Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are expected go 1-2-3 in some order in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Purdue’s Jaden Ivey seems a good bet at No. 4 and maybe Iowa’s Keegan Murray at No. 5.
After that? The drafts becomes a more unpredictable through No. 20 and even murkier after that. It’s why there is belief that teams are looking to trade down instead of moving up. They might be able to get the player they want later in the draft and get an asset from another team in a deal.
A couple of other items of note headed into the draft:
Oklahoma City has two first-round picks (Nos. 2, 12) and one early in the second round (No. 34).
Houston has three first-round selections (3, 17, 26 via Dallas), and San Antonio has three first-round picks (9, 20, 25). Charlotte picks 13th and 15th, Memphis 22nd and 29th and Denver 21st and 30th.
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There are just 58 picks in the two rounds, instead of 60, because Miami and Toronto forfeited second-round picks for violating rules “governing the timing” of free-agent discussions in 2021.
Here is USA TODAY Sports’ NBA mock draft:
Jabari Smith, Auburn, forward, 6-10, 250, freshman
Given this Magic front office’s draft history, they will give Chet Holmgren serious consideration, but also given injury issues with its previous draft picks, Orlando might be go with a safer yet still quality option in Smith. He is a fantastic offensive player who can score off the dribble and with his jump shot – either from 3-point range or mid-range. At his size, he is difficult to defend. It will be tough for the Magic to pass on Smith because of his upside and potential to make an immediate impact.
2. Oklahoma City
Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga, center, 7-0, 195, freshman
With his lanky frame, physicality will be a concern early. But Holmgren can protect the rim at a high level, handle the ball shoot from outside, finish at the rim and protect the paint with his rebounding and shot-blocking – all highly coveted talents in a modern NBA big man. At his size, the skillset is impressive.
Paolo Banchero, Duke, forward, 6-10, 250, freshman
Perhaps the most NBA-ready player among the top projected top five with his physical tools (size, strength, speed) and on-court skills. He can pass, handle the ball, drive to the basket and finish near the rim and possesses solid footwork. He can play off ball or as a lead guard, adding versatility to Houston’s offense.
Jaden Ivey, Purdue, guard, 6-4, 195, sophomore
Ivey uses his speed to blow by defenders, who will have a hard time slowing Ivey down in transition. He can explode into the lane similar to Ja Morant and has the bounce to finish. Ivey needs to improve his shot, but if new Kings coach Mike Brown puts together a strong coaching staff with emphasis on players development,
Keegan Murray, Iowa, forward, 6-8, 225, sophomore
Murray was just the eighth player in the Big Ten’s 126-year history to finish with an 800-point season. He led the Power 5 conferences with 23.6 points a game. Murray, who improved significant from his freshman to sophomore seasons, also contributed 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 55% from the field and 39.8% from the 3-point line. Murray, 21, is one of the oldest projected lottery picks and could have an immediate impact on the Pistons’ rebuild.
Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona, guard, 6-6, 210, sophomore
An explosive guard with size, Mathurin shoots the 3-ball well and made more than 50% of his shots from the field. He can shoot off the dribble or on the catch and knows how to utilize high-ball screens. He excels in the open court and is the kind of dunker who can posterize opponents. A 3-and-D wing, Mathurin has moved up draft boards in the past month.
Shaedon Sharpe, Kentucky, guard, 6-6, 200, freshman
Sharpe didn’t play for Kentucky after joining the Wildcats mid-season, but he has no problem getting to the rim with his length and size. He reportedly clocked a 49-inch vertical leap. One of the biggest unknowns among lottery picks because he hasn’t played since high school, Sharpe has drawn interest from several teams and has worked out for several lottery teams.
8. New Orleans (from LA Lakers)
Dyson Daniels, G League Ignite, guard, 6-8, 199
This is a wonderful opportunity for New Orleans to add another quality player to a playoff squad that is poised to be better next season with the return of Zion Williamson. The Australian got a taste of NBA-level play in the NBA All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars contest in February and he held his own. He’s an elite perimeter defender who can guard multiple positions and his shooting has improved significantly.
