Holy Backboard’s 2022 NBA Mock Draft

Welcome to the second annual Holy Backboard NBA Mock Draft!

[DUSTIN]: NBA Draft day is arguably a Top 5 day of the year for me. It’s a year’s worth of scouting, preparation, and anticipation for what’s to come. For the Portland Trail Blazers, the season was doomed from the beginning. After the opening night loss to the Sacramento King, I had a sneaking suspicion all of Rip City was in for a long 75th NBA Anniversary season.

Shortly after the New Year, it became increasingly difficult to record weekly podcasts discussing what we were both seeing on the court with this Trail Blazers team. They were bad. We knew it. Everyone else knew it. You can only repeat the same thing so many times. Sage texted me one night with a brilliant idea.

Future Friday. Why don’t we scout a top prospect, watch a full length game, and spend an additional weekly episode devoted to said prospect and repeat the process leading up to the NBA Draft. The idea was a life saver from a content perspective. Instead of spending time talking about 30-point blowout after 30-point blowout, we dove deep on over 30 prospects all across the board. Tuning in to random college games to watch a potential role-playing big to watching showdowns between Jaden Ivey and Johnny Davis, we were locked in.

We knew Portland was all in on the tank and this was the year, of all years, to be ready to go with wall-to-wall draft coverage. And I have to say, the juice has been well worth the squeeze. It’s going to be fun to watch the draft on Thursday night, having an educated opinion on each player, and following their careers to see if your hunch was right or wrong.

Let’s just hope Portland actually drafts in the lottery this time. In 2020, after our first in-depth mock draft, the Trail Blazers dealt their 2020 and 2021 first round picks for Robert Covington.

It’s a deep draft, filled with a plethora of wing talent. There may not be as much top-end talent as was the case the year prior, but it’s a very solid draft class.

[SAGE]: When I saw Jabari Smith’s second 2nd game against Louisiana-Monroe, where he dominated the competition in every facet of the game, the potential of Jabari Smith Jr. was so intriguing because I saw a 6’10 guy being able to shoot the absolute shit out of the ball.

I thought it might be a good idea to switch our energies towards doing draft content instead of watching the struggling Blazers. Glad we had that few months before we started to know the players we are talking about so the listeners can get the information from an informed perspective. Thank you to everyone who gave this show a chance. I’m very proud of what we accomplished with our draft content.

[DUSTIN]: I will be selecting the odd numbered picks, while Sage will be making selections for even numbered picks.

Without further ado, I’m on the clock for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Mock Draft.

#1 Orlando Magic

Jabari Smith || Forward || Auburn || 6’10” 200 lbs || Age 19

Jabari Smith
Photo via Ashton Scott/The Auburn Plainsman

The Orlando Magic have only made the postseason twice since 2013, advancing past the first round only once since 2010. From Aaron Gordon to Mo Bamba to Jonathan Isaac, it’s a franchise that has continuously struggled to draft an All-Star caliber big in the lottery. But fortunes could be changing in the Magic Kingdom. 2021 8th overall pick, Franz Wagner earned First-Team All-Rookie honors while the team struck gold during May’s NBA Draft Lottery.

It makes too much sense for the Magic to select Jabari Smith, a modern stretch big who not only fills an immediate need but is the draft’s top prospect. Smith should be able to plug-and-play right away alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and Wagner, forming one of the league’s most intriguing front-courts. Smith’s ability to shoot from all over the court will space out the offense, allowing Orlando’s guards (Suggs, Anthony, Fultz) room to operate. On defense, his versatility and lateral mobility allow him to guard three-through-five. Other prospects may have higher ceilings than Smith, but I believe Smith is the most likely prospect to hit their ceiling.

#2 Oklahoma City Thunder

Chet Holmgren || Forward/ Center || Gonzaga || 7′0” 195 lbs ||  Age 20

Chet Holmgren
Photo via Gonzaga Athletics

The basketball gods finally smile at the OKC Thunder’s rebuild. They have been successful at using their draft picks to select players that would fit around their timetables and that are talented, but now they get to choose one of the gems of the 2022 NBA Draft.

Chet checks many boxes for the Thunder, size, versatility, skill, and IQ. With Shai and Giddy getting Chet shots in his spots it could empower him to shoot at the frequency that someone with his skillset should be shooting.

In college, Chet got one pick and roll attempt per game. I think Chet has two excellent partners to run pick and roll. He can be a great popper but what really is low-hanging fruit is his rolling abilities. His catch radius is huge, he has excellent hands and the ability to finish with authority and can find players open in the corner off the short roll.

Defensively is where he shines with his IQ and how he can anticipate who and where he needs to be to help with defensive rotations. Teams will try to bully him in the post because of how skinny he is, but he absorbs the bump and makes the offensive player try and finish over high hands.

#3 Houston Rockets

Paolo Banchero || Forward || Duke || 6’10” 250 lbs || Age 19

Paolo Banchero
Photo via Aaron Zhao/Duke Chronicle

Houston standing pat and awaiting for one of the three premier bigs to fall into their laps at No. 3 feels like the only certainty in the 2022 NBA Draft. Unfortunately for the Rockets, Banchero is the worst fit among the three. Admittingly, I am lower on Banchero than most – Paolo is ranked No. 7 on my Big Board – but 6’10” forwards with playmaking and shot-making ability are difficult to find. And with the recent trading of Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks, the frontcourt appears to be in the hands of Banchero and 2021 draftee, Alperen Şengün.

My main concern for Banchero is the lack of defense, both in skillset and willingness at that end of the court. At this time, Houston doesn’t have many players to surround Banchero, Jalen Green, and Kevin Porter Jr. with who can be disruptors. It will be a tough couple of years defensively. However, if Banchero can turn it up a notch on that end of the floor, he can unlock All-NBA potential.

Right away, Banchero will be a fantastic pick-and-pop threat. Head Coach Stephen Silas is going to have a plethora of options finding ways to use Banchero at the elbow where his combination of scoring, height, and passing will be a nightmare to defend. 

Duke’s offense sputtered at times, dumping the ball into Banchero and watching him isolate; Banchero struggled when the frequency of this action increased as well. It’s important to remember Duke’s offense was uninspiring, but they played without a true floor general to make the game easier for Banchero. For the Rockets, acquiring a veteran lead guard to set up the offense will be key in Banchero’s development.

