NBA teams looking for a big man are in luck. This year’s draft is loaded with big men who could change the fortunes of several franchises.
Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are two of the three best prospects in the 2022 NBA draft. The two went head-to-head last November and the 20,000 fans at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas were treated to an entertaining show that’ll soon be part of the NBA calendar.
“I’m sure you’ll be watching these two battle each other on and off for the next 15 years,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “They’re both incredible basketball players with a bright future.”
The third player at the top of every non-playoff team’s wish list is Auburn’s Jabari Smith. Smith is a gifted forward with a sweet shooting stroke. Smith, Holmgren, and Banchero each offer something different. But all three have the potential to be outstanding pros.
Here are OMFB’s top prospects for the 2022 NBA draft on June 23.
1-Chet Holmgren, forward/center, Gonzaga
NBA comparison: Kevin Durant
Scouting report: Holmgren is a unique prospect, probably the rarest pro prospect we’ve seen in quite a while. He’s a 7-foot wing player with a massive 7-foot-5 wingspan that allows him to cover a lot of ground and alter shots (3.7 blocks per game). He’s also an above-average ball-handler, which allows him to create his own shot. That freakish combination is rare even in today’s positionless basketball. He’s been compared to Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and Marcus Camby. He’s got a little bit of all three in his game, but there’s no real accurate comparison because Holmgren is an absolute unicorn. “Chet’s a game-changer on defense and there were a couple of layups that I would usually make with no problem but with him at the rim, that wasn’t happening tonight,” Paolo Banchero said after facing Holmgren in a non-conference meeting in Las Vegas. Holmgren shot 41% from 3-point range and 61% from the field. Against UCLA, he flashed his ball-handling skills in the open court when he went coast-to-coast for one of the best plays of the season. Holmgren may not have Durant’s scoring ability but he has a nice pick-and-pop game and his ability to put the ball on the deck allows him to get his own shot from anywhere on the court. Similar to Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley, Holmgren has a slight frame but great footwork in the paint. Mobley’s early success in the NBA is helping Holmgren’s case for No. 1, despite his lack of frame (195 pounds). Holmgren’s natural position in the NBA could eventually be at the 4, but he can certainly play small-ball 5.
2-Paolo Banchero, forward, Duke
NBA comparison: Chris Webber
Scouting report: At 6-10 and 240 pounds, Banchero fits the part of an old-school NBA power forward. He has guard-like skills and moves extremely well for his size. As a high school prospect, Banchero’s lateral movement on defense was one of his weakest traits, but he worked on his explosiveness and footwork this summer. In his matchup against highly touted prospect Chet Holmgren, Banchero outplayed Holmgren in the first half but suffered leg cramps in the second half, which limited his impact on the game. When Banchero was fresh, he was able to bully Holmgren. But as the game progressed, Banchero’s conditioning became a factor and that’s when Holmgren closed the gap. Banchero looks and plays a lot like former Duke big man Carlos Boozer, who had a long career in the NBA. Banchero has the potential to surpass Boozer and be more like Chris Webber. Either way, any team that drafts Banchero is getting a pro-ready player who can play traditional power forward or small-ball center.
3-Jabari Smith, forward, Auburn
NBA comparison: Rashard Lewis
Scouting report: Smith is a 6-foot-10 forward who led the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 43% from behind the arc. He knocked down seven 3-pointers in a win over Vanderbilt during the regular season. Jabari’s dad, Jabari Smith Sr., played in the NBA for a few years and his distant cousin is Kwame Brown, so basketball is a big part of his family tree. Jabari Jr. combines textbook shooting mechanics with good size, above-average athletic ability, and balanced competitive intensity. He’ll be 19 when the NBA draft rolls in, so he has yet to hit his ceiling. He doesn’t force things on the offensive end and his high basketball IQ allows him to play any style. He’s also a capable defender, who can switch on guards and keep them out of the paint. But there were times during his freshman season at Auburn when Smith disappeared in games. He tends to defer to his teammates too much when he should be taking over. His Auburn teammate Walker Kessler occasionally looked like the better player on the court. If Smith can improve his handle, he’ll be more difficult to guard.
