The 2022 draft has been widely panned as a weak draft but is this “weak draft” label warranted? Should NBA teams do what they can to trade their 2022 draft picks for pennies on the dollar? Let’s take a closer look.
It’s not uncommon for a draft to look weak 12 months out or even 6 months out, only to have players emerge later in the season and into the draft cycle as big time prospects. I’d argue that this is the case this year.
2 months ago I would’ve agreed with the consensus that this is a very down year but now, with the awesome play of some of the top prospects, the potential addition of Shaedon Sharpe and the emergence of half a dozen or so freshmen, I’m going out on a limb and calling this a solid draft class. I’m not saying it’s a strong class that will go down as an all time great group of prospects but I think the narrative that it’s a weak class is slightly overblown.
The two biggest knocks that I see against this draft class are the lack of an elite tier 1 talent at the top of the draft and potentially a lack of quality depth. I say potentially because we’ll have to wait to see which players declare and who stays in school, but at this point it looks like there are about 25 players with clear first round grades, unlike last year where there were about 35.
No Tier 1 Player?
I think it’s safe to say there is no clear tier 1 player like we’ve seen in some past drafts, like LeBron, Anthony Davis or Greg Oden (yes, he was that good). But I’d say there are 4 players who are high tier 2 prospects and a few others who could be considered tier 2.
I’ve written enough about Chet and Jabari so I’ll keep this short. Both are elite talents and both will be franchise-altering players. With Jabari it’s crystal clear how his skills translate to the NBA so I’d say he’s the safer pick at the top of the draft. With Chet there’s a little bit more boom or bust potential but the ceiling is sky high – and I’d bet on him reaching that ceiling.
The next two high tier 2 talents are Jaden Ivey who flashes a skill-set that in some ways reminds of Ja Morant and in some ways Dwayne Wade. Now, he might not ever get to the level of either of those two but for a team drafting in the 3-5 range it’s worth the gamble to find out. Jaden’s rate of improvement over the past two years has been awesome and that trajectory is still pointing up.
Shaedon Sharpe is the mystery man of the draft (and might even stay until 2023) but we know enough about him to put him right up there near the top of this draft class. If he was playing ball this season he’d be getting a ton of buzz and might even be in the running for no.1 overall. He’s that good. If he does declare in 2022 this “weak” class gets a lot stronger at the top.
Mid Lottery Mayhem
There are some interesting prospects projected to be available in the mid lottery this year but most of them project as role players with solid floors but low ceilings.
Paolo Banchero is the most intriguing of the group and should be an offensive force from day 1 but might not do enough defensively to be a star in the league. If he falls out of the top 4 it’s really solid value. If you look at some of the past no.5 overall picks like Thomas Robinson, Alex Len, Dante Exum, Mario Hezonja, Kris Dunn etc. you could do a lot worse than a player like Paolo (or Sharpe or Ivey, whoever falls to no.5).
His Duke teammate Adrian Griffin Jr. has a higher upside but a lower floor and some question marks about if he can stay healthy. He’s been putting on an offensive showcase over the second half of the season, shooting the lights out and really emerging as a high level prospect. Even with the question marks it’s hard to argue against the value of a Griffin Jr. in the 5-10 range.
Keegen Murray seems like the consummate role player who should have a long, successful NBA career. He might not be a multi-time All Star but getting a solid starter in the 7-12 range is decent value.
Other prospects who present solid value in this range are TyTy Washington (some boom or bust potential) Johnnie Davis and Benedict Mathurin. Teams drafting in the second half of the lottery can expect to get solid value, even though it’s not the most exciting group of prospects we’ve ever seen.
Another player who I’d call a wildcard is Jalen Duren. He plays a role that doesn’t have a ton of value these days but seems to have some untapped upside beyond just rebounding, defending the rim and scoring deep in the post. His passing instincts are good and he flashes the occasional jump shot. He’s 18 months younger than Chet Holmgren… so just imagine what he’d be doing to college basketball a year and a half from now! He’ll take some time to develop but could be really solid value mid to late lottery.
Fast Rising Freshmen
Every season we see a few players rise up draft boards over the second half of the college basketball season and this year is no different. Two players who are flying up my draft board (and giving this draft class better apparent depth) are Malaki Branham of Ohio State and Jeremy Sochan of Baylor
Malaki Branham is an extremely efficient wing who can create his own offense and is starting to fill it up, posting some monster games in February. He’s long, athletic, has an exceptional mid range game and plays with poise and maturity. I’ve been high on him for a while but saw him as a likely two-year college player. Now it looks like he’s a one and done who could rise into the late lottery.
Jeremy Sochan is a silky smooth big combo forward who has awesome versatility and can do a bit of everything on the court. Early in the season his teammate Kendall Brown was getting all the buzz (and should still be a mid first rounder) but Sochan has been the more impressive prospect over the second half of the season and is becoming a very intriguing player in the 10-20 range.
One more freshmen who is holding steady in the late lottery to mid first round area is Michigan State shooting guard Max Christie. He’s a great off-the-ball guard with a sweet shooting stroke who plays both ends of the floor. I’ve been impressed with his defense and his decision making, and of course that beautiful jumper.
There’s nothing “weak” about picking a talent like Christie, Sochan or Branham in the mid teens to early twenties.
