Freshmen Who Should Declare for the 2022 Draft and Who Should Return To School

It’s March and all eyes are on the NCAA tournament but for a few dozen talented youngsters the biggest decision of their lives is looming. There are a handful of obvious decisions, some tough decisions and there will be a lot “testing the waters” and getting feedback from NBA scouts.

Below I’ll go through which freshmen I think should declare, who should stay in school and an explanation of why this is so.

The Obvious Ones (no explanations needed)

  • Jabari Smith Jr. – PF – Auburn
  • Chet Holmgren – PF/C – Gonzaga
  • Paolo Banchero – PF – Duke
  • Adrian Griffin Jr. – SF – Duke
  • TyTy Washington – PG/SG – Kentucky

Players Who Should Declare For The 2022 Draft

  • Shaedon Sharpe – SG – Kentucky – Although he didn’t play a minute of college basketball this season Sharpe is well positioned to be a high lottery pick this coming June and his draft stock might not get any higher, even if he stays and balls out at Kentucky in 2022/23. As a fan of college basketball I’d love to see him come back to school but the incentive might not be there. The faster he gets to the NBA the faster he gets to second contract…and a third. He’d also be entering a draft that is light on talent at the top, giving him a good chance to selected high in the lottery.
  • Jalen Duren – C – Memphis – Duren is a sure-fire lottery pick who could crack the top 8 of the draft. He’s extremely young for his class and has plenty of room for improvement but that growth can come in the NBA. It would be fascinating to see him return for a second year at Memphis but there’s really no need and very little chance of that happening.
  • Malaki Branham – SG – Ohio State – Branham doesn’t have a lot of name recognition but NBA scouts are fully aware of his talents. Over the course of the past few months he’s gone from a projected 2023 first rounder to a possible lottery pick in 2022, thanks to his great scoring outbursts in February and March and is overall efficient play this year. He’s got a clear NBA frame and a clear NBA skill-set – plus he looks more NBA ready than most freshmen and he’s got plenty of upside as well.
  • Kendall Brown – SF – Baylor – Brown’s draft stock has fallen slightly since a hot start to the season saw him mocked in the top 10. Still, he’s a likely first rounder who could even land in the back half of the lottery. It’s not out of the question that he returns to school, especially if he gets feedback that he could fall to the second round but that doesn’t seem likely.  
  • Jeremy Sochan – SF/PF – Baylor – At the beginning of the year I listed Sochan as one of the freshmen who could surprise this season but I didn’t see him rising this far this fast and gaining lottery consideration. Although he has his weaknesses, especially shooting the ball from deep and from the FT line, he’s such a heady player with so much versatility that he should be able to contribute at the next level in the very near future. He might gain a few draft spots if he stays in school but it’s probably not worth it to find out.  Sochan could go as high as top 10 or slip to mid first round.
  • Blake Wesley – SG – Notre Dame – Wesley will be drafted in the first round if he declares this year and could even rise into the lottery. He’ll get drafted a lot higher if he stays and plays a second season for the Fighting Irish and he could see a meteoric rise like we just witnessed with Jaden Ivey but don’t count on him returning. The allure of being a first rounder is hard to resist and he looks ready to take this next step.
  • Bryce McGowens – SG – Nebraska – Bryce might not be fully NBA ready but he helped his draft stock so much this year that it seems wise to make the jump to the league now. The long, lanky and explosive 6-7 wing has NBA traits and should do well developing in a NBA system.