9. San Antonio
Johnny Davis, Wisconsin, guard, 6-5, 194, sophomore
Davis took a huge leap as a scorer and rebounder in his second year from 7.0 to 19.7 points and 4.1 to 8.2 rebounds per game. He’s great in the mid-range but will need to improve as an outside shooter to be an effective lead scorer in the NBA. Davis knows how to use his size against smaller guards. Coming from Wisconsin’s offense focused on ball and player movement, Davis would have no problem fitting in with the Spurs.
A.J. Griffin, Duke, guard-forward, 6-6, 222, freshman
For a team in flux, the Wizards should be looking at the best available player at this spot regardless of the current roster. Hailing from a basketball family (his brother, sister and father all played for Power 5 schools; his father also is an assistant with the Toronto Raptors), Griffin is considered one of the better shooters in the draft. He averaged 10.4 points while shooting 44.7% on 3s and 49.3% overall.
11. New York
Jalen Duren, Memphis, center, 6-11, 250, freshman
Duren is big man who can play with his back to the basket, run the court and rebound. He has a capable face-up game in the low post and can make mid-range jump shots. He has good footwork and hands, and it’s easy to see him working well in pick-and-roll sets. The Knicks need help across the board.
12. Oklahoma City (from LA Clippers)
Jeremy Sochan, Baylor, forward, 6-9, 230, freshman
Another lottery pick for the Thunder. It won’t be a surprise if GM Sam Presti goes with this savvy pick. Baylor asked Sochan to do a lot for a freshman on a team that won the title the season before he got there. He’s a solid rebounder, runs the court well and scores with efficiency inside the 3-point line. He can shoot the 3 but needs to improve his percentage. His ability to handle the ball allows him to facilitate offense as a dribbler and passer and he’s a versatile defender.
Mark Williams, Duke, center, 7-1, 242, sophomore
The Hornets need help in the middle, and Williams fills a need. A 7-footer with decent mobility, Williams is an elite rim protector and was a finalist for national defensive player of the year. He averaged 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks last season for the Blue Devils, who could end up with three players drafted as lottery picks. He doesn’t offer much yet on the offensive end and gets most of his points on put-backs and dump offs around the rim.
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas, guard, 6-5, 215, senior
The Cavaliers have guards and they have bigs. They need wings. Agbaji was better known for his athleticism and defense in his early years at Kansas, but he stepped into the role as the primary scorer, averaging 18.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He can also help the Cavs, already solid defensively, with perimeter defense. Former ESPN NBA draft analyst Mike Schmitz, now in Portland’s front office, tweeted in April, “Ochai Agbaji could play 25+ minutes in an NBA game tomorrow.”
15. Charlotte (from New Orleans)
Malaki Branham, Ohio State, guard, 6-5, 180, freshman
Branham loves to get to the rim, flourishes in transition offensively and can finish in the paint. In half-court sets, he moves well with and without the basketball as a playmaker and cutter. His 3-point shot is not picture-perfect, but he made 41.6% from that range. He averaged 19 points in the final 10 games of the season. He would fit into the way Charlotte played on offense last season though the Hornets are without a coach right now after Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson backed out.
Ousmane Dieng, New Zealand Breakers, 6-10, 216
Some mock drafts have Dieng going as high as No. 8. Dieng’s high upside as a ball-handler and passer at 6-10 will be tantalizing for NBA teams. He’ll need to improve his accuracy and efficiency as a shooter to get consistent minutes early on. If he’s available here, it will hard for the Hawks to pass as Dieng also provides defense, and the Hawks need help on that end.
17. Houston (from Brooklyn)
Tari Eason, LSU, forward, 6-8, 216, sophomore
Eason uses his athleticism and length to attack the paint and score at the rim. He can also impact the game on the defensive end. He had a breakout year with the LSU Tigers and was named the 2022 SEC Sixth Man of the Year. This will be Houston’s sixth first-round pick in the past two years.
Jalen Williams, Santa Clara, 6-6, 195, junior
Williams shot up draft boards after the combine in which his vertical leap, speed and wingspan caught the attention of scouts and executives. He was efficient on 3-pointers (39.6%) and inside the 3-point line (55.1%) and averaged 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 2021-22. He has patience with the basketball in pick-and-roll situations and finds his spots at the 3-point line for spot-up jumpers.
