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NBA Draft: Rounding Up the Rumors

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

We’re now less than two days from the 2018 NBA Draft -- the culmination of a year’s worth of rumors and speculation, with the occasional factual report sprinkled in.

While we feel pretty good about Deandre Ayton going to Phoenix at No. 1, beyond that, the rest of the night could be full of surprises.

This draft look to be a relatively top-heavy one, meaning that teams picking beyond the lottery may be more apt to trade up if a player they like slides a few spots. Some reports count Toronto among those teams, while the likes of Boston, Philadelphia and even San Antonio (for obvious reasons) have the capital to make moves should they so choose.

At the end of the day, this draft will set the tone for the rest of the offseason. The influx of new talent aside, the draft provides an artificial transaction deadline, pushing forth the negotiating process for potential trades in which picks may be involved.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the key rumors, reports and general things to know heading into draft night:

- All signs continue to point toward the Suns taking Deandre Ayton first overall. Ayton hasn’t worked out for any other teams and said earlier this month that he knows he’s going No. 1. Of course, none of this is binding and it could all be an elaborate smokescreen by the Suns (and Ayton?), but that seems rather unlikely given the stakes.

- Perhaps the biggest mystery in the lottery is Missouri’s Michael Porter, who missed nearly all of his freshman season after undergoing back surgery. Talent-wise, Porter stacks up with any player in the draft, but the medicals are a concern, though Porter did produce a clean MRI on his hip last week. The Kings are reportedly intrigued by Porter, and while taking him at No. 2 wouldn’t be a complete aberration, Sacramento would likely look to trade down a few spots in the event that Porter becomes their top target. Even with the medical concerns and lack of college tape, Porter’s talent level is too high to prevent him from slipping out of the top 10. Chicago at 7, Cleveland at 8 and New York at 9 would all be strong landing spots if he does slide.

- Mo Bamba has picked up some tangible momentum in recent weeks. Will it ultimately affect his draft stock? We’ll see. Bamba is still likely to go somewhere in the 3-to-6 range, with Dallas at 5 looking like the best fit. According to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Bamba’s camp is attempting to dissuade the Grizzlies from taking him at No. 4.

- Per Marc Stein, the Raptors are exploring what it might take to move up for Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a native of the Toronto area who shot up draft boards during the second half of SEC play. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor notes that Gilgeous-Alexander has not worked out for any teams and declined to reveal which teams(s) he met with at the Draft Combine last month. Given that they currently hold no picks in this draft, it would be difficult for the Raptors to extend Gilgeous-Alexander any sort of promise, but Toronto does have the cache of young, contributing pieces to get a deal done with teams like the Hornets (11th pick), Clippers (12th, 13th) or Wizards (15th), should Gilgeous-Alexander be available in that range.

- This isn’t exactly breaking news, but the prevailing belief around Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison is that he has a promise from a team in the back-half of the first-round. The Bulls were initially rumored to be that team, but ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote Monday that teams now believe it’s the Nets who gave Hutchison a guarantee. Hutchison, who pulled out of the Draft Combine with little notice and subsequently canceled his workouts, will be the first Boise State player drafted in 43 years, and the first ever in the two-round era.

- Sacramento jumping up to No. 2 on lottery night was a massive stroke of luck for a franchise in need of just that. Initially, it looked as though the Kings would be happy to take whichever of Ayton and Doncic is available, but the tide has seemingly shifted away from Doncic in recent weeks -- at least publicly. The Kings have perhaps the worst draft track record of the last 15 years, so they’re as a difficult an organization as any to read -- and not in a good, they-keep-their-business-in-house way. Doncic is still very much in play at No. 2, but if the Kings pass, it’s looking more and more like it will be for newly minted Puma frontman, Marvin Bagley.

- The top of the draft is loaded with talented bigs -- Ayton, Jackson, Bamba, Bagley, Carter -- but outside of that fivesome, this is a class mostly dominated by wings. Robert Williams is the only other true big man who’s a near-lock to go in Round 1, and Jonathan Givony’s most recent mock draft includes just four bigs -- Williams (18), Mo Wagner (28) Mitchell Robinson (39), Omari Spellman (45) -- between picks 7 and 51.

