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Today marks the day of the 2022 NBA Draft. Dreams are fulfilled and teams are looking to find prospects to help them win championships. Now, no one has any idea how good any one of these guys will end up being. I especially have no clue. But I love to guess and play fake GM. So here is a mock draft of what I personally would do in these spots if I were running these teams. 

1. Orlando Magic – Paolo Banchero F Duke

I wrote more extensively here as to why I think Banchero is the best prospect in this draft. He can grow into Orlando’s premier halfcourt option as soon as he steps into the building.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Chet Holmgren C Gonzaga

A perfect fit next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey with Holmgren’s versatility as a floor spacer, rim roller, shooting off the bounce, and slashing ability. Don’t overthink Chet Holmgren.

3. Houston Rockets – Jabari Smith Jr. F Auburn

Jabari Smith gets called a 6-10 Klay Thompson but don’t get it twisted: that’s a really damn good player. Especially after watching him in person, Jabari Smith is exactly what teams want from their wings in today’s NBA. I just wish he could create off the bounce more.

4. Sacramento Kings – Jaden Ivey G Purdue

Jaden Ivey is simply immensely better than Keegan Murray and anyone else in this group; you could even argue Ivey is a better prospect than Jabari Smith or others in the top three. Sacramento does have a cluster of guards, though. People recommending them trading away De’Aaron Fox and his max salary to make room for Ivey is easier said than done though. But I just can’t pass Ivey up, especially after the names this franchise has passed up over the last decade-plus (Luka Doncic, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, to name a few). Take Ivey and worry about the roster clog at guard later.

5. Detroit Pistons – AJ Griffin F Duke

I wrote more extensively about Griffin here. Suffice to say, I think Griffin has more creator skills than he was allowed to show at Duke and is probably the best shooter in this draft. I LOVE the fit with Griffin and Cade Cunningham. 

6. Indiana Pacers – Bennedict Mathurin F Arizona

Perhaps no one played as well in the NCAA Tournament as Bennedict Mathurin. The idea of Mathurin and Tyrese Haliburton harassing guards all over the floor defensively is incredibly enticing. I love the fit here.

7. Portland Trail Blazers – Keegan Murray F Iowa

The Blazers finally added a wing in Jerami Grant on Wednesday. Keegan Murray isn’t a stopper defensively but can cover a lot of ground, can stretch the floor and would make for a great pick and roll tandem with Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, or Grant. Portland wants to compete now, so getting one of the most pro-ready prospects in this class makes sense.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (via Los Angeles Lakers) – Shaedon Sharpe G Kentucky

New Orleans is already a playoff team with plenty of draft ammunition in their tool kit. They’re a team that can take a risk in the top 10 so why not take the chance on Sharpe, who some say is the most talented player in this class. I love the idea of Sharpe learning from the steady professional scorer CJ McCollum. The fit around New Orleans’ two building-block stars in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson makes sense too.

9. San Antonio Spurs – Jalen Duren C Memphis

Jakob Poeltl has one year left on his contract. The Spurs have four picks in the top 40. Duren is the best center in this class with a game comparable to Boston’s Robert Williams III. They can get a guard or wing later. I like the fit here with Duren.

10. Washington Wizards – Jalen Williams F Santa Clara

Williams is a two-way wing close to the size of Paul George with the athleticism of Donovan Mitchell? I talked more about Williams after the NBA combine, but safe to say I’m a fan and that going at ten even might be too low for his potential.

11. New York Knicks – Dyson Daniels F G League Ignite

Dyson Daniels going in the top seven doesn’t make too much sense to me. He seems like someone that is solid at everything but not great at anything. 11 is much more palatable to me. He could play off RJ Barrett very well and seems very much like a Tom Thibodeau guy.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Los Angeles Clippers) – Tari Eason F LSU

At some point, the Thunder have to try to win some games, right? Tari Eason is one of the best defenders in this draft. Him and Holmgren smothering front courts with both having the versatility to defend all over the floor? Sounds good to me.

13. Charlotte Hornets – Ousmane Dieng F France / New Zealand Breakers

Charlotte needs wings and Dieng has the frame and game to excel next to LaMelo Ball as a point forward wing and also bring some much-needed defense to the Hornets. With two first-round picks, Charlotte can afford to take a shot on upside here too.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers – Johnny Davis G Wisconsin

There may not be a better fit for Davis than Cleveland. He is not a playmaker yet, but no worries because Darius Garland is already one of the best playmaking guards in the NBA. Garland isn’t a great defender, but Davis gets after it there with his 6-6 frame and athleticism. He can hit tough shots in the midrange, which would be a requirement with Cleveland’s two-big frontcourt. Cleveland should run to deliver the card with his name on it.

