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2022 NBA Mock Draft, Vol. 1

Jabari Smith

Jabari Smith

© Randy Sartin - USA TODAY Sports

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With the NBA Draft Lottery being held Tuesday night, we now know the official order for next month’s draft. Orlando, which won just 22 games this season, will pick first overall for the fourth time in franchise history, and they’ve got quite the decision on their hands. This has been viewed as a draft with three surefire options to go first overall, but which one will sit atop Orlando’s board come June 23? Below is my first mock draft, with a talented freshman from Auburn leading the way.

1. Orlando: PF/C Jabari Smith (Auburn)

For the fourth time in franchise history, the Magic will pick first overall, and they’ve had a pretty good track record when in this position. Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard both led the team to NBA Finals appearances, while Chris Webber‘s draft rights netted the team Penny Hardaway. Comparing Smith to O’Neal and Howard would be a bit much, and his game is a bit different than either of those bigs, who relied on power to get the job done. Smith is comfortable playing out on the perimeter on either end of the floor, with shooting range out beyond the 3-point line. And while Wendell Carter Jr. was signed to a long-term extension, Mo Bamba (restricted), Robin Lopez, and Bol Bol (restricted) will all be free agents. Beyond his talent, Smith stands to be a good fit in Orlando.

2. Oklahoma City: PF Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)

The Thunder have 17 first-round picks at their disposal over the next five years, which can be used to either select a player that the franchise believes to be a generational talent, or to acquire a more established star via trade. Some will make a lot of Holmgren’s slender build, but he rarely put himself in positions where he can be overpowered by an opponent. He’s got range to well beyond the 3-point line, and also managed to record more than 100 rejections during his lone season at Gonzaga. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey already in the fold, Holmgren will be another talented player that the Thunder can build around.

3. Houston: PF Paolo Banchero (Duke)

While Banchero certainly has the build of a power forward, he’s more than capable of serving as a playmaker as well. That could be pretty important for a team that is currently rebuilding without a “traditional” point guard, with Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green being the Rockets’ starting backcourt. Banchero may not be the perimeter shooter than either Smith or Holmgren is, but the former Duke standout is capable of knocking down shots when given room. And with Christian Wood heading into the final year of his contract, that’s another reason for the Rockets to be thrilled with landing a top-3 pick in this draft.

4. Sacramento: SF/PF Keegan Murray (Iowa)

Just the Kings’ luck that, in a draft that many believe has a clear top three, they land the fourth overall pick. However, that isn’t to say that Murray will be nothing more than a consolation prize. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound Iowa standout took a major step forward during his sophomore season, averaging 23.5 points per game while shooting 55.4% from the field, 39.8% from three, and 74.7% from the foul line. And he was a contributor across the board for the Hawkeyes, also averaging 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.9 blocks, and 1.9 3-pointers per game. Murray can be used as a small-ball four, which would give the Kings a versatile forward to plug into their rotation.

5. Detroit: PG/SG Jaden Ivey (Purdue)

Ivey was considered by more than a few draft analysts to be the best option on the board beyond Smith, Holmgren, and Banchero when the college basketball season ended. Now that we know the full draft order, however, it’s possible that he slips a bit. Due to his athleticism and ability to both score and distribute, some have compared Ivey to Ja Morant. Detroit tried to pair Cade Cunningham with Killian Hayes this season but that didn’t work, as the former did not have the ball in his hands enough. While there could be similar questions asked of a Cunningham/Ivey tandem, Ivey’s a far more athletic guard than Hayes, and his size would help as well.

6. Indiana: SG Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky)

Sharpe is the ultimate “wild card” in this draft. He joined the Kentucky program in January but did not play, only practicing with the plan (at the time) being for him to play next season. Well, he decided to turn pro, and the Canadian guard is projected to be a lottery pick. At 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, Sharpe has the size needed to play off the ball, but he has the athleticism and handle needed to apply pressure to opposing defenses as a playmaker. The Pacers have their point guard of the future in Tyrese Haliburton, but it’s worth asking if the team will entertain the possibility of trading Malcolm Brogdon this offseason. If so, Sharpe would make even more sense here.

7. Portland: PF Jeremy Sochan (Baylor)

Sochan isn’t a prolific scorer by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s valued due to the ability to defend multiple positions. That could make him a player of high value for Portland, which was the NBA’s worst defensive team this season. And with the team trading Norman Powell and Robert Covington at the trade deadline, there are some obvious holes to fill if the Blazers are to improve defensively. Adding Sochan, who is listed at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, would be a step in the right direction.

