In the NBA the value of big men is low these days. Dominant centers are decidedly less valuable than dominant wings and guards. But the NBA draft is about drafting the best talent available and not reaching, either for team fit or (to a lesser extent) positional value.
So with this in mind it will be especially interesting to see how the 2022 NBA Draft plays out. At this point it seems likely that many of the top prospects in this class will be power forwards and centers. Will the big men dominant at the top of the draft or will teams pass up more talented bigs to reach for wings and guards?
Or maybe it’s not so cut and dry. Let me explain:
Chet Holmgren is a 7-footer who could easily be classified as a center or power forward but the reality is he’s a slick ball-handling, sweet shooting big wing who just happens to be 7-feet tall and able to defend at the rim. He’s not just a center or a big man prospect. He’s a unique all-around talent who can play all over the court. The Gonzaga freshman will play alongside another skilled big man in Drew Timme this year and will be given a lot of freedom to roam the perimeter, stroke the 3 ball and handle in the open court. He might be big but he’s not strictly a big. His role in the NBA could be similar to Kevin Durant (not saying he’s Kevin Durant), an archetype that clearly has a lot of value. To put it another way Chet isn’t a center, he’s a unicorn; a rare mythological creature who can do a bit of everything on the court.
The same could be said for Duke’s Paolo Banchero. The 6-9 powerhouse is more of a classic power forward in terms of size and physical ability but he’s also a highly skilled perimeter player who has legit wing skills. He can shoot from deep and create his own offense with the dribble. He’s a creative passer with point-forward skills. His ball handling is on another level compared to most players his size, like a more advanced Julius Randle or Blake Griffin. Classifying Paolo as a big would be accurate but doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s a versatile player who will have no problem fitting into the modern NBA.
Now there are some more traditional center prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft and this will be the most intriguing thing to watch in terms of how they are valued/drafted by NBA teams.
Jalen Duren, who recently reclassified and committed to play for coach Penny at Memphis, is a powerful force in the paint with broad shoulders, a solid base and exceptionally long arms. He does show flashes of mid range shooting and will eventually stretch his shot to the 3pt line but for all intents and purposes he’s an interior oriented big man who lives in the paint. He’s an intimidator on defense who blocks and alters a ton of shots and makes his presence felt in the lane. He’s got decent feet for guarding on the perimeter but won’t be confused with Clint Capela, in terms of his ability to switch everything and guard in space. This is one area where NBA teams could look to exploit his size and comparative lack of mobility. On the offensive end Duren is mostly an interior scorer who has a post game that is developing nicely and a really soft touch around the rim. It helps that he has a 7-5 wingspan and massive hands and is able to put the ball in the basket with barely any jump. He uses his strength well to gain position, has good hands catching the entry pass and does a nice job of making himself available for lobs around the rim. He’s got a game that would fit better in the 1990’s than the modern NBA but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a force in the league (and a likely top 6 pick with some top 3 potential). This past post season we saw how much value Deandre Ayton had for the Suns. Duren is built in the same mold.
Some of the same things could be said for Yannick Nzosa, a 6-11 center from the Congo. He’s a force inside on D and is mainly a lob catching, rim running big. But the big difference between Duren and Nzosa is that the latter is a hyper-mobile player who has elite movement skills for a big and projects as a player who can guard in space and anywhere/everywhere on the floor. He’s not as powerful of a player as Duren but is a potentially elite shot blocker thanks to his quick leaping, great instincts and truly unique athleticism for a player his size. Yannick will be one of the youngest players in the 2022 draft, born in mid November of 2003 and has tantalizing upside but early in his career he projects as a shot blocker/rim-runner type of player. Will NBA teams value that skill-set over the likes of say, Jaden Ivey or one of the other talented guard/wing prospects? It will be fascinating to see how that plays out.
Nikola Jović is a 6-10 Serbian forward who I’m tempted to group with the wings rather than the bigs because of his advanced perimeter game. He’s a point-forward who is just as comfortable bringing the ball up the court and creating offense for others as he is in the post. Jović has a great feel for the game and advanced passing instincts. In some ways he reminds me of a young Dario Saric but with far better speed/athleticism and a more advanced scoring package. He currently projects as yet another frontcourt player who will go in the top 10 of the 2022 draft.
Jabari Smith enters his freshman season at Auburn with sky high expectations and a chance to be a one and done lottery pick. The 6-9 power forward is a smooth operator with a great touch from mid range and beyond and the ability to beat his man off the dribble. He might not be an elite run/jump athlete like some of the other names on this list but he’s got an advanced skill-set and a great feel for the game. He projects as a really good floor spacer at the next level in the mold of a Rashard Lewis type of player. He can guard in the post, plays good team defense and has some switchability on the wing.
