It’s about that time of the year. In just a few hours, hoopers from all across the country will soon turn their dreams intro a reality at the 2022 NBA draft. This year’s daft class is stacked with big names, NCAA champions and even a SLAM cover star.
Leading up to tonight’s festivities, we’re taking a look at the “who’s who” of the 2022 NBA Draft class, specifically the blue chip prospects. Let’s get it.
Immediately following Paolo Banchero’s first game at Duke —a 22-point, seven-rebound performance against then-No. 10 Kentucky—it was clear the consensus five-star recruit was destined for stardom. Not every player can live up to the expectations of being Duke’s next star, but Banchero did so easily.
While Duke was the biggest stage the 19-year-old’s played on thus far, he’s never shied away from the spotlight.
He finished his one-and-done year at Duke, averaging 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game on 47.7 percent shooting from the field, leading the Blue Devils to the Final Four. The 2021-22 ACC Rookie of the Year scored at least 17 points and played at least 33 minutes in all five of Duke’s NCAA Tournament games.
Banchero’s a well-rounded player with good size (6-10, 250 lb. frame) that can do a bit of everything. With a mix of post moves and faceup versatility, Banchero is arguably the best shot creator in the class. He possesses excellent body control and uses his frame to fend off defenders before bursting with an explosive spin move or up-and-under when attacking off the bounce.
Banchero is also an unselfish playmaker. Since he often draws double teams, Banchero has no problem trusting his teammates and kicking the ball out to the open man. In college, he showed comfortability with having an offense run through him, and he projects as a player who could serve a similar role in the League.
“My passing is probably my favorite part of my game if I had to choose one,” Banchero said during his SLAM 235 cover shoot. “I don’t know; it’s just something that I always thought was so cool; I don’t know why. Growing up, I fell in love with no-look passes, and I don’t know why, but I thought that was the coolest thing you could do on the court. So, I would go practice them, go to the playground and practice them, do crazy stuff. Eventually, that stuff turns into a real skill.”
While he dominated nearly every aspect of the game in college, Banchero will look to refine his three-point shot at the next level. His 33.8 percent mark was good enough to keep defenses honest, but with the League’s current emphasis on spacing and three-point shot-making, Banchero will look to become a more significant threat from deep to become an even more outstanding offensive player.
Between his size, rebounding ability, and offensive versatility, Banchero has the tools to thrive as a power forward, or even a small-ball center, at the next level.
“I don’t think there’s anything on that court that I can’t do,” Banchero said. “I’m gonna always play hard, I’m going to always bet my teammates involved, but like I said, you know, I can score, pass, defend. I’m just going to be able to do whatever the team needs me to do.”
Like sunlight traveling to the Earth, Jaden Ivey has grown considerably from his freshman to sophomore year with the Purdue Boilermakers. Showing promise as a freshman making the Big 10 All-Freshman team, Ivey made the jump to consensus All-American status as a sophomore.
Ivey’s production jumped dramatically, going from 11.1 points to 17.3 points per game this past year, with increased efficiency from the field (46 percent), the free-throw line (74 percent), and from three (35.8 percent), all while playing 31.4 minutes per game.
But what makes him so lethal is his speed on the open floor; in the blink of an eye, Ivey will be grabbing a rebound on one end, then he is jamming it home just a few mere seconds later. Purdue played at the fifth slowest pace last year in the Big 10, primarily due to their big lineup; Ivey was the one exception where he would speed past everyone for easy drives and transition buckets. Ivey plays in turbo mode throughout the game, always looking to draw contact for free throws, as hinted by his almost six free throw attempts per game.
His defense is much improved as well, especially going beyond the regular box score stats of steals & blocks. He was overall a positive defensive player for the Boilermakers. As mentioned, his north & south speed, his lateral quickness, and quick hands give Ivey the physical tools to be a great defensive player.
He also looks to cause disruption wherever he can, averaging only 1.8 fouls last year which is a rarity for someone of his playstyle on defense. With all that intensity, he seems fine going deep into games while playing heavy minutes.
NBA scouts love his potential, knowing he was going top five at the early stages of the college season.
“That first round of games in Indy, he was one of the most impressive players on the court in terms of NBA upside,” said one NBA scout per YahooSports. “After we all started going to practices at Purdue last fall, it was clear he was a top-five lock.”
Despite being held to nine points by Saint Peter’s, Ivey’s talent was verified even more during the NCAA Tournament last March. Ivey dropped 22 points in the opening round against Yale and followed that up with an 18-point performance against Texas, where he shot 57 percent from the field.
Talent must run in the family, given that Ivey’s mom, Niele, played in the WNBA for the Indiana Fever, Detroit Shock, and the Phoenix Mercury. Niele Ivey is also the head coach for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.
