Bamba, Young provide intrigue heading into 2018 NBA draft

The first two players selected at Thursday’s 2018 NBA draft will most likely be Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton. Beyond them, the picture gets considerably more cloudy. The Phoenix Suns will have the choice of Doncic, the Serbian phenom who was named Euroleague MVP after leading Real Madrid to the championship, or Ayton, a 7-foot forward poised to be the league’s next impactful big man, when they select first overall, leaving the other top prospect for the Sacramento Kings at No. 2.

Phoenix appears to be leaning towards Ayton, which would leave Doncic for the Kings. But Sacramento hasn’t always drafted according to the script - often to the detriment of the franchise - and reports have linked their interest to players such as Michael Porter Jr. or Marvin Bagley III. Porter was a highly touted prospect before undergoing back surgery, making his durability a big concern, and Bagley is a tenacious rebounder who is a consensus top-5 pick but doesn’t possess the same career upside as an elite playmaker like Doncic.

Another player on the Kings’ radar is Mo Bamba, who has an incredible 7-foot-10 wingspan and is one of the draft’s top defenders. Bamba has drawn comparisons to Giannis Antetokounmpo due to his combination of size and athleticism, but his offensive game is still raw enough where it might not translate well to the pro level, and drafting someone second overall who it turns out can’t score would be the latest in a line of bad draft decisions for Sacramento. However, if the Kings took the risk and Bamba’s offensive game developed to an elite level, they would look like geniuses.

Largely absent from the top-5 conversation is Trae Young, who had a remarkable year as a freshman guard, leading the NCAA in points and assists. Young’s game has drawn comparisons to Steph Curry with his playmaking vision and his ability to sink shots from seemingly anywhere on the court, which gives him sky-high upside. But Young faded against more challenging opponents during conference play and concerns about his defensive game and general toughness took much of the shine off of his stellar statistics, leaving him as a high-risk, high-reward option for teams later in the lottery.

The Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Dallas Mavericks are next after Phoenix and Sacramento, although the Grizzlies are reportedly shopping their fourth overall pick, with teams like the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics very interested in making a deal. The Toronto Raptors are also reportedly trying to find a trading partner despite entering Thursday with no picks, and one possible reason for their interest is highly touted Canadian prospect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is expected to be a top-10 pick.