, let’s meet the men tasked with this responsibility.
5. Wendell Carter Jr. -Duke
2017-18 was supposed to be Wendell Carter Jr’s year at Duke however, just a month before the season, Marvin Bagley III reclassified, shifting the spotlight away from Carter Jr. For most players of his caliber, sharing the spotlight with Bagley would have been an issue but Carter Jr is different. One of the smartest players entering the draft this season (he very nearly went to Harvard over Duke), Carter Jr has the type of diverse skill set that NBA teams are searching for in modern big men. A solid face up game out to the three point line, post moves and a solid passing ability combined with being an all around defensive stopper is exactly what you are signing up for if you pick him. The player he compares most to in today’s NBA is Al Horford and with the type of intelligence and self awareness he brings to the table, it would not be surprising at all to see Wendell Carter Jr surpass even the ceiling of Horford.
4. Mohamed Bamba -Texas
Mohamed Bamba may just be the most intriguing prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft. You would be hard pressed to find a player with a more interesting or higher ceiling than the seven footer out of Texas. Bamba’s wing span is somewhere between seven foot ten inches and eight feet, either way it is a type of length we have never seen before. His best comparison in the NBA right now is probably Rudy Gobert because of sheer length and defensive upside but, the truth is Bamba’s ceiling is much higher than that of Gobert, especially if he can add a deep jump shot. Some scouts see him as a hybrid of Gobert and Sixers center Joel Embiid as many people love his footwork and potential to develop an offensive game. Whoever or whatever Mohamed Bamba grows into in the NBA is at this point just a guess. What we do know though, is it will be something we have never seen before and that alone is intriguing.
3. Jaren Jackson Jr. -Michigan State
Jaren Jackson Jr is the son of former NBA player and NBA champion with the Spurs Jaren Jackson. Much like his Dad, Jr can really shoot. Unlike his Dad, Jr is a seven footer. Welcome to the 2018 NBA where your big man is not only a prolific shot blocker like Jackson Jr is but, he can also step out and knock down threes like anyone else on the floor. Jackson Jr brings the type of diverse skill set that has NBA scouts salivating and also, being the youngest player in the draft, his ceiling has many people around the basketball world talking. His best comparison is probably Jermaine O’Neal pre-injuries when he was an All-Star with the ability to both score at a high level and defend at a higher one. The thing is, with his ceiling Jackson Jr has the potential to surpass O’Neal and set a new precedent for big men in modern day basketball. Either way, he will be knocking down threes just like his Dad in the NBA, and that is something to watch in 2018.
2. Marvin Bagley III -Duke
Marvin Bagley III’s season at Duke in a lot of ways went according to plan. Bagley showed a lot of the things that had scouts ecstatic about him in high school. He displayed the type of offensive game that you just do not find in players standing six ten or taller, that is not only present but very refined. The thing is though, Bagley got exposed on the defensive end of the floor and never really figured out how to adjust. It was so bad in fact that, Mike Krzyzewski had to virtually sell his basketball soul and run a zone. So the question becomes, no matter how prolific he is at the offensive end (which he really is), will the defensive end stop him from finding his true potential. Bagley’s best comparison probably some comparison of Amar’e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh just on sheer athletic gifts. For Marvin Bagley III, we know he can score, but can he defend? Only time and maybe a mindset change will answer.
1. Deandre Ayton -Arizona (Bahamas)
Deandre Ayton is a freak, plain and simple. You do not find as athletically gifted, skilled players as Ayton is at such a young age. Although some people question his ability to protect the rim, at around seven foot one, there is a very good chance he improves. Even in saying that, it is not like he is a liability, even on switches, at the defensive end. What Ayton can do is score virtually every single way imaginable from jump shots to post moves to second chances, the Pac-12 player of the year has it all. His best NBA comparison is David Robinson and although you may think that is crazy, Ayton’s skill set is crazy enough to warrant that. You just do not find players like this every year. The question is, can he shift the narrative away from small ball back to big men just from his sheer talent. Only time will tell but, if anyone has the skill set and body to pull it off, it is Deandre Ayton.