Draft stock report: 2018 class shaping up to be NBA’s best in years

Villanova's Mikal Bridges.

The 2018 NBA draft class is shaping up to be among the best in recent memory.

I know, I know, that’s what we said about 2017’s crop of incoming NBAers, and while it remains to be seen how those prospects pan out — especially the first two picks, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball — it’s certainly produced plenty of standout talent like the Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, and Sacramento point guard D’Aaron Fox.

But consider that scouts have said that all of the top five projected players in the 2018 crop would have each gone first overall in 2017, and it can never be too early to get excited about what next year’s draft might bring.

With the college basketball season underway, and a healthy handful of games under their belts, let’s check in on some of the biggest incoming NBA prospects (projected draft spot via NBAdraft.net):

STOCK RISING

Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, freshman, Michigan State (Projected: 6th)

The son of former NBA shooting guard Jaren Jackson, the San Antonio Spurs’ three-point leader during their 1999 title run, Jackson Jr. is an entirely different kind of player. While he shares his old man’s smooth stroke from deep, the younger Jackson is a prototypical modern-day big man, listed at an imposing six-foot-11 and 242 lb.

On Tuesday Jackson Jr. tied the Spartans’ single-game record with eight blocks, and has swatted away at least two attempts in each game so far this season. Throw in strong rebounding numbers and a versatile offensive game, and it won’t be hard to picture the former high school national champion making an impact on both ends of the floor at the next level.

Mohamed Bamba, C, freshman, Texas (Projected: 5th)

Mo Bamba has been on draft radars for years thanks to his freakish size and jaw-dropping highlight reels. The seven-footer from Harlem, N.Y., possess an unthinkable seven-foot-10(!) wingspan — which would be the longest in the NBA — and standing reach over nine and a half feet. He combines his otherworldly frame with next-level athleticism that has him doing things like this, versus projected first-overall pick Marvin Bagley III no less:

His game still needs refinement, and he can look lost trying to post up on the block. Bamba is currently second in the NCAA in blocks, averaging four per game, and jaw-dropping drives to the hoop like this are, dare I say, Giannis-like:

Mikal Bridges, G, junior, Villanova (Projected: 12th)

Fresh off an impressive 28-point performance in an 88-72 win versus 12th-ranked Gonzaga, Bridges is the leading scorer for the 9-0 Wildcats. And if he can sustain this level of play, he won’t regret staying in college after flirting with entering the 2017 draft.

Bridges is averaging 19 points per game on 56.7 per cent shooting from the floor. Most impressive is his shooting from beyond the arc, where he’s nailing an absurd 51 per cent of his shots on nearly six attempts per game.

Oh, and he’s way the hell more than just a shooter:

Devonte Graham, PG, senior, Kansas (Projected: 48th)

Because he’s a senior and isn’t a standout athlete in the mould of some of the others on this list — to say nothing of the average NBA point guard — Graham was pegged as a potential late-second-rounder heading into his final season at Kansas. While he’s hardly going to play his way into the draft lottery, Graham has taken a noticeable leap forward and at this rate could become a draft-night steal.

After averaging 4.1 assists last season, he’s currently second in the NCAA at 8.0 per game while playing virtually the same amount of minutes. Graham has taken on a bigger scoring role, too, averaging a career-best 18.6 points per game. He’s scored 35 points in each of his last two games, hitting 12 threes during that span.

STOCK FALLING

Miles Bridges, F, sophomore, Miami (Projected: 9th)

Bridges was a surefire lottery pick who decided to return to college for another season, where he’d have the chance to further establish himself as one of the NCAA’s most dominant players.

He’s still a damn fine prospect, but so far hasn’t done anything to vault him any higher on NBA scouts’ draft boards. With more talent on the Spartans roster — including the aforementioned Jackson Jr. — Bridges’ scoring numbers are down slightly at 15.9 points per game, and so too are his minutes.

Robert Williams III, F/C, sophomore, Texas A&M (Projected: 10th)

Like Bridges, Williams was likely lottery-bound in 2017, but elected to go back to school to refine his game and improve his draft stock for 2018, where early-summer projections had him in the top five before Bagley reclassified.

Known for his rebounding prowess, Williams has continued to impress in that regard, averaging a clean nine boards per game, but his scoring is down to just eight points per game. An athletic and imposing big man, he scored 21 points against Penn State in late November, but has scored just four points in each of his last four games.

Michael Porter Jr., F, freshman, Missouri (Projected: 4th)

Hardly his fault, but Porter Jr. will miss the entire season after undergoing back surgery. Hopefully, for his and our sake, he’ll recover and return to form. He’s the reigning high school player of the year and was pegged as a likely first-overall pick before his injury. That he’s still in the top five on nearly all draft boards speaks to his talent level and ability to transition his game to the NBA level.