Sadly, Denver Nuggets fans, it’s that time again.

Last Friday, Daniel Lewis dropped another big board for the site, and it was glorious. Make sure to check it out, as he has some opinions that are strikingly similar to mine and others that are strikingly different.

Given that the 2018 NBA Draft is still over two months away, we don’t want to overwhelm Nuggets fans with draft coverage right now, especially after such a tough finish for the team. It’s important to not only recover from the trials of last season, but also to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and try to fully understand where to go from here.

However, the draft is the first big step in that process, and the Nuggets cannot afford to mess that up. After an unsuccessful 2013 draft, a successful 2014 draft, an unsuccessful 2015 draft, a successful 2016 draft, and what appears to be an unsuccessful 2017 draft (though that will be mitigated if Trey Lyles takes a step forward or Tyler Lydon shows some promise next season), the Nuggets must continue the alternating trend and make the 2018 draft excellent. There are a variety of ways for the Nuggets to accomplish this, but having two unsuccessful draft years in a row would be a killer for the ceiling of this team, and the needs are too many for the Nuggets to rest on their laurels.

So, here it is: my first mock of the 2018 NBA Draft. I have decided to break the first round into rough tiers based on where I believe the talent drops off from tier to tier.

[Pick Number. Team – Player, Position, Current Team (age in years)]

Tier 1 – Franchise Changers

1. Phoenix Suns – Luka Dončić, PG/SG/SF, Real Madrid (19.1)

Let’s get this out of the way: Luka Dončić is a young, phenomenal player in Europe. There are questions with his athleticism as a primary ball handler, that his top-end explosiveness may be a problem, and that he might not be good defensively. If anyone can appreciate Dončić for what he is though: it’s Nuggets fans. He and Nikola Jokic share some of the same qualities: superior basketball IQ, a willingness to make the right play, skills and savvy to dazzle from possession to possession, and confidence in the biggest moments.

Watch these unbelievable passes people.

Dončić goes to the Suns where he may clash at times with Devin Booker, currently the young stud prospect in the desert. But what’s better than having one exceptional wing offensively? Having two of them. They will figure it out, and if they do, the Suns will have a top five offense for the next decade. That’s a foundational identity to build around.

2. Memphis Grizzlies – DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona (19.7)

DeAndre Ayton is considered by some to be the top prospect in the draft, but I have my doubts about him. He works when he wants to, but the right coach will help motivate him become the best he can be. The best version of him is Joel Embiid minus the top flight defensive acumen, and adding him as a replacement for Marc Gasol (who so clearly wants out of town) may help jump start the Memphis rebuild.

Tier 2 – Game Changers

3. Dallas Mavericks – Jaren Jackson, PF/C, Michigan State (18.6)

This is a difficult selection, as the Mavericks are in talent acquisition mode and should be taking the best player available; however, they also need to find someone who can help out Dennis Smith. Jaren Jackson is the player, in my opinion, who best satisfies both criteria. A 6’11, 240 pound frame with a 7’4 wingspan will help him create havoc defensively in the NBA. He has great defensive instincts, averaged 3.0 blocks per game in just 21.8 minutes per game for the Spartans. His complimentary offensive skill set (rim runner, pick and pop potential) should help Smith develop his own skill set to be the alpha dog Dallas needs him to be. Jackson can be the defensive anchor.

4. Atlanta Hawks – Marvin Bagley, PF/C, Duke (19.1)

Nobody can accuse Marvin Bagley of lacking production at Duke, averaging over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game as a freshman. His name value is high, and while he has defense and efficiency concerns as he continues to expand his game, there’s still star power in him.

For Atlanta, they already have John Collins, but Bagley filling in at the other big man spot would create an insanely athletic front line for Dennis Schroder to create shots. Increasing the talent level around Schroder should help improve his efficiency, which is why I went away from Trae Young in this spot. If Bagley hits, filling in the gaps in Atlanta become a lot easier as they look for more athletic wings in future drafts.

5. Orlando Magic – Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma (19.6)

The Orlando Magic just traded away Elfrid Payton after three and a half seasons of underwhelming development. The Magic desperately need to inject some life into their rebuild, and one of the ways to do it is by adding Trae Young. Young looks a lot like Stephen Curry at the college level, and while it’s hard to recreate Curry’s efficiency, Young carried a terrible Oklahoma team to the NCAA tournament. Surrounding him with better talent will help him excel in the pros, and the Magic have the ancillary pieces to help him.

6. Chicago Bulls – Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri (19.8)

The Bulls miss out on an opportunity to pick some of the top prospects, so they take a chance on Michael Porter. He’s talented, in the mold of Jayson Tatum last year, but he needs to be a part of a solid system. The Bulls add to their young core of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markannen with a dynamic forward who could potentially fill in the gaps on both ends.

