NBA Mock Draft: My first 14 picks
Let's get it started at NBA Big Board with my first article; Part 2 drops soon
Last week I joined up with Chad Ford and NBA Big Board to provide a new perspective on the NBA draft and all the draft prospects. I’ve been based in Europe and I’ll have first-hand scouting reports on a number of players, plus video scouting content, mock drafts and featured content on the podcast.
Click here for more on that news, my background and what I’ll provide at NBA Big Board.
This week, my first two pieces at NBA Big Board are my two-part NBA Mock Draft.
Check out Part 1 below. Click here for Part 2, pick 16-30.
1. Detroit Pistons
6’10” | 250 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Age on draft night: 19.6
The 2022 NBA Draft has three players that I currently consider to be Tier 1 prospects (potential superstars): Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith.
Banchero is the most NBA-ready of the Tier 1 prospects. At 6’10” and 250 pounds, he already has the body to handle the upgrade in physicality and could even see minutes as a small-ball center. I love the idea of pairing Banchero and Cade Cunningham, as both can score, create mismatches with their size and strength and make teams pay for sending double-teams.
I am really intrigued with Banchero’s potential as an oversized pick-and-roll ball-handler. He settles for too many jumpers when he’s used as the pick-and-roll ball-handler in Duke’s offense, but I believe that with NBA spacing he could be a real matchup problem as a punishing downhill driver.
The Pistons have major holes in their frontcourt, meaning that Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith would be an immediate upgrade. That said, Banchero would give the Pistons a much-needed shot-maker who can score around the rim, knock down jumpers, put the ball on the floor and create easy looks for teammates.
Detroit ranks near the bottom in the league in field goal percentage around the rim, rebounding and assists, all areas where Banchero could provide an instant impact.
I understand some may not like the fit since neither Cade nor Paolo is considered an elite athlete by NBA standards, but I believe their skill level makes up for their lack of high-level explosiveness. To put my cards on the table, I’m someone who will take skill and fluidity over upside and raw athleticism any day of the week.
2. Orlando Magic
7’0” | 195 | Wingspan: 7’6”
Age on draft night: 20.1
Orlando has a young, talented roster with a lot of players with overlapping skill sets, so the front office and coaching staff have their hands full trying to keep everyone happy and sorting out who’s playing and who’s staying in the Magic Kingdom.
The Magic have a history of drafting slim, defensive-minded players with massive wingspans in the lottery — witness Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba — so I imagine they’d love to add Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren to the mix, especially with Isaac’s health issues unresolved. (The Magic remain hopeful Isaac can return, but he hasn’t been a regular part of Orlando’s rotation in more than two years.)
Holmgren is arguably the most unique prospect to enter the NBA in years with his ability to protect the rim at a high level and space the floor with efficiency. Given he combines those skills with agility, ball-handling and passing, he’s earned the right to be labeled a unicorn.
If Orlando is choosing between Holmgren and Jabari Smith, either prospect would be somewhat redundant with young players already on Orlando’s roster, including Isaac, Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner, all of whom were lottery picks within the last five years.
If Holmgren is the choice, Bamba would probably be the odd man out, with Holmgren replacing him as Orlando’s top rim protector.
Holmgren would be a difference-maker on offense, too, as the Magic rank near the bottom of the league in efficiency in almost every offensive category, including scoring around the basket and 3-point shooting. Through 23 games, Holmgren is shooting a ridiculous 89% around the rim and 46% from deep, so I’d imagine there is room in Disney World for a unicorn.
3. Houston Rockets
6’10” | 210 | Wingspan: 7’1”
Age on draft night: 19.1
Rockets fans have already started the “Sorry for Jabari” campaign. In this case, they get their wish, landing the sharpshooting 6’10” freshman from Auburn.
This should be an easy choice for Houston’s front office, as they’d just have to choose between who remains between the three Tier 1 prospects in this draft class.
Of course, Smith might be the top overall pick rather than sliding to No. 3, as he’s a full year younger than Holmgren and is thought to have more defensive potential and upside than Banchero.