15. Charlotte Hornets (via New Orleans Pelicans) – Mark Williams C Duke

Charlotte needs a center as badly as Spongebob needed water when he first visited Sandy’s dome. Mark Williams instantly bolsters Charlotte’s defense and makes an awesome lob partner for LaMelo Ball.

16. Atlanta Hawks – Jeremy Sochan F Baylor

I’m not as big a Jeremy Sochan fan as others but he’s a stud defensively who just turned 19. Also, the ‘You Don’t Mess With the Sochan’ potential marketing campaigns are just sitting right there. You’re welcome, NBA teams.

17. Houston Rockets (via Brooklyn Nets) – Kennedy Chandler PG Tennessee

This might be too early for Chandler but this is what I would do damnit! I don’t want Banchero to succumb to pedestrian point guard play as he did at Duke for a large portion of their season, though Jalen Green is a good playmaker in his own right. Chandler is arguably the best pure floor general in this class with pesty defense and athleticism to go with it. He can make Green and Alperen Sengun’s life easier too. I love this fit.

18. Chicago Bulls – EJ Liddell F Ohio State

The Bulls so badly need depth on the wing. Poor Alex Caruso was sent to the wolves in the playoffs by having to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo when Patrick Williams got in foul trouble or needed a blow. Though Caruso is one of the best defensive players in the NBA, he shouldn’t have to take on that kind of assignment. Liddell is pro-ready both in terms of game and frame (6-7 240-pounds) and provides exactly what Chicago needs in terms of defense, additional rim protection, and floor spacing.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves – Jake LaRavia F Wake Forest

Jake LaRavia does many of the same things as Liddell. He isn’t as skilled an offensive player as Liddell but is a more bouncy athlete. I wrote more about him here but he’d make for a perfect fit with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Wolves.

20. San Antonio Spurs – Ochai Agbaji F Kansas

This seems low for one of the best players in college basketball last season. Agbaji helped Kansas win a national championship last year and has a game that reminds me a lot of Mikal Bridges. I think he’d fit like a glove in San Antonio.

21. Denver Nuggets – Malaki Branham G Ohio State

This seems low as well. Malaki Branham may not be the best prospect to come from St. Vincent St. Mary High School but he’s one of the best shooters and scorers in the draft. I know Denver drafted Bones Hyland to fill that role last year but getting more players who can fill Jamal Murray’s shoes if he can’t play in a given game. 

22. Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah Jazz) – TyTy Washington G Kentucky

TyTy Washington has numbers and a game eerily similar to Tyrese Maxey. I pounded the table for teams to consider Maxey higher than where he went. Teams that passed on him proved to make a big mistake. Washington is a bit more polished playmaker than Maxey coming out of Kentucky and the Grizzlies could very well lose Tyus Jones this summer. Jones was invaluable filling in for Ja Morant; perhaps Washington can take that spot.

23. Philadelphia 76ers – MarJon Beauchamp F G League Ignite

The Sixers are in dire need of a burst of perimeter defense and athleticism. Tyrese Maxey impersonated Usain Bolt when he ran compared to the rest of the Sixers roster. Beauchamp gives them that much-needed infusion of speed and defense that the Sixers sorely lack.

24. Milwaukee Bucks – Christian Braun G Kansas

I wanted to give the Bucks a bigger wing a la PJ Tucker to unlock more lineups with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the center spot, but I couldn’t find one I loved here. Christian Braun will suffice as a replacement and upgrade to what they lost in Donte DiVincenzo last year.

25. San Antonio Spurs (via Boston Celtics) – Jaden Hardy G G League Ignite

This is the Spurs’ third first-round pick. When I saw footage of Hardy I immediately thought of Jordan Poole and the jump he made for the Golden State Warriors. Hardy has a lot of rough edges to smooth over but also a ton of talent to work with. We very well could look back three years from now and wonder why Hardy wasn’t a lottery pick.

26. Houston Rockets (via Dallas Mavericks) – Dalen Terry F Arizona

Perhaps Houston uses this pick and their 17th pick to move up, but for now, we’ll have them take Dalen Terry. Terry doesn’t need the ball to make an impact, which will be important alongside Green and Banchero. Terry is a great defender and can do all the important winning plays on the edges.

27. Miami Heat – Christian Koloko C Arizona

The Heat doesn’t have another reliable big man behind Bam Adebayo that can produce in a playoff setting. Like Adebayo, Koloko is a menace switching onto guards and protecting the rim. I love the fit here.

28. Golden State Warriors – Jaylin Williams C Arkansas

Kevon Looney became a folk hero for what he did in the playoffs en route to Golden State’s fourth championship with Steph Curry. Unfortunately, running it back could mean a $400 million payroll next year. I wrote earlier about how well Jaylin Williams’ game matches Looney’s. The Warriors might be light years ahead of the league but even they have to make concessions at some point, right? Why not get the cheaper version of Looney?

29. Memphis Grizzlies – Blake Wesley G Notre Dame

Blake Wesley likely will go sooner than this. I think Wesley needs time to grow and develop before becoming a legitimate producer. Luckily, the Grizzlies are one of the best at developing their own and could use a bucket getter that can play alongside Ja Morant. With an extra first-round pick, why not?

30. Denver Nuggets (via Phoenix Suns thru Oklahoma City Thunder) – Wendell Moore Jr. G Duke

Wendell Moore is used to playing alongside star players and being productive and active without the ball. He’s a plug-and-play player on a team that rightfully sees itself as a contender.

After every NBA Draft, there is always a few players who either are more productive than they were in college or are used in a drastically different fashion. There are a few reasons why this occurs. Mainly, it’s that these players get better. Another is the situation they find themselves in. When teams put together stacked recruiting classes, all of the top-notch recruits need to play, and sometimes that means taking a step back from being the number one option they’ve been accustomed to during their high school and AAU days. Not every college coach has caught up to the three-point craze of today’s NBA, so many prospects are left to drive into brick walls 24-7. 

The former applies to one player in particular: Duke’s AJ Griffin. Griffin was one of three top-30 recruits to commit to the Blue Devils in 2021, along with potential number one overall pick Paolo Banchero and potential first-round pick Trevor Keels. They joined former top 100 recruits and holdovers from the previous year’s class in Jeremy Roach (19th) and Mark Williams (32nd), and Wendell Moore Jr. from the 2019 class. With a guard-laden group and a stud point-forward, all of whom would prefer to have the ball in their hands, someone from this group had to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. 

A lot of that sacrifice came by way of Griffin, most notably in the form of usage rate. Usage rate is defined as an estimate of the percentage of plays used by a player while he was on the floor. AJ Griffin’s sat at 18.8-percent, which ranked fourth on his own team. Fortunately, he has the skillset to play off-ball. Griffin averaged just under seven three-point attempts per-40 minutes and scorched nets to the tune of 44.7-percent on those attempts. He also shot 79.2-percent from the free-throw line, often times a better indicator of shooting ability when parsing college prospects. Griffin has no problem shooting on the move or relocating to open areas to let it fly.

Yeah, Griffin can really stroke it in any which way. Stats gathered by @abovethebreak3 on Twitter and his breakdown of AJ Griffin breakdown of Griffin bare it out. Griffin ranked inside of the 88th-percentile in all of these shooting categories: halfcourt possessions (99th-percentile), all offensive possessions (98th-percentile), all jumpers (97th-percentile), all three-point attempts (96th-percentile), catch-and-shoot jumpers (95th-percentile), unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers (93rd-percentile), contested catch-and-shoot jumpers (89th-percentile), off-the-dribble jumpers (95th-percentile), and around the basket attempts (88th-percentile). Good God!

AJ Griffin is a savvy cutter too. Once he sees his man’s attention away from him he zips to the basket. 

 

AJ Griffin is already capable of playing alongside another ace creator, but there is already a lot to work with for him in that area as well. Again, Griffin had just an 18.8-percent usage rate in his one season at Durham. For comparison’s sake, that was the same usage rate Thomas Bryant had in the NBA, and just below the likes of Talen Horton-Tucker, Jeremy Lamb, and Malik Beasley. With all due respect to those guys, none of them are in Griffin’s class talent-wise, especially when Griffin can do stuff like this:

 

Sheesh. AJ Griffin really likes using that hang dribble to freeze his defender and then pounce right after. Griffin can really stroke it from any which way possible, and that includes shooting it off the bounce. According to data gathered by Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, Griffin generated roughly 1.1 points per possession on pull-up jumpers in the halfcourt. Only three other players in his dataset averaged at least that many: Missouri State’s Isiaih Mosley, Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard, and Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas. Not too shabby, huh? Griffin isn’t jacking from deep either. Though he is more than capable, he’s flashed three-level scoring capability with the ball in his hands. Go under a pick and roll screen and you’re risking instant death if you can’t meet Griffin on the other side:

 

Even if you meet him and take away the pull-up three, AJ Griffin’s savvy, handle, and the threat from his jumper lets him get and fire anywhere he wants. Duke liked to set Griffin up in the form of give-and-go’s to buy him an advantage. They did so here. 

Brady Manek meets AJ Griffin despite going under the initial screen. But, Griffin used a pump fake to get Manek to bite as he tried and succeeded in running Griffin off the three-point line. Griffin simply takes what’s given to him and rises up for the elbow jumper.

AJ Griffin is plenty adept at stepping into jumpers on the move, but he isn’t limited to that either. The stepback three is a signature move in today’s NBA, and one Griffin has no qualm with setting up either. His explosive base and polished handle and footwork allow for him to empty that tool from his extensive bag and unleash it as well.

