The 2018 NBA Draft was chock-full of star power at the top. But in hindsight, where some of the top prospects were drafted don’t line up with where they should have been drafted.
With the benefit of nearly two full seasons worth of evidence, we can say definitively that Luka Doncic, the Slovenian superstar who (incredibly and somewhat inexplicably!) dropped to No. 3 overall, should have gone No. 1 overall. And, I’d argue (and will do so below!), Marvin Bagley III should not have been a top-10 pick — much less the No. 2 overall pick considering the talent pool elsewhere in the draft.
Of course, analyzing draft decisions in hindsight is always easier than doing so in the moment. As time elapses, it becomes more and more clear how the draft order in a given year should have gone, and which route teams should have taken.
But that’s the fun of the exercise, right? I’m not here to lambast the Suns or the Kings for passing on Doncic — (OK, actually, I’m definitely here for that) — but mainly, I’m here to set the record straight. To act as an all-knowing oracle-of-a-GM. And knowing what we know now, here is how the 2018 draft should have gone.
1. Phoenix Suns
Actual pick: Deandre Ayton
Phoenix was set on selecting DeAndre Ayton, the University of Arizona product, early on in the draft process. And while he’s been productive as a young big in the league, there’s no debating Luka Doncic should have heard his name called first in the draft. He leads the entire 2018 draft class in box plus/minus and VORP (Value Over Replacement) by a healthy margin, and this season he emerged as an All-Star, averaging 28.7 points and 8.7 assists per game. Imagine if the Suns had been smart enough to pair him with Devin Booker in Phoenix.
2. Sacramento Kings
Actual pick: Marvin Bagley III
With De’Aaron Fox already in the fold, the Kings looked to go big with their second pick — literally — and did so by selecting Marvin Bagley III. Early on in their respective NBA careers, though, it’s clear Jaren Jackson Jr. presented far more upside. The one-and-done Michigan State product has shot 38.6% from 3-point range in two seasons and has already established himself as a two-way force at just 20 years old. Now the Memphis Grizzlies — who drafted him at No. 4 — have one of the brightest franchise futures in the NBA in part because of Sac-town’s decision to pass on him.
3. Atlanta Hawks
Actual pick: Luka Doncic (traded to Dallas for Young and a 2019 first-round pick)
If I were the Hawks, I’d have drafted Luka Doncic at No. 3 — as they did — and then kept him. Instead, they drafted him, then traded him to the Mavs in exchange for the draft rights to Trae Young and a protected future first-rounder. But in this exercise, Doncic is already off the board. So I’m rolling with … the actual result. Trae Young’s already emerged as an All-Star in Atlanta and he leads the entire 2018 draft class in total points scored and total assists dished out. Things are working out spectacularly as they happened for the Hawks, so why change it?
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Actual pick: Jaren Jackson Jr.
With an aging Mike Conley, Memphis could have hit the reset at point guard and gone with Kentucky product Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the most promising second-year standouts from this class. SGA is fourth in this class in assists and points and third in minutes played, having played key roles on two Western Conference forces in L.A., with the Clippers, and with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s a versatile and smooth two-way player who I think can be an All-Star in short order. For the Grizzlies, he’d have been a great successor to Conley.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Actual pick: Trae Young (traded to Atlanta for Luka Doncic)
Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr. in 2017, so it’s hard to imagine they’d go anywhere but big in this spot. And it’s hard to imagine Deandre Ayton falling out of the top five. Is he No. 1 pick material? In this draft, I think not. But he’s a double-double machine who, with two season’s worth of tape, looks like one of the league’s most talented two-way big men.
6. Orlando Magic
Actual pick: Mohamed Bamba
The Magic stayed on brand in this draft by prioritizing length, which led them to Mo Bamba. And while I’m not completely ready to give up on him, I think I’d preferred they taken another long, slender athlete in Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr’s draft-night fall to the bottom of the lottery was in large part because of his medical history — which remains a red flag — but in just 48 games, he’s shown he has the shot-making, scoring instincts and range to grow into meeting expectations that were thrust upon him as the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school.
7. Chicago Bulls
Actual pick: Wendell Carter Jr.
Chicago went with Duke one-and-done Wendell Carter Jr., who has been a fine center anchoring the Bulls’ back-end. But they should have gone with a none-and-done in Mitchell Robinson, who committed to Western Kentucky but never played in college. Robinson slid all the way to the second round because of concerns over his game’s polish, but how’s this for polish: he ranks No. 1 among all drafted and undrafted players in the 2018 class in win shares per 48 minutes. He’s a lob-finishing, shot-swatting superstar whom the Knicks are now counting on as the foundation piece to their frontcourt.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
Actual pick: Collin Sexton
Collin Sexton has put up big numbers in Cleveland as a scorer and outside shooter. But it’s hard to build around a guard who dominates the ball yet doesn’t pass. So let’s fix that. Here I have the Cavs drafting Devonte’ Graham at No. 8 and solving that problem. He is averaging 5.4 assists per game in Charlotte through two seasons and just had one epic sophomore star turn, in which he averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game after playing a grand total of 676 minutes as a rookie.