#4 Sacramento Kings

Jaden Ivey || Guard || Purdue  || 6’4 200 lbs  || Age 20

Jaden Ivey
Photo via Purdue Athletics

I know Jaden Ivey said that Sacramento wasn’t on his preferred list, but Sacramento hasn’t been scared off by drafting players that have said the same thing with Davion Mitchell. Since they ain’t scared, I ain’t as well with the fourth pick The Sacramento Kings pick the guard with the HOF quick first step badge from Perdue Jaden Ivey.

From a distance, Jaden Ivey and DeAaron Fox don’t seem like a perfect fit, but when you look at it, both are so quick that the team’s pacing has to be fast. Jaden isn’t a lead guy yet, and may never be, but he is tremendous off the ball. DeAaron seems to care about being considered the lead guy. I think both players can utilize each other’s strengths and create one of the most fun backcourts in the league.

There’s a glaring hole at PF and a post defense that will be poor. I know, and it will continue being a weakness, but since Jabari and Chet are both off the board, no big man can fix the mess the Kings have made for themselves. Keegan Murray, as great of a defender as he is, or any of the versatile bigs in this class are not fixing this. It’s going to take time, a legitimate buy-in defensively, and years of continuity for this problem to be fixed.

We are taking a guard with this pick that can turn our team strength into an even bigger advantage. We are scoring points, being exciting, having good spacing, and giving these Sacramento fans the excitement and fun they haven’t had in years. We are the team Alvin Gentry dreams about.

#5 Detroit Pistons

Bennedict Mathurin || Guard || Arizona || 6’6” 220 lbs || Age 20

Bennedict Mathurin
Photo via Getty Images

Detroit could swing for the fences here with Shaedon Sharpe or Jalen Duren still on the board, and no one would bat an eye. However, after hitting it big in last year’s draft with Cade Cunningham, the Pistons look towards Mathurin to solidify their backcourt for the next decade-plus. There’s whispers out of the Motor City the Pistons are enamored with Mathurin and it’s hard to take any rumor this time of year with much more than a grain of salt but the selection makes sense.

At 6’6”, Mathurin has prototypical size at the shooting guard position and is a knock-down shooter, hitting nearly 37% of his attempts from downtown. Not only is Mathurin lethal on the catch-and-shoot, of which there will be plenty of opportunities playing alongside Cunningham, but he can create his own shot, especially in the mid-range. He’ll have to become a stronger finisher, but the athleticism displayed toward the end of the season (think the poster slam over TCU in the NCAA Tournament) shows there’s plenty of fuel in the tank.

Mid-season Arizona Head Coach Tomy Lloyd put the ball in Mathurin’s hands as the Wildcats’ lead play-maker and did not disappoint. Using his quickness to get into the paint, Mathurin showcased the ability to create for others, specifically big man Christian Koloko on the lob. I can see plenty of lobs thrown Isaiah Stewart’s way next fall.

The area for improvement comes on the defensive end where Mathurin is prone to lapses, especially off-ball. He’s not always locked-in on that side of the ball, but can be a menace against the opposition when he wants to be. Although, with less of a scoring burden in Detroit, there will be no excuse not to turn it up. Having bigs such as Stewart and Saddiq Bey behind him on defense should make for a smoother than normal transition in Detroit.

#6 Indiana Pacers

Shaedon Sharpe || Guard || Kentucky  || 6’5” 198 lbs ||  Age 19

Shaedon Sharpe
Photo via Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Indiana Brain Trusts runs to the podium to get this draft selection. With the 6th pick in the NBA draft, the Indiana Pacers select Shaedon Sharpe. There has been a phrase said on the show, Portland can’t afford to pass on nuclear talents like Shaedon Sharpe. Indiana is in the same boat as Portland and other teams not based in those cities that can get talent for pennies on the dollar.

Shaedon Sharpe was the number one recruit in the 2023 high school class, then reclassified to this draft cycle, and he didn’t play a single second of competitive basketball at Kentucky. So the man of mystery label is so real with Shaedon. There are about fifteen games of Shaedon Sharpe on the internet.

On the internet’s available tape, you see a 6’6 player can play off the ball, shoot off the dribble, finish with the best of them, defend multiple positions as his body develops, and hopefully be that on-ball guy.

Simply asking Shaedon to roll the ball out and run an offense right now would be unfair to Shaedon. Luckily for the Pacers, they got Tyrese Haliburton to run the offense for them and let Shaedon be in the role that he can succeed in off-ball.

Tyrese Haliburton has the skills to be one of the best passers in the NBA. He sees the game differently than other players, he knows what’s going to happen before it does, will set up his teammates with pin point passes, and turn players that look covered into being open. Having a guy like that will be so good for Shaedon, Oregon Legend Chris Duarte, Buddy Hield, and Myles Turner.

Shaedon has many of the same issues defensively that most teenagers have, but I will say that I’ve seen an effort on that end of the ball, and that’s all you can ask for such a young player. Players take years to develop into legit two-way players.

Drafting a high-risk, high-reward player like Shaedon, but for the Indiana Pacers, it’s a decision they should be making. The pairing with Tyrese, the absolute megastar potential of Shaedon, an established head coach, and a talented set of teammates give a better chance of a high-end outcome.


Portland trades No. 7 to San Antonio for picks Nos. 9 and 25

If the draft unfolds on Thursday the 23rd just as it did in our simulation, Portland GM Joe Cronin should look to move back and secure additional assets. The players they should hope are available at No. 7, Mathurin and Sharpe, are both off of the board, which is the worst case scenario. Dyson Daniels would be a wonderful pick for the Trail Blazers, but the opportunity to add more picks to a team depleted of selections is too much to pass up, especially with a few equally enticing prospects still left on the board.

San Antonio uses the worst of their three first round picks to move up two slots, securing a player they did not think would be there at No. 7 given the amount of hype surrounding this prospect leading up to the draft.

