The 2018 NBA draft was loaded. Almost four years on, the class has already produced two franchise players, emerging stars and depth out of both rounds.
At selections 24 and 37, the Portland Trail Blazers snared Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., two guards who were, for the most part, ignored by national pundits preoccupied with the top half of the lottery.
And for good reason.
While Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Colin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dominated their first seasons, Simons and Trent Jr. were superglued to the Blazers bench.
But in the ensuing two and a half years, the young Portland duo eventually took their chances. First, Trent Jr. emerged as a 3 and D wing thanks to a list of injuries to teammates during the 2019-20 season. He was shipped off to the Toronto Raptors along with Rodney Hood for Norman Powell last March. A month later, Simons began his productive ascension, which has since culminated in league-wide amazement this calendar year.
With the NBA terrain changing and unexpected players emerging, the top of the 2018 draft would unsurprisingly and almost certainly look different if it was run today.
But re-selecting a draft is tricky. There are a number of different factors to consider. For the purposes if this piece we’re using five criteria. Each player was ranked out of 10 against each with the five scores added together.
Production until this point
Highest level of team achievement
Level of importance on their respective rosters
1. Luka Doncic (46 points) — Phoenix Suns
2. Trae Young (45) — Sacramento Kings
3. Deandre Ayton (40) — Atlanta Hawks
(Luka Doncic to Dallas)
4. Mikal Bridges (38) — Memphis Grizzlies
(Jaren Jackson Jr.)
5. Miles Bridges (37) — Dallas Mavericks
(Trae Young to Atlanta)
6. Jaren Jackson Jr. (35) — Orlando Magic
7. Michael Porter Jr. (35) — Chicago Bulls
(Wendell Carter Jr.)
8. Anfernee Simons (35) — Cleveland Cavaliers
9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (34) — New York Knicks
10. Jalen Brunson (34) — Philadelphia 76ers
(Mikal Bridges to Phoenix)
11. Collin Sexton (33) — Charlotte Hornets
(Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to Los Angeles)
12. Gary Trent Jr. (33) — Los Angeles Clippers
(Miles Bridges to Charlotte)
13. Wendell Carter Jr. (32) — Los Angeles Clippers
14. Mo Bamba (31) — Denver Nuggets
(Michael Porter Jr.)
Devonte Graham (31), Donte DiVincenzo (31), Mitchell Robinson (29), Robert Williams (29)
While the top five spots were relatively easy to position, it was the next three that caused the most consternation with Jackson Jr., Porter Jr. and Simons all registering 35 points.
Injury has derailed much of Jackson Jr. and Porter Jr.’s career thus far — particularly the later who red shirted his first year and has already been out for a large part of this season.
Simons, on the other hand, has been relatively injury free — touch wood — but has only really had 12 months to fully showcase his ability.
After wrestling long and hard with this trio, I ordered them as above for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Jackson Jr. and Porter Jr. play sought after positions and are able to operate on both sides of the ball through impressive size and length.
Simons, while a gifted offensive player, is yet to prove himself as a defender. “Yet” being the operative word, with the 22-year-old still with time to build on this part of his game. If he’s able to improve his defensive prowess while continuing to flash that unique offensive skillset, who’s not to say that he jumps into the top five this time next year.
The former IMG Academy product then pipped Gilgeous-Alexander and Brunson. While Gilgeous-Alexander has enjoyed a more prominent role with the Thunder, injury has kept him to only 78 games over the past two seasons. Brunson has been a much needed secondary creator behind Doncic but despite his consistency, his ceiling isn’t likely to match Simons’ peak.
Trent Jr.’s star has continued to rise in Canada, enjoying averages of 18.6 points and 40 percent three point shooting this season.
Trent Jr. is a solid rotation player/starter, a bulkier wing who can both shoot and defend. But his inability to put the ball on the floor and facilitate holds him back when selecting players you hope can make a real difference.
If these selections are actually made
The Suns backcourt is comprised of Doncic and Devin Booker. Wow. They probably don’t go after Chris Paul last year and are unlikely bad enough to pick up Cameron Johnson in 2019. Who cares, right? No disrespect to Ayton, but a team boasting Doncic and Booker alongside various roll players, i.e. Jae Crowder and Cameron Payne, potentially goes one step further than they did last season.
The Kings add another guard. Fortunately for them though, Young is so much of an upgrade on Bagley (now with the Detroit Pistons) they finally make the playoffs and have someone to build around. Oh wait, they did have Tyrese Haliburton. Sorry, Kings fans.
Ayton goes to the Hawks. Like Young, he’s the first piece in a young core that builds strongly towards last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta doesn’t trade for Clint Capela and they don’t get that 2019 Mavericks draft pick that becomes Cam Reddish. But Ayton is a great way to kick start your rebuild following the departures of Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
The Grizzlies get Mikal Bridges, who they probably get more games out of thanks to better durability than Jackson Jr. Can’t imagine they’re in too different a place to where they are now, but a wing core of Bridges and Brooks seems tantalizing with Memphis already considered a great young team.
Miles Bridges goes to Texas and while athletically and skillfully gifted, he almost certainly doesn’t drag the Mavericks to the same heights as Doncic. Dallas does however get its 2019 first rounder pick, adding another decent young player on a controlled contract.
Poor Jaren Jackson Jr. goes to Orlando and gets bogged down in the deep big man rotation with little-to-no success. Hooray for Mo Bamba.
Porter Jr. ends up a Bull and, if he’s able to stay healthy, becomes a key member of Chicago’s current impressive run. He’s an upgrade on Carter Jr. but curious to see if Chicago can pull off the Nikola Vucevic trade and still hang on to Porter Jr.
Simons goes to Cleveland and is, no doubt, further pushing the Cavaliers up the standings, particularly as Sexton is currently sitting through injury. He develops earlier, fitting in nicely alongside Darius Garland (who has coincidently been compared to Lillard), LeVert, Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
Gilgeous-Alexander goes to Madison Square Garden and makes a considerably bigger contribution than Kevin Knox. Let’s hope youth development in New York isn’t as bad as we’ve all heard it is.
Brunson serves as a nice addition to Joel Embiid, especially alongside James Harden. The 76ers actually snared Zhaire Smith in 2018 following a draft-day trade with the Suns.
Sexton goes to North Carolina, making the Terry Rozier move unnecessary, while Trent Jr. and Carter Jr. end up in Los Angeles and are likely traded to the Thunder to get Paul George to the Clippers.
Bamba goes to Denver and is stuck behind Nikola Jokic, which means he’s probably somewhere else by now.
All vision is 20/20 in hindsight, I’m sure every team, except Dallas, would have done things differently if they had their chance. Just look at the Blazers fortunes on draft night 2017. No doubt the front office would have chosen half a dozen players ahead of Zach Collins if they'd had their time again.
But they changed their fortunes the next year picking two players who rose a collective 41 picks if you agree with above re-draft.