7. Sacramento Kings – Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas (19.9)

The Kings still have questions all over, but they hope De’Aaron Fox is one of their answers. They traded for Buddy Hield. They drafted Justin Jackson. They still have Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein. None of those guys provide anything game-changing, but Mo Bamba might. He has Rudy Gobert potential on the defensive end, and if he can figure it out, some of Sacramento’s offensive questions are mitigated with a foundational defensive piece.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn) – Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova (21.6)

I don’t believe the Cavaliers will keep this pick if the draft breaks this way, but there aren’t many players that fit better than Mikal Bridges if LeBron James decides to stay. Bridges doesn’t have to be a featured member of any offense, but when the ball finds him, he can knock down shots. He’s a long, pesky defender who can take on tough assignments, and he’s smart on both sides of the ball. He’s my favorite player in the draft. Think Khris Middleton mixed with Otto Porter.

9. New York Knicks – Miles Bridges, SF/PF, Michigan State (20.1)

This is a tough pick for the Knicks. Mikal Bridges would have been perfect. Kristaps Porzingis being out throws in a wrinkle. Frank Ntilikina doesn’t have the full trust of the team as a ball handler. In the end, I have them going with Miles Bridges. He possesses wing skills in what may end up being the body of a power forward. The vision of the Knicks would be to put him, Porzingis, and Ntilikina on the floor for extended stretches and hope they develop both ways.

10. Philadelphia 76er’s (via LA Lakers) – Wendell Carter, PF/C, Duke (18.9)

The Sixers are in a great spot. A top 10 pick while they are currently showing out in the playoffs. This is a case of the rich getting richer, and the best player on the board happens to fill a long term need. Wendell Carter has the tools to add to Philly’s explosive rotation as an eventual Amir Johnson replacement. He has the toughness to help the team with Joel Embiid off the floor and the skills to play next to him.

Tier 3 – Starter Potential

11. Charlotte Hornets – Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama (19.3)

The Hornets are about to embark on a long rebuild, and they previously made Kemba Walker available to jumpstart things. Collin Sexton is flawed, but he has the mentality and physical ability to become a good starting point guard. Pairing him and Malik Monk as guard prospects feels like a good place to start for a team devoid of top, young talent.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit) – Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky (18.7)

The Clippers have back to back picks here, and with the first one, they select Kevin Knox. Combo forward is a strength for the Clippers, but Danilo Gallinari being as injury prone as he has been and Tobias Harris’ contract expiring means it could quickly become a need. Knox is talented, young, and likely has more to show in the pros.

13. Los Angeles Clippers – Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M (20.5)

Robert Williams would be great insurance for the Clippers if DeAndre Jordan leaves. They already have Montrezl Harrell and Boban Marjanovic, but continuing to add to that depth would help keep the Clippers flexible. They should have some cap space to add guards and wings, so focusing on the other positions at this stage should help.

14. Denver Nuggets – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Kentucky (19.8)

Here’s what everyone came to see: the Nuggets are in a pickle at this portion of the lottery. Gone are the top prospects and the players that are perfect fits. Mikal Bridges, Miles Bridges, Wendell Carter, and Kevin Knox should be on Nuggets fans’ short list of players hoping to be selected by Denver. They are all gone though, and the other wing prospects aren’t quite at the level of a lottery talent.

So the Nuggets don’t make the same mistake two years in a row and take a lottery talent. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a long, ball handling guard with the finishing and passing instincts to excel in the NBA. He isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s pretty good. At 6’6 with long arms, SGA is a prospect who should thrive in the open floor of the NBA. Having watched him in person, it’s clear that he was affected by Kentucky’s aversion to spacing. Playing in Denver with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Trey Lyles, and Nikola Jokic long term, he would bring the perimeter length the Nuggets need to bolster their long term ceiling.

15. Washington Wizards – Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami (19.3)

There will be some Donovan Mitchell and Lonnie Walker comparisons made throughout the draft process. Mitchell was relatively lower on the radar than he should have been, and Walker has many of the traits Mitchell possessed. Neither were extremely efficient, but Walker has the physicality and gunner mentality. The Wizards need to inject some life into their team behind John Wall and Bradley Beal. Walker could be that guy.

16. Phoenix Suns (via Miami) – Jontay Porter, PF/C, Missouri (18.4)

The Suns are still in talent acquisition mode, even with their second pick. Having already selected Donćič to pair with Booker, they take a swing at Jontay Porter, a potential unicorn big man prospect. Porter was primarily a bench contributor for Mizzou, but he has decent ball handling and passing instincts at the position. The Suns must continue to find smart basketball players, and Porter qualifies.

17. Milwaukee Bucks – Shake Milton, PG/SG, SMU (21.6)

The Bucks are in an interesting spot. They need a center, but there are very few capable big men in this draft who they can count on immediately. Shake Milton is an older ball handling guard, but he has the ability to play multiple positions, spot up, and defend as well. He’s not a high ceiling guy, but he may be able to help Milwaukee’s bench when Giannis Antetokounmpo sits.

18. San Antonio Spurs – Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech (18.9)

This is my favorite pairing of prospect and team in this draft. Zhaire Smith is smart, wise beyond his years at the college level. He’s also extremely athletic and looks like a lot more can be teased out of his game. The Spurs must continue their youth movement, and pairing him with Dejounte Murray gives the Spurs two building blocks at guard with extremely high ceilings.