#7 San Antonio Spurs (via Portland Trail Blazers)

Dyson Daniels || Guard-Forward || G-League Ignite  || 6’7.5” 195 lbs || Age 19

Dyson Daniels
Photo via ESPN

Dyson Daniels is the prototypical Spurs player: intelligent, defensive-minded, unselfish. While there are questions about Daniels’ jump shot – shooting just 25% from downtown (NBA range) – the mechanics are solid and he should develop into a respectable shooter down the line. But shooting the ball is not where Daniels shines. He’s arguably the best perimeter defender in this draft class, capable of staying in front of players ranging from point guard to small forward. I’ve never seen a prospect flip their hips so fluidly as is the case for Daniels. Pairing him with Dejounte Murray would be one hellacious backcourt defensively.

On offense, Daniels looks to set the table before serving himself. Given his size (6’7.5”) and patience on offense, Daniels is a difficult cover. He’s able to see over the defense to create for others and when he does look for his own shot, he’s not going to be rushed and can use his frame to finish in traffic.

Daniels is truly positionless in today’s NBA. He’s quick enough defensively to play the point and he rebounds well enough that, if you wanted to play him at the small forward, he’ll thrive there as well.

#8 New Orleans Pelicans

AJ Griffin || Guard-Forward || 6’6” 222 lbs || Age 18

AJ Griffin
Photo via Rob Kinnan/USA Today Sports

The Pelicans have a major need in the wing depth department. In clutch minutes during the playoffs, they played Jose Jose Alvarado, 6ft, and CJ McCollum, 6’3 ft. Having two small guards like that in late-game scenarios leads to mismatches and easy points for the opposing team.

With the 8th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans draft AJ Griffin. The Pelicans survived and thrived off Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum’s tough shot-making. If Zion Williamson is going to play this year, the Pelicans need dependable shooters, stat!

AJ Griffin was the best Freshman shooter in a decade. He has shown elite numbers in all aspects of shooting the ball, catch and shooting, guarded or wide open, off-the-dribble shooting, cutting, and scoring around the basket.

It would be easy to lump AJ as just a shooter because of his excellent numbers in that department, but I think because of Duke’s vanilla scheme and awful spacing, AJ wasn’t able to show his dribbling and playmaking abilities as much. The space creation AJ has shown at Duke was either to get to that step back to the left or to drive. On his drives, there are a lot of wasted steps; on a drive that should have taken two steps, AJ takes four. It starts with how stiff his shins and legs are currently, and there have been many creators that have had that same issue with stiff shins that turn into alpha ball handlers relatively easily. So once AJ gets the flexibility in those legs, he could turn right back into the slasher he was in high school.

There has been a lot of talk about defense from critics of some of these players in the draft. AJ is one of the most talked about offenders for being a bad defender. Most players that we will talk about in this blog are gonna be bad defenders to start their careers. Defense is about being able to repress negative habits. Covid has made it, so a lot of players miss out on quality reps because having competitive games became a lot harder. Missing out on reps because of Covid, injuries, or any other reason is negatively affecting these players and making them become great defenders before they make the NBA close to impossible. I know Dustin mentioned Bennedict Mathurin as a guy that has to lock in to be that great defender, and sure, that would be nice, but Bennedict and AJ provide something far more valuable than just defense. They both are three-level scorers that have playmaking upside. Player development people would much rather rep out their bad habits defensively than teach someone that’s a good defender how to shoot at a 40% clip and create for others.

There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit for AJ to return quality value for the Pelicans. He’s a scheme fit, fits a need, wants to improve, and embodies everything the Pelicans want for a player. So if AJ is there on draft day, it would be wise for New Orleans to draft AJ Griffin.


Portland trades No. 9 to Charlotte for picks Nos. 13 and 15.

Joe Cronin does what Neil Olshey couldn’t: stockpile draft assets. Portland looks at the board, sees the number of spots remaining between No.9 and No. 13, and feels comfortable and confident at who will be available. Despite missing out on the New Orleans lottery pick (from the CJ McCollum trade), Cronin has added two additional first round picks this year, plus the Milwaukee pick in 2025. With Anfernee Simons a restricted free agent and Nassir Little playing in a contract year, it’s imperative for the Trail Blazers to add young, talented players on cost-controlled contracts for the next four seasons.

Charlotte pays a bit of a premium to get the player they not only want but need.

#9 Charlotte Hornets

Jalen Duren || Center || Memphis || 6’11” 250 lbs || Age 18

Jalen Duren
Photo via Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Aside from Houston coveting whomever drops to them at No. 3, Charlotte being on the market for a starting center is the most well-known aspect of this draft. Jalen Duren is the top center in this year’s crop of bigs. Not turning until November 18th makes Duren the league’s youngest prospect available for selection. He re-classified in high school, which allowed him to play at Memphis a year earlier.

It’s incredibly difficult to scout and project young centers into this league, especially since the collegiate game is much more crowded and, in Duren’s case, his guards were not always the best decision-makers. With that said, it’s hard to bypass Duren regardless of how he looked at Memphis. At 6’11, with a 7’5” wingspan, and 250 lbs, Duren already has a body made for the NBA. He’s a classic rim-running center who can finish everything (yes, everything) thrown his way around the rim. Can you imagine the highlight-reel plays he and LaMelo Ball will cook up next year at The Hive?

Offensively, he’ll be a monster on the glass, cleaning up a lot of mistakes the young Hornets will be sure to make. And there’s optimism surrounding Duren’s camp that he can become a legitimate play-maker in the middle, as he displayed solid passing ability in his lone year at Memphis.

Defensively is where Duren shines. It’s hard not to look at the impact Robert Williams III had this season in Boston and not imagine what Duren can do given a similar role. He’s not quite at the level of Bam Adebayo when it comes to switching the pick and roll and defending 30-feet out on the perimeter, but he’s not just a drop coverage big either. He’s easily the most mobile and athletic center in this class, and, at age 18, there’s still a lot of growth and development for Duren to unlock. For a small market like Charlotte, paying the premium to acquire what they view as a missing piece, is well worth it.

#10 Washington Wizards

Johnny Davis || Guard || Wisconsin || 6’5” 200 lbs || Age 20

Johnny Davis
Photo via Wisconsin Athletics

The Wizards wished Free agency was before the draft to make this pick because the uncertainty of the future of Bradly Beal puts Washington in a predicament. Washinton has used most of their draft assets on wings in the last few drafts, so using one here on Keegan Murray, Tari Eason, or Jeremey Sochan doesn’t make sense. So guard really would be the best option. Johnny Davis seems like the best option.

