With the 2021-22 NBA season finally wrapping up on June 16th, and the NBA Draft upon us, it’s the perfect time for me to analyze a few of the top prospects in this year’s draft class. Breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of their individual games is an obvious requirement, but it’s also important to include the NBA player comparisons that make the most sense.
Now, can any of us definitively say that these prospects will develop into superstars and put together enticing Hall of Fame resumes? Absolutely not, but these NBA Draft scouting reports will tell you where each prospect currently is and where they still have room to grow. So sit up, pay attention and be prepared to learn more about the top 4 projected picks in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft.
Jabari Smith Jr.
- Height: 6-foot-10, Weight: 220 pounds, College: Auburn
- 2021-22 stats: 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 42.0 percent shooting from three
Listen, you can discuss how fraudulent Auburn was this past season if you want to, but I think your time would be better served focusing on a former Tiger who played his way into the top NBA Draft pick. That former Tiger is 6-foot-10 forward, Jabari Smith Jr., who was Bruce Pearl’s most consistent performer in 2021-22.
At Auburn, Smith proved that he could excel in the mid-range area under any and every possible circumstance. Whether defenders beat him to his desired destination on the floor and put a hand up, closed out late and give him little to no room to land or lazily screamed in his direction (in an attempt to throw him off) after giving up defensively, Smith always kept his eyes on the rim until the job was done correctly.
When he operated as a catch-and-shoot offensive player on the perimeter, Smith displayed a tremendous amount of confidence every time the ball came off his fingertips. His 31-point performance against Vanderbilt in February (which included seven three-point baskets in ten attempts) genuinely felt like a routine two-hour practice session for the SEC Freshman of the Year, solely because he shot the ball as though the Commodores weren’t on the floor with him.
Defensively, Smith’s constant activity and 7-foot-1 wingspan make it challenging for ball-handlers to get the shot they want when Smith is defending them. Yes, he’ll have to be quicker on his feet if he wants to be a versatile defender in the NBA, but his physical attributes and commitment on that end of the floor are admirable.
With all that being said, Smith does struggle to positively impact games when multiple defenders are thrown at him, which is mainly due to his basic/flawed handle. No, I’m not saying that Smith needs to be able to handle the ball like Kyrie Irving in the future, but he’ll be a better player when he learns to dribble his way out of trouble when need be and refrains from getting rattled when defenses switch up their coverages.
Smith’s sharpshooting ability/advanced pull-up game and defensive tools/dedication remind me of both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Of course, Smith will have to add more to his arsenal if he wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as the two superstars when it’s all said and done, but one would have to go out of their way to deny the fact that there are obvious similarities between their games. With Smith arguably being the most NBA-ready prospect this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an immediate impact right out of the gate and kept improving year after year.
- Height: 7-feet, Weight: 195 pounds, College: Gonzaga
- 2021-22 stats: 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game
Many analysts were sold on the idea of Chet Holmgren being a top 5 pick before the 2021-22 season commenced, and I don’t think the 7-foot center’s NBA Draft status has changed for the worse on any big boards since then.
In addition to being a dependable rebounder who can bring down eight or more defensive bounds per game, Holmgren is comfortable dribbling the ball up the floor if a guard is being denied in the backcourt and keeping it out of harm’s way. You’re not going to see him hit his defenders with any crazy dribble combinations, but there’s no reason for you to panic when the ball is in his hands for a brief period of time. When he doesn’t have to initiate his team’s offense after successful defensive possessions, he likes to run the floor and knock down trail threes when defenses don’t account for him in transition.
In the low post, Holmgren gets straight into his right-handed jump hook and rarely short arms or puts too much power behind his 10-12 foot jumpers (he shot 60.7 percent from the field in 2021-22). His job down low becomes even easier when he sets powerful screens on the perimeter and sets up shop against guards after switches. At that point, Holmgren can simply use his height advantage to turn toward the basket and lay the ball up in one fluid and effortless motion. As a shot blocker, Holmgren’s high IQ and above-average ball screen defense help him send back shots.
By staying vertical as his opponents were charging at him last season at Gonzaga, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year was able to get many opponents to shoot the ball straight into his hands for easy blocks. In ball screen situations, Holmgren comprehended that his opponents’ objective was almost always to bolt past him and place the ball on the backboard before he could track it down in the air. Shockingly, Holmgren often stuck with them stride for stride and erased their layup attempts with ease.
In the NBA, I will admit that there is a chance Holmgren will get picked on by stronger opponents because of his twig-like frame. It’ll be tough for him to put up a respectable fight against physical NBA big men until he finally bulks up. You can have all the skills in the world, but you may not last in the league if you become an easy target and get pushed around every night.
I can only speak for myself on this, but Holmgren’s gifted touch around the rim, serviceable handle and outside shooting effectiveness on the run give me strong Kristaps Porzi??is and Lauri Markkanen vibes. Yes, both players have Holmgren beat in the strength department, but he still possesses some of the same skills at this point in time. If he adds several pounds of muscle to his weak body and matches the physicality of his opponents in the NBA, he could be a player to keep an eye on in the future.
