Photo Credit: Tyler J. Davis [Detroit Free Press] https://www.freep.com/story/sports/nba/pistons/2021/12/23/detroit-pistons-nba-draft-2022-paolo-banchero-jabari-smith-caleb-houstan/9005745002/
With the college basketball season beginning to heat up with teams now doing conference play, it is time to give my first NBA mock draft for the 2022 class. This class is headlined by three unique unicorn type players who combine unique skill and size with all of them standing 6-foot-10 or taller. These three guys are Duke forward Paolo Banchero, Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr., and Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren.
There are also some electrifying guards such as Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and draft riser Johnny Davis of Wisconsin. Teams at the bottom of the NBA standings such as the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans, and others will have a fair share of elite prospects to choose from when the draft arrives on June 23rd. But, without further ado here is my first mock draft for the lottery of 2022.
1. Detroit Pistons: Paolo Banchero (Duke)- This was a tough one to choose as Smith has really made a strong case for the No.1 pick with strong performances. Despite that, Banchero is so polished offensively with his deep bag of tricks from pull up threes, to mixing it in the post, to initiating the fast break at 6-foot-10 250 pounds! He looks like a potential high-usage power forward at the next level who can create many mismatches with his skill set. He reminds me of former NBA star Chris Webber with his play.
Despite him being so great offensively, he is a below-average defender at best and isn’t a true explosive athlete and doesn’t have the greatest length for his size. But, Banchero is the most NBA ready player in this class skill and body wise and will make for a dynamic pairing alongside last year's top pick in Cade Cunningham.
2. Orlando Magic: Jabari Smith Jr (Auburn)- The man who could honestly go No.1 overall in the draft, but I just give Banchero the slight edge for now because of his unique skill and NBA ready body at his size. Either way Smith is a unicorn himself at 6-foot-10 220 pounds, boasting a 7-foot-4 wingspan which helps him alter a lot of shots and makes it tough on his defenders to score on him. He is an elite knockdown shooter, shooting 45% from the field and from three point range.
He never takes plays off and looks to have all the makings of a future two-way star at the next level. He doesn’t force shots and gets his shots within Auburn’s Bruce Pearl’s offense. There’s no telling what the ceiling is for Smith as he’s only 18 years of age and could still stand to get stronger, tighten his handle, and improve his finishing through traffic. Whoever ends up winning the top pick in this year’s draft will definitely have Smith near the top of their boards.
3. Houston Rockets: Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)- Initially my top pick before the season began but the way Gonzaga utilizes him and the play of Smith and Banchero has dried up the No.1 talk for Holmgren a bit. In spite of that, he still will be a top three pick in the draft due to his terrific shot blocking instincts and great agility at 7-foot-1. He also has a solid handle for his size and can really shoot the ball, hence the nickname “Unicorn.”
He’s a pretty good finisher albeit he hasn’t played against many people around his size or taller, and shows some great feel and upside as a passer, which will only add more value to his game due to his ability to space the floor. His defensive instincts and floor spacing should translate to the next level. The main concern with Holmgren is his physique, as he weighs just 215 pounds and will get bullied at the next level by guys such as Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. I expect him to struggle in the paint his rookie year, but after a few years he’ll be one of the best players in the world barring injury.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Johnny Davis (Wisconsin)- The biggest surprise and riser of this year's class has to be Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis. He’s a 6-foot-5 19-year-old guard and has been arguably the best player in all of college basketball this season, yes including the guys I have above him. He’s elevated the Badgers to a top 25 ranking in the country and is what you call a pure bucket getter, being able to get to his spots and being able to score on all three levels of the court (paint, mid-range, three).
He outplayed his fellow conference foe in Ivey earlier this year where he put the team on his back by scoring 37 points and grabbing 14 rebounds while also guarding Ivey and making life tough for him in their 74-69 win over Purdue. He has evolved as an on-ball playmaker and has no glaring holes in his game while never taking a play off.
He might not truly be 6-foot-5, but due to his ability to shoot and score and be a playmaker for others I’m not as concerned. He’s surpassed Ivey to me as the best guard in this draft due to his ability to score from everywhere efficiently, out dueling him, and carrying Wisconsin all season long. He would make the possibilities of a Thunder three guard lineup of him, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Josh Giddey interesting.
5. New Orleans Pelicans: Jaden Ivey (Purdue)- The early season buzz regarding Ivey has cooled off a bit as his play as of late has been somewhat erratic and inefficient. Despite that, I still have him going in the top five of this year’s class. He broke out at the U19 games this past summer and has continued to elevate his status as an elite prospect in his sophomore season. He’s given Ja Morant vibes with his rocket like hops and the way he attacks and finishes at the rim with reckless abandon.
He’s not a natural lead guard like Morant, and if he were to be one he would need more reps and polish on that end, but, I see him as an explosive two guard who can give a boost of energy that the Pelicans desperately need and a young counterpart for Zion WIlliamson. He can be an elite perimeter defender at the NBA level if he really wants to and will have to improve his jumper and decision making to reach his potential.
Ivey is an intriguing prospect and should continue to make noise in the Big Ten Conference.