19. Atlanta Hawks (via Minnesota) – Anfernee Simons, SG, Undeclared (18.9)

The Hawks have an opportunity to take a huge swing here, and Anfernee Simons represents that. He’s an athletic guard who skipped college and will look to learn on the fly in the NBA. The Hawks are devoid of talent at the guard positions at the moment, and taking a swing at Simons may mitigate that to a degree.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Oklahoma City) – Jacob Evans, SG/SF, Cincinnati (20.8)

One of my favorite prospects in the entire draft, Jacob Evans has legit two-way potential. I like his feel for the game on both sides of the ball, and I have him ranked way higher than 20th. I could see him going as high as 10 or 11, but in this draft, he falls to Minnesota at 20, who gladly snatch him up as a backup to Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.

21. Utah Jazz – Keita Bates-Diop, SF/PF, Ohio State, (22.2)

Keita Bates-Diop won Big Ten player of the year for good reason. He’s an athletic forward who can stretch the floor, protect the rim, and create off the dribble. Ironically, he reminds me of Trey Lyles, who the Jazz sent to the Nuggets in the Donovan Mitchell trade. I think Bates-Diop would be exceptional off the bench in Utah.

Tier 4 – Role Player Potential

22. Chicago Bulls (via New Orleans) – Mitchell Robinson, C, None (20.0)

The Bulls go with Mitchell Robinson, an athletic center who decided to avoid the college process and take a year off after high school. He was considered the third best center prospect behind DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba, and for good reason. He’s well built, athletic, can shoot the ball, and has stud potential. With Dunn, LaVine, Porter, and Markannen already in tow, the Bulls use their second pick on a big man.

23. Indiana Pacers – Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova (21.6)

Fresh off leading his team to a national championship, Jalen Brunson has improved his stock immensely. Initially a carbon copy of older, heady second round point guard prospects, Brunson has elevated his game and shown scouts he has potential to lead NBA second units. The Pacers should be attracted to this, as they have two veteran point guards on short term deals.

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24. Portland Trail Blazers – Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State (21.9)

Chandler Hutchison is a smooth small forward who dominated the Mountain West this past season. 20 points per game led the conference, and he was also sixth in rebounding and seventh in assists. He’s a versatile player with some skills who developed late, and Portland could surely use a guy who’s probably better than Evan Turner right now.

25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cleveland) – Džanan Musa, SF, KK Cedevita (18.9)

The Lakers take best player available here, and they likely try and stash Musa to keep the cap sheet free in the offseason. Musa is an explosive scorer on the wing and maybe the second best international draft prospect. He falls here, but he’s a good one.

26. Philadelphia 76er’s – Gary Trent, SG, Duke (19.2)

As I alluded to earlier, the Sixers are getting richer. They took Wendell Carter from Duke earlier, and they are taking his teammate, Gary Trent, now. The 6’5 shooting guard shot over 40% from behind the arc on 6.5 three-point attempts per game. If the Sixers don’t bring back J.J. Redick, Marco Belinelli, or both, they will need another floor spacer.

27. Boston Celtics – De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia (20.3)

The Celtics are all about bulking up on wings, and they get another one here in De’Andre Hunter. Hunter has the size at 6’7 with a wingspan over 7’0 to play power forward in some lineups, and adding him to the mix while Gordon Hayward works his way back makes sense. I sense that one of Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier leaves Boston, so the Celtics will play less small ball anyway.

28. Golden State Warriors – Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton (21.9)

It’s weird that the Warriors need more shooting, but here we are. With Stephen Curry out, the Warriors struggle offensively because the offense requires spacing threats from beyond the arc. That’s who Thomas is, and he and Quinn Cook may make Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala expendable at some point.

29. Brooklyn Nets (via Toronto) – Rodions Kurucs, SF, FC Barcelona (20.2)

The Nets have a variety of pieces at both guard spots that require development, and they have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen up front. What they don’t have is a versatile scorer who can consistently slash on the wing. That’s what Rodions Kurucs is, a three-level scorer who gets to the line frequently. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s smart, and he would work well in Brooklyn’s offensive schemes.

30. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston) – Jevon Carter, PG, West Virginia (22.6)

The last pick of the first round, the Hawks are on the clock again with their third selection. After taking Bagley and Simons, the Hawks take Jevon Carter, a safer, more defensive minded prospect. Carter was a hellion on defense in college, and he led West Virginia to many wins with that style. He may be able to push Dennis Schroder a little bit, while also developing as a nice complement to Schroder’s “offensive mentality.”

This is where I’m at Nuggets fans. A draft loaded with wings, but Denver finds a point of attack player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with defensive potential at the 1 and 2. What do you think the Nuggets will do with their draft pick (along with their two second rounders)? Will they keep them? Will they use them as trade bait?

Either way, the 2018 NBA Draft will be a major inflection point in the offseason for the Nuggets, and it will be everyone’s first glimpse at where they think they are as a franchise. Hopefully, the draft doesn’t go quite as poorly as it did last year. If the trends continue, it figures to be a successful time for the Nuggets.

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