Smith got off to a hot start this season, hitting over 40% from 3 in non-conference play, but has cooled to around 33% from deep in SEC games. Regardless, he projects to be the kind of floor-spacing shooter and versatile, switchy defender that NBA teams covet.
There were rumors the Rockets were looking to move Christian Wood at the trade deadline, and many expect him to have a new home this summer. Trading Wood would open up a starting spot for Smith and give Houston a promising front line of Smith and Alperen Şengün.
To help Smith and the rest of the team maximize their offensive strengths, I’d love to see Houston add a more natural point guard to the starting unit and move Kevin Porter Jr. from primary to secondary ball handler.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
6’11” | 250 | Wingspan: 7’5.25”
Age on draft night: 18.6
And this is where the draft begins, as we say.
While some other mock drafts project Purdue’s Jaden Ivey as the fourth man in a four-man draft, I think Jalen Duren would make the most sense here for Sam Presti and the Thunder.
Unless the Thunder are looking to make a move, they’re set with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey as their ball-handlers, and quietly Luguentz Dort is averaging 17 points per game. I understand the numbers may be inflated, but Dort has arguably the most team-friendly contract in the NBA, so I imagine him remaining in their immediate plans.
Duren will still be 18 years old on opening night in 2022-23 and could be a major piece of OKC’s rebuilding puzzle that looks to have its foundational piece in Gilgeous-Alexander.
Duren would bring an interior presence with his size, athleticism, rim protection and rebounding, and he’d fill a major positional need at center.
Oklahoma City has a passing wizard in Josh Giddey, who would create the easy scoring opportunities Duren has lacked in his freshman season at Memphis.
5. Sacramento Kings
6’7” | 195 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Age on draft night: 18.8
I am sure this pick would be controversial for the Kings, but does it really make sense for Sacramento to draft Ivey, another guard whose best position may be as the primary ball-handler? They already have De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell from recent lotteries.
That is why I have Griffin jumping Ivey and heading across the country to Sacramento. His history of injuries is a concern, but for the past few weeks Griffin has lived up to the hype surrounding him coming into the season as a projected top-5 pick — after he was brought along slowly as he recovered from a sprained right knee injury he suffered in October.
I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Griffin yet. Perhaps by draft time, putting him above Ivey won’t be considered a hot take.
Sacramento traded the popular Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana for Domantas Sabonis, which solidified Fox as the Kings’ franchise point guard. There were rumblings that Haliburton was the more valuable of the Kings’ lead guards, and Fox’s play seemed to have been impacted by sharing ball-handling duties. That’s less of an issue now, another point in favor of the Griffin pick.
Griffin would complement Sabonis and Fox with his positional size, strength and athleticism. Through 25 games he’s shooting a blistering 49% from long range on a respectable 3.4 attempts per game and 51% overall from the floor.
The Kings lost two of their best 3-point shooters in the deal that sent Haliburton and Buddy Hield to the Hoosier state, so Griffin’s shooting would be a critical part of their offensive attack.
6. Indiana Pacers
6’4” | 200 | Wingspan: 6’9”
Age on draft night: 20.4
It is very doubtful Ivey actually falls this far in the draft (Chad Ford has predicted he could be selected as high as No. 1 or 2), though it depends in part on which teams have the top picks.
If he does slip to the Pacers, the organization would be thrilled to have an Indiana kid currently electrifying the fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse with his energy and explosiveness.
Ivey is a phenomenal athlete who plays with the competitive fire that is contagious in the locker room and impacts winning. He was highly regarded as the top returning NBA prospect in college basketball, and that was before he addressed his shooting, which was the most glaring weakness in his game.
Ivey’s 3-point shooting percentage has increased from 25.8% as a freshman to 40.5% through 24 games as a sophomore. Overall his field goal percentage has jumped from 39.9% to 48.5%, a testament to the work he’s put in to improve his game.
The Pacers had an impressive trade deadline, trading away their top two scorers and bringing excitement to their rebuilding process when they acquired Haliburton. Malcolm Brogdon just turned 29, meaning he doesn’t really fit the Pacers’ timeline, so I expect him to be moved this offseason, which would open up an opportunity for a Haliburton and Ivey backcourt.
