The Race For No. 1 | The Morning Dunk
There's no better time for a check-in than now on the race for the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, as we prepare to enter into conference tournament play and get ready for "The Big Dance"
Welcome to another edition of The Morning Dunk!
The support we’ve received at No Ceilings has been incredible over the last four months since launch, so in turn, we’ve tried to provide the best quality content each week covering the draft! If you aren’t subscribed, PLEASE DO SO!
That being said, let’s get back on track here over the next two weeks on our regular schedule of discussing “current events” within the draft world and answering questions on major storylines before we reach the tournament-filled March.
If you missed one of the latest episodes of the Draft Deeper Podcast, it might be worthwhile to listen below as it sets the scene for where I’m going this week: the race for first overall!!
So who is currently running that race, and where do I currently stand on the matter? Let’s dive in!
The Race For No. 1
Obviously, this is the storyline that every major media outlet cares about the most because it’s the conversation starter around the dinner table, so to speak.
Does the casual NBA fan really care about dissecting the draft class to figure out who is the reasonable pick after the first 30 or so selections? Probably not. The NBA is a star-driven league at its core, so naturally, the discourse is heavily tied to who is next to join the cream of the crop in the league.
So while we’ve done a great job here at No Ceilings making sure the vast majority get their moment in the sun, it’s still important we as a collective, along with myself in this column, make our feelings clear on who is the best choice with the first overall pick in the 2022 draft.
First, though, we must highlight the candidates for such an honor.
Three names have appeared the most fighting for that top spot: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith, and Duke’s Paolo Banchero.
If you had to ask me, that would be how I’m ranking all three of them today.
Let’s get into what makes each one special and talk about some outside contenders who could challenge those three by year’s end.
25 GP, 24 GS, 26.4 MPG
14.4 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 62.0/44.6/75.0 Shooting Splits, 3.4 BPG
As I talked about with The Stepien’s CJ Marchesani, Holmgren stands out to me, along with plenty of others here at No Ceilings, as the player with the most upside if EVERYTHING breaks right for him.
And really, the most significant concerns around Holmgren are what’s been discussed since day one. His body isn’t exactly what you would call “ideal” to play down low in the pro game.
Listed under 200 lbs. Holmgren is neither wide nor built like a tank despite standing over 7’0” tall. Despite his lack of bulk, he’s deceptively strong and competes just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else in the paint.
I’ve never witnessed a player get backed down as many times as he does in the low post yet still come up with a play on the ball. Holmgren alters shots in his sleep because he’s one of the most disciplined rim protectors I’ve ever evaluated.
Rarely does he jump too early or lean in too far when contesting shots around the basket. Holmgren is patient as he waits for the perfect time to jump or reach to swat the ball. His anticipation blocking shots is second to none, which is a big reason why he’s one of the best pure shot blockers in this class, along with Walker Kessler.
In terms of playing one-on-one in the post, rotating from the weak side, or even contesting and swatting shots into the stands on the perimeter, Holmgren is one of those rare human beings in the vein of Anthony Davis or Evan Mobley who presents problems no matter who or where he’s defending.
Holmgren’s block and defensive rebounding percentages (12.0 and 27.9%, respectively) help contextualize how dominant he is on any given night defensively. But factor in how efficient he’s been offensively, and his numbers jump to even more absurd levels.
Overall, Holmgren has a 15.5 box plus-minus per Sports Reference. Factor that in with his 31.7 PER and 70.7 effective field-goal percentage, and it becomes easier to make the case he’s producing at an all-time level in college basketball. Forget how he’s likely the top player in the country at this moment, but his level of play will be remembered amongst some of the greatest the amateur game has ever seen.
What’s fascinating is that despite the numbers he’s putting up, Holmgren’s name isn’t popping up every single day the way Smith’s or Banchero’s does. I understand he’s playing on the west coast for a school that’s not a traditional blue blood (although I’d argue despite conference affiliation, the Bulldogs deserve that level of respect at this point), but Holmgren’s name deserves to be at the forefront of the conversation for the top overall pick in 2022.
