Raphielle Johnson

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Draft Small Forward Rankings

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


The small forward position is an interesting one heading into the 2018 NBA Draft, as it has two players with the skills needed to be the top overall pick. Of course there’s 19-year old Real Madrid star Luka Doncic, who served in a point guard role for the EuroLeague champions but may be more of a wing in the NBA for defensive reasons. There’s also Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., who was limited to three games due to a back injury that required surgery but could very well be the best talent in this draft pool. There are also options who could also land in the lottery, most notably Villanova’s Mikal Bridges and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

Here are some thoughts on the top small forward prospects in this year’s draft.

 


Luka Doncic, 1999 (year of birth), Real Madrid, 6’6”, 218.3 - Along with Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, Doncic is a player whose name has figured prominently in the conversations regarding which player the Phoenix Suns will take with the top overall pick. Doncic, who won a EuroBasket title last summer playing alongside Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic for Slovenia, helped lead Real Madrid to the EuroLeague title last weekend and became the youngest MVP in the history of the competition. Doncic was at his best offensively when used in ball-screen situations, with 1-on-1 scenarios an area when he’ll need to improve in preparation for the NBA. Against EuroLeague/Liga ACB competition Doncic averaged 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, shooting 46.0 percent from the field, 31.0 percent from three and 80.2 percent from the foul line. If there’s a question mark offensively for Doncic it’s how he’ll adjust to the even deeper three-point line of the NBA given his shooting percentage at the international line. Defensively it’s tough to see a team asking Doncic to deal with point guards at the NBA level, instead having him work against either off-guards or the occasional small forward. That end of the floor may be where the biggest adjustment to the NBA takes place, but there are ways for coaches to account for individual defensive issues via their team scheme. While Doncic has yet to officially commit to playing in the NBA next season, his draft prospects are such that it would be a surprise if he weren’t in an NBA uniform this winter.

Michael Porter Jr., Freshman, Missouri, 6’10.75”, 211.0 - Porter may have raised a few eyebrows at the combine by saying in media interviews that he considered himself to be the best player in this year’s draft, but in all honesty that isn’t a particularly shocking statement. Porter was considered by more than a few prep scouts to be the best player in the Class of 2017, but a back injury suffered in the lead-up to the 2017-18 season led to his playing just two minutes in Missouri’s season opener before being sidelined until the SEC tournament. Porter underwent surgery to address the issue, and his two games back on the floor in the postseason revealed that there was a lot of rust to work off — as one would expect. Porter is an incredibly gifted wing prospect, possessing the ability to score at all three levels and a good enough handle to break down defenders off the dribble. The biggest question mark for Porter in the month leading into the NBA draft will be the medical reports. How much will he and his representation put out there for teams — handling the evaluations themselves or granting teams the ability to have their doctors look at Porter? Porter stands to be selected in the top half of the lottery provided everything checks out to teams’ satisfaction from a health standpoint.

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Mikal Bridges, Junior, Villanova, 6’7”, 210.0 - Bridges did not participate in the combine last week, not even going through the measurement process, and it should be noted that he wasn’t the only projected lottery pick to go this route. After redshirting as a freshman, Bridges began his on-court career at Villanova as a reserve whose athleticism and wingspan made him more of a contributor defensively than offensively. Throughout his collegiate career Bridges made strides on the offensive end of the floor, developing into an efficient wing scorer who had the ability to produce either off the dribble or in catch and shoot situations. This past season, which ended with the Wildcats’ second national title in three years, Bridges averaged 17.7 points per game, shooting 51.4 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from three (6.0 attempts per game) and 85.1 percent from the foul line. With his build and skill set Bridges projects to be the “3-and-D” wing that teams look for, but that’s a minimum projection. He’ll need to get a little stronger physically, but Bridges is certainly tough enough for the rigors of the pro game and has the potential to be more than just a “3-and-D” guy if he can replicate the progress made during four years at Villanova. It’s tough to see Mikal Bridges falling outside of the Top 10 in next month’s draft.

