A look at 20 of the best NCAA prospects hoping to hear their name called in tonight’s NBA Draft.
It’s the day of the draft, which means one thing: I can procrastinate no longer! It’s time for my 2022 draft board, influenced by my SMILODON system. This is not a full board, but my top 20 NCAA players, as I did not have the time or wherewithal to scout high school, G-League, or international ball this year at all.
Now, SMILODON is an attempt to simplify the draft process by breaking college statistical production into several categories and use those trends to form meaningful comparisons.
For perimeter prospects, the categories are “shooting,” “driving,” “point potential,” and “do shit.” Each category takes the following variables into account (all stats pace adjusted per 40). All play by play stats are taken from Hoop-Math.
- Shooting: Three Pointers Made, Free Throw %, Jump Shot %, Height
- Driving: Unassisted makes at the rim in the halfcourt, Free Throws Made, Two Point Misses, Physical Measurements (No-Step Vertical, Lane Agility, Wingspan, Weight)
- Point Potential: Assists, Turnovers, Usage, Age, Height
- Do Shit: Steals, Blocks, Offensive Rebounds, Defensive Rebounds
Big prospects are graded on:
- Shooting: Three Pointers Made, Free Throw %, Jump Shot %, Height, Age
- Awareness: Assists, Turnovers, Steals, Age
- Finishing: Makes & misses at the rim in the halfcourt, Free Throws Made (as a ratio with Field Goals Attempted), No-Step Vertical
- Rim Protection: Blocks, Personal Fouls, Height to Weight Ratio, Wingspan
This big board is influenced by my SMILODON system, but it is ultimately determined by my subjective impressions. In cases in which that impression clashes with the numbers, I’ll do my best to explain my thoughts.
- Paolo Banchero
Putting together the comparisons really drove home the rarity of Banchero’s combination of size, handle, and vision. Ben Simmons and Jabari Parker are the only two prospects over the last decade to compare and they each possessed a glaring weakness (shooting and passing, respectively) Banchero lacks.
His swing skill will be shooting. 34% from three and 73% from the line isn’t great for a perimeter creator, but it is quite promising for a 6’10 freshman. If he can be an even average shooter, his size, agility, and ability to create for others will make him an offensive force that is hard to stop.
I also liked what I saw of his defense, at least on the perimeter. He moves his feet well and guards smaller players effectively. His big man skills are less developed, meaning that he probably does not have a future as a point center without much development.
Even so, Banchero has the clearest path of anyone in the draft to becoming one of the top two players on a championship team and my pick for #1, pending some funky results in his shooting workouts (a la Fultz).
2. Chet Holmgren
SMILODON struggles with skinny bigs. Bol Bol, Aleksej Pokusevski, Nerlens Noel, and Zhou Qi were all overrated by the system. In each case, there were extenuating circumstances, but the combined effect makes me leery of totally buying these results.
Holmgren dominated college players defensively this year. He did get put in the basket occasionally – his game against Jalen Duren turned into a comedy of errors showcasing Holmgren’s lack of strength and Duren’s poor decision making – but what was impressive is how many times he still managed to adjust a shot despite getting moved out of position.
That said, I can’t imagine the lack of strength not being a massive issue in the NBA, as it was at times against good college competition. This is also the reason his rim protection is not green – weight is one of the components used to calculate the score.
On offense, his shooting is promising – 39% from 3 and 72% from the line (slightly better than Banchero on similar volume) – but I don’t really buy his off the dribble game, as he does move very slowly with the ball. The combination of shooting and shotblocking should be enough to make him a valuable player, but I don’t know if he has DPOY or high usage potential, leading me to place him #2 on my board.
3. Jabari Smith
(If Smith is graded as a perimeter player, he looks like a really good 3&D wing, but the issues getting to the rim are still present.)