Flip on the tape, and it’s very hard to find legitimate holes in Holmgren’s game. I already outlined how he fares defensively around the basket, but he’s just as capable of swallowing up guards and wings on the perimeter when he’s switched out. His footwork and hip rotations combined with his length leave little room for opposing players to get around him or shoot over him.
Offensively, Holmgren handles the ball like a guard. He’s more than comfortable handling in transition and either stopping and popping the open three, getting all the way to the basket, or finding a teammate for the easy dish.
Holmgren’s passing on the move is well above average, and even in half-court sets, he’s comfortable passing in space or out of the post. He’s not asked to make plays often for others, but when the opportunity is there, or he’s doubled, Holmgren usually makes the right play.
Even more than displaying the court vision to recognize where he needs to get the ball, the touch on his passes is also excellent for a big man. He’s no Nikola Jokic, but Holmgren’s passing rivals that of Mobley in some respects.
Speaking of shooting, Holmgren is an ELITE play finisher and a very capable spot-up shooter. Currently, Holmgren ranks in the 100th percentile finishing around the basket in the halfcourt and the 70th percentile on half-court jumpers per Synergy Sports.
To top it off, he also ranks in the 99th percentile on scoring off offensive rebounds and the 90th percentile on cuts. Transition-wise, Holmgren ranks in the 97th percentile finishing on the break.
Holmgren has displayed touch from the outside, the handle to create off the bounce, and the quickness and coordination to get to the basket and finish at the rim. Whether he’s forced to score on the ball or move and finish without it, there are few weaknesses to HOW he can convert from the field.
Obviously, there will be those who will still critique his fit on an NBA team as we get closer to the draft. What position does he play? Is he locked into needing another big next to him? Can he hold his own against the Jokic’s and Joel Embiid’s of the world?
Personally, I would hope a team takes the approach the Cleveland Cavaliers did with Mobley and pair Holmgren with another big who can handle the punishment down low like a Jarrett Allen.
But the skill level and overall talent are too much to pass on, in my humble opinion. There are other good candidates to be taken over Chet, but no one else has quite the diverse resume from a production standpoint as he does.
27 GP, 27 GS, 27.9 MPG
16.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 43.8/43.3/79.7 Shooting Splits, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG
To be fair, I had Smith first on my 2.0 board before making the switch BACK to Holmgren on this most recent update.
I was skeptical about Smith coming into this year in terms of contending for the top spot. I wasn’t sold on how he was going to fare as a full-time deep shooter, nor did I see enough in his bag to serve as a scorer in the low post (although there are some silky smooth fading jumpers on YouTube from his high school days).
To add fuel to that fire, I wasn’t confident he’d come in and offer much creation off the dribble either. I saw the defensive talent and potential versatility, which I’ll talk about in a second, and I bought the jumper to an extent.
But we’re past the point of just applauding what Smith has done for a dominant Auburn team this year. He’s gone above and beyond in ways I couldn’t have expected.
Smith came out of the gates firing on all cylinders this season from the perimeter. For quite a long time, Smith shot above 40% from three-point range on over five attempts per game. That’s an incredible mark given the volume for a 6’10” forward.
Once SEC play really ramped up, however, Smith’s struggles creating started to show themselves more. Teams ramped up in terms of how often they doubled him immediately off the catch, and some of the inability to process the game at a high enough level began to show itself to an extent. Making Smith give up the ball as soon as he got it was part of the game plan for opposing teams, made easier by the fact that Smith doesn’t have a handle.
To be clear, Smith dribbles the ball under control with his right hand. While it sometimes looks awkward watching him a little hunched over trying to maintain control dribbling, it’s functional, and he can still navigate through the defense at times and make it work.
But not being able to change hands effectively or hit combination moves at the drop of a hat like some of the best isolation scorers in the league today definitely hurts when he’s hounded and needs to find a way to make something happen late in the shot clock.
Whether he can develop that part of his game remains to be seen. But I would like to ask the question, does he even NEED more of that to come around?
There are PLENTY of shots Smith has made with multiple hands in his face off the catch, and it hasn’t mattered. Every catch, every jab, the defense knows what’s coming. Smith is going to rise and fire no matter how difficult the contest is or how far back he has to fall away to get the shot off.
