May 31, 2022, 2:40 pm
Draft season. The best time of the year. For front office and draft nerds like myself, you’re preoccupied with watching film, reading scouting reports, and anticipating the free agent signings and trades that will occur prior to next season. As the NBA combine and the G League Elite Camp have come and gone, this draft class still has no consensus No. 1 pick. There isn’t a Cade Cunningham or Zion Williamson in this class. That’s not to say this draft class isn’t very talented; however, it’s difficult to predict the top pick similar to the 2020 draft where most draft analysts were not completely certain that it would be Anthony Edwards to Minnesota until the pick was made. Honestly, this year’s No. 1 selection might be even less certain than 2020. While the no-brainer top pick doesn’t exist this year, the draft class is very deep and teams can expect to find value deep into the 30s and early 40s. While the 2020 class was perceived as weak, it still produced guys like Desmond Bane at pick 30 and Tyrese Maxey at 21, not including the guys at the top such as Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton. It’s safe to say that there will be value in every draft.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Steven Bagell, and I am the Front Office Expert for SportsEthos and host of the Bird Rights Podcast. I recently conducted SportsEthos’ first annual mock trade deadline, and will also be conducting their first Mock Offseason, where I predict where every free agent signs based off cap space and team resources, make logical trades amongst teams, and incorporate my mock draft. I’ll be incorporating and forecasting some of those moves in here when discussing team needs without trying to spoil too much. Well, before that’s released, let’s break down the mock draft. Alas, the Orlando Magic are on the clock:
1. Orlando Magic, Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga
This mock draft is not based off what I would do personally, but rather what I expect to happen on draft night. I don’t say that to tear down Chet, he’s a great player. But he isn’t No. 1 on my big board either. For that reason, I was torn between him and Jabari Smith Jr. with this pick. There’s been a lot of speculation for each of them respectively going at the top of this class. And they both have a case. While there is concern about Chet’s frame, he has traits of last year’s third overall pick Evan Mobley on defense, and prime Kristaps Porzingis on offense. He also has a great handle and is a pretty good passer for his size. But again, I’m going to take the easy way out by making the case for both Jabari and Chet here.
Chet makes a ton of sense for Orlando. First off, Holmgren has some connections to Orlando, as he was high school teammates with Magic guard Jalen Suggs, last year’s #5 pick in the draft. Additionally, Orlando is the type of front office that loves to draft length and rangy defenders. Their GM, John Hammond, drafted Giannis to Milwaukee, and drafted defensive guys like Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac during his Orlando tenure. Holmgren, with his 7’6” wingspan, fits the bill of a guy this front office usually covets. But at the same time, Orlando has recently drafted guys like Isaac, Franz Wagner and Chuma Okeke, all very versatile forwards who can defend multiple positions. From that aspect, Jabari Smith Jr. fits. Obviously, this pick will come down to who Orlando has No. 1 on their board. But the thought of a Holmgren, Wendell Carter Jr., and Franz Wagner frontcourt is so versatile and fun defensively, it might be too great an opportunity to pass up.
Because Jonathan Isaac sat out this past season, his guaranteed money is significantly less. Initially, he was getting $17.4 million/year the next 3 years. Given he has $16 million guaranteed regardless next year, he’ll be on the team and that provides Orlando with another versatile defender. But after next season, his future in Orlando gets bleak. Less than half his contract is guaranteed in 2023-24, and it will likely come down to health. With the #1 pick, plus Carter, Wagner, Okeke, and a whole glut of guards in tow, he seems like the most likely candidate to get his minutes squeezed. Additionally, Mo Bamba is facing restricted free agency this year and it’s starting to look unlikely he returns, especially after the Magic’s lottery luck. Even with the cap hold of the No. 1 pick, the Magic could have up to $28 million in cap space if they do not give Bamba his qualifying offer. Maybe if they take Jabari, they at least lock up Bamba and try to trade Isaac. But with the speculation of them taking Chet Holmgren, Bamba’s time in Orlando may be coming to an end.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder, Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Auburn
I’m very certain that Sam Presti is content with a top-2 pick. While Holmgren fits more of a positional need, Presti is getting the best player in the draft at No. 2 in my opinion. Smith is a versatile defender and tough shot-maker. Not only is he the best shooter for an 18-year-old big man I’ve ever evaluated, but he’s also a near elite perimeter defender for a guy his size and a multi-positional one-on-one defender. At the very minimum, he’ll be an elite 3-and-D stretch four and has a very high floor as a prospect. He has a bunch of different shots in his repertoire such as spot-up shooting, picking and popping, catching and shooting and he can shoot off of movement. The one flaw in his game though is his playmaking and shot creation. But if those come together, I envision him as a 6’10” Paul George.