If Bradley Beal stays, Johnny Davis would be an excellent pairing for him. Bradley has been the point guard for the Wizards since Russ left and has been able to put points on the board. Davis would provide spacing for Brad to get to the hoop more efficiently, and Davis is one of the few players in this draft that is a two-way player now and could develop into one of the premier ones in the league.

If Beal leaves, the talk of his struggling to scale down as a player goes right out the window, and his NBA experience will be just like his Sophomore season at Wisconsin, with him having a lot of playmaking and scoring responsibilities for the team. For this situation to happen, I think Johnny is the only guy left on the board who could handle this type of usage rate and can do something with it.

Johnny’s got that old-school physical style game that can be a great pairing to a superstar like Bradley Beal or take on that significant scoring role anything Washington throws at Johnny, he can handle it.

#11 New York Knicks

Keegan Murray || Forward || Iowa || 6’8” 225 lbs || Age 21

Keegan Murray
Photo via Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Rumors are swirling that New York is enamored with Purdue’s Jaden Ivey. However, I don’t believe they have the necessary assets to move all the way up to No. 4 to select him. Instead, they’ll have to be happy with a consolation prize in Keegan Murray. Much like Tyrese Haliburton two years ago, Murray slips for no good reason. It just happens. It happens every year and this year it is Murray, the smooth-shooting stretch forward who is a “have your cake and eat it too” prospect for the Knicks. For Head Coach Tom Thibodeau, Murray is ready to produce right away. For the New York fans clamoring for a much-needed youth movement, Murray fits in perfectly with RJ Barrett and Immanual Quickley’s timelines.

It’s reported the Knicks are looking to move away from Julius Randle, and if they do indeed do so this summer, Murray will be able to man the starting forward spot for years to come. He’s a highly intelligent player who can impact the game on both ends of the floor.

Starting on offense, Murray is a fantastic jump shooter, both off of movement and the catch-and-shoot. Now, he will need to work on counters, especially when the defense closes out on him, but he’s the perfect complimentary player for RJ who gets downhill into the paint and attracts multiple defenders. Murray is comfortable with the ball in his hands but mostly in grab-and-go scenarios. On offense, I anticipate Murray being the recipient, rather than the distributor. There is optimism to believe he could become a face-up threat, much as Randle has been in the Big Apple but likely less usage and ball-stopping.

Defensively, Murray is as solid as it gets. New York will most likely want to keep him defending power forwards and small-ball centers, but he’s just quick enough laterally to hold his own against those players. He may struggle against quicker moving small forwards and guards. Back to his IQ, Murray should thrive off-ball as he’s been prone to blocking shots on the weak side and won’t commit many mistakes by unnecessarily double-teaming or letting his man score back-door.

Murray may not have the highest ceiling, but he’s a safe, productive pick for the Knicks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Murray adds more to his repertoire. While he’s 21, this season was his first as “The Man” in college and he responded well by leading the Hawkeyes to the Big 10 Tournament Championship.

#12 Oklahoma City Thunder

Tari Eason || Forward || LSU || 6’8” 217 lbs || Age 21

Tari Eason
Photo via LSU Athletics

OKC is in the process of building something special defensively with Chet being their first pick, and we are going to continue the trend of defensive players with Tari Eason of LSU. The defensive pairing between Tari and Chet is why I like Tari over Ousmane Dieng.

I don’t want to change Tari. Tari is an incredibly aggressive player, you watch him play at LSU, and he goes for it. Offensively or defensively, he goes for him. If Tari hits his potential, we have an all-world wing. With him being a defensive risk-taker,  having Chet there at the post to rotate and clean up Tari’s mess is the best way of empowering a player to be himself and having an excellent plan B just in case his aggression doesn’t work out.

Offensively I think Tari fits well around Shai, Josh Giddy, and Chet. Tari will be able to attack the closeouts that those three draw by the pick and roll and other forms of penetrating the lane. Putting Tari in a role where he can attack a bent defense by attacking the rim relentlessly.

After the first two lotto picks, Mark Daigneault will have two shiny new toys to use with Chet Holgrem and Tari Eason. With his team, it will be easy to empower both to be themselves and play basketball without thinking, just reacting, and that’s where both players become scary.

#13 Portland Trail Blazers (via Charlotte Hornets)

Ousmane Dieng || Forward || New Zealand Breakers (NBL) || 6’9” 185 lbs || Age 19

Ousmane Dieng
Photo via Steve Bell/Getty Images

The player I wanted for Portland at No. 7 ended up available at No. 13 and the Blazers picked up two additional first round picks for their ability to maneuver the board. Will Joe Cronin do the same? That’s the million dollar question right now in Rip City. How can Cronin maximize the team’s assets?

I’m much higher on Dieng than most; he’s currently ranked No. 4 on my Big Board. Adding him in the late lottery is highway robbery. Ten years from now, pundits will be looking back asking, ‘how did Ousmane Dieng fall all the way to No. 13?’ While he’s still a work in progress, the late season development was just enough of a taste of what is to come. Given his combination of size, quickness, defensive prowess, and play-making, Dieng is everything the Trail Blazers have been missing and then some.

Defensively, he’s a nightmare for the opposition. He communicates well for a player of his age and his length allows him to alter shots on and off-ball. Dieng and Jeremy Sochan are probably the only two prospects in this class who project to be able to defend one-through-five. That type of versatility is rare and will allow the Trail Blazers numerous options to mix and match lineups.

Despite subpar shooting numbers this year in the NBL (27% from three), I believe in Dieng’s shot long-term. The mechanics are there and the production saw an uptick as the season hit the home stretch. His release on catch-and-shoot attempts are noticeably quick. There’s potential to be a scorer out of isolation for Dieng, which would unlock his ceiling. Immediately, Dieng will be able to handle the ball, operate out of the pick-and-roll, and facilitate fast breaks. Finishing around the rim will take time as Dieng needs to bulk up. But what 19 year-old doesn’t?

Blazer fans should look at a consistent Nicolas Batum when envisioning what Dieng can bring to the table. And if he unlocks that shot creation? Watch out. He could end up like Brandon Ingram in New Orleans with lockdown defense capabilities. At No. 13, the risk is well worth the reward.