I think Ivey’s best long-term position is as a primary ball-handler, and Haliburton would be the perfect complementary connector, as he can play both guard spots and impact games as a playmaker without dominating the ball. And Ivey’s improved shooting, especially in catch-and-shoot situations, should make him a better fit next to Haliburton than Fox was.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
6’5” | 195 |
Age on draft night: 20.3
Like the Pacers, the Blazers reshaped their roster at the trade deadline, shipping off three of their top six rotation players. Damian Lillard is saying the right things and Portland cleared up a ton of cap space, so it seems the Blazers are going to try to rebuild through free agency and potentially two lottery picks. They could also look to use their draft picks to acquire a veteran to play with Lillard, so this offseason will be very interesting in Portland.
If the Blazers keep their pick, I believe Davis would provide scoring punch to a team suddenly thin on the wing. Portland could also take a deep look at Iowa’s Keegan Murray, who would fill a hole created by last week’s fire sale.
Davis has connected on a little under 34% of his 3-point attempts and relies on contested midrange pull-ups. While his game seems to be better suited to the 2000s isolation era than the current NBA, he’s an impactful scorer as a cutter and free throw generator. If Portland decides to keep Lillard, I can see Davis thriving in a role off the bench.
If Lillard is moved, then Davis and Anfernee Simons would give the Blazers their backcourt of the future.
8. San Antonio Spurs
6’9” | 223 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Age on draft night: 21.8
Murray’s strong sophomore season could propel him into the ideal situation; he would likely be San Antonio’s opening night starter at power forward for the 2022-23 season.
At the 4, San Antonio has been playing Doug McDermott, who prior to this season had started only 43 games in his seven-year NBA career. It’s safe to say the Spurs will be looking to upgrade their depth in the frontcourt, and Murray could be the answer. Through 22 games this season, Murray is averaging 22.7 points per game along with 8.5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.3 steals.
Murray’s scoring, rebounding and shot blocking would be welcome additions to a Spurs team that likely finds itself in the lottery again after years of being a threat to make deep playoff runs.
The Spurs are one of the best jump-shooting teams in the league but rank 27th in non-post-up scoring around the basket, according to Synergy. This is where Murray could provide the most value, as he ranks in the 91st percentile in scoring around the basket and is shooting 72% at the rim this season.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (via New Orleans Pelicans)
6’7” | 210 | Wingspan: 6’9”
Age on draft night: 20.0
New Orleans is hoping the addition of CJ McCollum and the potential return of Zion Williamson will boost them into the playoffs. However, FiveThirtyEight.com gives them a 17% chance of making the postseason, so we are projecting this pick to go to Portland as part of the McCollum trade.
Mathurin is one of the best plug-and-play options in this draft class and would give the Blazers another young, explosive prospect to add to their roster along with Greg Brown III and Keon Johnson, arguably the best two athletes from the 2021 draft class.
Mathurin fits the description of your prototypical 3-and-D wing, as he has the size, athleticism and shooting stroke to be the perfect complementary piece for any superstar. He’s also a good rebounder and an active cutter who fills the lanes as a transition finisher.
10. Washington Wizards
6’3” | 197 | Wingspan: 6’9”
Age on draft night: 19.6
I’m on the record in my belief that Washington will be the next Kentucky guard who outperforms his draft position, following the footsteps of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyler Herro and Tyrese Maxey.
Washington is averaging 12.8 points per game along with 4.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds, with respectable 47.7/34.6/73.7 shooting splits. He’s shown flashes of his playmaking potential (with 17 points and 17 assists vs. Georgia) and scoring prowess (30 points on 10-13 shooting vs. Tennessee).
But he has not been able to showcase his whole toolbox, because no school gets their highly touted prospects to sacrifice their individual talents for the good of the team more than Kentucky.
There’s uncertainty surrounding Bradley Beal’s future in D.C. as he can choose to sign an extension this summer or leave in free agency.