The problem with putting Jabari Smith at #1 is that he shot 43.5% on two pointers against college players despite being 6’10. That’s really bad. It means that without extreme levels of skill development, he will not be more than a third or fourth option in the NBA. That gives him a much lower offensive ceiling, especially compared to Banchero, that makes it difficult to justify taking him first. And his defense is very good, but there are no indicators of dominant rim protection to make it elite.
On the bright side, really good shooting indicators plus switchable defense plus youth is a very valuable package. It’s easy to understand why he’s going in the top three and it’ll be easy to fit him on a really good team even if he likely will not be the best player on one.
4. A.J. Griffin
This ranking is as much about the weakness of the class as about Griffin himself. His usage was very low, he rarely got to the rim unassisted, and his defensive indicators are mediocre at best.
That said, if you were looking for someone to outperform their indicators, Griffin is the logical choice. Lets make this a bullet pointed list:
- He is one of the youngest players in the class
- He is an excellent shooter
- He has prototypical size for a wing
- He played with other, older top prospects, suppressing his responsibilities
- He had an extremely low turnover rate, indicting he was probably overqualified for his role
There’s no guarantee Griffin pans out, of course, but many prospects who have succeeded recently despite mediocre college stats* shared many of those characteristics. If there was a player I felt better about, I’d rank them higher, but as it is, I’ll put Griffin here as an upside play. If not, at least a wing who can really shoot will always have value.
*Zach LaVine, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Jordan Poole, Tyler Herro among them
5. Malaki Branham
Most of what I wrote for Griffin applies to Branham to a lesser extent. 6’5 guards with 6’10 wingspans who can handle and shoot like Branham are rare. Still rarer are the ones who score effectively from all three levels (71% at the rim, 43% on mostly unassisted two point jumpers, 41% from three) as 18 year old freshmen. To be sure, there are issues defensively and Branham is a willing but inconsistent passer at this stage of his career. However, that skill often develops for taller guards who can shoot, and as long as he can add strength and put in the work to become an average defender, Branham has the potential to be a long term starter in this league.
The downside is that the strength never develops and Branham becomes simply a jump shooter who can’t guard anyone like a couple of the names on his comparable list. I think it’s likely he’ll improve past that, but that scenario is certainly a possibility.
6. Jaden Ivey
Ivey vs Branham is a good example of how important I consider age. The former was a better player this year; he was also a worse prospect at the same age. Ivey is a classic “good if he shoots” combo guard. He’s at 32% from 3 and 74% from the line over two collegiate seasons. Those numbers would be fine for a power forward or center, but they’re a bit concerning from a guard. It doesn’t look better when you add in two pointers – Ivey shot 34% on all jumpers this year.
On the plus side, he can obviously get to the rim, and containing his drives will be a problem for any NBA defense. He’s also a very fun player when he gets going. After making a shot, you can almost see his confidence growing, and he’s much more likely to attack the rim and try on defense when things are going well for him. My hesitation to put him as high as consensus is mostly tied to how difficult it is to expect off the dribble shooting – which he needs to reach his potential – at his age, as hinted at by the comps.
7. Johnny Davis
Similarly, Johnny Davis needs the shooting to come around to reach his potential. Davis is at 33% from 3 and 78% from the line in two years, albeit at a slightly lower volume than Ivey. I really enjoyed watching Davis play: he’s an athletic, physical defender who can be everywhere on the court, throwing his body around like a skinnier Marcus Smart. His combination of aggression and athleticism is attested by his 13.8 Rebound % – a number you’d expect from a combo forward or even a smaller big. In addition, he’s one of the best in the class at attacking the rim and should look even better with NBA spacing.
The concerns with Davis come down to decision making and shooting. I don’t mind most of the decisions I saw him make at Wisconsin, given the dearth of offensive talent around him at most times. The three point shooting will decide the trajectory of his career; there is a possibility he doesn’t shoot efficiently enough to warrant NBA minutes, but I think there is a fairly likely path to average accuracy and above average impact on the court.
