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2022 NBA Draft Final Big Board: Part 5
These are the superstars, the top-tier talent in this class. Only four players are left in the top two tiers. Will there be any surprises to where they slot?
Less than a week away, we are ready to start publishing our final version of the 2022 NBA Draft Big Board. Ours will come out in five separate installments going by tiers of talent, working our way up to the best of the best in this class.
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Below you will see in-depth breakdowns of these prospects, as well as video scouting reports and an explanation of the tiers we cut our board into at the top. Please check out prior installations of our Big Board to get a feel for all other prospects ranked outside our top five.
Tier 2: Just Outside of the Elite Level
As we get into our top-five, we look for guys who either can or should ascend into being the top option on their team.
The rankings are, in essence, a reflection of how much faith I have in each guy reaching All-Star status and getting to that level. The higher in this tier, the more comfortable we feel with them pushing into the top tier as a franchise cornerstone. Regardless of how close they are to that level, we feel comfortable enough with our evaluation and their skill to project them as a top-two or top-three option with whatever team will draft them.
2.4 - Jabari Smith, Auburn
Believers in Smith’s upside see an isolation scorer that is impossible to guard. While we could talk all day about the value of the play creation, Smith is the definition of a play finisher. At 6’10” with one of the best jumpers we’ve ever seen for someone his size, he’s the right combination of an unbelievably high-floor third star with a major upside to score the ball over the top of any defender one-on-one.
Smith shot 42% from 3-point range as a freshman at Auburn, carrying them up to a number-one ranking in the country for much of the year. He did that while battling in the SEC, one of the toughest leagues in the nation. He can space the floor around those ball screen creators, spotting up in the corners and on the wings just ready to drill shots. In spot-up situations, Jabari shot 33-67 (49.3%) on catch-and-shoot jumpers. He can also be a great pick-and-pop partner for lead guards: he was 8-15 (55%) on no-dribble jumpers after setting a ball screen.
Smith isn’t just an insane catch-and-shoot prospect, he’s proven himself incredibly efficient on dribble jumpers, too. He made 42 dribble pull-ups in the half-court, registered an eFG% of 48.1% on those jumpers and was the most efficient pull-up scorer of any first-round prospect in this draft.
Such a strong pull-up game translates to many different areas. When Smith is chased off the 3-point line from being an elite threat atop scouting reports, he can easily take one dribble inside the arc or to the side and not lose much impact.
Defensively, Smith is a switchable defender who moves his feet well on the perimeter. He can sit in a stance and guard, and while he’s best against 3s and 4s, he doesn’t look outmatched against great athletes. Jabari likes to crowd smaller guys and really get into them, where his length and wide knees just shut off driving lanes. Few guys can go around him. He’s a very good defender, but not a great one and a guy who we wouldn’t want to see move to the 5 for long stretches.
Smith isn’t a great space creator. He’s a little slow off the bounce, isn’t polished as a handler and plays a little upright/ stiff with his hips. What we’ve seen is that, frankly, those shortcomings may not matter. Smith is a skilled shooter who, at 6’10”, just scores over the top of any contest or defender. He just needs enough space to take one dribble or get to one of his go-to moves and he’ll be able to score. He falls out of the top category because he doesn’t put a ton of pressure on the rim for our liking and, as a guy reliant on his teammates for creating quality looks as a 3-point shooter, we feel he’d be miscast as a primary option.
2.3 - Jaden Ivey, Purdue
At Purdue, Ivey did not get as many spread pick-and-roll reps early in the season as many evaluators would like. Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter runs a complex offense with many layers of movement off-ball and stuffs the ball inside on post-ups time and time again. We expected Ivey’s PNR passing to lag behind, the lack of a pull-up to harm his half-court creation and a ton of work to be done to harness the raw talent he possesses.
By the end of the season though, Ivey pleasantly surprised us with the amount of development that already has taken place. He got so much better as a PNR playmaker, to the point where it’s neither a strength nor a weakness. He finished the season clawing close to 30% on his dribble pull-ups, flashing both step-backs to 3 and jumpers when teams go under the PNR.
Ivey is an elite finisher and a guy who gets to the rim often. While there are still improvements to be done to his scoring arsenal in the half-court (particularly in the mid-range), we’ve come around to thinking that his brand of athleticism is so special and unique that the absence of finesse may not be a handicapper. He’ll find ways to get to the rim and score regardless, and that’s the most valued trait a guard can have in our eyes.
Initially seen by many as a combo guard due to his size and lack of pull-up scoring, he stands out to us as a point guard who can handle a large volume of PNR reps. He grew as a playmaker, uses hostage dribbles and snaking moves frequently enough and is always a threat to rise up on any big man who is slightly out of position.
Defensively, Ivey relies on his athleticism and has a lot of poor habits. He could stand to compete a bit more, both on-ball and as a helper, but does have the natural tools to succeed. He’s 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan, size that should allow him to cut off other lead guards at the point of attack or play the 2-guard spot just fine. His recovery traits are high-caliber, both for closeouts and in chasing guards around screens and complex actions. He needs to tap into those traits more often, but they do exist.
Ivey is clearly the top guard in this draft class. A little more seasoning in the mid-range, clarity on the form of his runner and defensive focus and he’s a legitimate top option for an NBA team. The athleticism is legitimately top-tier, and we’d put him in the same category of prospect as an Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes, Anthony Edwards or Ja Morant.
Tier 1: Franchise-Changing Alphas
The best of the best. The pillars of an organization. The guys every team should covet and want to build around.