International Depth, Or Lack Thereof
6 months ago the international players looked like a strength of this draft class but this group is now looking subpar. At the top of the list, Nikola Jović is the real deal. Some mocks inexplicably have him in the late twenties but expect him to get drafted late lottery to mid first round. It’s not everyday you find a 6-10 wing with legit ball skills and play-making ability. But after Jović it doesn’t look so good.
There were high expectations for Ousmane Dieng and Yannick Nzosa coming into this year but so far they have both disappointed and seen their draft stock plummet. The rest of the international class is full of promising late first to second round prospects but none that are likely to make an impact in the near term. I’m especially high on Khalifa Diop, a highly athletic 6-11 center born in Senegal and Gabriele Procida, a sweet shooting wing from Italy. Expect a handful of other draft and stash picks in the mid to late second round but don’t get your expectations too high for this group.
Going into the season Patrick Baldwin Jr. was very high on draft boards and was even ranked in the top 3 by some scouts. But the 6-10 wing has struggled mightily, shooting a woeful 34% from the field against weak competition and battling a nagging ankle injury, which has sidelined him for part of the past two seasons. At this point it’s hard to imagine a team investing a high draft pick on him and he could even fall out of the first round, if he declares.
Caleb Houstan was mocked in the top 10 of many early mocks (this one included) but has had a rough beginning to his Wolverine career (although he has started to look more comfortable lately and could be finding his rhythm). He’s no longer considered a lottery pick and might be well served to spend another year in school. Houstan projects as a floor spacing complimentary player at the next level, lacking the creativity with the ball to score much in isolation. His best basketball is ahead of him but he won’t be a very hot commodity on draft day.
Hunter Sallis has all the athleticism in the world but a long ways to go before being ready to contribute at the NBA level. Another year (or two) in Spokane should do him wonders.
G League Prospects Rising and Falling
Jaden Hardy started the season mocked in the top 5 of most mock drafts, including this one, but he’s been underwhelming for the G League Ignite and has taken a tumble down draft boards.
Meanwhile his teammate Dyson Daniels has gone from fringe first rounder to top 20, with lottery potential and MarJon Beauchamp has surprised to the upside and could be mid first rounder as well.
Mike Foster has been solid but not spectacular and could land in the late first to early second round. He’s got lots of physical ability and a good looking shot but doesn’t make great decisions with the ball.
Overall the Ignite prospects have been mildly disappointing, especially Hardy (although 2023 prospect Scoot Henderson has shined) but they do add to the depth of this class.
To Declare or Not Declare?
A number of other talented freshmen will have difficult decisions to make this Spring. These decisions will have a big impact on how strong or weak this draft class is. The following players are potential first rounder’s this year but could rise into the lottery if they stay in school. Having these players declare for 2022 will make this draft class a whole lot stronger!
Matthew Cleveland and John Butler of Florida State, Blake Wesley Notre Dame, Harrison Ingram Stanford, Moussa Diabate, Michigan, Bryce McGowens, Nebraska
Each of these 6 players have intriguing upside and bright NBA futures. And with the NBA Draft all about upside it will be tempting for them to declare this year, which would greatly add to the depth and talent of this class. This is a group I’ll be watching most closely.
Upperclassmen Need Love Too
While we all love to focus on the freshmen and dream about unlimited upside we’ve seen in recent years that a lot of the best value in the draft comes from upperclassmen. This year we have a few vets who are projected as mid to late first rounder’s and deserve to get some love including Duke point-forward Wendell Moore, UConn’s Adama Sanogo, LSU’s Tari Eason, Kansas wings Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun and Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell. These six might not sell a ton of tickets or get a fan-base hyped but could look like excellent value picks when we look back at this draft a few years hence.
A Whole Bunch of Bigs
I’ve written plenty about the bigs in this draft class and the great depth at the position. In short, there are a whole bunch of long time NBA players in this group.
No Point Whatsoever
By far the weakest position in this class is the point guard position. Ivey is a combo who will handle the ball a lot, and TyTy is best with the ball in his hands as well but can play off the ball. Neither is a true point guard and there might not be a true point guard taken in the first round.
For NBA teams needing help at the pg position, this isn’t the year to get it. The first true point guard to come off the board could be a Kennedy Chandler who is immensely talented but very undersized. He projects as a back up in the league. Jamaree Bouyea (USF) could make some noise this draft season and could even rise into the late first round. Jean Montero (Overtime Elite) gets a lot of love from some scouts but comes with a lot of question marks as well. The lack of talent at the position could push him up to the first round. But overall this is a lackluster group, to say the least.
Upside Athletes Who Should Go Back To School
This class could be even deeper if these players declare but they’d be well served to stay in school for another year to develop their games: J.D. Davison, Payton Watson and Terquavion Smith.
Final Thoughts – The State of the 2022 NBA Draft
Although this post didn’t touch on every prospect available for the 2022 draft hopefully it gives a high level overview of the strengths, weaknesses and the overall state of this class. The details are complex but the summary is simple: this is a solid draft class but lacks one clear elite talent at the top and doesn’t have great depth. The international class is subpar, the point guard position is very weak but a number of talented freshmen could declare and bolster the quality and depth of the draft class.
It’s easy to conform to the consensus narrative that this is a weak class but a closer look (and a little imagination + projection into the future) shows that plenty of quality NBA players will be available deep into the first round. If you made it this far, thanks for reading!
Here’s the latest 2022 NBA Mock Draft