2018 NBA Draft: Buy lots of stock in the smaller wings

Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images /

Everyone wants to talk about how game-changing this big man class may be in the 2018 NBA Draft, but the group of smaller wings should be right up there too.

Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., you know the deal by now. We’re potentially getting four big men in the top five and maybe as many as two or three more go in the lottery. It’s undoubtedly the year of the big man, but don’t sleep on the undersized wings in the 2018 NBA Draft class.

Just to get it out of the way, let’s set up what a “wing” is. To me, a wing is any non-full time point guard or big man. There’s a lot of complexity and no consensus regarding what constitutes a wing or who they defend, but we’ll rock with this. We’re focusing on smaller guys who can thrive on the wing and why they’re going to be one of the best position groups in this draft.

By undersized, we’re talking guys under 6’5″. You watch the Golden State Warriors and you may think, how valuable is a 6’4″ guy going to be, especially if he’s in the backcourt with a point guard of similar size? Well, what makes this group special is they all play bigger than their size. Each of the following guys have terrific wingspans that give them the potential to cover two and sometimes three positions.

We’ve also seen guys like P.J. Tucker, a small wing, be one of the most valuable opponents against the Warriors. This main group in 2018 consists of Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie, USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith, Miami’s Lonnie Walker and Creighton’s Khyri Thomas. All these guys are between 6’3″ and 6’5″ in shoes, but have wingspans between 6’9″ and 7’0″.

Donte DiVincenzo also fits this bill, though I see the other players as having much higher defensive ceilings. Defense is basically the crux of these guys’ value being so high.

These guys are undersized, but they’re also joining a league that keeps going smaller. All of these prospects are already menaces defending the point of attack. Most of them are also already solid team players too. Melton and Smith are terrific help defenders and can hang in the post. All of them have this potential and that makes them incredibly important. If you’ve watched the postseason, you’ve seen how important wing defense and versatility is.

Every NBA team, even those in the Finals, should look at how the playoffs went and factor these trends into their drafting. After this class of big men, this group right here, along with the best bigger wings, are who teams should target. What works well for this group is most of them are good or great shooters as well.

Walker has great mechanics. Okogie shot over 38 percent in college and Thomas shot almost 41 percent over three years. Melton is a bit unknown, but he’s re-worked his jumper since leaving USC and it’s significantly better. He wasn’t an able shooter his freshman year, but if he can be at least a catch-and-shoot threat like this, he’s a borderline lottery pick.

Smith is in the same boat, but he likely has the highest ceiling of this group so you can kind of get behind him anyways. Not to mention, he did shoot 45 percent on 40 attempts and hit over 70 percent of his free throws.

Now, the main drawback of these guys is only Melton really has primary initiator potential right now. That doesn’t mean they never will or that that ultimately caps their ceiling. For example, Walker expanding his diversity in shooting raises his ceiling, a la Klay Thompson, without needing to be an initiator. He’s not the next Klay, but being able to shoot off movement and pull up after close-outs would take his game up a level.

Not to mention, some of these guys will fall into great situations on teams with huge initiators. We’re talking teams with Ben Simmons, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. They could in theory be the “point guard” because of that player. If any of these guys end up on teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, they are likely going to be more productive quickly — similar to how Jayson Tatum took off right away in the perfect system.

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Even for those who don’t, they’ll provide tremendous value as two-way net positive players. Most of them have flashed passing potential too and are the types of players who would have been in trouble getting drafted a year ago. Each guy has a part of his game that needs serious work, but they offer the highest upside outside the top 10. Teams should be all over these five, plus DiVincenzo, for the 2018 NBA Draft.