4-Jaden Ivey, guard, Purdue
NBA comparison: Ja Morant
Scouting report: Ivey is an explosive playmaker cut from the same cloth as Ja Morant and Russell Westbrook. Ivey is considered the best pro prospect to come out of Purdue since Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, who went No. 1 overall in the 1994 NBA draft. Ivey has electric quickness, but he doesn’t have his foot on the gas pedal all the time. He plays at his own pace. He can slow it down if he doesn’t have a clear runway. Purdue coach Matt Painter said Ivey has greatly improved as a pick-and-roll guard since the start of the season and has learned to go through his progressions like an NFL quarterback. Ivey’s 3.5 assists per game don’t tell the whole story about his ability to run the show. The La Lumiere Prep product enjoyed a breakout season in his second year at Purdue. He has the right combination of size, speed, explosiveness to be an NBA star.
5-Keegan Murray, forward, Iowa
NBA comparison: Kyle Kuzma
Scouting report: Keegan Murray is one of the most unexpected stars of this season. After playing in the shadow of All-American Luka Garza, Murray improved exponentially in his sophomore season. Murray averaged 7.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game as a freshman. In his second season in Iowa, Murray averaged 23.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. His 3-point percentage also increased from 29.6% to an impressive 40.6%. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, Murray has the size and length to do it all on both ends of the floor. Most scouts see Murray as a plug-and-play prospect who fits the mold of what almost every NBA team covets: a versatile 3-and-D wing. Murray can have an immediate impact as a 3 or 4.
6-Bennedict Mathurin, guard, Arizona
NBA comparison: Jaylen Brown
Scouting report: Ben Mathurin benefitted greatly from staying another year at Arizona. He improved his scoring average from 10 points to 17 points per game and was named Pac-12 player of the year. He added more shots to his arsenal. He looks like an NBA player. When he’s aggressive and locked in, he looks like a star. Mathurin put on a show during the second round of the NCAA tournament when he scored 30 points in an overtime thriller against TCU and authored one of the best dunks you’ll see at the collegiate level. At 6-6 and 195 pounds, Mathurin has the ideal size to play 2-guard in the NBA. He can defend his position and showed great leadership skills as the No. 1 option for the Pac-12 champion Wildcats. Mathurin is the latest in the growing line of basketball standouts to come out of Canada, following in the footsteps of other Canadian ballers RJ Barrett, Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander, and Kelly Olynyk. Mathurin is a plug-and-play athlete who can play any style and will be an immediate rotational player.
7-Jalen Duren, center, Memphis
NBA comparison: Deandre Ayton
Scouting report: Even though Duren is only 18 he’s already a physically imposing figure. He’s a man among boys. Since he was born in 2003 Jalen is eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft and projects as a likely lottery pick. At 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, Duren moves fluidly off the ball and has excellent timing on blocked shots. The matchup with Holmgren in the second round of the NCAA tournament was a scout’s dream. Duren has extremely long arms and big hands, which help him catch lobs, grab rebounds, block shots. Duren’s stats won’t blow you away, but opposing coaches are fully aware of his presence and impact. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson called Duren “the best player on the court” when the Cougars took on Memphis in the AAC tournament final. Duren isn’t flashy, which is a big plus. He’s a lunch-pail, hard-hat guy who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work, such as setting screens and helping on defense. Even though he didn’t shoot the ball well from the free-throw line, he’s got a decent stroke and can improve on his free throws given enough coaching and practice. Because of his frame, Duren has been compared to Dwight Howard. A more realistic NBA comparison is Deandre Ayton. Either way, Duren has a boatload of potential and could turn out to be an absolute stud.
8-Shaedon Sharpe, guard, Kentucky
NBA comparison: Anthony Edwards
Scouting report: Sharpe is a complete mystery. He didn’t play a single minute of college ball after enrolling at Kentucky. But some basketball experts believe the 6-5 wing could turn out to be the best player in the draft. Sharpe only practiced with John Calipari’s Wildcats but never played in a game, so the only film we have of him is from AAU and high school invitational showcases. And from what we’ve seen on the Tube, Sharpe is an explosive athlete who can score at all three levels. He plays with great control for a teenager and he doesn’t seem to get rattled. Jeff Goodman, a former ESPN basketball insider, thinks Sharpe is exactly what the NBA loves right now. “He’s a long, tough, athletic scoring wing who can make players for himself and others. He’s not a point guard, but he can play the point and initiate offense.” Sharpe is the latest in the growing line of talented Canadian hoopers. The one knock Goodman has on Sharpe is his work ethic. Is Sharpe willing to compete every single minute of every single game? That’s a question teams will have to ask when evaluating him. It’s the classic high risk, high reward gamble.