#14 Cleveland Cavaliers

Malaki Branham || Guard || Ohio State || 6’5 195 lbs || Age 19

Malaki Branham
Photo via Sports Illustrated

Cleveland got to the play-in because of defense and the magic of Darius Garland being the team’s only guard playmaker. If the Cavs don’t have a capable ball-handler somewhere on the team next year, they will become entirely dependent again on Darius. This year returns Collin Sexton and Caris LeVert, both of whom have issues staying healthy.

In comes Ohio’s own Malaki Branham, who has shown potential as an on-ball and off-ball scorer and will provide Darius a knockdown shooter on day one.

Offensively Malaki has shown great touch. He gets the slightest advantage on his defender and rises for his mid range shot. In scouting, you look for patterns in a player’s game; Malaki feels most comfortable in the mid-range and goes back to it repeatedly. He’s a movement guy without the dribble moves to get him to where he needs to go.  

His playmaking is very similar to many prospects in this draft, where he will not create the mismatch that makes the defense react, but once the defense is reacting, he can use his passing to set up others. His dribbling needs a lot of work since he has issues with his athleticism. He needs to become CJ McCollum crafty to get to his spots.

Defensively it’s not good. I usually don’t talk about 19-year-olds and their defense because most teenagers aren’t there yet with their defense, but Malaki has poor screen navigation, and that lack of burst is problematic for him as a defender.

On day one, he is a great off-ball scorer with the potential offensively to turn into an Allstar if he can get the craft work in his game down. This Cav team has the defense to allow Maliki to hide on defense, so it seems like a perfect fit.

#15 Portland Trail Blazers (via Charlotte Hornets)

Jeremy Sochan || Forward || Baylor || 6’9” 230 lbs || Age 19

Jeremy Sochan
Photo via ESPN

Ousmane Dieng and Jeremy Socahn in one draft? What a draft this would be for Joe Cronin and the Portland Trail Blazers. In the Damian Lillard-era, the only time true success has been found is when the team surrounded their dynamic guard with long, range forwards who made their mark on the defensive end.

In Sochan, Portland adds arguably the draft’s premier defender. It’s almost unfair how intelligent Sochan is on that side of the ball at such a young age. Given his size and length, Sochan presents solutions to many of the problems modern offenses present. He has the ability to help and recover with ease, play the passing lanes with his natural instincts, and become a legitimate point of attack defender capable of guarding players of any size or skill.

I’m not worried about putting Sochan at any spot along the front line. The on and off-ball defense has been discussed, and Sochan’s  also an exceptional rebounder as well, pulling down 9 rebounds per 36 minutes at Baylor last season. Give Sochan a year or two in an NBA weight room and he’ll become a beast on the boards when you factor in his length and instincts. 

Offensively, Sochan will likely never be much more than a finisher around the basket. If he’s able to regain some of his outside shooting success he has while playing internationally, Sochan won’t be able to be played off of the floor. The shot is a bit unorthodox as Sochan appears to be shooting the ball like a slingshot, but I’m willing to gamble his percentages will be respectable with the open looks he’ll receive as Lillard and Anfernee Simons attract defenders when they attack the paint. 

If Portland plays their cards right, they could be laying the foundation for one of the league’s most disruptive defensive squads.

#16 Atlanta Hawks

Ochai Agbaji || Guard || Kansas || 6’5 215 lbs || Age 22

Ochai Agbaji
Photo via ESPN

Think about the Atlanta Hawks. They are a very new school team with playmaking and advantage creation. Trae Young is their sun, and all other players flow around him. Drafting a player that is a starter quality but needs the ball in their hands will have their production cut before they enter the league. So with this pick, you have to look for a player that will be happy spotting up from three and play some defense because Trae isn’t a good defender.

National Champion Ochai Agbaji is just that type of player. He lacks advantage creation but is an excellent stand-still shooter. He and Christan Braun relied on those Kansas guards to break down the defense, allowing them to be the connector type players. Instead of Dajuan Harris, Jr. and Remy Martin, Ochai upgrades to one of the best point guards that will get him all the open shots he can handle.

The Hawks need all the defensive players that they can get. I was impressed with Ochai in his ability to defend multiple types of players. He can go from digging in on the nail on off-ball to hounding a team’s best playmaker. His versatility on that end will make DeAndre Hunter’s job life a lot easier being the other wing defender on the team.

Some teams may be worried about Ochai’s age, being a 22-year-old senior, but I watched Ochai as a player in his first year. He was just an aggressive defender with no real shot. In his four years, he turned into an excellent shooter and the same scrappy defender, and I assume he will continue to add skills to his game now that hoop is his only job.

#17 Houston Rockets

E.J. Liddell || Forward || Ohio State || 6’7” 243 lbs || Age 21

E.J. Liddell
Photo via Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Typically teams don’t trade into the draft without knowing who’s even available at that pick unless there’s a plan already in place. Houston acquired Dallas’ No. 26 pick earlier in the week in exchange for Christian Wood. My guess is this pick, along with No. 26 will be on the move in order to move up. But alas, that is for another day, another discussion. 

If Houston does indeed stay at No. 17, the team needs to make a commitment to defense sooner rather than later. E.J. Liddell is what I like to call “Value Keegan Murray.” He’s a low usage player who won’t take any opportunities away from the newly selected Banchero or Jalen Green. On offense, he’ll make defenses pay if given open looks and rarely makes mental errors.

However, it’s on the defensive end where Liddell truly shines. He has a knack for the chase down block and goes all-out, all the time. At this point in the draft, especially factoring in Houston’s young core, the Rockets need to be thinking about filling out the roster with solid, smart role players and that is exactly the type of player Liddell is.

Don’t let the undersized Liddell fool you, he’s a beast both physically (near 7’0” wingspan) and mentally. There are shades of former Houston Rocket Chuck Hayes, also an undersized four who was a bull defensively, and Robert Covington, who plays the passing lanes well and was known to knock down the open three, in Liddell’s game.

#18 Chicago Bulls

Mark Williams || Center || Duke || 7’2 242 lbs || Age 20

Mark Williams
Photo via Duke Athletics

The Bulls are preparing for a fascinating offseason. Is Zach Lavine leaving or staying? Are they trading for Rudy Gobert? One player has slid too far, and that’s Mark Williams. Mark being here at 18 is enormous value for Chicago. Whoever is the starting Center, Nikola Vucevic or Rudy Gobert, they need a quality backup center.

