8 Steals from the 2018 NBA Draft
Writer: Noah Magaro-George
The 2018 NBA draft may feel like yesterday, but the association's yearly event to welcome new players into the league came and went nearly four months ago.
Summer League ball and preseason games have provided us with a glimpse of what these bright-eyed youngsters might become. With that said, it's likely we won't realize the bigger picture of the draft until many years down the road.
Although front office executives haven't had the time to properly evaluate the prospects they selected, several fresh faces are making some noise around the NBA. While it's important not to overstate what a few early performances might mean to the future of their careers, a handful of rookies have already established themselves as possible draft night hijackings.
Not every draft day heist will pull ahead of the pack as obviously and emphatically as Donovan Mitchell did last season, but this year's crop of candidates is unusually deep. From the top of the draft to Mr. Irrelevant himself, here's a look at the potential steals of the 2018 draft class.
Michael Porter Jr.: Denver Nuggets
Just one year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was the near-unanimous first overall pick heading into his freshman season at Missouri. Fast forward to the present, and the combo forward finds himself with the Denver Nuggets after falling to the very end of the lottery.
No one ever questioned Porter's talent, but major red flags were raised when team doctors from around the league evaluated the 20-year-olds' health following a midseason back surgery at Mizzou. Many thought he had rushed his recovery to return to the floor sooner than expected, and it appears those critics were right.
Porter has now undergone a second back surgery, but the Nuggets can't complain. At 14th overall, his star potential and value is unmatched. Although injuries may derail his career, the chance he becomes a transcendent player should he stay healthy is well worth the risk.
Denver has the luxury of depth, so they shouldn't rush him back to the court no matter how eager he is to play. Porter might one day remind us why he was once top of his class, but if the Nuggets know what's best for the franchise, they'll ease him into his new role.
Lonnie Walker IV: San Antonio Spurs
Most mock drafts had Lonnie Walker IV being taken anywhere from the 11th to 16th pick range of the first round. As it would turn, he would fall to 18th and into the eager arms of the San Antonio Spurs.
Walker's lone season at Miami was met with a mixed bag of reviews. While he showed superior scoring instincts and a sweet shooting stroke, his inconsistency on both sides of the ball and inability to get others involved on offense contributed to his slide down big boards on draft night.
As much as it must have hurt to sit around and wait in the green room for his name to be called by commissioner Adam Silver, Walker couldn't have hoped for a better destination than San Antonio. After all, few franchises are held in higher esteem for their player development than the Spurs.
With Manu Ginobili moving on from the game of basketball and a sweet but short summer league stint from Walker, San Antonio should be excited to see what he can bring to the table. Unfortunately for both parties, they'll have to wait. Walker tore his meniscus only five minutes into his first preseason game and isn't expected back for six to eight weeks.
Grayson Allen: Utah Jazz
Grayson Allen isn't your conventional pick for the steal of the draft. He won't compete for rookie of the year, is wildly inconsistent and has a shortage of high upside. So why is he here?
For everything Allen lacks in skill, he makes up for in heart. The undersized shooting guard isn't the best shooter, passer or defender in his class, but he just might have the highest motor. Allen rarely takes a play off and he's exactly the kind of grit and grind guy that every team needs.
The streaky scorer isn't afraid of the moment and he never backs down from a challenge. He's annoying, he'll get in your face and he reminds me a lot of Marcus Smart. And if you told me you somehow managed to snag Marcus Smart with the 21st pick of the draft, I'd call you a genius.
His hot and cold reputation has been on full display this preseason, but that won't scare head coach Quin Snyder from handing him meaningful minutes. Although Allen is buried behind a few guards on the depth chart for now, expect his role to expand.
Aaron Holiday: Indiana Pacers
Basketball runs in the blood of the Holiday family. They already had two players in the league before the 2018 NBA draft, and they added a third when the Indiana Pacers selected UCLA's Aaron Holiday with the 23rd pick of the night.
The 2018 draft class lacked much star power at the point guard position, but if any floor general has the chance to exceed the expectations set for him it's Aaron Holiday. At 22-years-old, he's further along in his development than some of the younger prospects taken before him.
Holiday's jump shot is picture perfect and his range and quickness should translate to the next level without any hiccups. Though his court vision is a work in progress, he sees the floor well and has the ability to make the right reads on offense.
