Early impressions on 2022 NBA Draft

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The draft is great. It’s an opportunity for prospects to become pros and make life-changing money for their family. While fans experience a roller coaster ride of rumors, selections and trades. All of my thoughts throughout the 2022 cycle can be found in this newsletter. To give you an idea of my work -- I recently published a column on Baylor freshman guard, Langston Love, where I took an extensive look at his game, projected role and more.

This piece covers potential No. 1 picks, developmental contexts and breakout college returners in three organized sections. The goal is to use this as a reference point to look back on later in the cycle. I’d like to see where my expectations/questions aligned in hindsight.

An open race for No. 1

Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick in the 2021 draft, was atop most boards at the start and end of the college basketball season. A similar thing happened with Andrew Wiggins in 2014 and Ben Simmons in 2016. This year, the No. 1 spot is less clear. A betting man would likely focus on these four candidates: Paolo Banchero (C, Duke), Chet Holmgren (C, Gonzaga), Jaden Hardy (SG, G-League), and AJ Griffin (SF, Duke).

Let’s start with my early pick for the top spot, Banchero. The 6-10 freshman has an elite physical profile at 250 pounds. He’s not overly explosive, but moves well for a player at his size. Banchero’s ability to create space on pull-ups leads me to believe he’ll continue to improve his perimeter skillset. His feel for the game, passing chops, and creation tools contribute to what makes him an elite prospect.

Holmgren is everything people looked for in Kristaps Porzingis. He’s a mobile 7-footer with impressive touch on threes, rim protection, and ball skills. Holmgren will likely never fill out completely, but his frame is the biggest of his concerns. Packing on too much weight could hinder his movement ability, so it’ll be key for him to reach a middle ground. Holmgren took home the MVP at the 2021 FIBA U19 Championship with averages of 11.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 21.4 minutes.

Hardy follows Jalen Green (2021 second overall pick) and Anthony Edwards (2020 first overall pick) as this year’s big-time scorer. Hardy has ridiculous range but needs to focus on improving his shot selection. Although, he doesn’t compare to those two players as rim threats. He’s not as quick and struggles to finish over/around defenders at the rim. I’m interested to see how his game progresses in a professional environment.

The wildcard of this group is Griffin, a 6-6 freshman wing, who was arguably the best prospect in the country two years ago. He put together a stellar performance at the 2019 U16 Americas, collecting 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in the title game over Canada. He’s played in virtually no organized games since suffering a brutal knee injury in Jan. 2020. So Griffin trained with his father Adrian Griffin Sr., a Raptors assistant, throughout the pandemic. His frame, pull-up shooting, and two-way potential make him a Top-3 prospect on my board. But it’s reasonable to have Griffin lower due to injury questions.

Exploring key developmental contexts

A player’s development context can play a huge role in their draft position. Some teams or programs are just better at capitalizing on a specific archetype. Take our first player, Matthew Cleveland, for example. The 6-6 wing is extremely long and athletic while posing as a scoring threat. He heads into his freshman season at Florida State, where head coach Leonard Hamilton has developed similar skill sets. Scottie Barnes (2021), Devin Vassell (2020), Patrick Williams (2020) and Terance Mann (2019) have all been selected in the last three drafts.

Alabama head coach Nate Oats has built his identity around pace and space. JD Davison, a freshman point guard, is a real threat transition, but his ability to stretch the floor is less clear. If any coaching staff can help him improve as a shooter, it’s Alabama. The Crimson Tide made almost a dozen 3-pointers per game last season, ranking third in the nation. This point guard class is open for a player like Davison to rise into lottery conversation.

UCLA has raised 11 national championship banners and Mick Cronin has them in contention to win another. The Bruins return all of its major contributors from a Final Four run in 2021 while adding a potential Top-5 pick in Peyton Watson. He’s a long, rangy wing who can navigate screens and play help-side defense at a high level. On offense, Watson displays some impressive shake as a ball-handler on self-created jumpers. UCLA is an ideal development spot for him to play a key role, while not yielding a large responsibility from the jump. His two-way ability is sought after by NBA organizations every season.

Patrick Baldwin Jr., a highly coveted recruit, becomes the first Top-5 prospect since 2008 to sign with a mid-major program. He’s staying home to play for his father at UW-Wisconsin where he’ll be asked to run the offense. His feel for the game, elite shooting and passing tools make him one of the higher floor prospects in the draft. Baldwin doesn’t have the quickest first step but is functionally athletic. He’ll be tested early on with matchups against Florida and Colorado in non-conference play. Those two games will give scouts an early glance at how Baldwin fairs in a high-usage role. 

The newly founded Overtime Elite league is well, a bit of an unknown. It recently finalized a 24-man roster with players from across the globe - whilst we still don’t know who they’re playing or any logistics. Jean Montero headlines the league as likely the only player to make the jump to the NBA next season. The Dominican point guard has terrific pace, shot-making skills and processing skills out of the pick-and-roll. Montero will be an important case study to see if OTE can positively benefit prospects in their draft year.

Projecting breakout college returners

Numerous prospects decided to return to college in an attempt of boosting their stock. I don’t have the time to dive into every player, so here’s an extended list of names that deserve recognition: Mike Miles (PG, TCU), Davonte Davis (PG, Arkansas), Keon Ellis (SG, Alabama), Bryan Antonie (SG, Villanova), Adam Flagler (SG, Baylor), Micah Peavy (SF, TCU), Jabari Walker (SF, Colorado), Keegan Murray (PF, Iowa) Walker Kessler (C, Auburn), and Mark Williams (C, Duke). 

Purdue shooting guard, Jaden Ivey, broke out onto the national scene with two monster performances against Ohio State (19 points) and North Texas (26 points) to end the season. He’s a plus spot-up shooter and makes explosive cuts as an off-ball mover. Ivey has a strong combination of switchability, active hands and motor that make him a problem for opposing offenses. Though he’s not much of a facilitator for others and needs to improve his shooting efficiencies. Ivey is an outside candidate for the National Player of the Year award with his role expected to bolster in 2021-22.

Bennedict Mathurin is back at Arizona after a strong freshman season where he posted averages of 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds on 41-47-85 shooting splits. The 6-5 shooting guard would’ve likely gone in the first round, but he’s back for another year. Mathurin has a smooth jumper, quick first-step and defends well. He showed improvements as a self-creator with Canada in the U19 World Cup this past summer.

Kadary Richmond enters his sophomore season at Seton Hall after transferring from Syracuse. The lengthy guard can handle the ball, pressure the rim and force turnovers (3.1 steals per-40) on defense. Jim Boeheim’s zone defense is known to inflate steal numbers, so we’ll have to wait and see if his ball-hawk ability translates. Richmond frequently disappears off-ball, thus it’ll be vital for him to become at least a threat from three. He must improve as a scorer to solidify himself in first-round consideration.

Caleb Love, a Top-15 RSCI guy, didn’t live up to initial expectations in his first season at North Carolina. He was given opportunities to score, although he shot a horrendous 32-percent from the field and 27-percent from three. A lack of spacing in Roy Williams’ offense didn’t help his case, but the shot selection was bad. There’s still hope for the former top recruit who enters a make-or-break season.