The NBA Draft is one day away, as the Orlando Magic hold the number one overall pick for the first time since 2004, when they selected Dwight Howard. Could they strike gold again with a prospect like Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren? As some NBA teams are looking for a young star to transcend their franchise, others will be looking to give away draft capital to gain proven talent to fill out their roster. With the stage set, let's get into the top ten players in this year's NBA Draft.
1. Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Auburn
Smith started to shoot up draft boards after putting together one impressive performance after another for the Auburn Tigers, who were ranked number one for a large part of the regular season. Smith shined on the offensive end of the floor, averaging nearly seventeen points per game for the Tigers (16.9), showing off his incredible shooting ability for a 6’10” forward. Smith logged forty-two percent from the three-point line a season ago, along with forty-two percent from the field (42.9%). Smith is the ideal big-man for today’s game, as he possesses the ability to shoot from all over the floor at a consistent level and create shots for himself, and he is nearly just as impressive defensively. Smith’s versatility at the defensive end allows him to defend true centers as well as other forwards, and switch onto guards when put in pick-and-roll situations. The next step for Jabari Smith’s game is to improve his handle, which would allow him to take his offensive game to a new level.
2. Chet Holmgren, PF/C, Gonzaga
Holmgren arrived at Gonzaga as the number one recruit in the 2021 class and showed why he deserved that ranking. Holmgren is one of the most interesting draft prospects of all time. Standing at seven feet tall, Holmgren can do nearly everything you need from your starting center, but can also step out and knock down jumpers with ease all while being able to handle the ball like a guard. But what sets Holmgren apart from the other prospects is his ability to protect the rim. Holmgren ranked fourth in the country in blocks per game a season ago, averaging an astounding 3.7 rejections per game. Scouts have expressed concerns over Holmgren’s weight and frame (195 lbs) and have questioned if he’ll be able to defend on the inside at the next level against the likes of stronger players. However, I think the upside of Holmgren and his unique skill set is too good to pass on.
3. Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
Ivey’s athleticism and ability to score instantly jump out when watching him play, the explosive guard averaged about seventeen points per game last season for the Boilermakers. The sophomore guard took a big leap in year two, improving his scoring average by six points per game, and his three-point percentage by ten percent. Ivey showed this season that he also thrives in late-game situations with the ball in his hand, hitting big-time shots for Purdue on multiple different occasions last season. Ivey still has room to grow on both ends of the floor, he can be erratic with the ball in his hands and his shot selection is questionable at times. Ivey often put himself in difficult situations offensively, leading to turnovers. On the defensive end of the floor, Ivey can tend to disappear and often lacks the intensity desired for a top prospect, if he can lock in on both ends the sky's the limit for Ivey.
4. Paolo Banchero, PF, Duke
Banchero had an incredible freshman campaign for the Blue Devils, as 2021’s number two player overall averaging seventeen points, seven rebounds, and three assists per game. At 6’10” Banchero’s ability to handle the ball, especially in transition, is impressive. There were multiple instances last season at Duke where Banchero would grab a rebound and dribble the length of the floor and get to the basket with ease. Banchero’s offensive game is exciting as well, as he can do a little bit of everything. Banchero’s size and strength combined with his post-scoring ability allow him to score in the paint with ease, Banchero can also face-up and is a consistent mid-range shooter, making him nearly impossible to defend. However, Banchero could improve his three-point shooting, as he shot the three-ball at just under thirty-four percent last season (33.8%). Banchero has arguably the highest ceiling in this draft class and has reportedly been turning heads with some of his pre-draft workouts. Most expect Banchero to land in Houston at number three overall, as they’ve shown a clear interest in Banchero, and recently traded big-man Christian Wood to the Mavericks.
5. Keegan Murray, PF, Iowa
Murray carried the Hawkeyes a season ago and consistently kept his name in the conversation for the player of the year and the Wooden award. Murray was fourth in the nation in scoring at twenty-three and a half points per game and added nearly nine rebounds per game with his impressive scoring average (8.7 RPG). It’s no wonder that Murray scored so effectively in his sophomore campaign, as his versatility offensively makes him difficult to contain. Murray is an impressive athlete that makes his moves with ease, he also is a dangerous three-point shooter, recording just under forty percent for the 2021-2022 season (39.8%). From a talent and skill set perspective, Keegan Murray can do it all offensively. Another thing that sticks out about Murray, is his ability to battle on the glass and haul in rebounds while often faced with a size disadvantage in comparison to opposing big-men. The Hawkeye forward also excels defensively, making a huge impact as both an on and off-ball defender. Murray sees the floor extremely well defensively and his high IQ allows him to anticipate what opposing offenses are doing, and rotate with ease. The only concerns for Murray are; where will he fit in an NBA offense? Murray doesn’t have the desired size to be a consistent post player, but also may be too big to consistently play on the perimeter.