The Bulls currently have Demarr and Lonzo Ball, who can set the table for Mark Williams. He’s limited as an offensive player to shots near the basket, but he can score near the basket, something the other bigs in left in the draft class struggle to do. Excellent hands as a pick and roll finisher. The Bull’s guards will create Top shot worthy lobs to Mark on the roll. Mark Williams will make his money in the pick and roll, offensively with his rim attacks.

Defensively, Mark’s strength will be pick-and-roll defense. He has an enormous wing span that he can use to wall off guards and great feet that can help him recover if he gets beaten with his high hips; his footwork makes him shine.

He’s a twenty-year-old center, so he has some young guy tendencies, where he jumps at literally everything and doesn’t use his arms enough. But he’s tall, with an enormous wingspan and excellent footwork.

#19 Minnesota Timberwolves

Jalen Williams || Guard-Forward || Santa Clara || 6’6” 209 lbs || Age 21

Jalen Williams
Photo via ESPN

If you believe the rumors, Minnesota is shopping De’Angelo Russell and is in the market for a young point guard. At No. 19, I just don’t like the value for this year’s crop of floor generals. The Wolves are being built around Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards and those two attract a lot of attention from the defense. With Minnesota’s strong foundation, it’s important they look for safe, solid players to surround their young core with.

Insert this year’s draft riser, Jalen Williams from Santa Clara. Williams is a combo wing, capable of playing both the two and three. He’s lights out from downtown, shooting nearly 40% this past year for the Broncos. He was “The Man” for Santa Clara, so it will be interesting to see how he performs off-ball but the opportunities will be endless.

Williams is much more than a catch-and-shoot threat on offense, however. His passing arsenal is phenomenal and he loves to throw different types of passes – bounce, pocket, hook, lob, one-hand – depending on the situation. Being able to grow into a secondary play-maker role will allow the offensive burden to lessen just a smidge for Towns and Edwards. Williams does struggle to get separation in one-on-one settings, so I wouldn’t expect him to add that aspect to his game. Finishing is also an area of improvement, but given his size, I think he’ll be able to use that to his advantage as he gains more experience.

On defense, Williams will be able to use his impressive wingspan (7’2.25”) to disrupt. And with his overall feel for the game so high already, I would project him to be a solid off-ball defender for years to come.

#20 San Antonio Spurs

Jaylin Williams || Forward-Center || Arkansas || 6’10” 237 lbs || Age 19

Jaylin Williams
Photo via USA Today

I’m looking at my big board. I’m looking at this Spurs roster, and they bolstered their wing rotation with Dyson. Dejounte is an All-Star, so guard isn’t that big of a need. The Spurs’ biggest weakness is at the backup big, I know Zach is on the roster, and he’s a Blazer Legend, but availability will always be a question mark for him. My big board says this should happen. The Spurs aren’t concerned with what consensus boards say. I’m taking Jaylin Williams out of Arkansas.

In the Arkansas offense, Jaylin was the screen setter for most of their offensive plays. When he sets a screen, the defensive player will feel that screen, and it will call for a full switch, putting the defense at a massive disadvantage because it creates two mismatches. Most of the time, primary screeners can only pop or roll after setting the screen. The ones who show the most value are those who can pop, drive or pass and Jaylin is one of those.

Jaylin isn’t the most athletic big, so you’d think him coming off the roll towards the basket isn’t that big of a deal. He keeps the ball high, so there’s little chance of it getting stripped, and he has excellent footwork to get into his drop step without any wasted motion. And for those super athletes that can beat him to the spot, he’s developing a reliable floater that can be a counter.

Jaylin could be the best passing big man in this draft class. He uses his cunning and basketball IQ to create passing angles. I could see him standing top of the key, making entry passes to a cutting Dejounte and setting up Jakob for easy dunks down low.

Jaylin defensively provides the most value by positioning himself in the proper place to take charges. He doesn’t have the vertical pop players as Mark Williams has, so he has to use his excellent footwork to put him in good spots to make defensive plays.

#21 Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jović || Forward || Mega Basket (Serbia) || 6’11” 223 lbs || Age 19

Nikola Jović
Photo via EuroHoops.net

Denver recently acquired the No. 30 pick in the draft from Oklahoma City, giving them two first round picks. I would be surprised if the player selected at No. 21 actually suits up in the Mile High City as the Nuggets are looking to capitalize on the prime years of their back-to-back reigning MVP, Nikola Jokić.

If the Nuggets do keep the pick, I can’t think of many better spots for the young Serbian to land than Denver. Not only would Jović have his fellow countryman to help him learn the ropes off the court but on the court, the pairing would be beautiful. Even at 19, Jović has an NBA jump shot and would be an incredible floor spacer playing alongside the Joker, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and the like.

Outside of catch-and-shoot opportunities, Jović has potential to grow into a secondary play-maker (think Danilo Gallinari) as he’s already fairly comfortable operating out of pick-and-roll scenarios. His bag will expand as his game gains experience but Jović already has a go-to move where he’ll dribble to a spot on the court, stop on a dime, and utilize a one-legged fadeaway made famous by Dirk Nowitzki. 

Defensively, Jović still has a long way to go. He’s raw and will need to learn the ins and outs of NBA defensive schemes. There will be growing pains on that end of the court. Also, he will never be a lockdown defender on-ball as the lateral quickness just isn’t there.

#22 Memphis Grizzlies

Jaden Hardy || Guard || G League Ignite || 6’4 190 || Age 19

Jaden Hardy
Photo via ESPN

Memphis Grizzlies are a team that isn’t afraid of taking chances at that home run player at this point in the draft; Jaden Hardy is the best opportunity.

The priors on Jaden Hardy were that he was a deadeye shooter. This year with the G League Ignite, he had some problems with his three-point shot shooting 27 percent from downtown. Context matters when talking about his shooting, G League Ignite’s spacing was atrocious so that teams could cheat off Dyson, Scoot, MarJon, and the rest of the team. Every shot he took was more difficult because no one else was a legit threat. The footwork in his shot looks great, and the form is excellent. The shot didn’t fall. Once he’s introduced to NBA spacing, I think we see a nice boost in his shooting percentages.

