The 2017 NBA Draft is in the books, and after a wild night in Brooklyn that saw Markelle Fultz land with the 76ers and Lonzo Ball fulfill his father’s Lakers manifest destiny, it’s time to look ahead. Not to Summer League or next season but way ahead to the 2018 draft.
Though the 2018 draft isn’t expected to be as deep as 2017's, there are still a number of star players who could have major impact at the next level. A few have the potential to eventually become All-Stars.
A year out, these are the top 11 prospects:
Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri (freshman)
Porter Jr. has been the talk of the basketball grassroots world for the last year, initially committing to Washington after his father was hired as an assistant coach there, only to re-open his recruitment after the entire Huskies’ staff was fired following the season. His dad eventually landed a job at Missouri (where the family is originally from), making Columbia the unexpected center of the college basketball universe entering the season.
And ultimately, the spotlight on Porter Jr. comes with good reason: He is by far the best American-born prospect in the high school class of 2017 (and draft class of 2018). At 6-foot-10 he is the perfect, prototypical modern NBA forward, a kid who can not only bang down low but also has the ability to handle the ball and pass, with shooting range that extends to the three-point line.
At this point, Porter Jr. is the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft. Although he is starting to get a push from the next guy on this list.
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Luka Doncic, G, Real Madrid
Doncic was considered by many to be the best international prospect not playing in the NBA this past season, a rather incredible feat when you consider that he isn’t even eligible to enter the league until the 2018 draft. However, as with Porter Jr., the hype comes with good reason.
The Slovenian-born Doncic has more than prototypical size for an NBA shooting guard and the ball-handling and shooting skills to match his natural physical gifts. He also has experience playing extremely high-level basketball; Doncic has played in one of Europe’s top leagues since he was 16 years old, emerging as a rising star for one the top club teams overseas as well (Real Madrid).
DeAndre Ayton, F/C, Arizona (freshman)
For a big chunk of his high school career, Ayton was considered to be the guy in the class of 2017. The Bahamian born Ayton (who spent most of his high school career in the United States) is a legit 7-footer, with great defensive instincts and a jump shot that extends beyond the foul line. When Ayton is at his best, it’s easy to see why NBA scouts love him so much.
The problem for Ayton is that he isn’t always at his best, and at times during his AAU and high school career was known as a guy who didn’t always seem to be focused on the court. The question that NBA evaluators will spend the next year asking is this: Was that a byproduct of being lazy? Or was Ayton simply bored by competition he knew he could overwhelm at any point?
It’s a fair question, but the good news is that Ayton will play for Sean Miller next season, a coach who pushes his players like few others in college basketball. Add in Miller’s coaching with Ayton’s natural gifts and it’s hard to imagine him falling out of the top five on draft night 2018.
Trevon Duval, PG, Duke (freshman)
“Tricky Trey” might not be the “best” high school point guard to come through the ranks in the last half decade, but he’s unquestionably – at least to this writer – the most entertaining. Duval is an exquisite ballhandler, freak athlete and, most of all, a hell of a showman -- which is why I’ve said on many occasions that Duval is Kyrie Irving if Kyrie Irving had a 40-inch vertical leap. Watch this highlight tape and I bet you’ll agree.
At this point, there isn’t much to pick apart about Duval’s game. His jump shot could use work, and like Ayton he appeared at times to be bored by his high school competition. Still, that shouldn’t be an issue at Duke (where he will be an instant star) or on draft night, when he will almost certainly be the first point guard off the board in 2018.
Gary Trent Jr., SG, Duke (freshman)
While scouts and talent evaluators have been touting Duval as the NBA’s next big thing for years, Trent appears to have fallen a bit off the radar in the eyes of NBA personnel. Yes, he was a McDonald’s All-American and a legit top 10 prospect in this high school class. But he isn’t listed as one of the top draft prospects in most way-too-early 2018 mocks.
Ultimately that should change between now and next June, as Trent is one of the most complete (and underappreciated) guards to come through the high school ranks in years. The son of former NBA big man Gary Trent is a completely different player than his dad, but watch him for just a few possessions and it’s clear that he’s got a feel for the game that can only come from growing up inside pro locker rooms. At 6-foot-5, he’s a gifted scorer with a great feel for the game and should play himself into the draft conversation during his one year at Duke.
Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State (sophomore)
It took a while for us to get to a returning college player, but make no mistake: Bridges’ return to college was more because he wanted to be in East Lansing than he had to be. If the 6-foot-6 forward had elected to stay in the draft, it’s almost certain he would have been a lottery selection in 2017.
Regardless, Bridges is back for another year at Michigan State after averaging nearly 17 points as a freshman. The uber-athletic small forward also grabbed eight boards and had more than two blocks per game, all while shooting 39 percent from behind the arc last season. Those numbers will only go up during his sophomore year. Most important, with his extra year on campus look for Bridges to be able to step into the NBA and compete for playing time right away.
USA TODAY SportsMike Carter
Hamidou Diallo, G/F, Kentucky (freshman)
By now most NBA fans are probably at least somewhat familiar with Diallo, Kentucky’s near “none and done” recruit, who enrolled at the school last December and didn’t play but still entered the 2017 NBA Draft and nearly stayed in. Ultimately, however, Diallo wasn’t given a first-round guarantee and decided to return to Lexington. Given that he’ll likely be a lottery pick in 2018 that was a smart move.
For those who followed Diallo throughout this draft process, what you saw from him at the Combine – insane length and athleticism – is pretty much his calling card at this point. He still needs to work on a lot of his skills (shooting, ballhandling), but you can’t teach 6-foot-5 with a 6-11 wing span or a 44.5-inch vertical leap, which are the numbers he put up in Chicago a few weeks ago.
This guy is one of the freakiest athletes the draft has seen in years and has more upside than just about anyone who will be available next spring.
Collin Sexton, G, Alabama (freshman)
There isn’t a player in the 2018 NBA Draft class who is more intense or competes harder than Sexton. Don’t believe me? Watch this video of him going head-to-head with UCLA signee Jaylen Hands at the Ball Is Life All-American game in early May. I was 5 feet away when this whole thing went down, and believe me when I say that things were as intense as they looked.
And the good news for Alabama fans is that the video above is simply who Sexton is as a basketball player, a hard-working, no-days-off grinder who raises the play of everyone around him. Sexton is going to have a Lonzo Ball-type impact on the 'Bama program next year. Not in the way he plays (Sexton is much more of a scorer than Ball), but with his “if you don’t bring it, I’m going to run right over you” attitude.
That attitude is contagious. And it should help Alabama achieve its best season in decades in 2018.
Mo Bamba, C, Texas (freshman)
Bamba shocked the recruiting world when he elected to attend Texas over Kentucky, but now that he’s enrolled in Austin, watch out. The Longhorns will have the single most terrifying defensive presence in college school basketball next year.
Bamba is a legit 7 feet, and – in what has taken on mythic lore on the high school scene – has a 7’9 wingspan that is actually longer than any current NBA starter's. Though his offensive game is a work in progress, Bamba should be able to step into the NBA and compete on the defensive end right away.
Robert Williams, F, Texas A&M (sophomore)
Like Bridges above, Williams shocked many observers when he decided to return to College Station for his sophomore season. Though he didn’t enter college with as much acclaim as Bridges, he vaulted up draft boards throughout his freshman season, and many believe he would have gone in the lottery on Thursday night if he’d stayed in the draft.
The NBA’s loss is Texas A&M’s gain, however, as the lengthy, athletic big man will be back in school for another season. Look for him to improve his numbers from last year (11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds) and become a near-top 10 pick come draft night.
Troy TaorminaUSA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter, F, Duke (freshman)
How do you know Mike Krzyzewski has things rolling in recruiting? When he signs a five-man recruiting class in 2017 and three of those players end up on this list as top prospects in the 2018 draft (this list doesn’t even include Grayson Allen, who could be a first-round pick next year as well). But for all the hype about Duval and Trent, Carter might have the highest upside of the three.
The power forward from Georgia already has the chiseled frame of an NBA player, and by the time he hits his prime should be a double-double machine. Additionally, Carter will be an organization’s dream off the court, as a player who combines Karl-Anthony Towns’ likeability with an intellect that almost allowed him to choose Harvard over Duke in the recruiting process.