I’m envisioning OKC running out a lineup of SGA-Dort-Giddey-Smith-Poku next season and beyond. Yes, I still own real estate on Poku Island. And with 17 first round picks over the next seven drafts, expect OKC to continue to keep stockpiling assets, whether that’s using those picks for more guys on rookie deals, or eventually cashing in to land a star. Either way, it’s a great position to be in to set your franchise up for the future. The Jabari Smith and SGA pick-and-roll partnership will be a deadly one, and that lineup mentioned above has a lot of room to grow both offensively and defensively. OKC already has the foundational pieces in place in just year two of their rebuild, not to mention picks 12 and 30 in this draft. If OKC really wanted Holmgren, I wonder if picks 2 and 12 would be enough to sway Orlando, depending how they feel about Holmgren and Smith.
3. Houston Rockets- Paolo Banchero, PF, Duke
Not only is Banchero the most complete offensive player in this class, but he also might make the biggest impact as a rookie. Banchero demonstrates rare polish as a ball handler and shot creator for a 6’10” power forward, and he uses his 245-pound frame well. He’s also an elite passer which Houston desperately needs. I don’t think Kevin Porter Jr. is the long-term answer at point guard, and Jalen Green, like Banchero, is a go-to scoring option. The offense with those three, along with Alperen Sengun could be deadly as they grow together, but there’s concerns on the defensive end. I can honestly see Houston running the offense through Banchero at times.
It’s difficult to say the Rockets have potential to be an elite offense without a true point guard in town, and elite might be what they need if they can’t play a lick of defense. While Christian Wood can do some rim protection, that’s not exactly his forte. Even so, Wood is more likely than not to be traded by the 2023 deadline with his contract expiring at the end of next season. The Rockets also have No. 17 in this draft, which you’ll see in part two of our mock draft.
4. Sacramento Kings- Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
This might be the first trade down spot in the draft. That has absolutely nothing to do with Ivey as a player (I have him No. 2 on my board and he, along with Jabari Smith Jr., are the only tier one guys in this class in my opinion). But Sacramento just traded Tyrese Haliburton at the trade deadline in a deal to land Domantas Sabonis, and with Davion Mitchell playing well down the stretch at the end of last year, they may stray away from taking another guard. My initial inclination is that their trade partner in a trade down scenario would be Detroit, New Orleans, or maybe San Antonio.
To put in perspective where Ivey ranks over the last four drafts, I’ve only had seven guys as Tier 1 players: Jabari Smith Jr. and Jaden Ivey this year, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley in 2021, LaMelo Ball in 2020, and Zion Williamson and Ja Morant in 2019. With that said, yes, I think Ivey is that good. He’s a combination of Ja Morant and Donovan Mitchell. He has the length and athleticism of Mitchell and the first step, speed, explosiveness and shiftiness of Morant. He’s also a solid and crafty finisher at the rim. While there’s questions about his jumper, it’s improved from his freshman to sophomore year, and despite the subpar passing, I think he’ll be fine at developing into a lead guard at the next level one day.
As for the fit, imagine a three-guard lineup of Ivey, De’Aaron Fox, and Davion Mitchell playing together. That will be the fastest team in transition in NBA history. Pair that with a big man who passes well outside of the post, in Domantas Sabonis, and that’s a very exciting offense. Similar with Houston, however, is that the defense could be atrocious. It was just two seasons ago, where under Luke Walton, the Kings had the worst defense in NBA history based off points allowed per 100 possessions. Two years later, despite Ivey being the best athlete in this class and having potentially the highest upside if he improves his passing and midrange game, there’s no solution to that defensive issue on this roster. Did I mention that their new coach, Mike Brown, is a defensive-minded coach?
5. Detroit Pistons- Shaedon Sharpe, SF, Kentucky
The draft’s mystery man. He sat out the year after joining Kentucky for the second semester after reclassifying and graduating high school in May of 2021 and turning 19 before 2022 concludes, deeming him draft eligible. Had he played, he could’ve ended being the No. 1 pick in this class if things broke correctly. That just demonstrates his upside as a legit wing shot creator in addition to being a terrific run/jump athlete. He also has a plus six inch wingspan. But again, scouts haven’t seen him play against high level competition in two years.
I was between Sharpe and AJ Griffin from Duke with this pick. More about Griffin below, but he hasn’t played many minutes at a high level himself. Not only do Sharpe and Griffin have the two highest ceilings left on the board, but Detroit needs wings desperately. If you count Jerami Grant as a wing, Grant, Saddiq Bey, and Hamidou Diallo are the only three wings on the roster next year, assuming Diallo’s team option is picked up and assuming Grant isn’t traded. Also, both Sharpe and Griffin are two of the best shooters in the draft. Overall though, I think Sharpe is the better offensive player, as he has an advanced finishing package and is a willing passer. Plus, pairing him with Cade Cunningham could be a lot of fun for Pistons fans.
If the Pistons could trade Jerami Grant to obtain another lottery pick, they probably would. Grant is due a 4-year/$112 million extension, and this year is the last year on his current contract. As a result, a team who would be willing to trade for him would likely want to extend him. There is a lot of speculation about a certain lottery team being interested in trading their pick for Grant… more on that soon.
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