March Madness is over, and the 2022 NBA draft order is starting to crystalize.
The Detroit Pistons (23-56) entered Tuesday’s games with the third-worst winning percentage and third-best lottery odds. They will likely finish third or fourth in the lottery standings, behind Houston and Orlando and competing with Oklahoma City for third.
The Pistons will have a great chance at landing a top-three pick in the May 17 draft lottery in what’s shaping up to be a draft featuring three top-tier players. Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr., Duke big man Paolo Banchero and Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren are all in contention to go first overall. There may not be a Cade Cunningham-level prospect in this draft, but the three players have star potential.
In mock draft 1.0, we went in the order of the NBA standings entering Tuesday and following Kansas’ win over North Carolina for the national title.
1. Orlando Magic: Jabari Smith Jr., 6 feet 10, F, Auburn freshman
2021-22 stats: 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 42% from 3
Smith’s final game — Auburn’s 79-61 upset loss to No .10 seed Miami in the second round of the NCAA tournament — highlighted his flaws. He scored 10 points and shot 3-for-16, but grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots. The sharpshooter struggled while dealing with Miami’s aggressive defense, and his limitations as a ball-handler were exposed.
Smith still has a strong case as the draft’s best prospect. He’s an elite shooter who can hit 3s both off-the-catch and the dribble, and his height and high release makes his shot nearly impossible to affect. He’s an engaged, versatile defender who can handle a variety of assignments.
Smith projects at worst as an above-average three-and-D forward, and if he can sharpen his passing and ball-handling, he’ll have All-Star upside. The Magic, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2010, would do well to add Smith to their rebuild.
2. Houston Rockets: Paolo Banchero, 6-10, F, Duke freshman
Stats: 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 33.8% from 3
He has been a top-three prospect all season, but Duke’s Final Four run strengthened Banchero’s case as the best player in the draft. He’s an incredibly polished offensive player, possessing above-average footwork and touch. A face-up four, Banchero is comfortable taking opposing big men — and smaller players — off the dribble and powering through contact. Because he can also pass and possesses good vision, his game is reminiscent of the 2018-19 version of Blake Griffin.
Banchero has two major questions. One is his outside shooting. He knocked down 33.8% of his 3s — a respectable percentage, but one that’ll have to increase for him to reach his offensive ceiling. And defensively, he’s a bit of a tweener. He doesn’t have strong instincts as a rim protector, and he’s a little too slow-footed to keep up with many perimeter players. But he’s a high-floor prospect who would help the Rockets immediately.
3. Detroit Pistons: Chet Holmgren, 7-0, F/C, Gonzaga freshman
Stats: 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 39% from 3
The Pistons would be very happy to take Holmgren here, I believe. He has a tool set that not only makes him unlike any other player in the draft, but unlike most NBA players. The “unicorn” label has become a cliché, but it fits Holmgren. He’s an elite rim protector, capable outside shooter and ball-handler and plays with ferocity. It’ll be interesting to see how teams utilize him offensively. He can push the ball in fastbreak situations, is extremely efficient around the rim and has sound shooting mechanics.
His main flaw is his frame. Holmgren is rail-thin and listed at 195 pounds. Opinion is mixed on how much muscle and weight he’ll be able to add. There are few questions concerning his talent, but he’ll struggle with physicality despite not shying away from it.
Holmgren is the most talented player available here, but he also fits the Pistons like a glove. His outside shooting would allow him to mesh well with most lineups, and his rim protection would raise the Pistons’ defense. He and Isaiah Stewart would form a potentially devastating defensive partnership, since Stewart is adept at switching onto smaller players. From a culture standpoint, Holmgren’s competitive fire is what the organization is looking for. If the Pistons end up with the first overall pick for the second year in a row, Holmgren will receive strong consideration.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jaden Ivey, 6-4, G, Purdue sophomore
Stats: 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 35.8% from 3
Ivey is the most electric athlete in the draft, and it gives him one of the highest ceilings of any player. He has an incredibly quick first step, explosive leaping ability and a size and strength advantage over his competition. To reach his ceiling, he’ll have to continue polishing his guard skills. He’s a respectable shooter and knocked down 35.8% of his attempts as a sophomore, but he’ll have to prove it isn’t a fluke. He can also improve as a playmaker. He’s more of an off guard than a lead guard, but his athleticism will help him as a scorer.
5. Indiana Pacers: Keegan Murray, 6-8, F, Iowa sophomore
Stats: 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 39.8% from 3
The Big Ten tournament MVP and consensus First Team All-American is coming off a gigantic season. He’s a proficient scorer both inside and outside, rebounds and defends. He has few holes. Murray will be 22 when his rookie season begins and he’s a bit of a tweener defensively. But in a draft that has few players who look like sure things, Murray is a safe bet.
6. Portland Trail Blazers: Bennedict Mathurin, 6-6, G/F, Arizona sophomore
Stats: 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 36.9% from 3
Mathurin is a prototypical modern wing. He stretches the floor, has the tools to be a good NBA defender and has shown flashes of being able to make passing reads when teams run him off the line. He had one of the best games of the tournament during Arizona’s second round win over TCU, scoring 30 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists and knocking down a 3-pointer to force overtime.
7. Sacramento Kings: AJ Griffin, 6-6, G/F, Duke freshman
Stats: 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 44.7% from 3
One thing is clear about Griffin — he shot it well in college, making nearly 45% of his 3-point attempts while taking 4.1 per game. He’s also 222 pounds and has a seven-foot wingspan, giving him great size for a wing and the tools to be a good defender. But Griffin’s inconsistent shooting mechanics are a concern, and he doesn’t do much else offensively. He won’t turn 19 until August, and his youth, shooting and size makes him an attractive prospect.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (via Los Angeles Lakers): Jalen Duren, 6-11, C, Memphis freshman
Stats: 12 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks
Duren’s youth makes him a high-upside prospect. He’ll still be 18 years old when his rookie season tips off, with his birthday in November. Nearly 7-feet tall and 250 pounds, Duren’s frame and athleticism could make him an elite rim protector and rim-roller in the NBA.