6. Dyson Daniels, SG, G League Ignite
Daniels is the latest top prospect to come out of the newly organized G league Ignite, which has helped prospects like Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga prepare for the draft, and transition into the NBA. Daniels is an interesting prospect in this class because his offensive ability isn’t what instantly jumps out at you. Daniels’ biggest strength is arguably his ability as a perimeter defender, as Daniels showed his ability to make ball-handlers uncomfortable and force offensive players into tough shots this past season. Furthermore, in twenty-six games this season in the G League Ignite program Daniels averaged two steals per game. Daniels’ aggressiveness as an on-ball defender as well as his active hands makes him one of the top defenders in this draft class. Offensively, Daniels has shown great touch around the rim, and a consistent ability to knock down shots in between the free-throw line and the rim. Daniels’ strength also allows him to take contact and finish through it when he gets to the rim. He’s also displayed his ability to be a secondary playmaker at the next level, Daniels sees the floor extremely well for a young player and his size allows him to make the necessary passes to set his teammates up. Daniels averaged four and a half assists in his twenty-six games with the Ignite program in 2021-2022. The only knock on Daniels is his inconsistency as a perimeter shooter. Shooting the three-ball at under thirty percent last season, many have questioned the speed of his release and his ability to get a shot off quick enough for today’s game. As a shot creator, Daniels struggles as well, lacking explosiveness and an ability to create space off the dribble for himself. Daniels will play a key role for whichever team selects him on draft night, but teams that are looking into him shouldn’t expect Daniels to be a heavy scorer.
7. Shaedon Sharpe, SG, Kentucky
Sharpe is potentially the most intriguing prospect in this year’s class because Sharpe arrived at Kentucky late into the season and didn’t appear in any games for the Wildcats. NBA teams are somewhat concerned by Sharpe’s lack of play at the college level, and the limited amount of film they have on the young guard. Sharpe is right there in the conversation for the best shooter in this class, possessing one of the more smooth jumpers in comparison to the rest of the class, as well as beautiful mechanics. Sharpe has shown his talent as a shot-maker from all over the floor knocking down jump shots at a high rate, all while being able to consistently finish around the rim. Sharpe’s potential to be an effective spot-up shooter in the NBA will allow him to play with or without the ball in his hands. Sharpe has shown flashes as a playmaker but will need to reign in his consistency to be a solid secondary playmaker at the next level. Defensively, however, Sharpe struggles. He has often shown lackluster effort in both on and off-ball situations on that end of the floor and has even given up on multiple defensive plays while playing in the Nike EYBL league. Sharpe’s tendency to fall asleep defensively could hurt his stock. Back to Sharpe’s offense, he often relies heavily on his shooting ability and often settles for contested jumpers rather than getting to the rim, where he has the athleticism and skill to finish through tough defense. As a shot-creator, there’s much to be desired for Sharpe. Lacking explosion off the dribble or an array of moves to get himself open, Sharpe tends to get himself in tough situations offensively, ending with him taking difficult shots. The upside for Shaedon Sharpe is undeniable, but when he’ll be selected still seems to be a mystery.
8. AJ Griffin, SF, Duke
Griffin joined a star-studded recruiting class with the likes of five-stars Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels, and although Griffin was a five-star recruit himself, he only showed it in flashes this season at Duke. Griffin displayed his ability to knock down threes from all over the floor with consistency, shooting at just under forty-five percent from behind the arc (44.7%). As a slasher, Griffin continued to show his potential, often using his body and change of pace to find openings in the lane and finish around the rim, exemplifying his ability to be an elite scorer at the next level, as long as the consistency follows. The 6’6” Small Forward set himself apart though, on the defensive end of the floor, as he has massive defensive potential. He was a stalwart on that end of the floor during Duke’s run in the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament, where he shined for the Blue Devils. The only thing holding Griffin back is putting it all together and playing like a top prospect each night. Griffin is projected to be a mid-to-late lottery pick come draft night.
9. Johnny Davis, SG, Wisconsin
Davis carried the Badgers to a 25-8 record a season ago, leading them in three of the five main statistical categories. Averaging just under twenty points per game (19.7) Davis’ ability to finish around the rim as well as his capability to consistently make mid-range jumpers made him extremely difficult to defend during the 2021-2022 season. However, Davis has to continue to improve as a three-point threat to excel at the next level. Davis shot just thirty percent from downtown in his sophomore campaign, revealing his inconsistencies and lack of comfortability from long range. Defensively, Davis is up there with the best perimeter defenders in this class and has the versatility to guard opposing forwards and shooting guards as well as point guards. His quickness and strength make him a nightmare for opposing guards. Davis has left some room for growth as a playmaker, as he often looks for his shot before trying to get others involved. From a ball-handling perspective, Davis’ ceiling is likely as a secondary playmaker. NBA teams seem to like his versatility as a two-way guard, which will likely lead to him being a late lottery pick
10. Jalen Duren, C, Memphis
Duren is viewed by most scouts as the top center in this year’s class but is being slated as a late lottery pick. Duren is one of the many great rim protectors in this class, averaging about two blocks per game a season ago for the Memphis Tigers (2.1). Defensively, Duren has a huge upside, already having what it takes to be a top rim protector at the next level. Duren is also an impressive rebounder, as his strength allows him to crash the offensive and defensive glass hard and secure rebounds. The 6’11” prospect is very gifted athletically for his size and as a result, is a premier lob threat in both pick-and-roll situations and a regular offensive flow. However, Duren will need to continue to develop his offensive game. Duren lacks a display of post moves and doesn’t excel at creating his shot, leaving him to rely on lobs and dump-offs to score. The number six prospect in the class of 2021 will also have to continue to fine-tune his jumper, as he attempted zero three-pointers a season ago with the Tigers. Duren will be a great fit for a plethora of teams looking for rebounding support and an anchor in the middle of their defense, but he’ll have to focus on his offensive development to become a star in the league.
*All stats received from ESPN Stats & Info. Department