The NBA‘s lightweights got the message Thursday: If you’re going to compete with the heavyweights, you’ve got to get bigger.
The Phoenix Suns chose 7-foot Deandre Ayton of Arizona first overall and the Sacramento Kings selected 6-11 Marvin Bagley III of Duke second, starting a run on big men at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft. Ayton and Bagley are the tallest tandem of 1-2 picks since 2006.
In all, five of the first seven selections are 6-10 or taller, with the Memphis Grizzlies grabbing Michigan State’s 6-11 Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 4, the Orlando Magic tabbing Texas’ 7-foot Mo Bamba at No. 6, and the Chicago Bulls latching onto Duke’s 6-10 Wendell Carter at No. 7.
The only non-big men among the top seven, coincidentally, were traded for one another when Dallas acquired 6-foot-8 international star Luka Doncic, picked third by the Atlanta Hawks, in exchange for high-scoring Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, selected fifth, and the Mavericks’ 2019 first-round choice.
There was no surprise atop the draft, where Ayton will bring a sturdy, 260-pound frame to the middle of a Suns defense that ranked last in the NBA in points allowed en route to the NBA‘s worst record during the 2017-18 season. The 19-year-old ranked among the national leaders in rebounds (11.6 per game) and blocks (1.9 per game) last season as a one-and-done freshman.
A native of the Bahamas, Ayton will begin his pro career right around the block from where he attended Hillcrest Prep Academy before heading 100 miles down the road to Tucson, where he led the Arizona Wildcats to a 27-win season and as high as a No. 2 national ranking.
“The fans out there are amazing, the best fans in the world,” Ayton said shortly after the announcement of the selection in New York. “I’m really happy to be a Phoenix Sun and start a winning legacy with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson and all the other guys. We’re a young team and we’re ready.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers made the most highly anticipated selection of the lower lottery, using the eighth pick, which they acquired from the Boston Celtics (originally owned by the Brooklyn Nets) in the Kyrie Irving trade last August, on Alabama point guard Collin Sexton.
Sexton wasted little time going on the recruiting trail, sending a message to LeBron James to bypass free agency and return to the four-time defending Eastern Conference club.
“LeBron, let’s do it,” the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year pitched when given a chance on ESPN’s national telecast of thedraft. “I see you need a few pieces. Let’s do it. Let’s go back to the Finals. Let’s do it.”
The New York Knicks took Kentucky forward Kevin Knox at No. 9, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers’ selection of hometown product Mikal Bridges of national champion Villanova.
Bridges’ career as a 76er was short-lived, however, as he was dealt to Phoenix for Texas Tech shooting guard Zhaire Smith, the No. 16 selection, and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick.
The Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers swapped spots at Nos. 11 and 12, with the Clippers moving up one place to lock up Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Hornets got Michigan State forward Miles Bridges and two future second-round picks.
The Clippers added a second new backcourt piece at No. 13, choosing Boston College shooting guard Jerome Robinson, before the Denver Nuggets completed the lottery by ending the slide of Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr.
Sidelined almost all of last season due to a back injury, Porter insisted the Nuggets will not regret making the selection.
“I’m going to make sure this pick was the best this organization has ever made,” he boasted minutes after his long wait had ended. “I’m just happy to be with a team that believes in me. I’m a winner, and I’m going to help this team win.”