6. Indiana Pacers: Keegan Murray (Iowa)- Getting some more depth at the frontcourt positions behind Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, who has expressed being unhappy with his role, should only help the Pacers. Murray isn’t the tallest, standing just 6’8, but in the small-ball era and the improvement in his shot this season he has made scouts believe in his value. He has great anticipation skills on defense to go along with his length.
He’s already 21 and will turn 22 before the draft so don’t expect much upside out the kid but someone who should be able to contribute and help out right away.
7. Sacramento Kings: Benedict Mathurin (Arizona)- With continuous rumors of De'Aaron Fox being unhappy in Sac Town and wanting to move on and him being there stunting Tyrese Haliburton’s growth, the Kings can look to get a new fresh start with Mathurin out of Arizona. Mathurin has really taken steps forward in his game this season and has taken advantage of the uptempo environment of Arizona’s offense, which allows him to get in transition to display his athleticism and not force him to be a playmaker.
He’s a great run-jump athlete and has natural scoring instincts to be able to play off the ball at the next level. He will need to improve defensively, but he should be a solid starting two guard in the league and help the Kings replenish their backcourt.
8. San Antonio Spurs: Jalen Duren (Memphis)- This was more of a fit pick for me as the Spurs could use a little more size in their frontcourt by adding the 6’10 freshman Jalen Duren out of Memphis. Duren has kind of dropped in most mocks due to unimpressive play despite his elite physique and physical tools. This is concerning with someone as gifted as him and hasn’t been dominating the competition. His motor has been in question and his overall feel for the game isn’t there yet.
But with the Spurs in need of some size, Duren will fit that need and he’s still just 18 years old and should be a senior in high school right now so lets hope his overall skill set catches up to his physical tools. If it does, watch out!
9. Portland Trail Blazers: Kendall Brown (Baylor)- Another riser in this year's class is Baylor freshman forward Kendall Brown. With trade rumors continuing to swirl on whether or not the Blazers are gonna trade one of their star guards in Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum. With that being said they can look to choose Brown who is an electrifying athlete and has gobs of upside, being just 18 years of age. He knows how to score without dominating the ball, which is something you want with a star like Lillard who has the ball in his hands the majority of the time and he’s a pretty efficient scorer.
He doesn’t have a reliable jumper yet and isn’t a creative offensive player. But, he can bring another wing for the Blazers who can defend, score without dominating the ball, and give them a guy they can mold into a really good player for the future.
10. Atlanta Hawks: Jaden Hardy (Ignite)- Despite Hardys recent 30-point outburst, he’s been fairly inconsistent as a whole during his time in the G-League thus far. He was projected as a top-five pick coming into the season but his inefficient play has dropped him into late lottery territory. His stats don’t indicate him as a good shooter, shooting just 35% from the field and 26% from three but he is a much better shooter then the stats indicate. Him and Trae Young would make for an exciting young backcourt if he can put it together.
NBA teams would like to see Hardy exhibit more patience on offense, let his game come to him naturally, and not be a shot hunter. He will need to improve his decision-making to be a top two option of an offense one day. Hopefully Hardy can continue to adjust to the pro game quickly and show us the Bradley Beal-like star potential we saw of him back in high school.
11. New York Knicks: Patrick Baldwin (Milwaukee)- Baldwin has been a disappointment this season and downright frustrating to watch as he hasn’t shown consistency to dominate against lesser competition. However, he’s still an intriguing prospect with upside standing 6-foot-10 with the ability to shoot, has above-average ball skills, and a solid feel for the game.
He’s not the toughest guy and doesn’t play hard consistently all the time, which kind of reminds you of Michael Porter Jr. with his size and skillset, but doesn’t play hard defensively. Despite his flaws he will still warrant a lottery pick due to his enticing upside.
12. Boston Celtics: Dyson Daniels(Ignite)- With Dennis Schroder entering free agency this offseason and the Celtics needing a point guard they can look to select Dyson Daniels here at number 12 overall with his 6-foot-6 200 pound frame. Daniels is a huge guard who can run an offense and has the ability to be a good two-way player who doesn’t dominate the ball at the point, which is just what the Celtics need for their All-Star forwards in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
He’s not adept at creating his own shot off the dribble yet, but with him being just 18 years of age he should continue to grow in that area. His ceiling as a player will lean on how far his jump shot comes, but due to his success in the G-League, that is a good indicator he can hang with the pros despite having flaws with his shooting.
13. Thunder (from Clippers): Jeremy Sochan (Baylor)- The Thunder have enough guards already and can use this pick on 6’9 Baylor freshman forward Jeremy Sochan. Sochan provides defensive versatility and perimeter skill at his size. While he’s not a consistent scorer yet, he brings a lot to the table with his all-around game. Bigs who can play inside and out are highly valuable in today's NBA and it doesn’t hurt that Sochan is only 18 years old and will be a guy a team can mold.
14. Washington Wizards: MarJon Beauchamp (Ignite)- Despite being a little older (21 years old) Beauchamp has solid size for a shooting guard at 6-foot-6 with good length. He is also a plus athlete and has improved his defensive mentality. He’s an active off-ball player and will need to continue to improve his jumper to better sell teams on using their lottery pick on him.