Taking Stock Before The NCAA Tournament

Taking Stock Before The NCAA Tournament

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With a month remaining in the 2021-22 NBA season, most teams in the league are focused on the present, at least to some degree. For a handful of teams at the bottom of the standings, however, everything is future-facing, and that includes a deep focus on the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft. It is still (very) early in the draft process in mid-March but, with the 2022 NCAA Tournament set to begin in short order, the attention of the basketball world moves to the college ranks and to the pre-draft process.

The general consensus of the 2022 class revolves around a clear top four, with Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith, and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey taking center stage. After that, there are wild cards and, in general, there is a lot of room for players to leave marks on the process on the college game’s biggest stage this month. In advance of the madness, though, it is time to roll out a pre-tournament NBA Mock Draft, acknowledging that a lot will change in the coming days.

Note: Draft order according to NBA standings as of Thursday, March 10.

1) Orlando Magic – Chet Holmgren (C/F, Gonzaga)

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At this very early stage in the process, team fit isn’t the most important thing in this mock. Acknowledging that, we’re rolling with Holmgren, who is No. 1 on our big board. Orlando wouldn’t necessarily be the perfect destination with a log-jam of frontcourt options, but Holmgren’s ceiling is sky-high with his defensive length and aptitude and moldable offensive game. He isn’t the same kind of clear No. 1 that Cade Cunningham was at this point a year ago, but Holmgren is a monster prospect.

2) Houston Rockets – Jabari Smith (F, Auburn)

There are some concerns about Smith as a ball-handler and play-maker, but he is an obscene shooter. Anytime a player is getting compared to Kevin Durant from a length and shooting perspective, that is probably a good sign. Smith seems like a mortal lock to be a 20-point scorer in the NBA. Houston is almost assuredly in BPA mode at this stage of their rebuild and, at two, that’d be Smith.

3) Detroit Pistons – Jaden Ivey (G, Purdue)

Putting Ivey next to Cunningham would be fun. Unlike Cunningham, Ivey is an elite athlete and he can wreck the opposition with that force. He’s also come a long way as a shooter, and Ivey has the tools to be a good defender in time. He isn’t a good defender now and he’ll need to improve his array of lead guard skills, but Ivey’s breakout has been fun.

4) Oklahoma City Thunder – Paolo Banchero (F, Duke)

Banchero was No. 1 on a lot of boards a few months ago, and it wouldn’t be crazy to have him there now. He’s more of a pure 4 than anything, but Banchero is more than willing to be a lead shot creator and he can get off difficult attempts to carry a late-clock offense. On the other hand, he isn’t an elite shooter just yet, and his defense has some work to do. Still, the Thunder would love to add more frontcourt talent and Banchero fits the bill.

5) Indiana Pacers – Shaedon Sharpe (G/F, Kentucky)

Sharpe may not be in the draft, and that is a bizarre statement to type for a top-five pick. However, he hasn’t played at the college level after reclassifying, and the former No. 1 prospect for 2023 has some questions as a result. If he declares (and is granted eligibility for the draft), it is hard see Sharpe falling much further than this. He’s a crazy athlete and has the kind of wing superstar appeal that every team wants.

6) Sacramento Kings – A.J. Griffin (F/G, Duke)

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Griffin has great tools and is shooting the ball phenomenally well recently. He also had a dreadful start to the season, even with injury caveats, and it’s been a weird ride in the last couple of years overall. I’m personally buying him as being “back” as an elite prospect, and he brings immediate versatility and value with his shooting, athleticism, and size.

7) San Antonio Spurs – Johnny Davis (G, Wisconsin)

Davis might be the best player in college basketball this season, carrying an otherwise mediocre Wisconsin team to lofty heights. He’s made a ton of big shots and has enjoyed a breakout that most didn’t see coming. He’s also relatively limited from a size standpoint and may not be able to carry the same kind of offensive usage in the NBA. If he’s a role player, this might be too lofty, particularly if he’s merely a solid defender than a plus one, but he’s a very strong prospect.