- After capturing the ACB title with a win over Baskonia on Tuesday, Doncic is expected to be in New York for the draft on Thursday. Had his team, Real Madrid, lost Game 4 of the ACB championship series, Doncic likely would have remained in Spain in advance of Game 5.

- Earlier this month, Trae Young told reporters in New York that he’d only work out for four teams: the Knicks, Magic, Hawks and Bulls -- each of which make sense as possible landing spots. Givony reported Tuesday that Young also conducted a secret workout with the Cavaliers, holders of the eighth pick, over the weekend. Per Givony, the Cavs, who likely won’t get any indications from LeBron James before Thursday night, are focusing in on Young, Porter and Gilgeous-Alexander.

- There's this:

- No real “rumors” here, but Villanova’s Mikal Bridges continues to hold steady as a mid-to-late-lottery selection. Maybe the most NBA-ready prospect in the class, Bridges could play meaningful minutes on almost any roster next season, and Philadelphia at 10 continues to look like a really strong fit. The question for the Sixers may be what to do if a higher-upside prospect like Young or Porter unexpectedly slide on draft-night. Philly also continues to work out other prospects leading up to the draft and hosted De’Anthony Melton, B.J. Johnson, Malik Newman, Zhaire Smith, and Landry Shamet for a group session Tuesday morning. The Sixers then brought in Kentucky’s Kevin Knox -- for the second time, no less -- for a private workout Tuesday afternoon. Of those seven prospects, Knox is the most likely to be in play at 10.

- Maryland’s Kevin Huerter is expected come off the board somewhere in the 15-to-30 range, but he announced last week that he underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in his dominant right hand. The procedure shouldn’t impact Huerter’s draft stock, but he’ll be on the shelf for roughly two months, meaning he’ll miss Summer League.

- The biggest late-riser in the draft is Boston College’s Jerome Robinson. Robinson was barely on NBA radars coming into the season and will still produce plenty of “who?”s when his name is called Thursday night. Robinson is among the 20 players expected in the green room. Candace Buckner of the Washington Post also reported Tuesday that Robinson will work out privately for the Wizards, who pick 15th, on Wednesday afternoon.

- Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo reports that Dennis Schroder has been “made available” in trade talks leading up to the draft. A mercurial guard on a terrible team who makes $15.5 million a year through 2021 coming available isn’t exactly news, but it furthers the notion that the Hawks are preparing to undergo a full rebuild. Only 24 years old, Schroder is arguably still Atlanta’s best asset -- at least until they make their pick at No. 3 -- but he’s had his ups and downs and likely won’t create a strong demand in a point-guard-saturated league, especially given his cap figure. Schroder spoke candidly about his future last month, telling reporters in Germany that he’d prefer a trade to the Bucks or Pacers. “Those are the two teams where you can say the organization is going in the right direction,” Schroder said.

- Mitchell Robinson canceled his workout with the Nuggets on Monday. He’s slated to work out for the Clippers on Tuesday. A five-star recruit out of high school, Robinson has been preparing for the NBA Draft since leaving Western Kentucky in mid-September.

- Neither Jaren Jackson nor Wendell Carter have made many headlines over the past month-plus, which might be a good thing. Jackson still seems safely projected in the 2-to-5 range, while Carter could go anywhere from 4th to 9th or 10th. ESPN’s latest mock sends Jackson to the Hawks at No. 3 and Carter to the Magic at No. 6.

- It’s still anyone’s guess where Kostas Antetokounmpo will end up, but his decision to not only stay in the draft, but also to cancel all of his workouts earlier this month would imply that he has a guarantee somewhere in Round 2. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely a team would pluck Antetokounmpo with a top-45 pick, but that’s not necessarily a concern for a player who’s still at least a year or two away from being ready to contribute on an NBA roster. Per Givony, Antetokounmpo had an impressive pro day in Los Angeles over the weekend.

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