9-Dyson Daniels, guard, G League Ignite
NBA comparison: Alex Caruso
Scouting report: Daniels is a highly touted international prospect from Australia. ESPN draft guru Mike Schmitz thinks the versatile combo guard is going to be a top-10 pick. Schmitz said Daniels is “one of the most complete prospects” with an ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor. Daniels is listed at 6-6 but he’s got a 6-11 wingspan, which makes him very intriguing for any team looking for a two-way wing player. Daniels has very good instincts on defense and is disruptive on the defensive end. He could turn into an elite-level defender. His quick hands, quick feet, and strong build allow him to guard multiple positions. Daniels is combination of Matisse Thybulle and Alex Caruso. He has Thybulle’s defensive instincts and Caruso’s versatility. In fact, Daniels models his game after Caruso. “Alex Caruso is one of the best defenders in the league, no doubt. The way he moves his feet, his instincts. Playing on that Lakers team, that was what kept him on the floor,” Daniels told ESPN. Daniels trained at NBA Global Academy in Australia before joining the G League Ignite. Daniels averaged 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.9 steals in 14 games for the Ignite, while playing 31 minutes per game.
10-Johnny Davis, guard, Wisconsin
NBA comparison: Devin Booker
Scouting report: Davis gutted it out during the NCAA tournament while dealing with a sprained ankle. Davis wasn’t the same player after the injury, but he gets kudos for playing through pain. Davis was one of four major conference players who led his team in points, rebounds, and assists. The 6-5 sophomore guard scored 25 or more points in nine regular-season games for the Wisconsin Badgers and put on a show in a game against Jaden Ivey’s Purdue Boilermakers on Jan. 3 when he scored 37 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out three assists, had two steals, and blocked two shots. Davis’ other eye-popping performance came in the Maui Invitational where he averaged 23.7 points en route to being named tournament MVP. Davis is not an elite athlete but he has a Devin Booker-type ability to get to his spots and score from the midrange. He does need to improve on his 3-point shot, but that’ll come with reps. He’s a late bloomer, so he may not have hit his ceiling yet. He’s a decent playmaker and above-average rebounder for a guard. He’s a superb on-ball defender, capable of guarding 1s, 2s, and 3s. His football background from his days as a high school quarterback at La Crosse (Wisconsin) Central High School helps him with his physicality and mental toughness.
11-Mark Williams, center, Duke
NBA comparison: Hassan Whiteside
Scouting report: Duke center Mark Williams played in the shadow of teammate Paolo Banchero during the 2021-22 season, but Williams’ name is rising fast on NBA draft boards after posting some impressive measurements at the combine in Chicago. The ACC defensive player of the year was measured at 7 feet 2, with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. He also had a standing reach of 9-9 standing reach, which compares favorably with NBA centers Rudy Gobert, JaVale McGee, and Deandre Ayton, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. The 242-pound Williams has the length and strength to be a defensive anchor at the pro level. He has all the physical tools teams covet, and it will be hard for teams looking for a big man to pass up on him.
12-Ochai Agbaji, guard, Kansas
NBA comparison: Desmond Bane
Scouting report: Agbaji, 22, is one of the older players in the draft. The 6-5 guard is a versatile wing who has shown promise as a defender, slasher, and shooter. Early in his career, he was known for his athleticism and defense. During his senior year at Kansas, Ochai emerged as one of the best shooters in college basketball, making giant leaps as a scorer in both volume and efficiency. Bill Self said Agbaji — who has solidified himself as a viable 3-and-D option at the NBA level — has become an assassin. Agbaji wowed fans during the Big 12 tournament, throwing down a dunk that became a viral hit. He caught a lob pass and in one motion threw down an emphatic dunk that sent folks inside and outside the arena into a frenzy. It’s the type of superb athleticism Agbaji could bring to an NBA team looking for an exciting different-maker.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.