8. New Orleans (via LA Lakers): SF A.J. Griffin (Duke)

The Pelicans are back in the lottery thanks to the Anthony Davis trade, which gives the front office the opportunity to add another young piece to their promising core. Griffin, the son of former NBA player Adrian Griffin, shot nearly 45% from three on 4.1 attempts per game during his lone season at Duke. Expecting him to produce at a similar level from Day 1 may be a bit much, but he’d fit in well with a rotation that has two scorers who need the ball in C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram. And that’s before we get to Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas. Griffin would give the Pelicans another capable wing shooter, but he will need to improve his lateral quickness.

9. San Antonio: SG Johnny Davis (Wisconsin)

Davis had a very good sophomore season at Wisconsin, averaging 19.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 1.2 3-pointers per game. If there was an issue it was the percentages, as he shot 42.7% from the field and 30.6% from three, but he’s an athletic swingman who can play through contact. The perimeter shooting will need to improve, but Davis is the kind of player who can benefit from the improved spacing for the NBA game. Playing alongside a natural playmaker in Dejounte Murray would benefit Davis, who did have occasional issues with turnovers once asked to take on more of the playmaking responsibilities for the Badgers.

10. Washington: PG/SG Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite)

The 6-foot-6 Daniels is best known for his abilities as a defender and playmaker, especially when taking his size into consideration. Where he will need to be more consistent, however, is as a shooter. Daniels shot just 25.5% from three during his season in the G League, and 44.9% from the field overall. Playing with Bradley Beal (provided the Wizards re-sign him), Kyle Kuzma, and Kristaps Porzingis would take some of the pressure off of Daniels in that regard, allowing him to focus more on what he can bring to the table as a distributor and on-ball defender.

11. New York: PF/C Jalen Duren (Memphis)

The 6-foot-11, 245-pound Duren is an athletic big man who runs the floor well, finishes above the rim, and was also a good shot-blocker in his lone season at Memphis. He won’t offer much in the way of offensive production outside of 15 feet, but that’s fine; not all big men are going to have the ability to score from the perimeter. Duren plays to his strengths, and he should also benefit from being on the court with more consistent playmakers. The Knicks do have a need to address this offseason at point guard, and doing so would not only help Duren but the roster as a whole. And adding him to the mix would provide the Knicks some cover if they were to lose Mitchell Robinson in free agency.

12. Oklahoma City (via LA Clippers): SG Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona)

While he did perform well during his freshman season, Mathurin took things to another level in 2021-22. An athletic who finishes above the rim, the 6-foot-7, 195-pound Mathurin also shot nearly 37% from beyond the arc this season. He’s got very good size for an NBA wing but does need to get better at consistently making plays off the dribble. And the combination of athleticism and length makes Mathurin a tantalizing prospect on the defensive end of the floor, as well. He will need to be more consistent as a defender, however, as Mathurin could occasionally find himself in a bad spot. Oklahoma City is already young on the wings, but many of those players have been inefficient scorers.

13. Charlotte: SG Malaki Branham (Ohio State)

Branham was able to score at an efficient clip on all three levels during his lone season in Columbus, shooting 49.8% from the field, 41.6% from three (on 2.8 attempts per game), and 83.3% from the foul line. The 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard can play both on and off the ball, but he will need to be more efficient when it comes to playmaking (Branham had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.19). With LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier locked into their respective contracts, a lot of Branham’s time in Charlotte would be spent playing off the ball. But that would not be a major issue for him, especially as he gets acclimated to the NBA.

14. Cleveland: SF Ousmane Dieng (New Zealand Breakers)

The 6-foot-9 Dieng hails from France, but he spent this season playing in Australia’s professional league for the Breakers. After struggling with his shot early on Dieng got going down the stretch, shooting at least 50% from the field in each of his last six games (scoring 18 points or more in three of them). Shooting less than 40% from the field and 66.7% from the foul line for the season, Dieng still has work to do when it comes to the consistency of his offensive game. But the upside and fundamentals are there, which opens the door for him to be a lottery pick. And Cleveland, which will have multiple veteran wings under contract next season, would be a good place for Dieng to land. He may not get on the court right away in this scenario, but the low-pressure environment (due to Cleveland’s roster) would help him early on.

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15. Charlotte (via New Orleans): C Mark Williams (Duke)

With Mason Plumlee‘s contract for next season not fully guaranteed, Montrezl Harrell set to be a free agent this summer, and Nick Richards not doing much in his first two seasons, Charlotte doesn’t boast the most impressive group of centers heading into the draft. And in this spot, it’s possible that the team will be able to do so while also grabbing the best available player on the board. Williams, the ACC’s best defender this season, averaged 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game for the Blue Devils this season. The 7-footer is a good screener and finisher, which is critical given how much Williams will likely be working with the aforementioned Ball and Rozier in the two-man game.

