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NBA Draft 2018: The final Mavs Moneyball big board of draft season

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One last look at some prospect rankings before tonight

Basketball: Luka Doncic Sipa USA-USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2018 NBA Draft is upon us.

For months now, we’ve seen differing mocks, big boards, prospect breakdowns, and heard from dozens of so called “experts” who have helped craft the narrative about how things will go and what the future of the NBA will look like.

What never ceases to amaze me is how calcified we all get at this point. With all the articles and tweets and ESPN specials — mostly reinforcing the same pre-conceived notions about players and what they can or can’t do — by the time draft night rolls around we kind of operate like we **know** who made the right picks and who didn’t, as they’re being made. Which is ridiculous.

The best I can do is take the hours and hours(really, so many hours) of game footage, combine data and whatever else I can cobble together, and try and frame it in a way that makes sense to me. It won’t always match up with what you might read elsewhere, but keep in mind, a lot of what you’re reading elsewhere(and here!) is going to to turn out to be flat wrong.

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but remember, this is a Mavs-focused big board, hence the absence of small point guards like Trae Young, Collin Sexton, and Elie Okobo. So, without further preamble, here’s the final big board of the draft season. Enjoy!

1. Luka Doncic - Real Madrid (previous ranking: 1st)

Doncic has been first throughout the draft process for me, and readers are probably sick of hearing the MMB staff gush over him. He is not a perfect prospect, and there are legitimate questions about what his ultimate ceiling is, but to quickly summarize, his selling point is high-level shoot/dribble/pass profile at 6’8, 230 pounds. He has Steve Nash’s understanding of pick and roll play, at age 19, in a smallball power forward’s body.

2. Jaren Jackson Jr - Michigan State (previous ranking: 4th)

The draft talk has largely focused on the star-quality big men at the top, and of that group I don’t think anyone has the combination of high-floor and upside that Jackson brings. His defensive versatility is unmatched, and as a legitimate three-point threat who added face-up dribble moves to his game over his freshman season, he is the most NBA ready two-way big available. As one of the youngest players in the draft, as well, there’s a good chance we have undervalued his true ceiling to this point.

3. DeAndre Ayton - Arizona (previous ranking: 2nd)

I understand why Ayton will go first, and in all honesty, it makes some sense for Phoenix to address their frontcourt while targeting more defense-first players to flank Devin Booker. I have some questions about Ayton’s defensive mindset, as well as how efficient he’ll be on offense, but he has superb physical tools and enough skill at an early age that a KAT/Cousins/Embiid level is hardly beyond his reach.

4. Marvin Bagley III - Duke (previous ranking: 6th)

I have gone back and forth on Bagley a little. If his only viable position ends up being center, I think there’s a serious cap on his ceiling, because his body type and lack of awareness on defense make it difficult to project optimistically there. However, he has the tools to be an 18-10 guy right now, and there are enough kernels of skill development in the mix to give me hope he can be something more dynamic, like a Lamar Odom/Amare mix.

5. Wendell Carter Jr - Duke (previous ranking: 7th)

No player has benefited more for me from going back over game-tape than Carter, Jr. He doesn’t wow you athletically, and because of Bagley’s presence, he didn’t get to show out quite as much as I imagine he would have liked at Duke, but Carter is an extremely intelligent, high-motor, skilled big man, who does everything well and is young enough to get better. That’s just a profile I tend to prefer over a high risk-high reward guy who might do one or two things spectacularly but also has tons of holes.

6. Michael Porter Jr - Missouri (previous ranking: 3rd)

Speaking of a high risk-high reward guy with tons of holes, meet Michael Porter Jr! I remain somewhat attached to him still(hence his placement in the top 6) because a 6’11 three-level scorer is just too tantalizing to completely dismiss, but this ranking assumes he has satisfied any questions about his health and temperament. If that’s true, you could be buying low on a guy that almost never becomes available in free agency, a true franchise centerpiece.