Smith’s mechanics on his jumper are tight and consistent. There’s no difference whether he’s stopping on the move, catching or turning and hitting a fadeaway out of the post. His gather, follow-through, and release are always at the same points every time.
That’s really impressive for a forward his size. The most important part about being a consistent jump shooter is having consistent mechanics. Smith is as textbook as they come from that perspective, and given how high his release point actually is, along with his natural length, it’s simply difficult for even same-size defenders to get a hand on Smith’s attempt.
Overall, Smith ranks in the 97th percentile on spot-up looks, the 84th percentile on jump shots, the 87th percentile on catch-and-shoots, and the 79th percentile on all jumpers off the dribble. Very, and I mean VERY, few forwards of his ilk lay claim to similar marks from outside.
The appeal behind Smith as one of the best players in the 2022 draft is exactly that. He can make shots from anywhere on the floor, and even if the numbers around the basket aren’t great (54.9% on shots at the rim in the halfcourt), they aren’t terrible.
Ultimately, I would bet on Smith continuing to add some muscle and strength to better finish through defenders and boost his two-point percentages. I’m also a sucker for forwards who can finish finger-roll layups with their off hand, which he’s shown on tape despite the infrequency overall of using his left hand.
Defensively, Smith hasn’t shown great technique as a shot-blocker, and one can challenge if he’s actually a rim “protector” even in smaller lineups. But there’s no question he’s a rim deterrent and switchable big outside of the paint.
Smith’s footwork defensively is awesome. He plays off of his man enough in space, recovers well if he gets beat off a step, and makes life hell for anyone trying to shoot over him. Smith is great at keeping his man in front of him, similar to Holmgren, and using technique along with his length to remain effective as a defender.
At times, Smith has even acted as a guard defender and has funneled matchups into the other brick wall for the Tigers in Kessler. And when those two are able to crowd an opposing player at the same time, good luck not coughing the ball up, let alone getting a shot off.
I would buy Smith holding his own against virtually every position on the floor long term. Should he be on an island guarding some of the league’s best point guards all the time? Probably not, but neither should any of these three big men in contention for the top pick. However, his competitiveness and willingness to learn only help his cause. If Saturday’s game against Florida wasn’t enough of an example to show you how much this dude cares about the game, I don’t know what is.
As far as the rest of his game, the biggest concerns tie back to his lack of processing speed in seeing everything around him like Holmgren. He’s slow to recognize opportunities to move the ball at times, and while he’s had some good highlights making plays for others, those tend to come from more of a standstill versus on the move.
Smith can look like a turnover machine when trying to thread the needle on passes in transition. I don’t love his touch, and I think he makes poor reads in those situations.
From a creation standpoint, I give Holmgren the edge, which is why I’m leaning there for number one. However, there is no more dangerous shot maker in this class than Smith. We haven’t seen the best of his game, and frankly, I have zero clue as to how much better he can get over the years.
In his defense, I had no idea he’d be taking and making pull-up threes on the move at the level he has already. If there’s more in his bag to be unlocked at the next level, and he can further his ball-handling ability, the sky could be the limit for Smith as much as it is Holmgren.
27 GP, 27 GS, 31.4 MPG
16.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 47.1/29.9/77.5 Shooting Splits, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Entering the year, Banchero seemed to be the overwhelming favorite to go where Holmgren currently sits on my board.
At 6’10” and weighing about 250 lbs., Banchero had a physical edge few other prospects could match in this class.
For as much as he looks like a wrecking ball, the grace and the fluidity with some of the moves he’s able to pull off completely go against our natural thought process.
To put it this way, when Banchero unleashed those vicious spin cycles driving to the basket in Duke’s first game of the year against Kentucky, my jaw dropped to the floor.
I used the word “coordination” to describe how Holmgren is able to get to the basket and finish. If I could come up with a word that emphasized that double for Banchero, I would.
While I don’t always love his handle when he’s driving into two or three defenders at once, some of the moves Banchero is able to pull off the bounce are extraordinary.