TyTy Washington Jr., Kentucky, guard, 6-3, 197, freshman
A good table-setter who can initiate the offense and create shots for others, Washington has the passing instincts and vision to potentially flourish in the spread pick-and-roll sets that are a big part of NBA offenses. D’Angelo Russell’s future with the Timberwolves is uncertain, especially with president of basketball operations Tim Connelly new to the job.
20. San Antonio (from Toronto)
E.J. Liddell, Ohio State, forward, 6-7, 240, junior
Liddell improved across the board – shooting, passing, rebounding and shot blocking – in his junior season. Projected as a small forward who could play some small-ball power forward in the NBA, Liddell can play inside and outside offensively and has the strength to absorb contact and finish at the rim. This would give the Spurs some bulk.
Blake Wesley, Notre Dame, guard, 6-5, 185, freshman
Wesley creates easy transition points with his defense – he has great hands and a knack for interrupting passing lanes. He’s another guard with size who attacks the basket and has good footwork in the paint. He shot just 29.6% on 3s so that will be an area of focus along with playmaking skills as a passer.
22. Memphis (from Utah)
Jaden Hardy, G League Ignite, guard, 6-4, 198
Hardy, the No. 2 player in the class of 2021 who decided to play in G League instead of college, is a 3-point shooter and drive-to the-hoop guard. He struggled at times in the G League but that isn’t a surprise considering players are fighting for the professional livelihood. It may also help Hardy in the long run.
MarJon Beauchamp, G League Ignite, forward, 6-6, 199
At 6-6 with a 7-1 wingspan, Beauchamp has the size and talent to contribute immediately as a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions on the wing, as well as bigger players down low. He uses that wingspan to create turnovers, block shots and collect rebounds.
Nikola Jovic, Serbia, forward, 6-10, 209
The Serbian is another European sharpshooter who spends a lot of time at the 3-point line and shot 35.6% from long range in the ABA pro league in 2021-22. He can also be a playmaker. At the start of the season, he received votes from NBA executives as the best international player not in the NBA.
25. San Antonio (from Boston)
Walker Kessler, Auburn, center, 7-1, 245, sophomore
Kessler is a pick-and-roll big, knows how to set screens and is patient alongside the ball-handler. He is also very active on the offensive boards and blocks shots. He improved his game after playing his freshman season at North Carolina, shooting 70.2% on 2-pointers for Auburn. Adding a reliable 3-ball will help.
26. Houston (from Dallas)
Dalen Terry, Arizona, guard-forward, 6-7, 195, sophomore
The Rockets get another first-round pick via the agreed upon deal that will sent Christian Wood to the Mavericks. Not a prolific scorer but loves to get up for alley-oops and dunks, Terry is active defensively and jump starts transition opportunities with his ability to run in the open court.
Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee, guard, 6-0, 171, freshman
A scorer and facilitator at the point guard spot, Chandler thrives at the 3-point line and gets to the rim off the dribble. He is another active guard defensively, trying to get steals and contest shots, and for his size, he can block the occasional shot. This would give Miami point guard depth along with Kyle Lowry and Gabe Vincent.
28. Golden State
Jake LaRavia, Wake Forest, forward, 6-8, 235, junior
The way LaRavia shoots, passes and moves, it’s easy to see him work his way into Golden State’s rotation at some point. He spent his first two college seasons at Indiana State then transferred to Wake Forest where he averaged 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 55.9% from the field and 38.4% on 3s. He also has fundamental footwork that frees him for easy baskets. The Warriors have a knack for finding value late in the draft.
Kendall Brown, guard-forward, 6-8, 205, freshman
This is Memphis’ second first-round pick. It won’t be surprising if the Grizzlies give strong consideration to Michigan State’s Max Christie at this spot. They have had success with Spartans Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman and Zach Randolph going back further. But Brown is a standout defender, a great transition player and an emerging offensive talent. Brown, whose father is a former Harlem Globetrotters player, averaged 9.7 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. The prevailing opinion from scouts is that he will need to develop into a more consistent shooter for NBA success.
30. Denver (from Oklahoma City, Phoenix)
Wendell Moore Jr., Duke, guard-forward, 6-5, 213, junior
An explosive guard playing on the perimeter, Moore improved his shooting – his 3s in particular – and was a better assist man in his third season at Duke. He can play the point if necessary and creates his own shot or a good look for others off the dribble.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism