There’s a jarring lack of consensus throughout the 2022 NBA Draft class as college basketball hits its stretch run. There are at least three legitimate contenders to go No. 1 overall, a seemingly endless number of prospects who could sneak into the lottery after the top five, and a group of overlooked college veterans looking to crack the first round with a big performance in March.
Players rise up draft boards every year after breakout performances in the NCAA tournament, even as analysts consistently warn against it. Last season, Davion Mitchell saw his draft stock skyrocket after he helped power Baylor to a national championship. De’Andre Hunter solidified his top-five status in 2019 after helping Virginia win it all.
We did a deep dive into the 2022 draft class in the middle of January. Here’s an updated projection of where things stand heading into March Madness, with big picture themes to watch for after the table.
2022 NBA mock draft
|1||Houston Rockets||Paolo Banchero||Duke||Forward||Freshman|
|2||Orlando Magic||Chet Holmgren||Gonzaga||Forward/Big||Freshman|
|3||Detroit Pistons||Jabari Smith Jr.||Auburn||Forward/Big||Freshman|
|4||Oklahoma City Thunder||Jalen Duren||Memphis||Center||Freshman|
|5||Indiana Pacers||Jaden Ivey||Purdue||Guard||Sophomore|
|6||Sacramento Kings||AJ Griffin||Duke||Wing||Freshman|
|7||San Antonio Spurs||Keegan Murray||Iowa||Forward||Sophomore|
|8||Portland Trail Blazers||Johnny Davis||Wisconsin||Guard||Sophomore|
|9||Portland Trail Blazers (from Pelicans)||Tari Eason||LSU||Forward||Sophomore|
|10||New York Knicks||Ben Mathurin||Arizona||Guard||Sophomore|
|11||Memphis Grizzlies (from Lakers)||Jeremy Sochan||Baylor||Forward||Freshman|
|12||Washington Wizards||Kennedy Chandler||Tennessee||Guard||Freshman|
|13||Charlotte Hornets||TyTy Washington||Kentucky||Guard||Freshman|
|14||Atlanta Hawks||Kendall Brown||Baylor||Guard||Freshman|
|15||Oklahoma City Thunder||Patrick Baldwin||Milwaukee||Forward||Freshman|
|16||Houston Rockets||Ochai Agbaji||Kansas||Wing||Senior|
|17||San Antonio Spurs||Jaden Hardy||G League||Guard||Freshman|
|18||Minnesota Timberwolves||Blake Wesley||Notre Dame||Guard||Freshman|
|19||Indiana Pacers||MarJon Beaucamp||G League||Wing||Freshman|
|20||San Antonio Spurs||Nikola Jovic||Serbia||Forward||Born|
|21||Denver Nuggets||Dyson Daniels||G League||Wing||Born|
|22||Chicago Bulls||Mark Williams||Duke||Center||Freshman|
|23||Brooklyn Nets||Caleb Houstan||Michigan||Wing||Freshman|
|24||Memphis Grizzlies (from Jazz)||Walker Kessler||Auburn||Center||Sophomore|
|25||Dallas Mavericks||Malaki Branham||Ohio State||Guard||Freshman|
|26||Milwaukee Bucks||EJ Liddell||Ohio State||Forward||Junior|
|27||Miami Heat||Max Christie||Michigan State||Guard||Freshman|
|28||Golden State Warriors||Jean Montero||Overtime Elite||Guard||Born|
|29||Memphis Grizzlies||Harrison Ingram||Stanford||Wing||Freshman|
|30||Oklahoma City Thunder||Bryce McGowens||Nebraska||Wing||Freshman|
Who should go No. 1 in the 2022 NBA Draft? Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero all have the chance
It isn’t totally unprecedented for three players to have a real shot at becoming the top pick in the draft as March Madness approaches — it happened in 2020 with Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and LaMelo Ball — but it is unusual. Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero each have a case to go No. 1 overall this year. Outside observers will see three players who are roughly the same size and play the same position, but the reality is all three have distinct skill sets that can impact the game in completely different ways.
Banchero has been our No. 1 player since the preseason. He’s also probably been the least impressive of the three at the college level. Despite temptation to move him down a spot or two, we’re still rocking with Paolo because it feels like he has a better chance to eventually become a primary option in the NBA than anyone else in this class. Banchero combines an excellent midrange scoring package with impressive passing flashes. He needs to stress making quick decisions with the ball, and prove he’s a better three-point shooter than his percentage (30.6 on 111 attempts) would indicate. While Banchero isn’t a great leaper or super fast moving backwards, he shouldn’t be a majority liability defensively because of his size, strength, and smarts. It feels like his freshman season left scouts and executives wanting a little more, but his NBA upside remains sky-high in the right context.
Paolo Banchero, 6'10, 250 pounds pic.twitter.com/su3PAkI8f8— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 2, 2022
Still living for the Paolo passing flashes pic.twitter.com/1xKc7yfT01— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) February 24, 2022
Holmgren has made a strong push for our top spot — and might end up there eventually. While his thin frame is constantly scrutinized, the tape shows the Gonzaga freshman is one of the more physical players in this class. He’s a relentless finisher at the rim offensively and an intimidating shot blocker. He also brings intriguing perimeter skills: Holmgren is a 41 percent three-point shooter on nearly 97 attempts, he’s capable of handling in the open floor, and he makes the quickest decisions of any potential top pick. Holmgren feels like the sort of player who might end up as a second or third option offensively while still potentially projecting as the most impactful player on a good team.
UCLA attempted to post up Chet alone three different times last night. Here are the results. pic.twitter.com/BanDZ3t9iW— Jake Rosen (@JakeInThePaint) November 24, 2021
Smith already has a case as one of the best 6’10+ shooters alive. His ability to shoot off movement at that size with deep range and a high release makes him almost unguardable outside the arc. Smith is also the strongest perimeter defender of the bunch, showing impressive lateral quickness when matched against smaller players. He still isn’t much a threat to create off the dribble and often settles for extremely tough shots instead of finding an easier look for himself or his teammates. Developing his handle and interior scoring craft — Smith shoots only 44 percent on two-pointers — could elevate him to superstardom. He feels like a player who needs to be paired with an elite creator, with makes his potential fit with Cade Cunningham and the Detroit Pistons in this mock so enticing.
It feels pretty close between all three, in my humble opinion. Who ultimately emerges as the best player will depend on team context, role, and of course individual skill and physical development. Fast forward 10 years from now and the right answer for who should go No. 1 will seem obvious. For now, it feels like there’s no definitively wrong answer.
Johnny Davis vs. Ben Mathurin could be shaped by March Madness
Purdue sophomore Jaden Ivey has established himself as the top guard prospect in the class and a lock to go in the top-five. The next guard off the board will likely be either Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis or Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin. Both of these players are going to have a major opportunity to elevate their draft stock in the NCAA tournament.
Davis is a physical 6’5 guard who did it all to drag Wisconsin to a share of the Big Ten regular season title during a breakout sophomore season. He profiles as a strength-based creator who can bully smaller guards in the post, keep defenders on his hip in the pick-and-roll (where he scores in the 82nd percentile of the country), and easily get into his mid-range pull-up game. He should also be stout defensively at the next level. The question for Davis is how he overcomes his lack of top-end burst against NBA defenders, and if he can level up as a three-point shooter after going 33-for-104 (31.7 percent) from behind the arc entering the tournament. Davis was injured on a scary flagrant foul last week against Nebraska. Here’s hoping he can be at the peak of his powers in March.
Johnny Davis has all the post moves for a guard pic.twitter.com/5IHEaah3oW— Stone Hansen (@report_court) January 4, 2022
Mathurin leads a top-seeded Arizona team that has become a trendy pick to win it all entering the tournament (guilty). Compared to Davis, Mathurin is faster, a better leaper, and a more dynamic shooter. The sophomore jumps out of the gym to get off his threes, which he hits at a 37.6 percent clip (74-197), often off movement. He’s also a dynamic cutter who does a great job finding open creases in the defense, finishing in the 84th percentile on cuts this season, per Synergy Sports. On the flip side, Mathurin lacks Davis’ size (he appears to be a tad shorter than the 6’6 he’s officially listed at), isn’t as good defensively, and struggles at times to create with the ball in his hands. If Mathurin improves as a driver and facilitator he could really level up, but for now he looks like an off-ball shooter who doesn’t impact the game defensively as much as you’d like for a top-10 pick.
Ridiculous shot off movement, coming off a screen from Ben Mathurin. Able to square up in the air and still drill the 3. Super valuable skill pic.twitter.com/P2rOWC9JrE— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) March 13, 2022
How high can Keegan Murray climb?
Simply calling Murray the hottest player in the country entering the NCAA tournament might be underselling him. The Iowa sophomore has scored 20 points or more in 14 of his last 16 games entering the big dance, carrying the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten tournament title in the process. Murray is remarkably efficient by any metric: he shoots 62 percent on twos, 40.5 percent on threes on a high volume of attempts (163), finishes in the 98th percentile as a halfcourt scorer and in the 96th percentile as a transition scorer. At 6’8, 225 pounds, he can score from pretty much anywhere on the floor while doing a great job avoiding turnovers (his 6.9 percent turnover rate ranks No. 4 in the country, per KenPom). Murray is also a sharp rotational defender despite the lack of high-end athleticism. His dominance this season shouldn’t be discounted just because he’s a little older than most sophomores. Murray has felt like one of the ‘safest’ picks in the top-10, but at this point it’s worth asking if he might have serious NBA upside, too.
Keegan Murray has had a few very impressive dunks this year, but this has to be one of the best, if not the best. Murray grabs the rebound, pushes it up himself, and dunks in traffic on the other end pic.twitter.com/5fb5EyWXxO— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) March 12, 2022
Who will be March’s biggest breakout star?
You know about the big names. Three names we’ll be closely monitoring outside of the top-10 in our latest mock: Tennessee freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler, Kentucky freshman guard TyTy Washington, and Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji. Each of them have the potential to rise if they can lead their teams on a deep run in the tournament.
With the uncertainty of draft class even extending to the top overall pick, there will be plenty of intrigue for NBA teams in March Madness. Don’t be surprised if this board gets a big shakeup after the national title game.