If Beal stays, I believe Washington, who is comfortable playing on or off the ball, would be the ideal point guard to play next to Beal. He’d also be my choice if Beal leaves and the Wizards decide to rebuild for the future.
11. New York Knicks
Overtime Elite (via Dominican Republic)
6’2” | 180 | Wingspan: 6’4”
Age on draft night: 18.9
The Knicks are a mess after coming into the season with high hopes following their success in 2020-21. Now they appear stuck between rebuilding around their young talent and trying to win now with their veterans.
Point guard has been one of New York’s glaring weaknesses, especially as the team has struggled in the absence of Derrick Rose.
Dominican-born Overtime Elite scoring machine Jean Montero has been one of my favorite prospects over the past two years, but given his unique path and the concerns about the level of competition he faces in OTE, he’ll enter this draft as something of an unknown quantity.
Montero would be popular with New York City’s large Dominican population, but his fit with the Knicks is uncertain.
On the one hand, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has a track record of getting the most out of small guards: D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson and John Lucas III had successful stints on Chicago playoff teams under Thibs. On the other hand, Bronx-bred Kemba Walker has been in and out of the doghouse all season, and the Knicks have young guards Miles McBride, Immanuel Quickley and Rokas Jokubaitis (currently stashed overseas and playing well for Barcelona) as other options.
Montero won’t wow you with his physical tools or measurables, but he’s a dynamic scorer and underrated playmaker with the potential to provide instant offense and take some of the scoring pressure off Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
6’ 5” | 215 |
Age on Draft Night: 19.1
Sharpe is the biggest wild card in this draft class, and it is still up in the air whether he’ll enter the NBA or play for Kentucky next season. Sharpe has not played a minute of college basketball but he enrolled at Kentucky between semesters and reportedly will be eligible to apply for the draft.
Sharpe is a big, athletic guard who can create his own shot off the dribble. He was highly regarded as the top player in his high school class and a projected top-5 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft (before new information emerged about his potential eligibility for 2022).
He’s not expected to play for the Wildcats this season. And his draft stock is sky high for a prospect who hasn’t played in a year, so it makes sense for him to remain a mystery.
The Grizzlies are one of the best teams in the league despite having a young roster, and they have their franchise cornerstones in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. So they have the luxury of swinging for the fences, gambling on upside and potential.
It would be hard for Sharpe to make an immediate impact and crack the Grizzlies rotation, but the same was true of Ziaire Williams, who has started 17 games and gotten regular minutes for Memphis this season.
13. Charlotte Hornets
7’1” | 245| Wingspan: 7’6”
Age on Draft Night: 20.9
I’m going to reach here, based on fit and need.
Kessler left North Carolina to play closer to home and for a better opportunity at Auburn. Based on this mock draft, he’ll return to the Tar Heel State to patch up one of the NBA’s worst defenses.
Kessler is an elite rim protector who blocks shots at an incredible rate for the second-ranked team in the nation. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks per game and has had two games with better than 10 blocked shots.
I’m sure Kessler would draw lazy comparisons to Cody Zeller, the former Hornets center whose career has been stymied by injuries. In any case, Kessler would make an impact on a defense currently ranked 24th in the NBA.
I believe Kessler also has more offensive game than he’s been able to show, and the right development program plus playing with LaMelo Ball would help him maximize his offensive potential.
14. Atlanta Hawks
6’3” | 170
Age on draft night: 19.7
Draft Projection: 10-20
JD Davison is a phenomenal athlete who fills the stat sheet despite coming off the bench for Alabama. He came into college with a reputation as a big-time scorer and has shown glimpses of his full potential.
I’m all about swinging for the fences, and I believe Davison is a lottery talent and could be one of the biggest steals in this draft class.
Atlanta is loaded with talent but currently sits in the lottery after a deep playoff run last season. The Hawks are set at point guard with Trae Young is the franchise cornerstone so Davison’s role would be limited. But he could give the Hawks’ bench a burst of energy, athleticism and scoring punch.
NBA Mock Draft: My first 14 picks