The first-year point guard is third on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean he isn't important to the Pacers' plans this season. He has the skills to contribute right away and makes Cory Joseph and his remaining $7.9 million left on his contract expendable. Expect to see Holiday commanding the second unit by year's end.
Robert Williams III: Boston Celtics
Robert Williams III to the Boston Celtics is your classic case of the rich getting richer. As an elite level rim runner, the springy big man will give the Celtics' countless playmakers an excellent target in the pick and roll.
A sure lottery lock in 2017, Williams' decision to return to Texas A&M for a second season to improve his draft stock backfired. After struggling to add to his repertoire in year two and some shady handling of his medical records nearing the draft, Williams plummeted to 27th overall at the bottom of the first round.
His offensive skillset is unquestionably limited, but Boston won't need him to score in bunches. Instead, Williams offers the Celtics a versatile defender with the mobility to switch onto guards and protect the rim all in one sequence.
While his attitude and drive were issues at A&M, Boston's impeccable coaching staff and incredible culture should quickly encourage Williams to buy into their system. There's little reason to think he'll find much playing time in the Celtics' crowded frontcourt, but he'll throw down his fair share of thunderous lob passes if given the chance.
Mitchell Robinson: New York Knicks
The ceiling is limitless for Mitchell Robinson. He stands at over seven feet tall, runs the floor like a guard and protects the rim as though his life depends on it. So how did he end up on the Knicks in the second round?
Last year was a wild ride for Robinson. After a surprise commitment to play for WKU, the former blue-chip recruit had second thoughts, packed his bags and headed home before the season started. He then re-enrolled at the university, rejoined the program and promptly abandoned the Hilltoppers once more to train for the 2018 draft on his own.
Though Robinson's wishy-washy behavior certainly had teams around the NBA second-guessing their interest in him, his pure untapped potential made him irresistible to New York. Spending 14 months away from organized basketball is enough to make even the best players a little rusty. Apparently, the rules don't apply to Robinson because he absolutely dominated his Summer League competition.
If Robinson can play anywhere near as well as he did when he set the Summer League blocks per game record in July, he'll have an automatic spot in the Knicks rotation. He won't be leading them to the promised land anytime soon, but he most definitely has the pedigree to become an integral piece to the championship puzzle.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: Los Angeles Lakers
His name is a mouthful, but Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s basketball ability is crystal clear. Known primarily as a three-point marksman coming out of Kansas, he's been exactly as advertised and more this offseason.
Svi was the surprise star of the Summer League on a loaded Los Angeles Lakers squad that contended for a Las Vegas title. The Ukrainian sharpshooter knocked down threes with superhuman accuracy and showcased a defensive intensity few knew he had.
If not for fellow teammate and second-year standout Josh Hart, Svi could have very well taken home MVP honors. Though he wasn't the Lakers first or section choice back in late June, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has undoubtedly identified himself as the best rookie on the roster.
There's an outside chance the six-foot-eight wing works his way into the gameplan by opening day, but I'm sure he'll seize the opportunity when it presents itself. We know how good shooters can be when LeBron James' is slinging the ball around the court. Now can you imagine how dangerous Svi could be spotting up around the perimeter?
Kostas Antetokounmpo: Dallas Mavericks
Aside from sharing a last name with the Greek Freak, Kostas Antetokounmpo has all the physical tools to become a legitimate NBA player. Whether or not he shares the same type of superstar talent with his older brother has yet to be seen.
Antetokounmpo posted a rather uninspiring redshirt freshman season with the Dayton Flyers, but that didn't stop NBA scouts from drooling over his NBA potential. Though he may not have scored many points or made many professional caliber plays, Kostas certainly turned heads with his instincts and electrifying athleticism.
When you select a player with the final pick of the draft, they're not supposed to have this much upside. Luckily for the rebuilding Dallas Mavericks, the rest of the league decided to pass on the lanky long term project in favor of other prospects. Calling him the Greek Freak 2.0 may be a stretch, but Dallas has the luxury of time on their side to see out his development.
While the explosive forward has shown flashes of brilliance in small spurts this summer, he's unlikely to find his way into Carlisle's rotation once the regular season starts. With that in mind, the Mavs will have every incentive to give Antetokounmpo minutes once they fall out of the Western Conference playoff race.