 

AJ Griffin goes back to that hang dribble to freeze his man (Brady Manek). But with Manek’s mind occupied with Griffin beating him off the bounce, Griffin takes the space given to him & simply sides back beyond the three-point line to give himself more room to fire. There aren’t many out there who are not only as versatile as Griffin in creating their own shot but do so with Griffin’s efficiency.

AJ Griffin is also great at leveraging these skills to get to the rim. Duke ran a similar give and go, but this time Griffin elected to cook a little against Manek. After Manek met him at the three-point line again, Griffin freezes him with a stepback, uses a crossover to get by him, and uses his bulky 6-6 222-pound frame to drive through him, absorb any contact and use a soft touch to finish at the rim.

 

AJ Griffin oozes three-level scoring upside in the NBA. Those are hard to find at any position, but especially at the wing, the most important position in the NBA. Griffin not only shot 44.7-percent from three but also 54.7-percent on twos, a very healthy number. It’s even harder to find three-level wing scorers who get after it defensively. Griffin does that. With his size, he should be able to switch 1-4 the instant he gets in the league. If you need Griffin to bang with a bigger defender, Griffin can do it.

 

 

 

But AJ Griffin needs to be more consistent on that end. The framework of a versatile, stout defender is there in addition to his scoring prowess, but the commitment to that end teeters up and down for Griffin. There are times when he looks like an agile brick wall defensively…

 

… and times when he can upsize to bang and stunt bigger players trying to score against him…

… and other times when he gets caught lacking.

 

The same applies to AJ Griffin’s off-ball defense too. When Griffin is active and alert, he can use his size and athleticism to put out fires away from his man. Here, for example, Mark Williams hedges high at the top of the key. Meanwhile, Armando Bacot slips to the rim with no one there. That is until Griffin rotates from the weak side and not only rips Bacot but forces the turnover along the way.

But, as I said earlier, Griffin’s consistency has work to do.

 

Navigating a labyrinth of screens is an issue for AJ Griffin at the moment too. He can get caught on screens and concede open looks for guards looking to escape his wrath.

 

It’s important that AJ Griffin lands in a spot that will hold him accountable defensively. In my opinion, I think Griffin has the capability to be an All-NBA caliber defender. The size and tools are clearly there. Sure, there are some techniques he could improve as well, but I view consistency and commitment as the primary issue. That can absolutely improve, but he needs to get to a team that values that and winning as well. Andrew Wiggins is a great example. He never was a great defender in Minnesota toiling in losing perpetuity, but he’s embraced becoming a stopper in Golden State and his defensive prowess helped the Warriors take down the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 6 to get back to the Western Conference Finals.

AJ Griffin also could improve as a playmaker. Though Griffin wasn’t asked to create offense often, he only averaged 1.6 assists per-40 minutes. He frequently left opportunities on the table too, even ones that don’t directly lead to an open shot. Griffin doesn’t jack shots, but he also derails plenty of possessions by dribbling nowhere trying to beat him off the dribble before giving the ball up. If Griffin doesn’t improve as a playmaker, he may settle in as more of a secondary ballhandler like Jaylen Brown or Paul George than an alpha primary guy like Jayson Tatum or Jimmy Butler. There is no shame in that; Brown and George are great players too! But if Griffin wants to eclipse his seemingly never-ending ceiling, that’s one way he could.

Perhaps the most glaring reason why AJ Griffin is not regarded in the same tier as the likes of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero is his medicals. In January 2020 before he stepped foot on Duke’s campus and the whole world lit on fire, Griffin dislocated his left knee during what turned out to be his last high school game. Before the 2021-22 college basketball season, Griffin sprained his right knee. Griffin did not miss any of Duke’s 39 games, but was a factor in him coming off the bench for parts of the season (Griffin started 25 of Duke’s 39 games) and not getting as hefty a workload (in addition to Griffin’s 18.8-percent usage rate, he only averaged 24 minutes per game and played 935 minutes total) as his fellow draftmates.

For that, AJ Griffin inherently carries an extra dose of risk that NBA teams may be unwilling to take, especially when Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, and Jaden Ivey are there for the taking. But once we get past those four, the next two prospects up for many (including me) are arguably the two biggest wild cards in the entire draft: Griffin and Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe. Sharpe did not play college basketball in the 2021-22 season, but Griffin did. And when he did, he flashed the capability of being the next great two-way, three-level scoring wing. If teams come away encouraged by Griffin’s medicals, he should end up in the top five of this year’s draft, where I believe he belongs. But I think Griffin has a chance to be better than that and emerge as the best player in this class when we look back at it years from now. Yes, ahead of Holmgren Smith, Banchero, and anybody else in this class. But he needs the right situation to learn and improve his game. He’ll be able to showcase more in the NBA than we got to see from him in Duke, that’s for sure. I’m excited to find out how much more that will turn out to be.