The 2022 NBA Draft is less than six weeks away and, as of Tuesday evening, the board is set. The Orlando Magic won the draft lottery, taking a 14 percent chance and turning it into the top overall pick and boundless choices. Of course, it is fair to point out that there is not a definitive No. 1 overall player in the 2022 class but, if nothing else, Orlando holds the keys to the board.
Elsewhere, the Sacramento Kings are a solid winner from the evening, jumping from the No. 7 odds up to the No. 4 slot, and the Oklahoma City Thunder popped up to No. 2 for the franchise’s highest draft pick since selecting Kevin Durant in 2007. Chatter will continue over the next five-plus weeks, and especially during the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, but there are at least four candidates — Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey — for the top spots and the potential for real fireworks.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into a rapid reaction mock draft of the first round.
1. Orlando Magic – Chet Holmgren (C/F, Gonzaga)
The Magic could go a few different directions with this selection (including a popular No. 1 choice in Jabari Smith) but, for now, we’re rolling with Chet. The Magic do have significant investments in big men already, but Mo Bamba may not be long for Orlando and, more than anything, the No. 1 pick is a spot to simply take the best prospect. Holmgren also has a built-in tie with former high school teammate Jalen Suggs, and his ceiling is sky-high.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Paolo Banchero (F, Duke)
Oklahoma City’s passing could be a lot of fun if this works. The Thunder already have Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and, adjusting for position, Banchero is on the short list of best passers in this class. He is also an adept scorer with the upside to be a real star at the NBA level. Sam Presti will take the guy he thinks is the best player, but that could be Banchero.
3. Houston Rockets – Jabari Smith (F, Auburn)
If you watched ESPN’s draft lottery broadcast, you will know that Smith is generating real hype, and many scouts view him as the top guy. That is inherently reasonable given Smith’s ability to shoot at his size (6’10) and the scheme versatility he may present on defense. Smith has a long way to go as a creator for others and as a ball-handler, but Houston is certainly keying on upside in their rebuild. The Rockets almost can’t go wrong with this pick in their current form.
4. Sacramento Kings – Jaden Ivey (G, Purdue)
You could argue this is maybe the worst spot for Ivey and, honestly, it would be “easier” to slide him to No. 5 overall for a snug fit alongside Cade Cunningham in Detroit. However, the Kings still have the choice here and, at least for me, Ivey is a “best player available” choice. Sacramento has big investments in De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell, but Ivey has more size and physicality than both, and he’s a hyper-athletic player with tangible upside. If nothing else, they might be able to move the pick if they simply don’t want to take him.
5. Detroit Pistons – Shaedon Sharpe (G/F, Kentucky)
Sharpe is the mystery guy in this class, but there is enough buzz where a No. 5 projection doesn’t seem insane. Make no mistake, this is a massive swing in that Sharpe hasn’t even touched a college court, but his combination of athleticism and scoring potential is tantalizing. If the Pistons want to go a bit safer, they could lean in the direction of Keegan Murray or A.J. Griffin.
6. Indiana Pacers – Keegan Murray (F, Iowa)
I’m probably a touch lower on Murray than most, but this is a totally reasonable spot. Indiana might want to take a bit more of a swing, especially considering how infrequently they are in the lottery, but the Pacers take a scoring forward with real polish already.
7. Portland Trail Blazers – Jalen Duren (C, Memphis)
Portland could be in the market to move this pick for present-day help as they attempt to build around Damian Lillard. If the Blazers choose to make the pick, Duren brings a highly intriguing skill set with a 7’5 wingspan and a monster frame. He’s also extremely young and was the No. 1 prospect in the 2023 class before reclassifying.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (via Los Angeles Lakers) – A.J. Griffin (F, Duke)
Griffin is a heck of a shooter already, and he would pair well with what the Pelicans are building. He doesn’t need the ball a ton to be effective, and Griffin has the physicality and athleticism to be a strong defender. This might be his floor come Draft night.
9. San Antonio Spurs – Bennedict Mathurin (G/F, Arizona)
Mathurin has long been a favorite in this space, and his offensive skill set is a lot of fun. His feel is impressive and his shooting has come a long way. Defensively, there are some concerns, but there is enough to work with in terms of basketball IQ and frame to get by.
10. Washington Wizards – Dyson Daniels (G, G League Ignite)
Daniels is a heck of a defender, perhaps the best in the class on the perimeter. His jumper is the big question mark, but Daniels can handle the ball and distribute while changing the game on the other end. He’d fit snugly next to a scoring guard like Bradley Beal.
11. New York Knicks – Johnny Davis (G/F, Wisconsin)
There is nothing too sexy about Johnny Davis, but he was a National Player of the Year candidate for a reason. He’s a polished scorer already, and he can guard his position. There is a misconception that he’ll be a game-changer on defense immediately, but Davis should find a soft landing spot in the back half of the lottery somewhere.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via LA Clippers) – Jeremy Sochan (F, Baylor)
Once again, the Thunder have three picks, and they can take some swings. Sochan’s two-way potential is suffocating and he showed real flashes at Baylor. He’s also not particularly close to being ready on offense, and OKC can afford to be patient.
