Some people who are invested and follow the NBA Draft year-round say this nearly every cycle, but we have yet another interesting class of prospects on our hands in 2022.
Beyond the consensus top-four of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jaden Ivey and Jabari Smith Jr., the lottery is filled with potential impact starters with varying levels of upside and NBA readiness. The Charlotte Hornets weren’t lucky enough to make a jump into the top-four, but having two mid-first rounders as trade ammunition is still a good position to be in, and I’m a personal fan of numerous potential second-round sleepers.
The first iteration of this year’s At The Hive mock draft will feature the lottery picks plus Charlotte’s additional first-rounder at 15 and the 45th overall pick in the second round. At this point, the mock selections are mostly influenced by my personal rankings and thoughts on the direction each team should take. Once we get closer to the draft and more intel/rumors trickle out, that’ll become the main factor in each pick.
1. Orlando Magic - Chet Holmgren, C/F, Gonzaga
Holmgren is my no. 1 player in the draft, and on top of that he profiles as the type of player the Magic front office covet — long, mobile and aggressive on defense. The Chet/Wendell Carter Jr. frontcourt is a great inside/out playmaking fit offensively. Orlando is forming a solid core of young talent across the depth chart.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder - Jabari Smith Jr., F, Auburn
The Thunder were the worst three-point shooting team in the league last season and I think Smith would be their pick even if they’d landed in the top spot. He’s a dynamite shot-maker off the catch and off the bounce, can create looks for himself from deep and knock down dribble pull-ups in the mid-range. The defensive versatility is a pretty sweet bonus.
3. Houston Rockets - Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
Houston is too early in their rebuild to worry about potential defensive concerns that could arise from a core of Banchero, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Şengün and Christian Wood. Just take Banchero, who arguably has the highest floor of the consensus top-three and is definitely the most NBA-ready. He and Green could combine for 32-35 points per game as soon as this coming season.
4. Sacramento Kings - Shaedon Sharpe, G/W, Kentucky (Canada)
2022’s mystery prospect just has to go to the Kings, right? Sharpe has skyrocketed from an unranked recruit to a potential top-five pick in about two years, and rightfully so; he’s got the tools to be an elite shot-creator and play-finisher in the NBA with positional size and hops. Sacramento could use a potential floor-spacing creator alongside De’Aaron Fox.
5. Detroit Pistons - Jalen Duren, C, Memphis
The alley-oop chemistry between Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren would be glorious. Isaiah Stewart is entering his third season and his play won’t prevent Detroit from taking a high-upside center with elite athletic traits, soft hands and passing feel. It would take both 2022 firsts and at least one young player for the Hornets to trade up to the 5-9 range and nab Duren, in my opinion.
6. Indiana Pacers - Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
A bit of a fall here for Ivey, but I love the fit of an Ivey-Tyrese Haliburton backcourt. If the Pacers are serious about rebuilding, Malcolm Brogdon could be on the move as they position themselves to make a run at the top of the 2023 draft. Indiana could go in a lot of different directions with this pick.
7. Portland Trail Blazers - Dyson Daniels, G/W, G League Ignite (Australia)
The Trail Blazers have rarely shied away from prospects that need to work on their jump shot. In theory, a lineup of Damian Lillard-Anfernee Simons-Dyson Daniels and two veterans in the frontcourt is improved defensively and allows Lillard and Simons to captain the offense. Jeremy Sochan would be a good option here as well.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (via LAL) - AJ Griffin, W, Duke
The Pelicans have done a great job of surrounding their stars with effective young players, and Griffin’s shooting would be a great fit on the wing. There’s also some upside to this pick if he can rediscover the athleticism and force he played with as a high schooler pre-injury. CJ McCollum-Brandon Ingram-Griffin-Herb Jones-Zion Williamson would be the one of the most fun lineup combinations in all of basketball.
9. San Antonio Spurs - Keegan Murray, F, Iowa
San Antonio could combine a couple of their three first-rounders this year to move up for Duren given their lack of depth behind Jakob Poeltl, but Murray is a nice consolation if the price isn’t right. He’d be surrounded by athletic defenders that can cover for him if needed and he’d be able to play off of Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson’s attacking.
10. Washington Wizards - Bennedict Mathurin, G/W, Arizona (Canada)
Sochan is the best player available on my big board, but the Wizards just have too many forwards already to maximize the value of each one if they added another. Mathurin adds a secondary scoring punch in the backcourt behind Bradley Beal and has the tools to become a passable perimeter defender.
11. New York Knicks - Johnny Davis, G, Wisconsin
Tom Thibodeau would love Johnny Davis; he plays hard, can create his own shot going to the rim and from distance and defends the point of attack at a high level. A two-way guard would be a welcomed addition to New York’s young backcourt.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via LAC) - Jeremy Sochan, F, Baylor (Poland)
The Thunder have 17 — yes, seventeen — first-round picks in the next five drafts, so they can afford to take best player available swings very often. Sochan’s length and switchability has to be intriguing to a team with few players that hang their hat on defense, and if he ever shoots he’s almost a lock to be a starting NBA forward.
13. Charlotte Hornets - Tari Eason, F, Louisiana State
We’re working the draft board here. Eason can play and defend multiple positions, collects an insane amount of steals and blocks and shot 35.9 percent from three as a sophomore at LSU. One of the few prospects in this class with legitimate potential to defend all five spots on the floor, he would provide insurance if defensive-minded wings Cody Martin or Jalen McDaniels depart this summer.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers - Malaki Branham, G/W, Ohio State
The Cavaliers need more sources of offense from the perimeter, and Branham is as pure a scorer as they come at this point in the draft. He made all-Big 10 as a freshman in a deep conference, shot 53 percent on twos, 41.6 percent on threes and 83.3 percent on 96 total free throws. Branham can get buckets.
15. Charlotte Hornets (via NOP) - Mark Williams, C, Duke
This is why we play the board! Even if the Hornets don’t take Williams at 13, I think he’s likely to still be there at 15. He’s not the greatest defender in space or in ball-screens, but he’s a solid athlete with size and strength and should protect the rim well in the NBA. Williams would make another great lob partner for LaMelo Ball.
It’s unlikely a team would give up serious assets to trade for the 14th to steal Mark Williams — and if a team wants to do that, all power to them, I say. Cleveland will almost certainly not pick a center in the lottery given their need on the wing.
45. Charlotte Hornets - Alondes Williams, G, Wake Forest
I have truly no idea how to gauge second-round prospects’ draft range at this point. Williams, the ACC Player of the Year, is one of the best finishers in the draft with impressive passing creativity and vision. He’s in the mid-30s on my board but the NBA might not buy into his shooting ability, thus limiting him as a finisher and passer against tougher competition. The Hornets should double up on Williamses if at all possible.