2022 NBA mock draft: Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren at No. 1?

Jabari Smith could bring some excitement to the Orlando Magic with the No. 1 pick. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/AP)
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The race to unseat the newly crowned Golden State Warriors begins Thursday, when the NBA will hold the draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

While most of the teams picking in the lottery are a long way from title contention, their fans can take solace knowing that the Warriors and their Finals opponent, the Boston Celtics, built their cores through the draft. Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers advanced in the playoffs thanks to homegrown franchise players. “Superteam” dreams come and go, but nothing inspires hope as reliably as the draft.

The 2022 class is headlined by three frontcourt players: Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero. Each has a legitimate case to be the first player selected on a night that could feature multiple trades within the first 10 picks. Let’s look at how the lottery might shake out with a quick-hitting mock draft.

Orlando Magic rediscovers lottery luck to win top pick in NBA draft

1

Orlando Magic: Jabari Smith (Auburn)

There isn’t a runaway favorite to go No. 1 as there was last year (Cade Cunningham) or in 2019 (Zion Williamson). Instead, the Magic has delivered on its lottery night promise of conducting a thorough pre-draft evaluation process by meeting with a host of top candidates. The 6-foot-10 Smith (16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds) has a high ceiling and low bust potential: Shooting, size and defensive versatility were prized commodities in the postseason, and he brings all three to the table. What’s more, his scoring ability and fan-friendly personality would provide an injection of excitement to a franchise that has lagged since Dwight Howard’s departure.

Don’t count out Holmgren just yet. Orlando executives Jeff Weltman and John Hammond have long put a premium on length.

2

Oklahoma City Thunder: Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)

Holmgren (14.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.7 blocks) is a 7-footer who combines defensive player of the year potential with plenty of offensive skill. Don’t let the Minnesota native’s thin physique overshadow his many basketball virtues: Holmgren is a coachable gym rat with a 7-foot-5¼ wingspan, a smooth three-point stroke and great timing around the rim. Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti is committed to an extended rebuild, and Holmgren would be an ideal interior counterpart to rising backcourt star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

There’s a lot more to Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren than his skinny frame

3

Houston Rockets: Paolo Banchero (Duke)

The post-James Harden Rockets used last year’s No. 2 pick on Jalen Green, an athletic guard who can fill it up. Pairing Green with Banchero (17.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) would further Houston’s vision of constructing a high-powered offense loaded with shot-creators. Built like Carmelo Anthony or Tobias Harris, the 6-10 Banchero will be ready to contribute offensively from Day One thanks to his physical presence and ability to get to his preferred spots. The Rockets will eventually need to add some defensive talent and a traditional point guard, but they are still years away from facing pressure to win.

Paolo Banchero’s smooth game? The Duke star gets it from his mom.

4

Sacramento Kings: Keegan Murray (Iowa)

This pick has been the subject of trade speculation for several reasons: The Kings jumped up in the draft lottery after finishing just four games out of the play-in tournament; they traded a promising youngster (Tyrese Haliburton) for an established all-star (Domantas Sabonis) at the deadline; they have a history of unpredictable draft-day decisions motivated by a desperate desire to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006; and they don’t have a major need for a scoring guard such as Jaden Ivey, who is widely viewed as the class’s fourth-best prospect.

Add it all up, and the Kings could easily trade back or out of the lottery altogether in search of another proven starter. If they do use the pick, the 21-year-old Murray (23.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg) should be able to hit the ground running as a scoring-minded power forward.

5

Detroit Pistons: Jaden Ivey (Purdue)

The great luxury of building around Cunningham is that virtually every player fits next to him. If the 6-4 Ivey (17.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) were paired with a traditional point guard, there might be cause for concern about the size and defensive capabilities of the resulting backcourt. In Detroit, Ivey would plug in naturally as a secondary scorer while leaving the toughest defensive assignments for Cunningham and Saddiq Bey. If the Kings shop the No. 4 pick, the Pistons should enter the bidding in an effort to bolster their 28th-ranked offense.