8. Bennedict Mathurin
With Mathurin, we have reached the prospects I don’t actually expect to be good players, but I see the avenues for success. While watching Mathurin, I was unimpressed by his handle. He seems to be purely a straight line driver, lacking wiggle or creativity to his game. His passing also seemed to be a bit scattershot, despite the decent Point Potential rating. His shot profile also became more difficult this year and his percentages consequently dropped, making me only reasonably confident he’ll be a good shooter.
What’s the affirmative case for Mathurin? He’s a two guard (listed at 6’7, but looked smaller to me) who can probably shoot, he had a very good freshman year, and he plays with intensity. That’s probably a useful role player, maybe even a starter, which is a good get in the late lottery.
9. Tari Eason
Eason is better than these comparisons. How much better? It’s difficult to say. Older players who can’t pass often have significant issues translating to the NBA, and Eason is notable for his lack of feel on both ends. (Backed up by the three Eason games I watched.) There is a very real chance he simply becomes the Zoomer version of Anthony Randolph and has a better career overseas where his athleticism allows him to dominate without being hamstrung by his decision-making.
On the other hand, maybe the three point shot is real and the stupidly good per-minute counting stats (27-11-5 stocks per 40) are predictive. If they are, then he’s a 20 point scorer and plus defender on the wing. This is about where in the draft I’d take that gamble. (Certainly at #19 in the unlikely event he’s there.)
10. Mark Williams
The first thing you notice when watching Mark Williams is that he’s really big. The second thing is how well he moves despite that size. Centers who can finish at a high level (79% at the rim) and block shots (nearly 5 per 40) have a well-defined role in the NBA as long as they have a modicum of awareness and athleticism, and Williams possesses both. I don’t think he’ll be a star, but he should be a good player for a long time. For teams with a lower risk tolerance, I could see moving him up as far as 6 or 7.
11. Tyty Washington
It’s time for my least favorite part of the draft – determining whether the Kentucky player with crappy stats was limited by the Calipari vortex of suck or actually can’t play. This year’s contest is Tyty Washington, who posted a low three point rate and rarely got to the rim. On the other hand, raw his percentages weren’t bad – 35% from 3, 40% on jumpers, and 75% from the line – and he did shoot 68% at the rim. He has decent size and athleticism. On the other, other hand he was fairly inefficient (53% True Shooting), and his role wasn’t limited by the presence of other NBA caliber players. Late lottery seems like a good compromise between those countervailing factors. He might be my top NCAA player available when Minnesota picks.
12. Jalen Duren
In the film I watched, I was extremely unimpressed with Duren’s game. His processing on both ends seemed slow, he committed dumb fouls, hoisted some ugly jumpers, and did not demonstrate good touch around the basket. On the other hand, he’s super young, big, and had pretty good stats. This ranking is balancing those factors, but I’d say there’s definitely a tier drop for me between 11 & 12. In addition, given the presence of KAT on the Wolves, I might take the next couple players ahead of him should they all be available.
13. Keegan Murray
Murray is another player with an excellent SMILODON about whom I’m somewhat skeptical. His production mostly came from good positioning. He uses a combination of opportunism in transition, good post position against unprepared defenses, and excellent footwork to get any easy points the D will surrender. In situations in which he had to create off the dribble or against a set defense or near the end of the clock, the results were much less reliable, at least in the game I watched. Normally, I wouldn’t put too much stock in that sample, but the subjective difference was stark.
The shooting is probably fine. That he started shooting during his age 21 season is concerning, and I don’t think he’s a guarantee to shoot, but it should be enough to make him a decent offensive player. I just don’t think the shooting, handle, or passing is good enough to make him a primary option in the NBA. His lack of passing also means he will need to score to provide value on offense.
His steal and block numbers are very good, but I don’t think they are representative of his overall defense. His one on one defense was weak and he didn’t seem to have much of an impact contesting shots he didn’t actually block. Overall, I’m expecting him to be a role player – non-passers who break out as older college players don’t have the best track record – but it’s a good chance to see if the stats know something I don’t.