The “stutter rip” is what he’s become most famous for, and it likely will serve as his go-to move in the NBA as well. It’s so damn effective that nobody seems to have a plan on how to stop it when he actually decides to go to it.
If you’re guarding Banchero one-on-one, you can’t let him lull you to sleep. If he gets one step on you, it’s game over. He’s not the quickest player in terms of getting to that first step, but when he’s able to catch you off balance and get downhill, it’s “BBQ Chicken Alert” time for Banchero!
His power and functional athleticism are quite the combo for a shot maker at his size. Banchero’s pull-up scoring prowess around the elbows and even working along the baseline remind me of Carmelo Anthony and Jabari Parker before all of the nagging injuries. Those two are some of the most gifted scoring four-men the game has ever seen.
Am I ready to put Banchero in that bucket yet? Not quite. But the flashes point to him being a pretty safe bet to put up points in bunches at the next level.
He can hit jumpers, albeit infrequently depending on the area on the floor, as well as finish well around the basket. On off-ball play types, he rates out “Good” to “Excellent” in terms of percentile per Synergy, and he even has similar marks in isolations and on spot-up shots. Offensively in terms of skill level, there’s little that Banchero can’t do on the court.
And when you start to put together what fans would think a “typical” first overall pick looks like on the offensive end (likely a different long-form topic for a different day), it’s very similar to what Banchero is at his best.
Some of the difficult shots he can convert on from the elbows are reminiscent, as outlined, of some of the game’s best scorers, and his ability to finish through contact often yields those types of reactions from the crowd that gets the building HYPE.
The biggest pet peeve I have about Banchero’s game to this day is the fact that he refuses to get to the basket as often as he likely could. Now in ACC play, I actually feel Banchero has begun to balance this better, but starting off the year even through to now, he’s gone to the mid-range pull-up jumper far more often than actually getting downhill and finishing through the defense.
Holding on to the ball and dribbling the clock down to a step-back shot that doesn’t look like it has a chance of going in isn’t what one would call an “efficient” offense. Despite some of these struggles in shot selection, Banchero is still shooting over 47% from the field, which I find to be remarkable.
Where most people would point to the biggest hole in his game being is the three-point shooting. Banchero hasn’t shot well from deep all year, and despite some moments where he’s knocked down consecutive trailer threes and looked like a dominant force, the consistency just hasn’t been there.
When Banchero is able to step into his shot on the break or off of self-creation, he gets a much cleaner release point and how he angles the ball toward the basket seems much better. But when Banchero has to shoot off the catch from deep, the results haven’t quite been there for him. I’m no shot doctor, but I think he can do a better job of squaring up and getting some more lift on the jumper (which shouldn’t be a problem considering the man has TREE TRUNKS for legs).
If the outside shooting can come around and he continues to make a concerted effort to bulldoze his way to the basket, Banchero has a chance to make a massive statement in the tournaments to come and win over the right executive to take him first overall.
Despite his offensive numbers not jumping as much off the charts as both Holmgren and Smith, there’s the argument to be made that Banchero is more ready to score at the next level than both of them. Smith and Holmgren will both need some time to adjust to the physicality of the pro game, and in Smith’s case, as mentioned, his handle needs some real polishing along with how he sees what’s happening on the court.
Banchero reads the floor well, and over the last month, he has really started to sprinkle in the passing flashes scouts loved before he got to college. He can pass the ball very well when he’s locked in and ready to make plays for others. High-low reads, baseline cuts, passing out of pick-and-roll sets. Banchero has a lot in his bag and arguably the most out of all three from a creation standpoint.
That brings up the last interesting wrinkle to his offensive game, which is some potential as an inverted pick-and-roll player. The numbers for both scoring and passing out of such situations aren’t the best at the moment, but flipping on the tape you can see that the potential is there.
He’s a competent enough ball-handler and passer, and we know the pull-up shooting is there for him. Banchero can pick apart the mismatch from the result of the set and either punish down low or on the perimeter. I’d buy in to this being an interesting part of his game over the long haul.
Defensively is really where he falls short of the other two, although I have to say he’s not as bad as some have made him out to be. Scouts and fans on Twitter have argued that his lateral mobility holds him back from defending at an at least average level in space, but I disagree.