13. Charlotte Hornets – Mark Williams (C, Duke)
The Hornets need a long-term center in the worst way. Charlotte could obviously address that need in free agency or via trade but, if they don’t, Williams is worthy of a mid-first round selection. He doesn’t profile as a game-changing star, but Williams has impressive finishing equity and the ability to protect the rim on defense.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers – Ochai Agbaji (G/F, Kansas)
Agbaji isn’t quite big enough or good enough on defense to be a No. 1 wing defender, but he’ll be good in a secondary defensive role. He’s also a plug-and-play role player as an off-ball shooter and a very intelligent cutter.
15. Charlotte Hornets (via New Orleans) – Malakhi Branham (F/G, Ohio State)
After going with their center in the future in this mock, Charlotte looks to a scoring wing in Branham. He’s a defensive mess right now, but Branham came on extremely strong late in the season and really shot up draft boards.
16. Atlanta Hawks – TyTy Washington (G, Kentucky)
Much has already been made of Atlanta’s need for a secondary creator in the wake of an early playoff exit against Miami. He isn’t a perfect fit with Trae Young given size concerns, but Washington is long, skilled, able to run a pick-and-roll, and capable of playing off the ball.
17. Houston Rockets (via Brooklyn) – Ousmane Dieng (F, New Zealand Breakers)
Dieng is far away at this point, but the Rockets are one of the franchises that should be willing to wait. Houston has been firing bets on upside dating back to the 2021 draft, and this is another example. If not here, Dieng should find a landing spot in the first round somewhere.
18. Chicago Bulls – Tari Eason (F, LSU)
Eason might go in the lottery. He’s the kind of prospect that I can see a team falling in love with, particularly with his defensive aptitude at 6’8 with power and athleticism. His shooting is a swing skill, and Eason committed more than twice as many turnovers as he generated assists last season in college. It’s a mixed bag.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves – E.J. Liddell (F, Ohio State)
Liddell isn’t a high-ceiling guy, but he has some switch potential on defense and a polished offensive game. He was incredibly productive at Ohio State, and enough scouts in NBA circles seem to view him as a top-20 guy.
20. San Antonio Spurs (via Toronto) – Nikola Jovic (F, Mega)
Jovic is a first-round talent, and the Spurs are a natural landing spot. It remains unclear on whether he can defend in the NBA, but Jovic is 18 years old and highly skilled and polished in key areas. He certainly brings offensive upside.
21. Denver Nuggets – MarJon Beauchamp (G/F, G League Ignite)
The Nuggets need defensive help in a significant way and Beauchamp can provide it. He has a great motor and very good instincts and length on defense. The question is offense, where he is an inconsistent shooter at best that needs polish with the ball in his hands. In Denver, he could work well as a cutter that doesn’t need much on-ball equity.
22. Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah) – Patrick Baldwin Jr. (F, Milwaukee)
Memphis made a similar pick with Ziaire Williams a year ago that looks pretty good now. Obviously that doesn’t ensure anything for Baldwin Jr., but the former top-five prospect still has the length and shooting acumen to bring substantial upside. His brutal college season does lead to a slide, though, and his stock is all over the place.
23. Brooklyn Nets (via Philadelphia) – Blake Wesley (G, Notre Dame)
This is a swing pick for the Nets and, by the way, Brooklyn can still choose to defer this selection to 2023 if they so choose. Wesley is an upside play with his ability to generate shots, and he might be an intriguing defender in the future as well. He’s not likely to help a title contender now, which makes this an interesting bet.
24. Milwaukee Bucks – Walker Kessler (C, Auburn)
Kessler doesn’t help the Bucks a ton right now with Brook Lopez on the team and both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis able to play center. Long-term, Kessler could be a lot like Lopez on defense, as he was arguably the best single rim protector in college basketball this season.
25. San Antonio Spurs (via Boston) – Jake LaRavia (F, Wake Forest)
It’s been quite a rise for LaRavia, but it seems like NBA teams have taken notice along with public-facing evaluators. He would be a fun Spurs fit with his passing and general basketball IQ, and LaRavia should be able to shoot it at a pretty high level. He’s a limited athlete, but there is a lot to like.
26. Dallas Mavericks – Jaden Hardy (G, G League Ignite)
The team fit with the Mavericks doesn’t make a ton of sense unless Jalen Brunson leaves, and I get that. In fact, if Brunson stays, I would cross this one off. Still, Hardy is a high-upside shot creating talent and he was better as the G League season went along in 2021-22.
27. Miami Heat – Kendall Brown (F, Baylor)
This might be a selfish one in that it would be fun to watch Miami develop Brown from afar. His offensive skill package leaves a lot to be desired right now, which leads to him dropping from a previous lottery projection. Brown is a crazy athlete who should be able to defend well, and if he can find a role on offense, look out.
28. Golden State Warriors – Dalen Terry (G/F, Arizona)
Terry wasn’t really on the radar as a potential first round guy until late in the season, but he checks a lot of boxes. He’s 6’7. He can pass. He can create. He can shoot. He can guard. Seems like a Warriors guy.
29. Memphis Grizzlies – Kennedy Chandler (G, Tennessee)
Chandler is from the Memphis area, and Tyus Jones is a free agent. Chandler isn’t necessarily the backup for Morant that you would draw up in a lab, but he’s a first-round talent. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if he was a top-20 pick.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Phoenix) – Bryce McGowens (G/F, Nebraska)
There is a bit of a split on McGowens after a weird season at Nebraska. There were plenty of flashes, however, and his offensive ceiling is very, very high for a player that could slide. The Thunder can afford to take that bet.