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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.

Making choices is hard. Having to choose between a number of excellent players is even harder. There is no exact science. Seemingly surefire picks have found a way to lose their luster in the NBA before. We have no idea. Nitpicking between these guys feels very cruel too since they are all incredible at what they do. Most peg this year’s NBA Draft as a three-man duel between Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr., and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. If you want to throw Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, Duke’s AJ Griffin, Iowa’s Keegan Murray, or anyone else into this mix, be my guest. They’re all great prospects. But the best and most complete player in my opinion is Paolo Banchero. 

Defense – Good Enough

The area Holmgren and Smith best Banchero at is on the defensive end of the floor. Holmgren is already an engulfing rim protector that can switch onto guards and straight swat their shots with his 7-foot size and pterodactyl arms. Jabari Smith at 6-10 220-pounds can guard just about anybody on the floor. It isn’t as clean with Banchero. At 6-10 250pounds, he isn’t the most nimble player on the floor and is prone to get left in the dust by smaller, shifty guards.

(That lack of burst athleticism can show up at times offensively too, but I’m not overly concerned by it.)

Make no mistake about it, however: Paolo Banchero is still a damn good defender. A very versatile one at that. According to Synergy, Banchero ranked in the 94th-percentile in isolation defense, allowing 0.459 points per possession. That extends to guarding on the perimeter as well. This play is a great example. In a crucial moment against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament up just one with under two minutes to go, Banchero sticks with Joey Hauser, throws him off-kilter with his size, and blocked his layup attempt. 

This play is probably even more impressive. He cuts off Third-Team All-American guard JD Notae’s drive off a switch, forcing him to kick the ball back out. After Duke has time to reset their defense, Banchero gets back onto his original man (Trey Wade) and blocks his dunk attempt from behind.

This play also provides a glimmer of Banchero’s potential to wreak havoc off the ball and even play some minutes at the center spot as a rim protector. His consistency in that area comes and goes enough to warrant playing a true rim-protecting center with Banchero for most of his minutes at the beginning of his NBA journey but he has the size, intellect, and athleticism to make do there. Banchero’s steal percentage (1.9-percent) and block percentage (2.7-percent) lag behind Holmgren (1.6-percent; 12.6-percent) and Smith (2.1-percent; 3.8-percent) but are still very solid. He’s not near the defender those two are but is far from a liability either.

Space In Spades

In my opinion, the edge Paolo Banchero has over everyone in this draft is how complete an offensive player he is. Both Smith and Holmgren hold the edge over him as shooters from three but Banchero is still solid there. On catch-and-shoot jumpers, Banchero generated 1.16 points per possession, good enough to finish in the 79th-percentile and ahead of Chet Holmgren. It adds to Banchero’s versatility and allows him to be deployed as a pop threat out of pick and rolls. 

Three-Level Scoring

But Banchero is best with the ball in his hands. This is where he can really differentiate and stand out from the rest of the field. Not only can be a threat without the ball but he can also run bully people on the block, create off the bounce, playmake in almost every situation, and whip the ball all over the floor. There really isn’t anything Banchero can’t do offensively. When he’s got a bigger-bodied defender on him he’s got a tenacious spin move (like he uses here) and is great at changing speeds to leave them in the dust.

Brady Manek is 6-9 230-pounds and is still searching for where Banchero went on that spin. He’s guarding Banchero there because he has enough to size to at least stand a chance inside against him. Manek was able to muster some stops against Banchero in their three matchups but he’s nowhere near as fleet of foot to consistently stay with Banchero, nor are a number of bigs Banchero will play against in the NBA sooner than later. If you want to take those drives away with a smaller, more lateral defender, that’s not going to work either. Banchero was a football player in high school and that physicality shows up in the post. Almost anybody is too small for Paolo Banchero, but especially the 6-8 200-pound Leaky Black.

If you put a bigger defender on Banchero and play him for the drive, he is more than happy and capable of burning you with the jumper you concede him as well.

Playmaking Wizardry

Like I said, pretty damn complete offensive player. But it’s not just as a scorer this well-roundedness of Banchero’s game pops. In a draft without a ton of excellent playmakers, you could argue Banchero might be the best passer in this draft. He reads the floor exceptionally well and can playmake from any spot or situation on the floor. Playmaking while running pick and roll? Check.

Playmaking as the roll man in pick and roll? Check.

What about passing after attacking off the bounce? Yeah, he’s got that too. Notice how Banchero sees Trevor Keels’ man sliding over to him to force Banchero to get rid of it? Well, Banchero does too and only does right when RJ Davis bites to dig on the ball, creating an all-the-more open look from three for Keels. 

What if Banchero isn’t even involved in the play? No worries. Here, he slides to the middle of the floor as Mark Williams is diving to the paint. The passing angle isn’t there for Duke’s guard to feed Williams so he swings it to Banchero, who then sets up Williams perfectly on a high-low pass to get him a dunk. 

Backpacker

Banchero’s playmaking and overall offensive packages are leaps and bounds ahead of Holmgren and Smith. Not that those are bad offensive players because they provide plenty of utility, but Banchero can do more than those two can. Banchero averaged 3.9 assists per-40 minutes; Smith and Holmgren averaged 2.8. Holmgren was mostly used as a roll-man and floor spacer, hence his 21.6-percent usage rate. Smith’s 27.6-percent usage rate actually bested Banchero’s, but Banchero’s shot creation ability is nowhere near up for question the way it is with Smith (I myself share some of those concerns, especially having seen Smith play in person earlier this year). Banchero can be deployed in any way those two can offensively, but neither of them has the combination of scoring and playmaking Banchero has that can carry a team.

Paolo Banchero’s versatility on both ends of the floor and ability to take over a game offensively were on full display in Duke’s run to the NCAA Tournament. While Tournament runs are hardly an indicator of NBA success, it is notable when picking the tiniest of nits that Banchero was able to keep his (flawed) team alive in ways Smith and Holmgren couldn’t. Smith and Holmgren are no slouches by any means; both should be able to help their new teams right away and warrant inclusion in the discussion for the top pick. 

Conclusion

But with the NBA shifting positionless and the emphasis on versatility on both ends of the floor, being able to play with other stars, and creating for yourself or others, no one threads those needles in this draft class better than Banchero. Do you need someone that can get you a bucket? Does your electric point guard need a versatile pick-and-roll dance partner to play off of to make his life easier? Do you need a small-ball center? Do you need a playmaking fulcrum at the elbow to run your offense through that can also shoot threes to clear the paint? How can you generate and expose mismatches in the playoffs when the other team knows what you want to do and trots nothing but tough, physical, rangy defenders against you? 

Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman was the only coach in the country who was tasked with sketching a game plan against all three of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith. When asked in an interview with The Athletic who he would take number one overall, he said Banchero and that Paolo was ‘the hardest for us to deal with.’ I agree. Banchero is a true matchup nightmare and can answer all the questions above much more than the other Big Three candidates can at this stage of their careers. Perhaps Holmgren and Smith will improve their areas of weakness over time and make this article look foolish; it is certainly possible and I won’t put it past either of them. But for now, Banchero earns the crown of the top jewel in the 2022 NBA Draft in my eyes.