Jaden had on-ball responsibility with Ignite, early-season Dyson, and he would do your turn my turn ball-handling responsibility. When Jaden ran the offense, he had shown that he had a big bag of dribbling moves that allowed him to get two feet in the paint and sent g league defenses scrambling, and he could either attempt to score in the paint or pass it out to one of his teammates for an open jumper. I don’t think he’ll ever be a primary playmaker for a team, and with Ja Morant, he won’t need to be, but I could see him being a secondary playmaker.

Teams will look at him as just a shooting threat, but if whatever NBA team that drafts him gives him on-ball reps, they could get a player with secondary playmaking and excellent shooting.

#23 Philadelphia 76ers

Kendall Brown || Forward || Baylor || 6’7.5” 201 lbs || Age 19

Kendall Brown
Photo via Baylor Athletics

One of the most difficult spots in the draft to project. Reports leading up to the draft suggest Philadelphia has this pick in play, looking for a veteran piece to better fit Joel Embiid’s timeline. For this exercise, I’ll assume another team jumps into spot No. 23 and takes a flier on one of the draft’s highest flyers, Baylor’s Kendall Brown.

In early December, Brown was once thought of as a Top 10 pick in the draft. The No. 12 overall high school prospect according to Rivals in the Class of 2021, Brown had lofty expectations as he made his way to Waco, Texas. He displayed flashes of brilliance in the open court, finishing everything around the rim with highlight reel dunks. 

As the season went on, it became evident Brown was a one-way player. His offense was non-existent outside of finishing around the rim. The numbers say Brown shot 34% from downtown, however that was on extremely small volume – 1.2 attempts per game. He must work on converting open looks from the outside if he’s to find a rotational spot in the league.

If Brown is drafted by the right team, in the right system, he could flourish offensively. He’s a lob threat at any point in time and, if paired with multiple play-makers (think Gary Payton II on the Warriors playing with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green), the looks will be bountiful. 

The appeal of what Brown can become is on the defensive end. His length (6’11” wingspan) and lateral quickness give Brown unlimited lockdown potential. Despite having all the physical tools needed to become a top tier defender, Brown is still raw and will need time to develop. So any team selecting Brown must be patient. In the immediate, Brown must shore up his lapses off-ball. At times this year his man would lose Brown with simple backdoor cuts, so he must be locked in from the jump.

#24 Milwaukee Bucks

Ryan Rollins || Guard || Toledo || 6’3” 180lbs || Age 19

Ryan Rollins
Photo via ESPN

The Milwaukee Bucks stars surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton are getting older and less available. Because of trading for Jrue, the Bucks might not have their pick till 2027. It’s putting extra pressure on the Bucks for nailing this pick. The bucks are in desperate need of players that can create shots for themselves and others.

Ryan Rollins is a 6’4 guard with an incredibly deep bag. He rocks defenders to sleep, then explodes to the midrange and gets his shot. The dribbling craft at this age is reminiscent of Blazers great CJ McCollum. This version of Ryan Rollins does his best work in the mid-range.

Ryan Rollins is a 32% three-point shooter, but context matters here. There aren’t other NBA-quality players on Toledo’s team, so teams focus their entire defense on stopping Ryan, meaning the quality of shots he shoots is much lower than other people in this draft class. If Ryan shot high percentages in the type of off-the-dribble threes he took, Ryan wouldn’t be here for the Bucks. He would be invited to the NBA draft because he is a no-doubter top ten guy.

Ryan, as an attacker on the dribble drive, is crafty. He isn’t the most athletic guy, so he has to create driving angles with his dribble moves and get skinny in the lane. Just because Ryan would rather avoid contact than create, it doesn’t mean he avoids it; he gets to the free-throw line about four times a game.

I think score-first bucket getters get a wrong narrative that they are selfish or bad passers, but his passing is excellent with Ryan. He isn’t a chess player with his passing like Chris Paul, but in read and react scenarios Ryan will deliver the ball to his teammates in their shooting pocket before the close-out.

Defensively he has violent hands and isn’t a bad defender, but he’s got to go to the lab and rep some stuff out just like 90% of the players in this draft class.

#25 Portland Trail Blazers (via San Antonio Spurs)

Dalen Terry || Guard-Forward || Arizona || 6’7” 195 lbs || Age 19

Dalen Terry
Photo via Sports360AZ

Is there a world in which the Trail Blazers add three first round picks? Yes, although I must admit it is unlikely. While the team will likely do whatever it takes to win now around Damian Lillard, rebuilding through the draft has always been the preferred avenue of roster construction for the boys of Holy Backboard.

If Joe Cronin is able to land Ousmane Dieng, Jeremy Sochan, and Dalen Terry, it would be a reason to celebrate. Positional size, defense, and athleticism are three areas the Trail Blazers are severely lacking currently and these three picks check off each one of those boxes.

Offensively, there is a lot of untapped potential in Dalen Terry. Given space, Terry is a knock-down shooter as he shot 36% from downtown in Tucson last season. In transition is where Terry truly shines. He reminds me of a modern-day Jerome Kersey in the sense that he runs hard at every opportunity, and if passes the ball in the open court, he’s finishing with as much ferocity as possible. Where he has the biggest opportunity to unlock his potential is as a secondary playmaker. At Arizona, Terry and Bennedict Mathurin were the de facto point guards in Tommy Lloyd’s system. Terry averaged an impressive 5.1 assists/per 36 minutes, so the playmaking claim is with merit.

On the other end of the floor, Terry is an absolute menace. Teams must always be on the lookout when Terry is roaming the floor, looking for any attempt to jump the passing lanes and kickstart a break. Terry combines fantastic lateral quickness with a willingness to fight over screens, which makes him a potential All-Defense candidate down the line. At the next level he should be able to guard one-through-three quite easily.

Dalen Terry is my absolute favorite prospect in this draft. Whichever team is smart enough to scoop him up will reap the rewards for years to come.

#26 Houston Rockets (via Dallas Mavericks)

Patrick Baldwin Jr. || Forward || Milwaukee || 6’10” 230 lbs || Age 19

Patrick Baldwin Jr.
Photo via James Gilbert/Getty Images

Houston has done an excellent job so far on taking talented wing players with Paolo and EJ but making a winner out of this team will take a long time. The players in Houston’s future are Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, and those two draft picks, so I have a long runway of selecting who I want to fit with that team.