I don’t think Banchero is slow at all. What stands out to me is that he likes to gamble on the defensive end and let the opposing player get a step on him in an attempt to try and angle to make a play.
Banchero doesn’t have the length or plus quickness to contest and recover if the offensive player recognizes what he’s trying to do. If the ball handler sees how Banchero is trying to angle himself, the other player, in turn, can counter at an angle of his own and use his speed advantage to blow by and get to the rim uncontested. Thankfully, Banchero has Mark Williams to hopefully rotate and contest, but that style of defense shouldn’t be employed by a player like him.
That being said, Banchero is more than capable of playing a passing lane or bodying up around the basket and getting a block directly on the ball. His size and strength give him a base to play up on the block, and there’s still room for him to grow on the perimeter. Overall, I feel he could end up as an average-level defender in the league which, given his potential offensive value, could certainly be enough.
But Banchero would go number one likely because a team feels it could build AROUND him. And that’s exactly what would need to happen. I can make a case both Holmgren and Smith are cleaner fits than Paolo on virtually every team in the league. Banchero needs some more pieces around him to really let him shine at what he does best.
In the end, I can’t see Banchero slipping past third despite a growing number of mock drafts projecting him fourth or even fifth. Size and skill usually win the day in the NBA, and Banchero has too much of both for me to remove him from this conversation.
The Other Guys
As far as the other names that scouts view as “in the conversation,” two really jump out to me, with another dark horse in the mix.
The main two would be Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Duke’s AJ Griffin.
As far as athleticism is concerned, both of these players have what it takes to compete at the next level. Ivey is one of the most impressive athletes in the draft period when it comes to speed in the open court and explosiveness.
Griffin isn’t a slouch himself in that department either, although most of his game comes from mixing in power moves as opposed to speeding by and slithering through defenses like Ivey.
I’ve been bullish on Ivey’s game for a while now as I’ve written before in this column. At 6’4”, Ivey has the requisite size, length, and skill to play the lead guard position in the NBA with enough seasoning and repetition.
For all that people want to pick apart his live dribble passing out of pick-and-roll, he’s been great all year long in pick-and-rolls, including passes ranking in the 75th percentile per Synergy. He may not be the best in the class at start/stop playmaking, but Ivey’s had some impressive dishes off the initial screen finding the rolling big or a cutter heading toward the basket.
While most of his passes come off an initial read and not through multiple progressions, the threat of him being able to score sometimes is a good enough second option to rule out everything else. Ivey is nearly impossible to contain going right off a pick-up top, and once he gets downhill he can slither through or blow by defenders to finish around the basket.
I’ve long thought he needs to develop a better pull-up jumper coming off screens to solidify himself as one of the more dynamic pick-and-roll creators coming into the league. He’s much more of a catch-and-shoot player so long as he has that second to gather himself and properly go through his motion. Figuring out ways to add to that attack like a pull-up jumper around the free-throw line would make him a much more dangerous offensive player.
Thankfully Ivey has hit on 11-of-23 runner attempts in the halfcourt, so either way, he’s dangerous when he gets two feet in the paint.
But speaking on the jump shooting, he can be incredibly streaky from deep. He currently sits at 38.4% from three-point range, down from the mid-40’s where he was earlier in the year. If he’s shooting open spot-up looks, he can knock them down at a very respectable clip. But if defenses close out hard or force him off his spot, he tends to rush through his motion off the bounce and catapult the ball toward the basket leading to some bad misses.
That being said, there just isn’t another guard with his upside in this class. The NBA game has become much more about accelerated pace, especially in the regular season. There’s no better guard end-to-end amongst his peers than Ivey. He’s an absolute blur in the open court and gets to the rim before even two guys can try and get back to contest.
Playmaking in the halfcourt, as well as jump shooting, will continue to be the question marks as well as his execution defensively.
Ivey has the length and quick hands to poke balls free and force turnovers, but he gets caught sleeping at times off the ball and doesn’t always recognize the incoming screen to fight through and bother the ball handler on the other side.