Scoring wings are hot commodities in the modern NBA, especially if Ivey can turn a franchise around in a short amount of time. When he steps into the League, he’ll bring an energy that can change the dynamic from day one.
Franchise saviors come around occasionally, but when they do, they take over the NBA with their powers. This year it’s Auburn’s Jabari Smith, a 6’10 forward native of Georgia who is currently seen as one of the top three picks in the upcoming Draft.
At Auburn, Smith was a consensus second-team All-American, First-team All-SEC, and won SEC freshman of the year and the Wayman Tisdale Award in one year. Smith also helped lead the Tigers, to, at one point, the top spot in the AP rankings and earned a two seed in the NCAA tournament. Though the Tigers were bounced in the second round, Smith came of age when he posted 20 and 14 in Auburn’s first-round win over Jacksonville State.
Smith, from the moment he walks into the NBA, will be one of the better shooters in the rookie class. Besides his physical build, Smith’s high release point has drawn people to call him a Kevin Durant-like player.
“The comfort level he has in the halfcourt is the biggest thing,” one NBA scout said per Nathan King of 247 Sports. “He thinks he can make any shot over anyone. That smooth confidence is big for the League.”
Without question, Smith’s physical tools allow him to do things few and far between have been able to do in the League. The pro game has embraced an outside-in playstyle, and Smith’s ability as a 6’10 forward who can shoot will be coveted by many. Shooting 42.0 percent from three in college cannot be glossed over, nor can his 42.9 percent shooting from the field.
Smith also presents advanced defensive skills for his age, a side of the game other prospects take longer to develop. In college, Smith showcased a feel for how to move his feet, communicate, and give effort on each defensive possession. As basic as that sounds, those skills are essential to being a quality NBA defender.
Smith also rotates well from the weak side providing help defense as an extra shot blocker. He averaged 1.0 blocks per contest; although that isn’t the end-all for determining defense, Smith has shown that he’s a willing and able defender who can only improve as a pro.
Smith is currently seen as a transcendent talent going into the NBA Draft, likely to land as a top-three pick; whoever lands the Auburn product will be getting a player who likely turns their fortunes around and perhaps can one day be an NBA superstar.
What makes a great NBA draft prospect? Is it dominance? Versatility? Potential? Whatever it maybe, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren has it all.
Quite possibly the most unique and versatile prospect we’ve ever seen, Holmgren embodies the skillset of the vaunted basketball unicorn. He has the perimeter skills of a guard and has displayed the inside dominance to be compared to some of the game’s greats.
He first went viral in high school for crossing up two-time MVP Stephen Curry at the SC30 Camp in 2019, and since then, the Minneapolis native hasn’t looked back.
A consensus five-star recruit and the No. 1 player of the 2021 class, Holmgren joined one of college basketball’s national powerhouses and didn’t disappoint. Holmgren averaged 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in his only season with Gonzaga and displayed his dominance on both ends of the floor.
Holmgren is the total package in nearly every sense of the word.
Standing at 7’0 with a ridiculous 7’6 wingspan, he established himself as college basketball’s premier rim protector last year, racking up 3.7 blocks per game, good for fourth in the nation. His size allows him to alter nearly every shot in his vicinity, and his skill as an ambidextrous shot-blocker could translate into elite interior defense once he gets to the League.
And once Holmgren blocks a shot, he can lead the pack in transition. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and doesn’t hesitate to initiate his own offense. The consensus second-team All-American and first-team All-West Coast Conference selection shot 60.7 percent from the field last season with an absurd 73.7 percent shooting on two-point field goal attempts. Whether it’s in the low post or as an off-ball cutter, Holmgren’s defensive assertiveness is matched on offense.
But he isn’t a one-trick pony—like we said, he’s a unicorn. In addition to his paint dominance, Holmgren shot 39 percent from beyond the arc. It was on 97 attempts, but Holmgren has showcased a smooth jumper with a quick trigger that keeps defenses on their heels. And since he has an above-average basketball IQ for a player his size and age, Holmgren is as dynamic as they come.
“Coming to see me would definitely be a unique sight or experience,” Holmgren told SLAM in 2019. “Not a lot of guys play the way I do, especially at my height.”
At 195 lbs., he’ll likely have to put on some extra weight to handle the 82-game schedule and sheer size of the big men he’ll face in the NBA, but he won’t back down. Don’t get it twisted. Holmgren has the aggressiveness of a ’90s big and will mean-mug his way down the court after a thunderous dunk or smacking an opponent’s shot off the backboard.
His skillset and limitless potential force us to bear the question: is there anything Chet Holmgren can’t do?