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Fantasy Spin: 2018 NBA Mock Draft (Part 1)

Welcome back to RotoBaller's basketball coverage. Did you enjoy the playoffs? The thrill of, uhhh, another Warriors/Cavaliers Finals? So excite! Much wow! Surprises! (Okay, I'm taking this lack of enthusiasm too far -- both conference finals were fun and exciting and a Chris Paul injury away from bringing us something very unexpected.)

But now, with the season over, it's time to start getting ready for next season already. The NBA never sleeps and this year's Draft is coming right up, followed by Summer League and then, before you know it, the preseason. For now, though, let's focus on that whole "NBA Draft" part of things.

Everyone in the world does a mock draft, but ours is a little bit different, because the focus isn't on things like "long term fit" and "how projects will turn out" but on what kind of impact these players could have in fantasy basketball re-draft leagues. I've gone through tons of prospect videos and scouting reports and advanced stats to come up with an idea of how this year's draft could go and then highlighted which players should have an immediate impact at the next level. This isn't a mock draft of what I want to happen or what I think should happen, but what I think can happen based on team needs.

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A few quick notes before I start. Many of these will be wrong, because that's how mock drafts always work, but I'll try to give you analysis that will reveal things about the players that goes beyond fit.

This is a fun exercise that can help us prepare for the forthcoming fantasy basketball season, but it's important to remember that this isn't an exact science. I'd also like to thank the following places who provided valuable materials for compiling this: The 94 Feet Report's draft guide, Jacob Goldstein's international advanced data, and all the draft experts that I follow on Twitter. Big thanks, y'all.

I'll be doing all 30 first round picks over the course of three parts, but I'll spend a little bit more time on the big names at the top who are most likely to make an instant fantasy impact.  Here's Part 1.


2018 NBA Mock Draft: Round 1 - Picks 1 through 5

1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton (C, Arizona)

Ayton feels like a guarantee at this point for the Suns, who seem likely to pass on Real Madrid star Luka Doncic even though new head coach Igor Kokoškov has experience with Doncic. With Alex Len hitting free agency and still not showing the kind of potential that Suns fan had hoped for and Tyson Chandler being...well, 36 years old on a non-contending team and coming off back-to-back seasons of playing less than 50 games, choosing a center feels destined and Ayton, who played two years in high school in Arizona and then a year at the University of Arizona, is the best center on the board.

Is he the better center on the boards though? Check out this tweet:

Explaining how PIPM (player impact plus/minus) works would take an entire article, but the short version is this: it's a metric that combines per 36 minute production information with luck-adjusted on/off data and luck-adjusted net rating data to give a numerical picture of a player's offensive and defensive impact. What the above chart shows is that Ayton is coming into the league with a TON of defensive issues, which means that a lot of his fantasy impact will need to come on the offensive side to make up for potential deficits as a rebounder and blocker. (I'm especially wary of his ability to block shots at the next level.) Thankfully, we have evidence that he should be able to make up for some of that on the offensive end. His 6.50 offensive-PIPM is the third highest on that list. While that doesn't prove that he'll be successful -- the two players with better O-PIPMs are Anthony Davis (yay!) and Frank Kaminsky (I mean...I streamed him some last season!), so it's not the perfect predictor of NBA success. He's an efficient player inside who can pop out and hit mid-range shots, but his best skill is his elite level post-ups, a skill that isn't highly valued in the current NBA. Still, he might be good enough at that particular skill that he'd make it matter again. There's a lot of fantasy risk with Ayton, but Phoenix would be a good situation for him.


2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley (F, Duke)

The Kings should pick Doncic, but with De'Aaron Fox in the back court along with Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic and questions about Doncic's desire to play in Sacramento, they're going to talk themselves into a big and that big will probably be Marvin Bagley.

Remember the chart that I posted a couple hundred words ago? Bagley has better D-PIPM than Ayton, but it's still a negative, and he doesn't have the same skills as an interior offensive player as Ayton either. What does Bagley possess?

Well, he shot almost 40 percent from deep for Duke last season. He can get to the rim thanks to his athleticism and footwork. He has a high motor and should be a high level rebounder. He can play the four or the small ball five at the next level, though his defensive struggles make it unlikely he's able to play extended minutes at the five, which means the Kings will continue to have a need at the center position in the post-DeMarcus Cousins world, where it seems that the team is entering a positional purgatory. Maybe they should take Jaren Jackson Jr., but I'm not going to give the Kings the benefit of the doubt here.

Anyway, I think Bagley could be a decent fantasy option in Sacramento. Lots of upside in the later rounds.


3. Atlanta Hawks: Luka Doncic (G, Real Madrid)

The Hawks should be thrilled with Doncic falling to three. He checks most of the boxes for what teams want to see in a modern wing player: he's a skilled passer, an adept ball-handler capable of running the pick-and-roll, and he has the size to play anything from the one to the three.

There's also downsides to Doncic, especially if we're looking at this from a one year fantasy perspective. He shot just 29.8 percent from deep this season for Real Madrid, a number that should rise with time, but it's not a stretch to worry about his shooting this upcoming season. A fantasy player who commits to punting on threes could find a lot to like in Doncic if he came to the Hawks. Dennis Schroder has landed in some trade rumors lately and if the Hawks move on from Schroder, Doncic has an immediately path to ball handling duties.


4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr. (C, Michigan State)

This tweet does a good job summing up what Jackson can do:

Jackson's versatility would be useful in Memphis. Long term, he projects to replace Marc Gasol at the five, but he's also got the skill to play power forward right now. He's got three point range in the body of someone who could be an above-average defensive option.

The problem with Jackson t0 Memphis from a fantasy perspective is how he finds minutes right away on a team that already has Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green in the front court, not to mention a trio of 24-and-under bigs who flashed potential at times last year, in Deyonta Davis, Jarell Martin, and Ivan Rabb. It's possible we see Memphis go big more often -- according to Basketball Reference, Green played the three for 22 percent of his minutes last season and Dillon Brooks played the two 27 percent of the time, so rotations like that with Jackson in the game presents a path toward playing time -- but if the Grizzlies think they can compete for a playoff spot then Jackson might not see the court enough to have relevance right off the bat. Expect him -- or whoever Memphis picks -- to gain value down the stretch when the team realizes they aren't competitive.


5. Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba (C, Texas)

Dallas could use a big, specifically one who can protect the rim after the Nerlens Noel experiment failed. Dallas has a lot of question marks, but playing Bamba at the five with Dirk Nowitzki at the four and Harrison Barnes at three is an intriguing situation, even if it seems that the team is going a little too big for the modern NBA in that scenario.

In the ideal scenario, Bamba can do something that resembles DeAndre Jordan or Clint Capela at a fraction of the cost, but with better shooting range. In the less than ideal scenario, Bamba is still an elite shot blocker with ridiculous wingspan, but the improved shooting mechanics that he's shown this off-season don't pan out. That upside will make him an intriguing fantasy pick, but the uncertainty makes him tough to select until a lot of safer big man options are off the board.

Stay tuned for the second part of this mock draft, looking at the rest of the lottery picks!

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