16. Atlanta: SG/SF Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)

A consensus All-American as a senior, Agbaji made noticeable strides on the offensive end of the floor throughout his four seasons at Kansas. This season he averaged 18.8 points per game for the national champs, shooting 47.5% from the field, 40.7% from three, and 74.3% from the foul line. And defending his position has never been an issue for Ogbaji, which should be music to the ears of a team that finished this season ranked 26th in the NBA in defensive rating.

17. Houston (via Brooklyn): PG/SG TyTy Washington (Kentucky)

As noted above, Houston’s starting backcourt this season consisted of two combo guards. Washington was used in a similar role during his freshman season, sharing the backcourt with Sahvir Wheeler. Add in the fact that, in most seasons, Kentucky boasts rosters loaded with NBA-caliber talent, and it can be difficult for some players to truly shine individually. Also of note with regard to Washington, who shot 45.1% from the field, 35.0% from three, and 75.0% from the charity stripe, were the ankle injuries that he suffered about halfway through SEC play. Washington shot just under 35% from the field over his last eight games, averaging just 11.4 points per. He’s healthy now, so getting in front of teams and showing what he can do when at full strength will go a long way towards cementing Washington’s status as a first-round pick.

18. Chicago: SF/PF Tari Eason (LSU)

Eason began his college career at Cincinnati, and the decision to transfer to LSU after the 2020-21 season paid off in a big way. The SEC Sixth Man of the Year, the 6-foot-8 forward from Seattle averaged 16.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 52.1% from the field and 80.3% from the foul line. Eason can get better as a perimeter shooter, but the ability to defend either forward position will certainly help him when it comes to his draft outlook. Chicago does have Patrick Williams on its roster, but a team can never have too many switchable wings in today’s NBA. And we saw the impact that losing the likes of Williams, Alex Caruso, and Lonzo Ball due to injuries had on the Bulls during the second half of this season.

19. Minnesota: SF Nikola Jovic (Mega Mozzart)

The 6-foot-10 Jovic removed his name from the 2021 NBA Draft pool, ultimately deciding to remain in Serbia for another season. His ability to comfortably play on the perimeter, knocking down shots while also being able to serve as a distributor, is an obvious selling point. He will need to get better defensively, but that can be said of many draft prospects, regardless of year. Given the team’s current roster, Minnesota is in a position where it can be somewhat patient with a young big like Jovic, who turns 19 on June 3.

20. San Antonio (via Toronto): SF Kendall Brown (Baylor)

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound Brown didn’t offer much as a perimeter shooter this season, doing a lot of his work offensively when in transition. Brown’s combination of size and athleticism make him an intriguing forward prospect, as he can even be used at the four in smaller lineups. He can defend multiple positions without much trouble, with the five being the only spot that teams would not ask him to handle. The key for Brown early in his NBA career will be to become a more consistent player on the offensive end, especially when it comes to his ability to create quality scoring opportunities for himself in the half-court.

21. Denver: SG MarJon Beauchamp (G League Ignite)

The 6-foot-6 Beauchamp essentially bet on himself, ultimately earning a spot with the G League Elite squad ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. The Seattle native has a lot of work to do with regard to his consistency as a perimeter shooter, but he does a good job of getting to his spots off the dribble. Beauchamp has the length and athleticism to be a factor defensively, but this is another area in which he has to become more consistent. After nearly giving up on his dream of playing in the NBA, Beauchamp is well on his way to being a first-round pick next month. And Denver would be a spot where some patience could be exercised with regard to his development.

22. Memphis (via Utah): PG/SG Blake Wesley (Notre Dame)

Wesley has good size for a guard, standing at 6-foot-5, 185 pounds, and he was utilized both on and off the ball during his lone season at Notre Dame. Where he’ll need to get better is his consistency as both a perimeter shooter and playmaker, as these were areas where Wesley did encounter issues. An athletic guard capable of breaking down defenses off the dribble, Wesley has the potential to be a dynamic playmaker, provided he gets the turnovers in check. And Memphis would be a good place to land, even if the team were to re-sign backup point guard Tyus Jones (who will be an unrestricted free agent) this summer.