7. Mohamed Bamba - Texas (previous ranking: 5th)

Bamba is a popular pick for Dallas in mocks, and understandably so. He has record-setting length, which helped him blocked tons of shots in college and will make him a major lob target at any level. He’s also a very intelligent, confident kid who has created a lot of buzz in the pre-draft process with videos of improved shooting mechanics in practice. You’ll notice I didn’t talk much about him as a player, though, and what’s why he’s “only” 7th and not top 3. He didn’t always play hard or with much awareness at Texas, and his body will need work at the professional level. He’s not my ideal pick but there’s no denying that if he improves he can be a serious game-breaker.

8. Mikal Bridges - Villanova (previous ranking: 8th)

Bridges may not ever be a superstar in the NBA, but there’s a good chance he’ll end up having a better career than at least a couple of the guys who will be taken before him. He’s long, athletic, heady, and his shooting improvements look to be real. Even if he doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the table, that will make him a 10-year pro. A team in the back half of the top 10 will get a good one.

9. Miles Bridges - Michigan State (previous ranking: 9th)

Miles and Mikal have pretty much been in this range all year. While I prefer Mikal’s shooting and defensive length, Miles might be the better fit with Dallas’ current roster construction, since he brings a little more playmaking and rebounding, two of the starting lineup’s biggest weaknesses. The latest intel has other wings threatening to jump ahead of Miles, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up.

10. Zhaire Smith - Texas Tech (previous ranking: N/A)

Zhaire concludes a meteoric rise from relatively unheralded prospect to likely top 20 pick. He’ll need to work on his handle and could probably do with some touching up on his shooting mechanics, but as an unmolded ball of clay he is exactly the kind of player a team with a strong development programs can turn into a star. Long, athletic and instinctive, Zhaire could be also be a super glue guy in the right system.

11. Robert Williams - Texas A&M (previous ranking: 10th)

Williams may not have done himself any favors by coming back to school, but despite some of the issues surrounding his frustrating stint as an Aggie, I’m confident he can be a better pro. Williams was played out of position a great deal in college, and at the next level with better coaching and a simplified role, I can see him developing into a very solid mid-tier big, who protects the basket, rebounds, and finishes above the rim as a diver. He’ll need a patient coach, but less talented guys have succeeded before.

12. Kevin Huerter - Maryland (previous ranking: N/A)

A favorite of mine as a late first-early second bubble guy, Huerter’s stock appears to be on the rise, and after a strong combine, I’m ready to go all-in. Huerter fits the mold as a sharpshooting wing with good size and underrated play-creation skills, making him an ideal secondary playmaker/spot up threat. Defensively, I think he’s going to be better than most think, as well, as he’s a good athlete who moves his feet and has the core strength to keep drivers in front of him.

13. Lonnie Walker IV - Miami (previous ranking: 12th)

Walker has the tools to be considerably better than Huerter and maybe Zhaire as well, but the more I watch his tape the more it frustrates me. Walker would flash a star-quality game one night, then completely disappear, and his effort and lack of consistency weren’t contained to one end of the court. He’s a good gamble for a team in the late lottery that thinks they can actualize his skills and improve his awareness, but I’m not sure how likely it is he delivers on that promise.

14. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Kentucky (previous ranking: N/A)

I have steadfastly refused to include a point guard on this list thusfar, but I am making an exception for SGA because, well, he’s an exceptional player. At 6’6 with good length and impressive fluidity, Gilgeous-Alexander is the one point guard who I could see working in tandem with Dennis Smith, Jr, starting on the defensive end(where Sexton and Young are just not workable for me as off-guards). It isn’t his best deployment, but I saw enough of SGA’s spot up shooting to think he can be a weapon off-ball, and in Rick Carlisle’s system, running multi-PG looks is hardly out of character.

15. Troy Brown - Oregon (previous ranking: 14th)

There were a bunch of names in contention for the final spot here, but I’ll go with the most interesting longterm play, a big wing with point-forward skills and defensive versatility. Brown was a major recruit at Oregon who didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but what I saw in looking back was a high IQ player who could handle the ball a little and who’s length made him a playmaker on defense, as well. He was inconsistent as a spot-up threat but if he gets better from the corners he could be an ideal running mate for Dennis.