9. New York Knicks
Actual pick: Kevin Knox
It’s easy to see why the Knicks were head-over-heels for Kevin Knox. He has great size and intriguing shot-creation tools, and jumbo wings are unicorns in the league. But … it hasn’t — and doesn’t look like it ever will — work out. He ranks dead-last in VORP among all 2018-drafted players and has the fewest win shares, too. Meanwhile, Donte DiVincenzo looks primed to turn a corner in Milwaukee for a title-contender and has really polished the shot-making skills that made him a first-rounder out of Villanova.
10. Philadelphia 76ers
Actual pick: Mikal Bridges (traded to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith and 2021 Miami first-round pick)
I wasn’t a big fan of it then, and I’m not one now: I thought Philly, who drafted Mikal Bridges then traded him on draft night, should have kept him. I’m standing by that. The Sixers could use a 3-and-D type wing like Bridges who impacts the game with a relatively low-usage rate, and he’d be a great fit for a system where the lions share of touches go to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
11. Charlotte Hornets
Actual pick: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (traded to Clippers for Miles Bridges and two second-round picks)
Charlotte should have just kept SGA. But with SGA off the board, give me some Mo Bamba here at No. 11. He’s been relegated to a small role on a mostly not-relevant team, but he’s not far removed from posting the longest wingspan in NBA combine history, you might remember. With his length, shot-blocking and floor-spacing potential, I’m not ready to give up on him being an impactful big in the league. 7-footers with 7-foot-10 wingspans don’t come ’round often.
12. Los Angeles Clippers
Actual pick: Miles Bridges (traded to Hornets for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander)
Life is one full-circle, isn’t it? Landry Shamet fell to pick No. 26 but was acquired by the Clips in 2019 via a trade with the Sixers. Now they get him at No. 12 in a re-draft. Among second-year players with 50 or more games under their belt, he ranks third in 3-point percentage, and he has established himself as a shooting specialist with excellent outside touch.
13. Los Angeles Clippers
Actual pick: Jerome Robinson
Jerome Robinson’s stint in L.A. was brief and unremarkable, so let’s give the Clips some real juice down low with Marvin Bagley III. He’s dealt with injuries this season, but he’s a good scorer and rebounder who, if he can stretch his game out to the 3-point line and improve as a shot-blocker, has a chance to really blossom into a dominant two-way power forward. He feels like an incredibly safe pick here at No. 13 — exactly the opposite of the original Jerome Robinson pick.
14. Denver Nuggets
Actual pick: Michael Porter Jr.
It took some time, but Shake Milton has steadily improved during his short time in the NBA and emerged as a versatile guard who can handle it a bit. But his primary strength is as a scorer. He’s knocked down 45.3% (!) of his 3-point attempts this season in Philly and could have been a nice off-the-bench piece for a loaded Nuggets team that could use depth in their backcourt behind Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
15. Washington Wizards
Actual pick: Troy Brown
Troy Brown has been a fine piece for the Wizards and continues to grow into a relevant NBA player, but I can’t ignore the potential of adding Robert Williams to this roster with a healthy John Wall and Brad Beal. Williams could have been a lottery pick if not for off-court concerns that battered his stock, but he nonetheless remains one of the draft’s most tantalizing talents. Only Luka Doncic — at 5.9 — leads Williams among all players in the 2018 class in box plus/minus. He has some freakish hops and some depth to his game that could really translate to long-term NBA success if he puts it together.
16. Phoenix Suns
Actual pick: Zhaire Smith (traded to Sixers as part of Suns’ acquisition of Mikal Bridges)
The Suns landed Mikal Bridges in this spot in 2018. But after going guard at No. 1 with Luka Doncic in this redraft, I’m going to come back and address the center position at good value by grabbing Wendell Carter Jr. He’s an efficient scorer who plays both ends at a high level for the Bulls, and he has a great feel for how to impact the game beyond the box score. Paired with Doncic in Phoenix he could be a high-level defender who protects the rim and projects as its long-term solution at center.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Actual pick: Donte DiVincenzo
With Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s end-game should be to accumulate as many shooters as possible, giving him space to operate. To that end, give me some Duncan Robinson, who went undrafted in 2018, here at No. 17. He’s a high volume, highly efficient 3-point shooter who leads the entire 2018 class in 3-point shooting and would slot in as a great fit in the Bucks system as a floor-spacer.
18. San Antonio Spurs
Actual pick: Lonnie Walker
Due to the FBI scandal that ensnared USC (and other major college programs), De’Anthony Melton did not play as a sophomore in 2017-18, leading to him slipping to No. 46 in the draft. Turns out two years later, he was one of the best second-round values. He’s a havoc-wreaker on defense who can play either guard spot and the Spurs, who drafted Dejounte Murray in 2016, would view those aspects of his game as a complement to him.