Miles Bridges, Sophomore, Michigan State, 6’6.75”, 220.4 - Predicted by many to be the national Player of the Year before the 2017-18 season began, Bridges still had a good sophomore season at Michigan State despite not taking home any major awards. Averaging 17.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, Bridges shot 45.7 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 85.3 percent from the foul line on a team that won the Big Ten regular season title. A very good athlete, Miles Bridges turned 20 in March and because of the age difference he’s viewed by some as having more upside than Mikal Bridges (who will turn 22 this summer). After being used more as a mismatch four as a freshman, Miles Bridges spent the majority of his time at the three this season, thanks in large part to the arrival of another projected lottery pick in Jaren Jackson Jr. There’s still some work to be done when it comes to defending on the wing, but Bridges is certainly capable of handling those responsibilities. Showing that he can consistently make perimeter shots after seeing his three-point percentage decrease from his freshman to his sophomore season will be another key for Bridges during the pre-draft workout process, but it’s a safe bet that he doesn’t fall out of the Top 10 come draft night.

Kevin Knox, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’9”, 212.6 - Knox certainly had his moments during his lone season at Kentucky, averaging 15.6 points per game on a team that won the SEC tournament and reached the Sweet 16. His size on the wing make the 6-foot-9 Knox a tough matchup for many defenders, but at times he has also bailed out those players by either settling for challenged shots or simply not being as aggressive in looking for his offense as he needed to be. Knox shot 44.5 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three-point range in his lone season as a Wildcat, and while those numbers may not jump off the page, he has the potential to be a quality offensive wing at the NBA level. In addition to sharpening his skills on that end of the floor, Knox will need to tighten things up defensively as well. He has the frame to be a nuisance defensively, with a wingspan measuring out at 6’11.75”, and among small forwards only Michael Porter Jr. (9’0.5”) has a longer standing reach than Knox’s 9’0” measurement. Knox may need a little time to add some physical strength, but he’s an intriguing talent who could fit in at the back end of the lottery. The Clippers, who have picks at 12 and 13, could very well be a team that takes a long look at Knox given his physical skills and upside.

Keita Bates-Diop, Junior, Ohio State, 6’8.5”, 223.8 - After missing most of the 2016-17 season due to injury, Bates-Diop finished his Ohio State career with a flourish, playing well enough to be the clear choice for Big Ten Player of the Year. Bates-Diop averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Buckeyes, shooting 48.0 percent from the field, 35.9 percent from three and 79.4 percent from the foul line. Bates-Diop did finish the season with more turnovers (61) than assists (56), but that isn’t a major difference and a lot of this can be attributed to Ohio State needing him to be more aggressive as the team’s top offensive option. Rebounding-wise a lot of Bates-Diop’s work was done on the defensive end, as he averaged 7.2 defensive boards per game. Further, his physical measurements likely cemented Bates-Diop’s status as a first round pick, with his 7’3.25” wingspan the longest among small forwards who were measured at the combine. The “upside” question may come up, as it could be the case with Mikal Bridges as well, since Bates-Diop is already 22 years of age (January). However, given his production last season and the physical measurements, Bates-Diop appears likely to land somewhere in the middle of the first round and work his way into the rotation from day one.

Melvin Frazier, Junior, Tulane, 6’6”, 198.2 - Frazier originally entered his name into the NBA draft without an agent, but in early May he made the decision to hire an agent and forego his final two seasons of eligibility. An explosive athlete, Frazier could very well hear his name called in the first round after having a good two days at the combine in Chicago. Frazier’s wingspan was measured at 7’1.75”, second-longest among small forwards, and he also posted one of the highest max vertical jumps at 40.5 inches. Within Tulane’s offense Frazier was one of the team’s primary offensive options, and despite being a focal point of opposing defenses, he still managed to shoot 55.6 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range (3.0 attempts per game). Frazier’s perimeter shooting improved significantly from his sophomore season, when he shot 26.4 percent on 3.5 attempts per game. Frazier’s wingspan and athleticism help him when it comes to defending twos and threes, and he’s got the ability to be a solid “3-and-D” option at the next level.



Others to Watch: Dzanan Musa, KK Cedevita (Croatia); Chandler Hutchison, Boise State.



Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.
Email :Raphielle Johnson



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