8) Portland Trail Blazers – Keegan Murray (F, Iowa)

I was pretty skeptical of Murray early in the season when he was bludgeoning mid-major (and low-major) opponents. Most of that skepticism is gone now, as he played very well in Big Ten play and maintained efficiency. The next hurdle is translation to the NBA game, where he is probably a 4 on defense and someone who isn’t quite a No. 1 scorer. Fortunately, he has really good size and his transition appeal is clear.

9) Portland Trail Blazers (via New Orleans) – Jalen Duren (C, Memphis)

When Duren was viewed as a potential top-five pick, there were worries about over-drafting for a rim-running big man. Now that the hype has cooled a bit, it’s easier to take him in the mid-late lottery. Duren has showcased his skills much better during a recent run by Memphis, and he is an athletic monster with a reported 7’6 wingspan. He’s not going to be an offensive star, but the defensive ceiling is sky-high and he’ll finish anything around the rim.

10) New York Knicks – Ochai Agbaji (G/F, Kansas)

I wish Agbaji was 6’7 or 6’8, but other than that, his projection as a quality role player is very evident. He’s been great for Kansas as a lead option this season, but in the NBA, he’ll be a catch-and-shoot guy who defends at a high level on and off ball. Every squad needs that.

11) Memphis Grizzlies (via Lakers) – Bennedict Mathurin (G/F, Arizona)

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I was mocking Mathurin as a first-rounder a year ago, even while acknowledging it was a year early for him. He went back to school, clearly improved, and vaulted his stock into the mid-late lottery range. He’s a fantastic shooter, and Mathurin has shown more off the bounce skill this season. Defensively, it’s not perfect, but the tools are solid and he should be able to hold up eventually.

12) Washington Wizards – TyTy Washington (G, Kentucky)

By now, anyone doubting Kentucky guards is doing so at their own peril. Beyond that (with tongue in cheek), Washington has shown a lot as a shot creator, and he is very smart. He’s more of a combo guard, so situation will be important, but he can get his own shot and pass at an impressive level.

13) Atlanta Hawks – Dyson Daniels (G, G League Ignite)

The Hawks have been a defensive disaster this season, and they’ve also been looking for defense-first backcourt partner with Trae Young for a while. Daniels is very young, and he has a long way to go on offense, but his defensive tools are very impressive. He’s also a ball-mover and is potentially closer to making an impact than a typical one-and-done guy in this range.

14) Charlotte Hornets – Walker Kessler (C, Auburn)

Kessler is probably the best defender in the draft, at least in the short term. He has been one of the best shot blockers in the history of college basketball (not hyperbole) and is the anchor of a top-tier team at Auburn. This is higher than I’d want to take him in the current landscape of the NBA, but there are a ton of centers in this class and some of them will creep up the board. Charlotte’s need for a defensive presence is not a secret, and Kessler would certainly fit the bill.

15) Houston Rockets (via Brooklyn) – Kendall Brown (F, Baylor)

This is a pure upside/athleticism play. Brown is not a fantastic offensive player right now, to say the least, and he doesn’t assert himself on that end. There is a fun package of cutting and finishing in his bag, but he doesn’t have much in the way of ball skills or a reliable jumper. On defense, he is a mega-athlete that should create havoc, but there are raw moments. Houston can afford some swings and keep Brown in the state of Texas.

16) Oklahoma City Thunder (via Clippers) – Jeremy Sochan (F, Baylor)

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There is some intentionality in having Brown and Sochan back-to-back. Brown was more on the radar in the preseason for the 2022 class, where as Sochan has come on and gotten the “pre-draft” moniker as a very, very interesting long-term guy that probably isn’t ready yet. The Thunder are in a position to be patient and have a bundle of picks.

17) San Antonio Spurs (via Toronto) – E.J. Liddell (F, Ohio State)

Liddell is an older guy who is one of the ten best college players in the country. He also doesn’t have a super easy defensive translation in the modern NBA, but he is scoring efficiently and doing all the little things for Ohio State. That seems like a Spurs guy.