19. Atlanta Hawks
Actual pick: Kevin Huerter
Miles Bridges said he “played like a**” as a rookie. But he played, well, the opposite of a** as a second-year starter, averaging 13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and shooting 33.0% from the 3-point line in 64 starts. Alongside Trae Young he’d be a freakish force of athleticism in Atlanta who could affect games with his bounce, shot-making and size from the wing spot.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
Actual pick: Josh Okogie
Only Kevin Knox has a lower VORP among 2018 draftees, but Collin Sexton still has enough interesting tools to take a flyer on. He’s a very good shooter at every level and plays his butt off. He needs to improve as a facilitator to really take his game to the next level, though, and that’s why I’ve got him way lower than where he actually went.
21. Utah Jazz
Actual pick: Grayson Allen
A year removed from drafting Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz should have been looking long-term for more backcourt help to aid their emerging star. And even with Ricky Rubio in the fold, Jalen Brunson would have been a prudent selection. He’s mostly served as a high-level backup during his time in Dallas, but he’s a competent initiator who could fit well alongside Mitchell and really act as the spark plug in Utah — something the Jazz have desperately tried to find in the last few seasons with middling results. Brunson isn’t flashy but at this point in the draft he’s a safe pick who could provide security for Utah at a vital position.
22. Chicago Bulls
Actual pick: Chandler Hutchison
With Chicago going center early in this redraft, I have them here selecting a sharpshooter in Kevin Huerter, who I love deeply as a player (and feel in a redraft would go much higher). He’s a great outside shooter and underrated passer who should be able to carve up defenses peeling off screens and launching shots from any range for years to come.
23. Indiana Pacers
Actual pick: Aaron Holiday
Kendrick Nunn spent the entirety of his rookie season playing in the G League. Then he spent the entirety of his second pro season breaking all the way out for the Heat, averaging 15.6 points and 3.4 assists per game. He was so good he took over Goran Dragic’s starting spot from the word “go.” The Pacers have Malcolm Brogdon in tow now, but Nunn would nonetheless be a great fit in their backcourt as a score-first guard who could play well off Victor Oladipo.
24. Portland Trail Blazers
Actual pick: Anfernee Simons
Portland’s bold move to select teenage talent Anfernee Simons may still pay off in time, but Troy Brown’s skill set more immediately fits the franchise’s here and now plans. The 6-6 Wizards forward could play well off Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum as a role-playing combo forward who makes smart passes and has an unselfish game that complements a set of already-established stars.
25. Los Angeles Lakers
Actual pick: Moe Wagner
A meniscus tear as a rookie upended Lonnie Walker’s momentum to make an impact in 2018, but he’s steadily gained the trust of coach Gregg Popovich and his playing time has risen along with it. I wouldn’t take him with a top-20 pick but for the Lakers, he’d be worthy of a pick in this range with his consistent outside shot and promising shot-creation abilities.
26. Philadelphia 76ers
Actual pick: Landry Shamet
Since being shipped from L.A. to Washington, Moe Wagner has carved out a nice role for himself with the Wiz, where he’s averaging 9.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while making 34.3% of his 3-point attempts. He’s playing like the stretch big most envisioned he’d become in the NBA, and that’s a role that’d help him fit seamlessly in Philly.
27. Boston Celtics
Actual pick: Robert Williams
The Celtics value defensive mentality in their guards and don’t necessarily prioritize outside shooting (see: Smart, Marcus), so Josh Okogie makes logical sense as a depth piece in Boston. He’s shooting just 27.4% from 3-point range in two seasons at the NBA level but he’s a defensive menace with some scoring upside in time.
28. Golden State Warriors
Actual pick: Jacob Evans
Bruce Brown is fast-emerging as a valuable NBA player due to his meteoric uptick in shooting consistency from distance. After hitting just 25.8% from 3-point range as a rookie, he made 34.4% from deep this season, locking down a rotation spot because of his two-way impact. That’s essentially the return Golden State thought it was getting with Jacob Evans, but Evans thus far hasn’t produced near the same returns as Brown, who was a mid-second-rounder to the Pistons.
29. Brooklyn Nets
Actual pick: Džanan Musa
Brooklyn landed Rodions Kurucs in the second round of the 2018 draft, but he’s a first-round talent because of his blend of size and shot-making. And while his role as a second-year player has been diminished despite hitting 38.5% from distance this season, he has immense upside as a floor-spacing role player that should get him a higher draft selection in our redraft.
30. Atlanta Hawks
Actual pick: Omari Spellman
Rounding out our Trae Young and Miles Bridges picks, the Hawks go sharpshooter and nab Svi Mykhailiuk, a shooting specialist whose role in the NBA is to knock down 3-pointers. He’s already doing so at a high level early in his NBA career and would have plenty of opportunities to continue that on a team with Young setting him up.