The top tier in this draft class consists of two players, and it’s no surprise who they are: Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero. All year, those two have been jockeying for position atop our board as the two unique guys at the head of this class. We’ve toggled back and forth a good deal, relying on both analytic models, the eye test on film and a risk/ reward approach to the top spot on our board.
Last year, three prospects filled this tier out: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs. In 2020, there were no Tier 1 prospects and only one in 2019 with Zion Williamson. While this 2022 class gets some heat for not being elite at the top, there are two guys who stand head-and-shoulders above the competition and redeem this class at the top as a pretty solid group.
1.2 - Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
Chet is the very definition of a defensive game-changer. Analytic models reveal some of the highest defensive impacts in college basketball over the last decade. He’s an elite shot blocker and rim protector, can be switchable on defense, rebounds very effectively and has an insane competitive spirit.
The most valuable part of his defensive acumen is that he can be a defensive anchor and linchpin without being the 5. His weak-side shot blocking will be there no matter who he guards or if he’s involved in defending the pick-and-roll. He covers ground so easily with his mobility and long reach. If we find that space creation is the most important tool on offense, no prospect appears better at taking away space than Holmgren. He may be difficult to referee due to his gangly arms and skinny frame, but with requisite strength to play the 5, he’ll be contesting every shot at the rim with discipline and take away angles from any pick-and-roll driver.
While questions about his strength and true position (is he a 4 or a 5) will dominate the discourse, Holmgren is impactful despite his frame and at either position. He opens more doors than are shut by drafting him and fits on both ends next to any type of frontcourt partner.
Holmgren’s offensive evaluation has been a little bit of a challenge. He’s good at so many things — 80% finisher at the rim, 39% from 3, skilled and fluid as a handler and passer in the full-court — but the obvious usage for him doesn’t seem to jump out. Part of the reason: there’s never been a player like him before. He’s a legitimate trailblazer and a prototype for the future with his combination of skill and size.
Frankly, there are so many unexplored areas with Chet’s game that a willing NBA franchise can tap into. Pick-and-roll reps as the handler? Holmgren was 2-3 scoring out of those looks, according to Synergy. Inverted handoffs from little-to-big? Chicago or Zoom actions to send him off movement pre-catch? Chet is the type of prospect whose diverse skill set really rewards the innovative and imaginative.
Too many folks concerned with Chet Holmgren’s game focus on what he isn’t: chiseled, strong or conventional. The strength can come over time, and conventional complaints really says more about you than Chet: failure to see how modern and mobile his game is on both ends is telling on yourself for not watching the direction the NBA game is heading.
1.1 - Paolo Banchero, Duke
Every team needs a guy. The bucket-getter. The go-to guy when games are on the line. Half-court scoring skills are valued in the postseason, when the game slows down, is incredibly physical and defenses hone in on your individual strengths. To us, this is what you draft for. When you have an opportunity to grab a franchise-altering, polished scorer, do it.
Of all three top options in this draft, Paolo Banchero is the clear candidate to fit in that offensive engine role. As a teenager at Duke, he averaged 17-8-3 while shooting 48% from the field and playing out of isolation a ton.
Banchero is big and strong at 6’10”, with a Ferrari engine inside a caravan body. His ball handling is sensationally polished for someone his size, allowing him to get to his spots on the interior like few can. Defenders fly off his left shoulder when he drives to his right. He stops and pivots off two feet without getting bumped off his spots. He is athletic enough to get up over the top of guys and slam it home.
Put Banchero in different areas on the court with the ball in his hands and he’ll thrive. Banchero’s wide shoulders, controlled bounce, feel for quick spins and turnaround jumper give him a complete and well-rounded arsenal for scoring one-on-one. Banchero’s favorite scoring spots are around the elbows right now. He’s a mid-range assassin, loves to get there on dribble pull-ups and has both a high release and unorthodox cadence on his jumper that makes him difficult to contest. The threat of getting to the rim (where he’s finishing at a 58% clip) with his bevy of patient dribble moves forces defenders to back off him, so the jumper and driving work together to make him impossible to guard one-on-one.
The handling ability allows other aspects of his game to open up. Banchero can run and operate big-to-big or inverted big-little pick-and-rolls. He got about one a game at Duke, and they can be a major part of his offensive package at the next level. The underrated part of Paolo’s game is his passing and feel. More than just the ability, Banchero likes to create for others. He finished the season getting so much more comfortable in breaking down defenses, too. He averaged 3.8 assists over his final 24 games, and 4.2 assists over his final 11.
Another unconscionable knock on Banchero is the complaint about his 3-point shooting. Seeing him love the mid-range and take far more jumpers there than from deep has developed this narrative that Banchero isn’t a capable 3-point threat. The numbers indicate differently. While there can be some work done to clean up his mechanics for legitimate NBA range, he’s an above-average shooter in pretty much every way. He shot a sturdy 33.8% from 3 on the season. He was 52.6% on nearly four attempts per game in the NCAA Tournament. He shot 40.2% on catch-and-shoot looks, too.
Banchero’s biggest error on the defensive end at Duke was not giving maximum effort on every possession. There’s a track record of guys who are physically capable defenders that carry a major scoring role in college who find themselves in this exact discussion. Jayson Tatum was one. Anthony Edwards was another. Get them to a postseason series and it’s easy to argue they are the best one-on-one defenders on their teams.
When you draft atop a draft, you draft for the alphas with the highest offensive ceiling. Go for the guy who is so good you have to build everything around him. To us, Banchero is that one guy in this class. He’s the type of player a team should draft for: that 25-point-per-game scorer who is impossible to stop one-on-one. That’s the hardest type of guy to acquire for a franchise. Sometimes it really is that simple.