CHICAGO — The top of the 2022 NBA draft is beginning to take shape, less than a week after the lottery.
The Detroit Pistons own the fifth pick and are in prime position to select one of the top prospects. Most of their front office was present at the draft combine last week, and they interviewed multiple players on their draft board and watched them work out in-person.
Iowa forward Keegan Murray, Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, Kentucky wing Shaedon Sharpe and Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin all appeal to the Pistons. They have five weeks to make their final evaluations before the draft June 23 in Brooklyn, New York.
In this first post-lottery mock draft, they ended up with the prospect who might have the most upside of the four.
1. Orlando Magic: PF/C Chet Holmgren
Vitals: 7 feet, Gonzaga freshman.
2021-22 averages: 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 39% from 3.
The word in Chicago was the Magic are split between Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. Holmgren, who is inexplicably both seven-feet tall and yet only weighs 195 pounds, is the more divisive of the two prospects. There’s genuine concern about his lanky frame and how it’ll handle the grind of the NBA. But Holmgren was arguably the best rim protector in college basketball last year, and his above-average ball-handling for a big man and strong outside shooting gives him a chance to emerge as the best player in the draft. The Magic may have a hard time passing on him.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: PF Jabari Smith Jr.
Vitals: 6-10, Auburn freshman.
2021-22 stats: 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 42% from 3.
The most gifted shooter in the draft is a 6-10 forward. Smith looked like Rashard Lewis during his lone season at Auburn and he has strong two-way upside thanks to his mobility on defense. To emerge as a true go-to scorer, he’ll need to improve his ball-handling and touch around the rim.
3. Houston Rockets: PF Paolo Banchero
Vitals: 6-10, Duke freshman.
2021-22 averages: 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 33.8% from 3.
After drafting Jalen Green second overall last summer, the Rockets would do well to add another high-upside offensive player next to him. Banchero is a power forward with point guard vision, and his deft footwork, touch from midrange and rebounding has drawn comparisons to Julius Randle and Blake Griffin.
4. Sacramento Kings: F Keegan Murray
Vitals: 6-8, Iowa sophomore.
2021-22 averages: 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 39.8% from 3.
Holmgren, Smith and Banchero are widely viewed as the most likely prospects to go top-three. The draft is wide open here, and the Kings, who moved up three spots to leap into the top-four and have playoff aspirations next season, could go in a number of directions. If they keep the pick, it makes sense for them to add a high-floor prospect in Murray, who has a deep bag on offense and competes on defense.
5. Detroit Pistons: G Shaedon Sharpe
Vitals: 6-6, Kentucky freshman.
2021-22 averages: N/A.
The Pistons may have the opportunity to pick between arguably the two best perimeter prospects in the draft in Ivey and Sharpe. There’s no wrong answer. Both have a claim as the most athletic player in the draft, and both have superstar potential. They also both have warts that interested teams will have to vet during the next few weeks. For Sharpe, it’s the lack of available film on him due to not playing a game in college — how NBA-ready is he? For Ivey, it’s showing he can improve the areas of his game — outside shooting, passing and defensive effort — that his athleticism can’t hide.
I’ll give Sharpe the edge. Ivey, who had a fantastic sophomore season at Purdue, may feel like a safer bet due to his volume of work in college. But long-term, Sharpe could be the superior fit next to Cade Cunningham. Through 12 games at Nike Peach Jam last summer, Sharpe averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 55.6% inside the arc and 36.1% from 3. Evaluators are confident his outside shooting is legit, and that he can become a good, if not great, floor-spacer at the next level. Couple that with his strong measurables (6-5 with shoes, 6-11 wingspan), shot-making instincts in the paint and insane leaping ability, and he has all of the necessary tools to become an elite shooting guard.
While Ivey is best with the ball in his hands, Sharpe may be able to thrive without it. If he can consistently knock down catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, make timely cuts and hold his own defensively, he and Cunningham would mesh together well. But Sharpe also possesses great upside as a primary scorer, as he knocked down 3s off-the-dribble and thrived attacking the paint in high school. He held a private workout during the combine, which the Pistons attended, per sources. He’s firmly on the radar at No. 5 and is an upside play that could pay off big for Detroit.
6. Indiana Pacers: G Jaden Ivey
Vitals: 6-4, Purdue sophomore.
2021-22 averages: 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 35.8% from 3.
Ivey was a highlight machine at Purdue thanks to his bounce and lightning-quick first step. When the ball is in his hands, every trip down the floor has the potential to end with him a transition bucket. He’s a viscous dunker who doesn’t shy away from contact, which is the primary reason why he draws comparisons to Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant. Couple that with improved 3-point shot — Ivey hit nearly 36% of his attempts after shooting 25.8% as a freshman — and he could be an electric, Donovan Mitchell-esque combo guard if everything breaks right.
Like Sharpe, it’s easy to imagine Ivey’s athleticism and ability to pressure the rim making him a nice complement to Cunningham. But because the Pistons will put the ball in Cunningham’s hands, Ivey would have to become better without the ball for the pairing to work. His 3-point shooting slumped to 25.6% during his final 15 games last season, and his defensive effort was inconsistent. He’s also a solid, but not spectacular, passer. His speed and athleticism will enable him to impact games regardless of how the rest of his skill set comes together, but he’ll need to improve in those areas to reach his full potential.
7. Portland Trail Blazers: G/F Bennedict Mathurin
Vitals: 6-6, Arizona sophomore.
2021-22 averages: 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 36.9% from 3.
You don’t have to squint to envision how Mathurin’s game will translate to the NBA. He’s a strong outside shooter who made 38.3% of his 316 attempts through two college seasons. He’s a plus athlete capable of punishing defenses in transition. He can also make good passing reads and has the size and length to defend multiple positions. He’s your prototypical 3-and-D wing. Along with Murray, Sharpe and Ivey, he’s in play for the Pistons.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (from Lakers): G/F Johnny Davis
Vitals: 6-6, Wisconsin sophomore.
2021-22 averages: 19.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists.
The Pelicans traded one of their best role players in Josh Hart last season to acquire C.J. McCollum. Johnny Davis is similar to Hart in several ways, being a strong wing defender and rebounder. Davis is a tenacious defender and talented midrange scorer who also gets to the free-throw line at a high rate. He only shot 30.6% from 3, but his touch from midrange and accuracy on free throws (79.1%) bodes well for his development as a floor-spacer.