18) Minnesota Timberwolves – Tari Eason (F, LSU)

Observers are all over the place on Eason, but he is up my alley. His defense is excellent, and Eason projects to defend multiple positions effectively at 6’8 with power. That can carry him to a rotation level in the NBA, but he’ll need to make threes to unlock his true high-end potential. That is a big question, but if you buy his ability to improve there, he could be a lottery guy.

19) Indiana Pacers (via Cleveland) – MarJon Beauchamp (G/F, G League Ignite)

While Beauchamp is in the G League Ignite program, he is much older (21) than most prospects he’s playing with this season. That isn’t an impediment necessarily, but rather a potentially important piece of context. At any rate, he’s a good athlete who defends and plays hard at 6’6. The question is whether he can do enough on offense.

20) San Antonio Spurs (via Boston) – Patrick Baldwin Jr. (F, Milwaukee)

In a draft full of uncertainty, Baldwin Jr. still stands out on the weirdness scale. He was a consensus top-10 player coming into college, but went to play for his father at Milwaukee and had a dreadful season at a mid-major level. To be fair, he projects as a high-level role player and Baldwin Jr. was not perfectly set up to be “the guy,” even at Milwaukee. Still, the numbers and eye test were bad enough where it wouldn’t be completely stunning if he fell out of the first round.

21) Dallas Mavericks – Jaden Hardy (G, G League Ignite)

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Hardy is a bucket getter with shot selection issues and inconsistency questions. He does bring very high upside on offense and, at some point, a team is going to fall in love in the workout process. Perhaps even higher than this.

22) Chicago Bulls – Justin Lewis (F, Marquette)

Lewis isn’t a sexy prospect, but he’s 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan and he projects as a combo forward role player. Every team needs that, particularly if his jumper goes in. There are at least some concerns about athletic pop with Lewis, but at No. 22, that’s not as big of a problem.

23) Denver Nuggets – Trevor Keels (G, Duke)

Keels came flying out of the gate for Duke but subtly regressed, at least in the numbers, during the season. His defensive potential is very, very interesting as a rangy athlete who knows how to play, but he’ll need to clean up some offensive stuff in the near future.

24) Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia) – Mark Williams (C, Duke)

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There is nuance here, but the simple explanation is that Williams projects as a potential starting center in the NBA, even without too much star potential. He’s incredibly long, flashes plenty on defense, rebounds, and finishes at the rim. The Nets need a long-term guy to potentially pair with (or replace) Nic Claxton.

25) Milwaukee Bucks – Nikola Jovic (F, Mega)

If you haven’t noticed, this is not a strong international class, and Jovic is the first guy off the board. He is a fun passer at 6’10 and he projects as a willing and potentially solid shooter. The questions arrive on defense.

26) Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah) – Jean Montero (G, Overtime Elite)

Montero is going to have to shoot better than he has with Overtime Elite. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t be a first-rounder, simply because he is small, not a high-end passer at point guard, and not a great defender. The talent is clear, though, and this is a flat class once you get to this range.

27) Miami Heat – Ousmane Dieng (F, New Zealand Breakers)

Dieng is pretty far away right now, but the tools are there for him to be a versatile forward in the future. Getting him into Miami’s developmental pipeline would be fun.

28) Golden State Warriors – Harrison Ingram (F, Stanford)

Like many guys on this list, Ingram’s freshman year didn’t go according to plan. But at the same time, he’s a very good passer who plays a smart game and has defensive potential. The Warriors should’ve seen him plenty from close by and he fits better with Golden State than most teams.

29) Memphis Grizzlies – Malaki Branham (F/G, Ohio State)

This is an upside play for a guy who wasn’t really on the radar too much as a first-rounder a few months ago. Branham has come on strong, and his offensive tools are very tantalizing when paired with his size and athleticism.

30) Oklahoma City Thunder (via Phoenix) – Christian Koloko (C, Arizona)

Koloko joins Kessler and Williams among pure centers in this top-30. He’s been the best defender in the Pac-12 and has plenty of size and upside.

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