23. Brooklyn (via Philadelphia; Nets can defer option to 2023): C Walker Kessler (Auburn)

To whom this pick will belong has yet to be determined; Brooklyn can either take the pick from Philadelphia now as part of the James Harden/Ben Simmons deal or defer the right to do so until next year. If the Nets hold onto the pick, adding another young big man wouldn’t be the worst idea. Kessler was arguably the best rim protector in college basketball this past season, as his work as an interior defender gave teammate Jabari Smith the freedom to spend more time playing away from the basket. Kessler’s decision to transfer to Auburn after spending his first season at North Carolina paid off offensively as well, as he had more opportunities to score within the Tigers’ offense. Brooklyn’s center rotation could look much different next season, as Andre Drummond and Nicolas Claxton will be free agents.

24. Milwaukee: PF E.J. Liddell (Ohio State)

Liddell improved throughout his three seasons at Ohio State, developing into a player capable of scoring on all three levels. There may be some who rush to compare him to another Ohio State product in Jae’Sean Tate, but Tate was not the perimeter shooter coming out of college that Liddell is. He shot 37.4% from three on nearly four attempts per game, and the free-throw percentage (76.5%) is another indication that Liddell can be an effective perimeter shooter at the NBA level. Something else that shouldn’t be overlooked is his defensive ability, as Liddell blocked 2.6 shots per game. Come late June, this spot may prove to be too low for Liddell given his skill set, even if he isn’t considered to be an explosive athlete.

25. San Antonio (via Boston): SG Max Christie (Michigan State)

Christie’s season at Michigan State wasn’t as productive as many hoped, as he struggled with inconsistency on the offensive end of the floor. He shot 38.2% from the field and 31.7% from three, but his 82.4% mark from the foul line shows that he’s capable of being an effective shooter in time. Christie has good size for a shooting guard, as he’s listed at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, and his form is solid. He’s a player who stands to benefit from the spacing of the NBA game, especially if paired up with a quality perimeter creator. And San Antonio has one of those in Dejounte Murray.

26. Dallas: SG Jaden Hardy (G League Ignite)

The 6-foot-4 Hardy is effective at getting to his spots off the dribble, scoring in both the mid-range and at the basket, but there are some concerns regarding his streakiness. Hardy got up 17.1 shots per game in 12 appearances this season, but he shot just 35.1% from the field and 26.9% from three. Hardy shooting better than 88% from the charity stripe is a sign of solid mechanics, but the shot selection and overall decision-making (3.5 turnovers per game) need to improve. Defensively, Hardy is at his best when playing off the ball as opposed to being at the point of attack. Dallas will be an interesting team to watch in this draft, especially if the team does all that it can to re-sign Jalen Brunson (and it won’t be cheap). That may open the door for the Mavericks to make a move on draft night, dealing this pick in order to free up some additional money ahead of free agency.

27. Miami: PG/SG Jean Montero (Overtime Elite)

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Montero, who hails from the Dominican Republic, has made strides as a decision-maker. He can score on all three levels and has also continued to improve when it comes to putting his teammates in spots where they can be at their best. Montero will need to get stronger, and the athleticism/physical tools won’t blow away those who tend to obsess over such characteristics. But he’s a good, young guard who would benefit from joining a team with a clearly defined system. It’s safe to say that Miami would fit the bill.

28. Golden State: C Jaylin Williams (Arkansas)

After coming off the bench for most of his freshman season, Williams emerged as a key contributor for an Arkansas squad that reached the Elite Eight for a second straight year. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound pivot isn’t much of a shot-blocker (1.1 blocks per game), but he’s willing to mix it up and put his body on the line. If you need someone to step in and take a charge, then Williams is your guy. Offensively, he did a lot of his damage from 15 feet and in, although Williams did attempt 1.9 3-pointers per game this season. The combination of his defensive prowess and improved ability as a passer may be enough to get Williams into the back end of the first round.

29. Memphis: SG/SF Jalen Williams (Santa Clara)

Williams was one of the best perimeter players in the WCC this past season, averaging 18.0 points and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 51.3% from the field, 39.6% from three, and 80.9% from the foul line. Williams’ ability to make plays both for himself and his teammates is something that improved throughout his three seasons at Santa Clara, and he can also defend multiple positions on the perimeter. Add in a wingspan of over seven feet, and that only increases his chances of being selected in the first round.

30. Oklahoma City (via Phoenix): SF Caleb Houstan (Michigan)

It was reported on Monday that there are some who believe that Houstan has a first-round promise from a team, as he turned down an invitation to this week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. And with sure-fire lottery picks already in town, that makes Houstan’s decision even more interesting. His numbers during his lone season at Michigan were okay; Houston shot just 38.4% from the field. But at 6-foot-8, 205 pounds, he has the size that many teams are looking for on the wing. Maybe he does have a promise, and that team is higher up in the draft order. For now, we’ll list him here.