The NBA Draft Combine wrapped up in Chicago on Friday, with the lottery taking place on Tuesday, which means no more Tankathon simulations because we finally have a draft order.
The concept of mock drafting can go a few different ways. Real draft insiders like Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, and Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman use intel they gather from teams to give their best look at what might actually happen. But it can also be fun to go off a personal board alone and come up with your own best fits and projections.
I tried to use a mix of both here, skimming through the intel-based mocks, while using my board and thoughts as well. Here’s a look at what I think might happen in the 2022 NBA Draft.
1. Orlando Magic – Jabari Smith Jr. – Auburn – Forward – Freshman
The Magic certainly don’t lack youth on the roster with potentially eight players under age 24. The cornerstones are point guard Jalen Suggs, wing Franz Wagner, and center Wendell Carter. But when you have the first pick, you draft “best player available”. In my eyes, that player is Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. A 6’10 forward, Smith had an incredible shooting season, hitting 42% of his threes on good volume. At his height, his near-perfect mechanics are almost impossible to defend.
There are valid concerns about his handle, but that’s an improvable skill. Factoring in the lack of a handle and weight, it’s insanely impressive just how good Smith was in the SEC. He’s an entire year younger than Chet Holmgren and has the most “upside” to me. The shooting is so good that I can’t really see how he fails either.
The fit with the Magic is seamless as Smith can plug right into the starting four spot, between Wagner and Carter. That front-court trio could wreak havoc defensively with their length and switchability.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Chet Holmgren – Gonzaga – Forward – Freshman
General Manager Sam Presti is certainly a free-thinker and won’t just fold to consensus here. But, with two young ball-handlers of the future on the roster, Holmgren’s mix of rim-protection and shooting make a lot of sense here. He’s a polarizing prospect and I question his offensive potential, but the Thunder badly need his defense. With all their young talent, the Thunder have time to let him develop.
Presti has been attracted to big playmakers in past drafts (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Josh Giddey) so it wouldn’t shock me if they went with Paolo Banchero here. But, I think Holmgren’s elite defense fits them better and they’ll give him the time to grow. With all their future assets and the
3. Houston Rockets – Paolo Banchero – Duke – Forward – Freshman
Banchero was once seen as the top prospect in this class, and I don’t think he has necessarily done much to lose it after a terrific freshman year. But, moreso the potential of Smith. Banchero has elite-ball skills for someone of his size and his playmaking and that should pair well with Houston cornerstone Jalen Green. Banchero will have to improve as a three-point shooter, often looking hesitant at times, and he has some tendencies to be a ball-stopper, but right now there isn’t a more complete offensive player in this class than Banchero today.
Banchero could slide easily into the four-spot for Houston. He’s not known as a plus defender and will likely never be a rim protector, but I think some of his defensive concerns are overblown. Houston can stack two young players with ball skills and real scoring upside, a nice rebuild start after losing multiple stars the last few seasons.
4. Sacramento Kings – Shaedon Sharpe – Kentucky – Wing – Freshman
The Kings were the biggest winners of lottery night, going from the eighth-best odds to the top four. Of the teams picking in this range, no organization appears to want to win more next year than the Kings. They signaled they wanted to end their 16-year playoff drought by swapping young, promising guard for All-Star Damontas Sabonis. It wouldn’t shock me at all if they looked to trade this pick for an asset that is willing to help them win now. But if they do keep it, I think Sharpe would fit Sacramento.
Seen as somewhat of a “mystery man” after not playing a second for Kentucky, Sharp has a tremendous amount of upside on his physical tools alone. A big, athletic wing, Sharp has the potential to be an elite wing-scorer. He flashed some plus pull-up shooting in the 2021 EYBL. Losing a year of game reps hurts, but there’s a clear buzz surrounding Sharpe in NBA circles and I can’t see him going lower than six.
The Kings lack depth on the wing, so Sharp should be important from day one for them. I have Jaden Ivey rated higher, but I worry about his overlap with De’Aaron Fox. Keegan Murray makes more sense in a “win-now” sense, but again, the overlap with Sabonis would worry me.
5. Detroit Pistons – Jaden Ivey – Purdue – Guard – Sophomore
Detroit slid from three to five in the lottery, but they’ll be doing jumping jacks if they can land Ivey, who’s widely seen as a top 2-4 prospect (No. 3 on my board). The premier, explosive lead guard in the class, Ivey had some insane flashes speed with the ball and finishing at the rim. His three-point percentage took a leap from his freshman to sophomore year and while he didn’t have the best raw numbers, I have long-term faith in him as a shooter after seeing the shot in-person multiple times.
Ivey has shown flashes of being a primary, but is still growing as a playmaker. Fortunately, if he falls here, he won’t be rushed into being a primary right away playing next to Cade Cunningham (jeez, I’m having major PTSD from saying this about Killian Hayes last year. Apologies Killian, I still believe). The duo should fit seamlessly, both having the ability to play on or off the ball, and guarding both guard spots with their size.
With his tools and his rapid development growth, it wouldn’t stun me if Ivey became the best prospect in this class. In my eyes, Cunningham is still the best prospect from the 2021 class, and if Ivey comes to Detroit, that suddenly becomes one of the league’s best backcourts.