The Pat Baldwin experiment playing for his father in Milwaukee failed. Pat was supposed to be an alpha creator who got exposed, but he won’t have to be playing around with Paolo and Jalen Green. He will be shooting wide-open shots, being a high-level passer in a connector role off Jalen and Paolo’s gravity.

Because he won’t be guarded like prime Kobe with at least Paolo or Jalen on the court, he can show the craft finishes he wasn’t able to in college. He had some bright moments finishing with floaters and runners while cutting off the ball.

His father was a coach, so Pat positions himself correctly offensively and defensively and gets blocks and stocks, but I’m unsure how well a one-on-one defender he will be. The Rockets are awful, so Pat Baldwin not being a great defender on day one isn’t a big deal because they have to win some games first. 

#27 Miami Heat

Peyton Watson || Forward || UCLA || 6’8” 203 lbs || Age 19

Peyton Watson
Photo via UCLA Athletics

At this point in the first round, it’s nearly impossible to predict what teams will do. This is Miami’s only pick in the 2022 Draft and they swing for the fences in a low risk, high reward fashion. Peyton Watson was a 5* recruit and the No. 13 player rated overall nationally by Rivals. The Long Beach, California product chose to stay close by and play for the hometown Bruins of UCLA. Unfortunately for Watson, the Bruins returned nearly every major piece of their Final Four puzzle from the year before and Head Coach Mick Cronin stubbornly refused to adjust his rotation, leaving the prized Freshman buried towards the end of the bench. Watson likely would have benefitted playing for a different program where his talents could be put on display.

There’s not a lot of tape on Watson. And when he did play, it was sporadic in nature, only receiving spot minutes here and there. He’s going to need to get stronger, but at 6’8” he moves well laterally and has a pretty jumper. Those attributes, along with his high school tape, should be enough for any team in the late 20’s to take a chance on Watson.

Miami would be an ideal fit for Watson. Heat Culture is real and if given the opportunity to learn from the likes of Erik Spoelstra, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and PJ Tucker, Watson will only benefit. Miami has been known to give minutes to young players, albeit as long as they’re earned in practice, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Watson play some meaningful time in South Florida. Victor Oladipo hasn’t looked the same since his injury and Duncan Robinson’s lack of defense made him a liability in the postseason. If Watson is ready, minutes could be available.

#28 Golden State Warriors

Kennedy Chandler || Guard || Tennessee || 6’0” 175lbs || Age 19

Kennedy Chandler
Photo via The Athletic

The Golden State Warriors just won the Championship, and some players will get paid; some will leave, but Golden State will get a new batch of players willing to get paid less for a legit chance at a ring. So the free agency can sway what I’m about to say, but in times where they didn’t have Steph or Jordan Poole on the court, their offense was rough. Not having a player that can create for themselves and others in those minutes makes a stagnant offense.

Kennedy Chandler’s game is about pace, and he’s one of those lightning bug fast point guards. He’s got blazing speed, but he also knows when to use it. He lures you to sleep and then gets into the paint with his change of speed.

Kennedy being six feet tall, you would assume when he gets to the basket, his size would hamper his scoring abilities, but he has excellent timing, body control, and embraces contact, so he scored off drives at a very high rate.

The most prominent thing Warriors have embraced in the last decade is shooting. Kennedy isn’t Steph when it comes to shooting the ball, no one is, but he is a threat from outside the arch, so defenders have to respect his shooting abilities. He has the skills to confuse defenders and he never stops moving around the court so they don’t have a chance to take a break.

Will Kennedy’s height affect him from being a great defender at the next level won’t be known till we see it, but I think Kennedy’s craft as a ball-handler will keep him in the league for a long time.

#29 Memphis Grizzlies

TyTy Washington || Guard || Kentucky || 6’4” 196 lbs || Age 20

TyTy Washington
Photo via Maria Lysaker/USA Today Sports

The one downside to having a team full of young players who outperform their experience is they are all headed for a big payday and it’s all going to happen over the span of one-two offseasons. Someone inevitably is going to sign elsewhere if the tax bill starts getting too costly. After extending Jaren Jackson Jr. last offseason and Ja Morant’s raise looming on the horizon, Memphis has two key role players headed for unrestricted free agency: Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones.

Memphis took combo guard Jaden Hardy earlier in the draft and looks to add another ball-handler at No. 29 in Kentucky’s TyTy Washington. Washington is more of a traditional point guard who looks to pass-first and set up his teammates for open looks. He’ll be 21 in November, so he’s much older than most Freshman and he’s not a threat from the perimeter, preferring to operate more so in the mid-range, which are reasons why he’s available this late in the first round.

Washington is not overly quick or athletic, but it’s hard to deny the impact he has when he’s on the court. Kentucky struggled this season when Washington missed time due to multiple injuries.

#30 Denver Nuggets (via Oklahoma City Thunder)

Keon Ellis || Guard || Alabama  ||  6’4 170lbs || Age 22

Keon Ellis
Photo via Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets need players to get healthy, and the players they add to the team need to accept their roles and thrive in the roles given to them. They need to build up their rotation ASAP if they are trying to win with Nikola Jokic. When Jokic was in, they were a playoff-quality team, and when he was off the court, they were one of the worst teams ever.

At Alabama, they had usage monsters  JD Davidson, Jaden Shackelford, and Jahvon Quinerly, so Keon had to be efficient with the time he had with the ball, and his statistics prove that he most certainly was.

Keon on spot-ups is a 90th percentile player, 85th in three-point shots, and attempts a substantial amount.

Defensively Keon took over for Herbert Jones as Alabama’s go-to guy for shutting your star player down. He played aggressive defense without fouling and was a turnover causing machine. He was named to the SEC All-Defensive First Team.

Keon has excellent footwork, so it’s hard for offensive players to go past him and the recovering ability to get back into the play on players that do. He was the communicator for Alabama’s defense this year. I think in the next level, Keon can defend in multiple schemes and be effective.

Keon is a legit D and 3 candidate and if he’s available where the Blazers pick at 36, we should get that high level defender and shooter.

Cover photo via Artuo Holmes/Getty Images

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