6

Indiana Pacers: Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona)

Indiana took the plunge by trading Sabonis in February, and more dominoes could fall this summer. Assuming the Pacers are intent on building a winner on Haliburton’s timeline, they don’t have much use for high-priced veterans such as Malcolm Brogdon or Buddy Hield. Mathurin (17.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg) fits two key criteria: He has enough upside and drive to potentially blossom into the star that Indiana has been seeking for years, and his scoring ability and 6-6 size would complement Haliburton in a backcourt of the future.

7

Portland Trail Blazers: Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky)

With huge frontcourt holes and a desire to execute a quick turnaround, the Blazers really needed some better luck with the ping-pong balls on lottery night. Alas, new Portland general manager Joe Cronin will surely try to shop this pick to fill out his starting lineup around all-star guard Damian Lillard, who played just 29 games this season because of an abdominal injury.

If those efforts fall through, Cronin should trust his risk-taking instincts by swinging for the fences on a 6-6 Canadian teenager who was a top-ranked high school prospect before sitting out his freshman season at Kentucky.

8

New Orleans Pelicans: Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite)

This pick is like a free play on a pinball machine: New Orleans is the only one of this year’s 14 lottery teams that made the playoffs, but it gets a top-10 selection thanks to its 2019 Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. With Williamson expected back healthy next season, there won’t be many available minutes in the rotation, giving New Orleans the option to make a longer-term play on Daniels. The Pelicans could use some more size in the backcourt, and the 6-7 Australian could fill that void and grow into another multipositional defender.

9

San Antonio Spurs: Ousmane Dieng (New Zealand Breakers)

The 19-year-old Dieng, who hails from France, needs some work: He’s not yet much of a threat at the rim or beyond the arc, and he put up modest numbers (8.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg) during his one year with the New Zealand Breakers, who play in Australia’s National Basketball League. Still, he has the frame, feel and passing-minded approach to be a fit in San Antonio.

10

Washington Wizards: Jalen Duren (Memphis)

Few executives picking late in the lottery need a home run more than Tommy Sheppard, whose Wizards lacked the depth to survive Bradley Beal’s months-long wrist injury. A partnership between Beal and Kristaps Porzingis cannot be viewed as a viable long-term solution, so Sheppard must target young talents with the potential to grow into core pieces.

Although his offensive game lacks a stretch element, the 18-year-old Duren (12 ppg, 8.1 rpg) has an NBA-ready physique and an impressive wingspan. Duren plays above the rim and in the paint, which would allow Porzingis to focus on perimeter scoring.

At No. 10 spot in NBA draft, Wizards have more options than usual

11

New York Knicks: AJ Griffin (Duke)

New York need not worry about its positional holes at point guard and center when making this pick. With Julius Randle coming off a down year and RJ Barrett needing dependable running mates, the Knicks are free to select the best player available. Griffin (10.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg) shares a Duke connection with Barrett, and he projects as a two-way impact player who can score without dominating the ball and defend multiple frontcourt positions.

12

Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeremy Sochan (Baylor)

Presti has accumulated three first-round picks — including this one from the Los Angeles Clippers courtesy of the 2019 Paul George trade — plus a second-rounder, so Oklahoma City will almost certainly need to consolidate assets. Nevertheless, the energetic, defensive-minded Sochan (9.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) would be a fascinating fit with the Thunder, which has shown a willingness to look past a player’s shooting limitations if he finds other ways to impact winning.

13

Charlotte Hornets: Mark Williams (Duke)

The Hornets have been searching for a long-term answer at center for the better part of a decade. Enter Williams (11.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg), a prototypical rim-protecting 7-footer who could serve as a finishing target for all-star guard LaMelo Ball.

14

Cleveland Cavaliers: Johnny Davis (Wisconsin)

Cleveland got a breakout season from all-star point guard Darius Garland, who proved he could run the offense much more effectively than Collin Sexton. Hypothetically, a defensive-minded guard with good size such as Davis (19.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg) would be a more sensible long-term Garland partner than Sexton, an undersized scorer who is up for a lucrative new contract.

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