Close Call – Could Go Either Way

  • Matthew Cleveland – SF – Florida State – It wouldn’t be a NBA draft cycle without at least one Florida State forward rising up draft boards. Cleveland should be the latest… even though he doesn’t appear (yet) in most mock drafts. The long 6-7 wing is one of the most physically gifted players in this class and is oozing with upside potential. He’s a hyper-active defender who guards all over the court. I really hope he stays for a second season in school but that might be wishful thinking.
  • Arthur Kaluma – SF/PF – Creighton – Kaluma has the upside to get drafted, possibly even in the first round but could do wonders for his stock by staying in school another season. He’s a hot name right now after a strong finish to the season and a big game in the tournament so he could look to capitalize on the momentum and at least test the waters this year.
  • Moussa Diabate – PF – Michigan – I’m a huge fan of Diabate. I think he’ll get drafted higher than most people assume – and I’d also be excited to see him return for a second season at Michigan. I imagine Moussa will test the draft waters and could be a late riser up draft boards. Keep an eye out for him.
  • John Butler – PF – Florida State – Another young Seminole not found on most mocks is the 7-1 combo forward with the sweet shooting stroke, John Butler. While not the most NBA ready of prospects Butler has a skill-set rarely seen at any level of play. In some ways he’s comparable to Chet Holmgren with his 3pt shooting and shot blocking – although he’s not as deft of a ball handler and doesn’t project the rim nearly as well. If Butler returns he could make himself into a lottery pick.
  • J.D. Davison – PG – Alabama – Davison didn’t have the best season this year but shows plenty of flashes of elite ability. I’d love to see him return to school and pair with Jaden Bradley to form the most dynamic backcourt in the land but that might be wishful thinking. Davison projects as a second rounder if he comes out this year and would likely spend a year or two developing in the G League.
  • Harrison Ingram – SF – Stanford – Ingram will be drafted if he declares this year, likely in the late first round but he could do wonders for his draft stock with another year in school, potentially rising into the lottery. There’s not a right answer here. If he likes being in college and sees the benefits of improving his draft stock great. If not, declaring this year makes a lot of sense too.
  • Trevor Keels – SG/SF – Duke – It seems unlikely that Keels will play a second season at Duke but one can dream. With the loaded recruiting class coming in the Blue Devils will be just fine without his services. Keels has somewhat of a wide draft projection at the moment. If he show out in workouts he could sniff the lottery but there’s also a scenario where he falls to the early second round.
  • Max Christie – SG – Michigan State – I’ve been high on Christie for a few years now but he had somewhat of an underwhelming freshman season and his draft stock is mixed. He’s still in the first round conversation but could slide into the mid second. Returning to school might b a wise decision and I could see him rising to the mid first round of 2023 with a strong second season at State.
  • Patrick Baldwin Jr. – SF/PF – Wis. Milwaukee – The highly ranked recruit failed to live up to his billing this year and has struggled with injuries as well, leaving his draft stock up in the air. Baldwin Jr. should test the draft waters, get feedback and then decide to enter the draft or transfer to a different school for his sophomore season. The natural talent is there but the on-court production has been lacking. Still, NBA scouts might rate him highly based on his high school success and the foundation he has as a 6-9 wing who can (presumably still) shoot the ball.
  • Kennedy Chandler PG – Tennessee – Chandler had a great freshman season and might not be able to improve his draft stock much more than what it is right now. He’s got the talent of a first rounder but the size of an undrafted player at just about 6-feet tall, maybe a little shorter. He does have a plus wingspan, which helps.
  • Terquavion Smith -PG/SG – NC State – Smith blew up this season, put his name on the draft radar and could be NBA-bound after just one season with the Wolfpack. He could benefit from another year in school but it makes sense for him to test the waters and see if he gets a first round grade.

Players I’d Love To See Return To School

  • Payton Watson – SF – UCLA – Watson is a monster of an athlete but had a scary bad freshmen season, shooting only 32% from the field, 23% from 3pt land and unable to make a big impact on a very solid Bruins team. But all of his upside is still there and he’d probably get drafted if he declares. Staying another year would be good but he could choose to develop his talents in a professional setting.
  • Josh Minott – SF – Memphis – Minott has already declared and he probably gets drafted if he stays in the draft this year but another year in school (he indicated it won’t be at Memphis) could do him wonders and solidify him as a first round pick. He’s certainly an upside play and upside tends to get drafted. I’m not as sold on his readiness for the NBA but there are some scouts out there that are really, really high on him.
  • Caleb Houstan – SF – Michigan – Caleb would probably get drafted, especially after playing better in March but he’d still be well served to spend another season in school.
  • Hunter Sallis – PG/SG – Gonzaga – I had very high expectations for Sallis coming into this season but it’s been a tough year for the springy 6-5 combo guard. Sallis was somewhat buried on a deep team but also looked a little more raw than anticipated. Another year or two in school is needed and he’ll benefit greatly from being in a system that develops talent so well.
  • Nolan Hickman – PG – Gonzaga – Like his teammate Sallis, Hickman didn’t get a lot of run this year and looks primed for a bigger role next season.
  • Frankie Collins – PG – Michigan – Frankie might want to test the waters but needs to be back at Michigan for at least one more season.
  • Daimion Collins – PF/C – Kentucky – Collins has already announced he’s returning to school, as he should.
  • Jalen Warley – PG – Florida State – This one seems obvious but I like him as a pick in 2023.
  • Mouhamed Gueye – PF – Washington State – Too raw to come out this year but has a lot of talent.

Here’s the latest 2022 NBA Mock Draft