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EJ Liddell

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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.

The axiom goes that an NBA team can’t ever have enough wings. It’s true, and if you don’t think so then watch any 2021-22 Los Angeles Laker game (please don’t actually, I care about you) or how puny the Brooklyn Nets were in their lone playoff series against the Finals-bound Boston Celtics. Wings that are big, long, and versatile defensively will always have a shot at cracking a playoff rotation. If they can hit threes or even make smart reads as a passer, even better. If they can create their own shot then they’re going in the lottery. But a player in the 2022 NBA Draft that likely won’t get selected in the lottery but does hit those benchmarks? Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia

Cutting

Jake LaRavia is not going to be a guy you ask to create a lot of offense; he averaged just over eight field goal attempts per game over his college career and finished with a usage rate of just 21.9-percent. But LaRavia excels in filling in the gaps as a mover, a cutter, and a floor spacer, the primary ways he was used at college. He’s always vigilant without the ball in his hands. Once he sees an opening to zip through the lane, he hits it. Playing with a true point guard in Alondes Williams helped in finding LaRavia in those circumstances.

LaRavia shot 61.6-percent on two-point shots this past year and it’s easy to see why. He knows who he is and how to get the shots he knows he can make. He’s also more than sneaky athletic so he can punch those down once he gets the ball with that head of steam.

Shooting

LaRavia is also a very solid shooter. He didn’t shoot a ton of threes but he made 37.1-percent of the 132 threes he attempted over his three-year collegiate career. The stroke looks solid.

If Jake LaRavia is going to stay on the floor in high-leverage moments, he’s going to have to make shots like that. Luckily, he proved he can do so at a high level. LaRavia generated 1.5 points per possession on every unguarded catch-and-shoot jumper he shot last season, according to Zach Welch on Twitter. Excelling as a jump shooter as well as a finisher played a large role in LaRavia finishing last season with a 64.9-percent true-shooting percentage and a 60.6-percent effective field goal percentage. That he’s even somewhat close to the efficiency Chet Holmgren (69.1-percent TS; 68.1-percent eFG) posted is incredible and a testament to how well LaRavia excels at being a complementary piece. It isn’t as if LaRavia is only shooting corner threes like PJ Tucker either; he’s got NBA range and can hit shots on the move as well.

 

Playmaking

Another area of offense Jake LaRavia excels at is his passing. He reads the floor very well and especially so on the move, which will be very important in the NBA. Teams are going to force a team’s star players to get rid of the ball and force others to beat them. LaRavia can diagnose those defensive rotations on the fly and make the correct decisions to get his team a great look. This play is a great example. 

Towson traps the ballhandler. As they do, Wake Forest’s center slips to the rim. LaRavia makes himself available in the middle of the floor and sees the defender in the corner tagging Wake Forest’s roller. As he tags LaRavia zips it to the wing to create an open three. LaRavia is a smart and unselfish passer. It’s no wonder why he averaged 3.5 assists per 40 minutes (to 3 turnovers) and an above-average 17.8-percent assist percentage for his career. (For context: Karl-Anthony Towns and Thaddeus Young finished with a 17.7-percent assist percentage last season.) He has no problem manipulating a defense or making the simple extra pass. He keeps the machine humming.

Defense

The same way Jake LaRavia reads the floor offensively he also does so defensively. This side of the floor is where LaRavia’s bread gets buttered. At 6-8 227-pounds and a 6-9.5 wingspan, he can cover a ton of ground defensively. He has no issue disrupting offenses as a free safety. Watch here how he rotates from the weakside to strip the Towson roll man as he’s going up to force a turnover. 

That’s just one example of LaRavia putting out a fire off the ball. Here’s another. He begins the possession on a Towson big man. But as the ball rotates from one side to the other, a Towson guard is open on the left-wing. LaRavia sees it and zips over to make him put it on the deck, redirecting his rotating teammate Alondes Williams back to his original man. LaRavia sticks with the Towson guard and forces a wild shot as a result.

 

LaRavia can clearly defend in the team scheme, but he can put the clamps on people? That answer is also a definite yes. He’s got the quick feet to stick with guards and the size to stand up bruising wings. He didn’t have much of an issue sticking with two dynamic NC State scorers in Terquavion Smith and Dereon Seabron, both of whom fared well in May’s NBA Combine.

I think Jake LaRavia would probably be better deployed in more of a free safety role like a Robert Covington, but he’s definitely capable of being a point-of-attack stopper too, in my opinion. But it’s clear to me he is a plus defender. The numbers back it up too. LaRavia finished with a 12.7-percent rebound percentage, 2.4-percent steal percentage, 3.9-percent block percentage, and 4.6 defensive win shares (this stat continues to accumulate the more games you play. The more games one plays, the bigger the number. Veterans will have a bigger number than freshmen.). That is very similar to or better than a number of wings projected to go ahead of him in this year’s class. Here are how a few others that share LaRavia’s position in this class compare to LaRavia:

Jeremy Sochan, Baylor: 14.7 RB%, 2.9 STL%, 3.2 BLK%, 1.9 DWS

Tari Eason, LSU: 15.2 RB%, 4.5 STL%, 6.2 BLK%, 3.4 DWS

Kendall Brown, Baylor: 10.5 RB%, 2.2 STL%, 1.5 BLK%, 1.8 DWS

EJ Liddell, Ohio State: 13.7 RB%, 1.2 STL%, 6.5 BLK%, 3.8 DWS

Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee: 11.2 RB%, 1.7 STL%, 3.2 BLK%, 0.4 DWS

Jake LaRavia is just as good or even a better shooter than some of these guys with the defensive impact, but isn’t mocked in the top 20 the way these guys are or have previously been. I think that’s a mistake. LaRavia is right there amongst the most impactful wings in this draft whose game fits the mold of an Aaron Gordon‘s. He may be a junior but he’s still just 20 years. He’s just six months older than freshman Chet Holmgren and 12 days older than freshman TyTy Washington. There’s plenty of room for LaRavia to grow.

Jake LaRavia should be a top 20 pick in my opinion, but any team that sees themselves as a contender picking in the 20s (such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, and Golden State Warriors) that is low on wing depth should have no qualms taking LaRavia in the first round. He is a perfect complementary piece on the wing that can step in and help a team immediately. Every team needs players like him to get through the riggers of the playoffs to get that elusive Larry O’Brien Trophy. If you like winning players, then Jake LaRavia is your man.