An NBA draft with more uncertainty than most has a surplus of intrigue

Duke forward Paolo Banchero is a sleeper to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
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NEW YORK — The 2022 NBA draft class has converged on Manhattan for the annual ritual of suit fittings, sponsorship appearances and community service events in the lead-up to Thursday’s festivities at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

While this year’s draft doesn’t have a singular star to drive the discussion, this week has been filled with intrigue and scuttlebutt as teams target prospects they hope will carry them into the future. Here are five burning questions to ponder as the countdown to 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday continues.

1

Does the Magic have a trick up its sleeve?

Conventional wisdom has Orlando using the No. 1 pick on Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr., who is an executive’s dream because he’s a “safe” pick while also possessing a high ceiling. Smith projects as a polished lead scorer with three-point range and a high-energy defender who will be able to switch across multiple positions, fitting a prototype that has been en vogue for several years.

But there are dueling schools of thought. If Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren continues to develop physically, he has do-it-all potential as a shot-blocker, lob-finisher, ballhandler, shooter and distributor in a 7-foot frame. Holmgren’s thin build presents some reason for skepticism, but MVPs such as Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo overcame similar concerns as teenagers. During his previous tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks, Magic General Manager John Hammond drafted Antetokounmpo in 2013.

The NBA has never seen a draft prospect quite like Chet Holmgren

Duke’s Paolo Banchero, long pegged as the probable third pick to the Houston Rockets, looms as a sleeper. In recent days, Banchero’s odds to be selected first have skyrocketed on multiple betting markets. The Seattle native has a polished offensive game and would fit cleanly as a leading scoring option for the Magic.

2

Which direction do the Kings go?

NBA draft week got its first major deal Wednesday, when the Portland Trail Blazers agreed to acquire Jerami Grant from the Detroit Pistons for a protected 2025 first-round pick and other draft considerations. League executives have been forecasting the possibility of a busy trade market Thursday, and the Kings have been a regular topic of conversation.

Sacramento is synonymous with perplexing draft decisions: The Kings took Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic and Trae Young in 2018 after reaching for little-known center Georgios Papagiannis in the 2016 lottery, among other whiffs. This year, the Kings hold the No. 4 pick but have received the cold shoulder from the consensus fourth-best prospect: Purdue’s Jaden Ivey.

During a call with reporters this week, Ivey confirmed that he hadn’t worked out for or met with the Kings. “If I got drafted there, it wouldn’t be the worst option,” Ivey added, according to the Sacramento Bee. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement or a slogan worthy of a T-shirt. It’s also worth noting that Ivey is represented by the same agency as Tyrese Haliburton, whom the Kings blindsided with a trade deadline deal that sent him to the Indiana Pacers.

Ivey, an attack-minded scoring guard, would fit on several lottery teams, including the Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and New York Knicks. That puts Sacramento in position to auction its pick if it concludes De’Aaron Fox and Ivey have redundant skill sets. If the Kings can’t find a trade partner, they could always default to another prospect, such as Iowa’s Keegan Murray or Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin.

3

Will the Knicks make a splash?

The “bing bong” excitement that greeted New York at the start of the season proved to be short-lived, giving way to another dreary year in the Big Apple. The Knicks are facing a bit of an existential crisis, given Julius Randle’s regression and public displays of frustration. If Randle isn’t going to be a franchise player, RJ Barrett doesn’t have much help and the Knicks, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2013, are stuck trying to build a core again.

Finding a way to move up from the No. 11 pick to No. 4 to snag Ivey might be their best move. Ivey has the athleticism and speed to break down the defense, and pairing him with Barrett would be cause for genuine hope. Executing a draft night trade also might be easier — and less costly in terms of assets — than trying to pursue an established star such as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, who has emerged as a trade target in the wake of Quin Snyder’s departure.

4

Who is ready to swing for the fences?

One nifty feature of this year’s lottery order is that there are a string of rebuilding teams — the Pistons, Pacers, Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs — picking from No. 5 to No. 9 that have good reasons to gamble on high-upside prospects.

Detroit faces no immediate pressure to win now and needs only to find star-level talent to put alongside Cade Cunningham, last year’s top pick. Indiana shifted gears by trading Domantas Sabonis at the deadline and is rumored to be shopping guard Malcolm Brogdon.

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

Portland blew up its roster with a sell-off at the trade deadline and will need a backup plan if it can’t move its pick to get Damian Lillard some veteran help. New Orleans sneaked into the playoffs with a balanced rotation and is picking eighth thanks to a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. And San Antonio is still treading water after Kawhi Leonard’s 2018 exit.

The good news for all of these teams: There are intriguing fliers to be found in their range, including Dyson Daniels (an Australian guard who played for the G League Ignite), Shaedon Sharpe (a former No. 1 high school prospect who sat out this season at Kentucky) and Ousmane Dieng (a French forward who played professionally in New Zealand). All three are still teenagers.

5

Will the Wizards prioritize fit or talent?

Washington hasn’t landed a player of major consequence in the draft since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. The Wizards also haven’t had a top-eight pick since they took Porter third overall. In the past three drafts, Washington has targeted prospects with complementary skill sets in Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert. While none of those three projected as lead scoring options, the thinking seemed to be that they could be useful rotation players around all-star guard Bradley Beal. None of the three were full-time starters last season.

Beal is up for another contract this summer, and he has cycled through John Wall, Russell Westbrook and now Kristaps Porzingis as sidekicks. Given that track record, it’s hard to put much faith in a long-lasting marriage between Beal and Porzingis. If Washington is honest with itself about its fluid core, it should use the 10th pick on the player with the highest upside rather than one who might fit with Beal and Porzingis.

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