Chad Ford's Final Big Board
Ten players I'm all-in on for the 2022 and 2023 NBA Draft
This is my final column on the NBA Draft.
It’s hard to type those words.
I have been covering the NBA Draft for 26 years and have loved the draft for as long as I can remember. I’ve written over 100 Big Boards, a plethora of Mock Drafts and so many stock watches I can’t keep count.
Even before I got my start writing about the draft, I would carefully collect all the information I could on NBA Draft prospects as a young person. The first one I can remember is the 1978 draft, where Mychal Thompson went No. 1, Phil Ford (he had my last name!) went No. 2 and Larry Bird sixth.
Saying goodbye won’t be easy, but I think it’s the right thing to do and I strongly believe that Rafael Barlowe is the right guy to take over for me.
I took a stroll down memory lane in my final podcast with Rafael, which also dropped today, but wanted to use this last column to talk about the 10 prospects I’m most excited about — including both 2022 prospects and those who will be eligible in 2023.
That’s because readers come here primarily to look into the future. That’s the beauty of the draft. It gives hope, no matter how poorly a team is playing. With the right decision, a franchise can turn from lottery bound to champion.
The players below are listed in the order that I personally rank them — not necessarily the order in which I think they would or should go in the 2022 or 2023 NBA Draft.
Scoot Henderson, G, G League Ignite
When Henderson, who was just 17 at the time, exploded for 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals while shooting 10-for-15 from the field for the Ignite in just his second game, it felt like we were watching something special. He achieved this feat while, at times, being guarded by Jonathan Kuminga, a bigger, equally athletic wing who has earned a place in the Golden State Warriors’ rotation as a rookie.
The explosive 6’4” point guard doesn’t turn 19 until February 3, 2023, making him ineligible for the 2022 NBA Draft. But if he were eligible?
He’d be my choice for the No. 1 pick in the draft this year. I don’t know that we can fully appreciate how impressive it is for him to do what he’s doing at his age against competition significantly older and more experienced than he is.
Luka Dončić did stuff like that in Europe. Like Luka, Scoot is going to be special.
Henderson ended the season averaging 19.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.3 steals and 3.2 turnovers per 36 minutes while shooting 45% from the field and 23% from 3.
He did most of this before his 18th birthday, and his per-36 numbers were better overall than those of Jalen Green, Kuminga, Jaden Hardy or Dyson Daniels, to compare him to other recent Ignite stars.
Scoot has the speed, athleticism, strength, competitiveness and feel for the game that spell stardom. Improving his jumper would help, but regardless he’s going to be a superstar in the NBA.
Jabari Smith, F, Auburn
I know there’s a lot of debate about the No. 1 pick right now. I really like Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero, and they started the season as my top two. But now I’m Team Jabari all the way. I don’t care which team wins the draft lottery — I think Jabari should be the pick.
I say this not to slight Holmgren or Banchero, but because of how special I think Smith will be in the NBA. I think he has the best shooting stroke in the draft, he has elite size and mobility and I love his motor and drive to win. He’s not afraid to have the ball in his hands and to assert himself.
Yes, he had a subpar final game for Auburn. Yes, he needs to tighten up his handle and get stronger to improve his finishing ability. But he’s 18 and I think that will come. Given his size, shooting ability and motor, I think he’s going to be a special player in the league.
Victor Wembanyama, C, ASVEL Basket (France)
I love the idea of Wembanyama. His size, pterodactyl-like arms, and mobility are all special. After a slow start to the season, Wembanyama, who just turned 18 in January, is averaging 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per 36 minutes with 49% shooting from the field and 29.4% from 3 in his last five games.
He’s a taller, longer and more agile version of Chet Holmgren. He is also rail-thin like Chet, and does have scouts stumped about what position he’ll ultimately play in the NBA. And I’m not sure he has quite the toughness that we’ve seen Chet show on a regular basis. But Wembanyama is two years younger and putting up impressive numbers in a pro league in France. There’s time for development.
In the NBA, it’s unclear what he’ll be, exactly, on the offensive end. But defensively, he has the talent to become an All-NBA defender.
Most teams have Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick in 2023 because of his size and ceiling. But I believe that Henderson, with another season in the G League in which he’ll take over, will ultimately catapult to the top of most boards.
Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
If Jabari Smith goes No. 1, there is a strong argument for Ivey to be No. 2. (He was No. 3 on my last Big Board.) He’s not as polished offensively as Banchero, nor is he close to Holmgren as a defensive game changer. But the way Ivey uses his speed and athleticism on the floor screams NBA All-Star to me. And I really like his competitive fire.
With increased spacing in the NBA, and ideally playing with another playmaker, Ivey will be free to do what he does best — carve up defenses off the bounce and hit spot-up 3s. He’s not a point guard yet, and putting him in that role would probably slow his progress. But if he can play with someone like Cade Cunningham in Detroit, I think he’ll thrive.
Dariq Whitehead, W, Duke
I’m not in love with the college freshman class of 2022-23 overall. But in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Whitehead won MVP honors with an impressive 13-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist game.
As a former teammate of Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and Moses Moody at Montverde Academy, Whitehead has most of the tools NBA teams are thirsting for in a wing. He’s an explosive athlete with great length who plays hard on both ends and has enough court vision to have the ball in his hands.
He was a streaky shooter in high school, and shooting will likely determine if he’s a top-5 pick. But NBA teams are always looking for wings, and in his draft class Whitehead looks like the best long-term bet at his position.
Other college recruits I’ll be watching: Nick Smith, a scoring 2-guard committed to Arkansas, has intriguing upside; and UCLA’s Amari Bailey has all the physical tools to succeed in the NBA if he works on his jumper.
Jeremy Sochan, F, Baylor
I love dudes who can play multiple positions on offense and defense, especially when they play with the level of energy and downright peskiness with which Sochan plays the game. He’s a handful who impacts the game every second he’s out there.
I’ve been a Kendall Brown guy all year and I still believe in him as a lottery pick, but there’s no doubt when you watched Baylor that Sochan was the guy that popped. You could forget that Brown was on the floor, but not Sochan. Guys like that find a way in the NBA.
I wouldn’t be afraid to take him fifth, and I’ll be surprised if he falls out of the top 10.
Dyson Daniels, F, G League Ignite
It took me a while to warm up to Daniels, but he was the Ignite’s only draft-eligible player who seemed to belong out there during the Rising Stars game. While that was a limited sample, it turned the tide for me and some others who have followed his progress.
In his last nine games for the Ignite, he averaged 13.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.2 steals, and he shot 48% from the field and 45% from 3. I love jumbo point guards, and I’ve heard scouts refer to him as a bigger version of Tyrese Haliburton. If that’s what he is, he sounds like a top-8 pick to me.
I’ve questioned Daniels’ shot, but his shooting toward the end of the season gives me hope. If he becomes a knockdown shooter, he’s going to have a very good NBA career.
Blake Wesley, G, Notre Dame
Wesley’s February and March were rough, and I understand why some scouts got off the bandwagon. Once teams got a good look at what Wesley was doing on offense, they game-planned for him and Wesley struggled to adjust.
But the fact that he was thrust into the role of carrying his Notre Dame team was a bit absurd. He wasn’t that sort of prospect and that won’t be his role going forward.
His fast-twitch athleticism, speed in the open court and sheer aggression point to him being a really good NBA player once he has better teammates and more spacing, and that’s what I’m hearing from some NBA folks I trust, too.
Teams will be reluctant to use a top-10 or even a lottery pick on such an unproven prospect. But I won’t understand him falling out of the top 20 — his raw talent is just too tantalizing.
Jabari Walker, F, Colorado
Walker didn’t make Rafael Barlowe’s Top 60, and I’ve talked to teams that have him planted in the second round. But I see him as a late-lottery or mid-first-round pick.
Walker is big and athletic, and he can stretch the floor. He’s still 19, and he averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds and shot 35% from 3 for the season. In the Pac-12 Tournament, he shot 63% from 3.
John Butler, F, Florida State
It’s unclear whether Butler will enter the draft. I hope he doesn’t. He’s just scratching the surface as a prospect and another year with Leonard Hamilton could make him a top-5 pick in the 2023 draft.
For a 7-footer, he has unique mobility and the potential to be an elite shooter from the perimeter. If he can put on 20 pounds, he could be a real force as a sophomore and make a Keegan Murray/Bennedict Mathurin-type leap next year.
If he does declare for the 2022 draft, I think he might find a spot late in the first round from a team with the time and patience to develop him. For instance, Oklahoma City holds the 30th pick.
Rafael, you’ve got the keys to the Big Board from here … you got this.