14. Jake LaRavia
LaRavia is the first (and youngest) of an unusual number of beefy combo forwards with uncertain jump shots and good awareness. He has the worst scoring package of that group (him, E.J. Liddell, David Roddy), but I think there is a chance that his “subpar” shooting score is a result of Wake Forest’s offensive scheme. His percentages were good, and his shot looked clean and quick to my eye, but the volume is lower than you’d want. I’m optimistic he can be a decent shooter in the NBA.
Of the aforementioned group, I also think that LaRavia is the best bet to guard on the perimeter. He looked solid against Banchero, and a good defender who can pass and hit open threes is pretty good upside for the mid-late first round. He’s kind of a worst case scenario to be the best player available for the Wolves’ 1st round pick and the best case scenario for their second pick. He’ll probably go somewhere in between.
15. E.J. Liddell
Liddell and LaRavia is an interesting comparison. Liddell is mocked higher, he’s a better shooter, more athletic, and a superior rim protector. So, why do I have him slightly lower? He’s a worse passer, has fewer steals, and has serious defensive questions on the perimeter. The defense means that he’ll have a more difficult transition to the NBA, and the other two factors indicate there’s less of a chance of him sticking through guile and basketball instincts, which is somewhat common for successful players of his archetype (short, skilled, strong power forwards).
16. Jaylin Williams
Speaking of guile and basketball instincts, this Williams may be the most intelligent player in the draft. He racks up charges, throws great passes, and can barely jump over a phonebook. Williams may be too unathletic to play in the NBA, but I like betting on weird players, and if he passes the minimum physical requirements he should be a defensive stalwart for a long time. There’s also an outside shot that he, well, shoots.
17. David Roddy
I don’t know what to make of Roddy. The comparison list says it all. He’s a weird player that may be a star in disguise or he might not be a NBA player at all. The shooting is questionable, the finishing against length is dubious, and the perimeter D is problematic at best. On the other hand, he was an efficiency machine, posting a 65% true shooting on 29% usage. His handle is shockingly tight and functional, he’s an excellent passer, and he is extremely strong for his height. I kind of think he’s not more than a change of pace bench player who wouldn’t survive on defense against starters, but this placement is an acknowledgement I could be wrong.
18. Jeremy Sochan
There are quite a few young forwards* with very unimpressive statistical production in this draft, and Sochan is probably the best of the lot. His offensive game is on the spectrum between nascent and non-existent, but he’s young and athletic enough that, if he develops a three point shot (30% from 3 and 59% from the line), he could be a valuable wing.
*Peyton Watson, Patrick Baldwin, Caleb Houstan, Max Christie, Kendall Brown, and Josh Minott also fall into this category
19. Jalen Williams
By this point, we’re getting into players I think would be good second round gambles, and Williams will likely be gone by the late first. Reasons for optimism around Williams’ game include his physical profile, juice off the bounce, and surprisingly good vision. That said, there are concerns here. The primary one is his jump shot. Williams shot nearly 40% from three; however, that was on a limited number of attempts as a junior after having been a near-non shooter the previous two years. It’s the kind of performance that screams “fake shooter” from an upperclassman at a mid-major. His defensive numbers were also surprisingly mediocre for someone of his athleticism playing at a lower level of competition.
Now, I could be wrong and the shooting could be real. It’s possible he did make a real improvement and his low number of attempts are a function of his role primarily on the ball. His per-minute defensive numbers were also better two years ago as a relatively young freshman. This ranking is attempting to account for those possibilities, but his performance at shooting workouts would move him up or down on my board.
20. Walker Kessler
Kessler is another guy who could be a good gamble if he falls to the second round. He’s really big, blocked a lot of shots, has extremely long arms, and did I mention he blocked a lot of shots? He took some threes and missed most of them, but the main thing is that he blocked a lot of shots. Could be a good backup center.
The full spreadsheet for this year can be found at this link. I’ll be around most of the day – ask me anything and I’ll respond with an extremely ill-informed, unconsidered opinion!