- Height: 6-foot-10 Weight: 250 pounds, College: Duke
- 2021-22 stats: 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 47.8 percent shooting from the field
First things first, let’s examine why Paolo Banchero experienced success as an isolation scorer during his lone season with the Duke Blue Devils. If you were fortunate enough to watch Banchero play multiple times, I would expect you to know that the 6-foot-10 forward did a good portion of his damage before he put the ball on the floor. You see, elite isolation scorers understand that the real work begins when you have the ball in triple threat position. By jabbing at his defenders to see how confident they were in their defensive footwork, Banchero was able to put many of them in an early bind and get busy on the perimeter.
To make matters even worse for his defenders, Banchero made it clear that he wanted to be a forceful driver at the collegiate level and finish through opponents at the basket (as opposed to drifting away from them). Similar to Jabari Smith Jr., Banchero can stop rapidly and drill shots near the free-throw line area when his instincts alert him that he doesn’t need to go any further.
At the next level, however, I do have concerns regarding Banchero’s explosion off the dribble and three-point shooting. While I commend Banchero for being a patient 1-on-1 operator who is never in a rush to make his move, I think he should consider adding another component to his isolation game. Essentially, a quicker/more overwhelming first step will allow Banchero to get to his spots if his jabs fail to get his defenders off balance. From an energy standpoint, this will allow Banchero to finish the job at the rim without having to burn himself out prior to reaching that final step. As for Banchero’s shooting from beyond the arc, well, there aren’t any glaring technical issues with his jumper, but it’ll be pivotal for him to show that he deserves respect as a three-point shooter right off the bat. 33.8 percent shooting from three isn’t too shabby, but it’s difficult to fully trust an up-and-down shooter who is still looking to morph into a legitimate threat from three-point land.
Based on Banchero’s success rate in 1-on-1 situations at Duke, it’s only right for me to compare him to Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. We all know that speed isn’t Banchero’s strong suit entering the NBA Draft, but he knows how to win his individual matchups and create his own offense game after game. Banchero may not be my favorite NBA prospect this year, but I have a hunch that his extraordinary skill set will take him a long way in the pros.
- Height: 6-foot-4 Weight: 195 pounds, College: Purdue
- 2021-22 stats: 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 46 percent shooting from the field
If you took the time to read my thoughts on Jaden Ivey back in March, then you should already know what the 6-foot-4 guard brings to the table. As a player who is constantly on the move, Ivey comprehends how to terrorize his opponents with his blazing speed. Instead of playing games with his defenders in the backcourt, Ivey believes in utilizing the one-move-and-go tactic that enables him to get up the floor faster and arrive at the rim in fewer dribbles (which is always encouraged for guards).
When defenses forced Purdue to play half-court basketball in 2021-22, Ivey had the ability to showcase his creative handle on the perimeter. He has the coordination and fluidity to pull off just about any dribble move against his opponents and get them on their heels instantly. More importantly, Ivey plays with aggression when he’s breaking his defenders down, meaning his goal is always to cover as much ground as possible with each dribble.
Impressively, Ivey remains engaged when he’s playing off the ball and consistently makes himself available to his teammates in times of need. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Ivey is one of the best one-foot leapers in this year’s NBA Draft, so defenders who jump just a second late have no chance of blocking his layup/dunk attempts at the rim.
Now, while Ivey’s speed helps him get from point A to point B in a timely manner, his inability to consistently decelerate in transition and scan the entire floor led to sloppy basketball at Purdue from time to time. This also explains why Ivey isn’t the best passer and will have to prioritize simplifying the game moving forward. Playing under control in the NBA will allow Ivey to find open teammates at a higher rate and take better care of the basketball.
As far as NBA comparisons go, I can definitely see John Wall and Ja Morant in Ivey’s game in terms of his swift feet/sense of urgency in transition and phenomenal athleticism (Morant is known for being a dynamic two-foot jumper, but both players are aggressive dunkers who try to obliterate the rim at all times). Overall, I believe that Ivey is an outstanding NBA prospect who has all the tools to be a productive player early in his NBA career. The only problem is that most mock drafts have him landing in the lap of the Sacramento Kings who already have De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell. If there’s one player from this list who may be on the move during the draft, it’s Ivey.
Other First Round Prospects to Watch
- Dyson Daniels – G League Ignite
- Bennedict Mathurin – Arizona
- Shaedon Sharpe – Kentucky (Never Played)
- EJ Liddell – Ohio State
- Tyty Washington – Kentucky
- AJ Griffin – Duke
- Johnny Davis – Wisconsin
- Keegan Murray – Iowa
- Kennedy Chandler – Tennessee
- Ochai Agbaji – Kansas
- Patrick Baldwin Jr. – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
- Blake Wesley – Notre Dame
- Jaden Hardy – G League Ignite
- Jalen Duran – Memphis
- Jalen Williams – Santa Clara