Daimion Collins is another potential lottery pick at the PF/C position. The Kentucky freshman is a long, wiry athlete with a ridiculous wingspan, great mobility and the makings of a nice perimeter game. He’s very thin and will have to get a lot stronger to maximize his potential but the same can be said for many teenage prospects. Collins will have a lot of competition for minutes on this Kentucky team and so his stats might not jump out at you this season but the athletic upside, the impressive length and the intriguing skill level could still make him a first rounder with some lottery potential. Of all the players listed so far he’s the most likely to spend a second year in school but could be a one and done player as well. He does fit the mold of where the league is going, with bigs who can handle, space the floor (although outside shooting is still a work in progress for Daimion) and who can guard in space.
Mouhamed Gueye is one of my favorite under the radar prospects for the 2022 (or possibly 2023) draft. The 6-11 big-forward freshman from Washington State is just figuring out how to put it all together on the court but his athletic upside and flashes of big time ability are enough to warrant a potential first round grade. He’s got elite movement skills for a player his size and flashes open court ball handling ability and a nicely developing perimeter game. He’s not on other draft boards that I’ve seen but you should keep a close eye on him this year. He’s got a chance to be really good.
Moussa Diabite is another big time talent at the PF position in this draft class. The 6-10 Michigan freshman is a rock solid all around player, fundamentally sound and impacts both ends of the floor. He’s developing the ability to space the floor, has a nice feel for the game, doesn’t force the issue and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He’s got good size and athleticism and projects as a really solid role player (with some star potential) at the NBA level. He plays with good energy and intensity – and will be part of a monster frontcourt next to Hunter Dickinson.
The center class isn’t just talented, it’s also very deep with a long list of good prospects through the end of the first round and deep into the second round. The following players all have a chance to be drafted this year, making this one of the most deep and talented big men drafts we’ve seen in a long time:
Mark Williams – Came on strong at the end of his freshman season and is in-line for a big second season at Duke. The 7-footer definitely has more of an old school game but is an impactful defender with some upside on offense.
Michael Foster – Highly skilled scorer who is always in attack mode. Has first round and even lottery potential if he has a big year for the G League Ignite.
Hunter Dickinson – A highly skilled but slow, plodding big who projects as a back up in the NBA.
Ibou Dianko Badji – A freak of nature athletically but still figuring out how to put it together on the court. Has big upside but might take a while.
Walker Kessler is a uniquely skilled 7-1 center who transferred from UNC to Auburn. He’s got a really soft touch from mid range and beyond plus a good feel for the game on the offensive end.
Brandon Huntley-Hatfield – The Tennessee freshman is yet another first round talent who should play a big role this year for the Vols.
Drew Timme – The highly skilled scoring forward from Gonzaga should be in the running for the Wooden Award this year. A potential late first to early second round talent.
Azuolas Tubelis – The Lithuanian forward had a great first season at Arizona and will look to take the next step as a go-to scorer and improve his defense.
Khalifa Diop – Has really improved over the past year, showing an expanded game with some floor spacing ability to go along with big time shot blocking and athleticism. Could move up boards this season.
Tristan Vukcevic – The Serbian big projects as a second rounder with some first round potential.
Isaiah Mobley – I was surprised that he returned to USC for his junior season. He should be in for a big year, taking his game to the next level and solidifying his draft stock.
Kofi Cockburn – The massive center from Illinois is a difficult projection to the next level but will dominate the Big Ten this year and has a chance to have a long NBA career.
Makur Maker – A late withdrawal from the 2021 draft, Maker will not be playing college ball this year and instead focus on preparing for the 2022 draft (could be headed to the NBL).
Dawson Garcia – Having transferred to UNC he’ll become more of a national name this year. Has a sweet offensive package and high skill level for his size.
Franck Kepnang – A rim running, shot blocking specialist from Oregon who could surprise people with a big season. Either a 2022 or possibly a 2023 draft prospect.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua – Really burst onto the scene late last season for Baylor. A big time athlete who fits the role of a small-ball 5.
Ariel Hukporti – The German center will be playing in the NBL this year and could be a second rounder in the 2022 draft.
David McCormack – isn’t the sexiest player but has developed into a rock solid center for the JayHawks.
Kai Sotto – A 7-2 center from the Philippines with a high skill level and nice feel for the game. A bit slow by NBA standards.
Trayce Jackson-Davis – A post oriented PF who will have to expand his game for the next level.
And the list goes on and on!
As you can see there’s a lot of big man talent in the upcoming draft class and even though PF/C’s aren’t en vogue these days, you can’t pass on talent in the draft.
The 2022 NBA Draft won’t change the direction the league is going or usher in a new era of post-oriented play in the NBA but it could be the most big man dominated draft in years.
Stay tuned for future posts looking at the wings and the guards in the 2022 draft class.
Here’s the full 2022 NBA Mock Draft