I don’t feel Ivey is a horrible defensive guard, and not a lot of points are exceptional on that side of the ball either. But he has to be better at the point of attack than he’s been up to this point. Hopefully, more of this is just technique in how he’s going about guarding, and the concerns can be wiped away with the proper coaching.
When Ivey’s playing at his best with the ball IN HIS HANDS, there are not many who can match his production of 17.0 PPG on 58.1% true shooting. He’s as dynamic as they come, and many in popular draft circles, including Locked On’s Chad Ford, have put it out there that they’ve heard murmurs about Ivey having the chance RIGHT NOW to jump the previous three names mentioned for one of those spots.
As for Griffin, there are times on the court where he truly reminds me of Jimmy Butler in terms of the types of shots he can hit inside the arc.
When he has it going, Griffin can take his man off the bounce, turn and post off a few dribbles, and fall away at an absurd angle on his jumper, leading to a splash make. I wouldn’t consider Griffin an explosive one-foot leaper, but the elevation he can get off two feet combined with his high release point make for a shot that is incredibly difficult to stop.
He’s played enough games and minutes up to this point where we can properly judge his ratings in terms of percentile per Synergy. And spoiler alert, they’re still ridiculous.
Virtually every play type outside of pick-and-roll Griffin rates out as “Excellent” both on and off-ball. Not only that, but he’s above the 94th percentile in all jump-shooting categories in the halfcourt as well as finishing around the basket. To top it off, he rates out in the 84th percentile on runners too.
Griffin’s efficiency as a scorer is unmatched at the wing position in the 2022 draft class. As soon as he started to get consistent playing time (more than 20 MPG), Griffin took the opportunity and ran with it.
Defensively, he still has a long way to go as far as off-ball defense is concerned, but when he’s guarding at the point of attack, you can see his potential on the ball. Standing at 6’6” and listed at 225 lbs. it’s hard to see anyone giving him trouble at the next level from a physicality standpoint at either guard spot.
Not to mention Griffin should be able to swing up and guard bigger wings and some forwards in small lineups. Duke has been difficult to stop when Griffin has played the four next to Banchero, and I’d imagine an NBA team would experiment just as much with Griffin all over the floor because of his build.
The major concern that lies with Griffin is his health. He didn’t play much or at all during his junior and senior years of high school and even started the preseason hurt at Duke. At a point earlier in the season, it was difficult to imagine teams having Griffin ranked within the top 10 on their draft boards because of the injury history.
But if we’re evaluating off pure talent, there’s a case to be made for Griffin to keep rising even past Ivey and possibly Banchero. NBA teams want wings who can put the ball in the basket from all three levels and defend multiple positions. While he still has work to do in terms of processing in pick-and-roll and defending in certain schemes, Griffin’s natural talent and physical gifts roll up into an impossible to ignore package.
I do know of some scouts and evaluators who contend Griffin should be the first player taken in the draft. I’m not sure I’m passing on the size and skill of Holmgren, Smith, and Banchero at the top, but I see the argument and understand it.
The “dark horse” name to throw in here is Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis. I’ve written a piece fully outlining Davis’ game, so I won’t spend as much time talking about him in-depth here.
But what I will say is that 6’5” tough shot-making guards who are as competitive on both ends as he is don’t come around as often as one might think. Davis has had some more phenomenal performances of late after a few cold weeks in terms of shooting efficiency. More importantly, the Badgers have continued to pile on wins.
If Davis somehow carries his team on a late tournament run in March and shines doing so, I have all the reason in the world to believe he’s right back in the race for the top three, potentially top one in the draft. I get the pause regarding his pro prospects because of his lack of elite quickness and burst. At the same time, he still finds ways to get good looks, convert at the free-throw line, and nail contested shot after contested shot.
There may not be a more polished guard/wing scorer in the draft than Davis. Few perimeter players nowadays can pour in 20-plus points while making as few threes as he has in some games this year. While the volume ramped up on deep attempts after the first few weeks of the season, he still doesn’t “rely” on that to carry his offensive game.
And the last point I’ll leave about Davis: I still don’t believe any player in college basketball who’s projected to be drafted in the lottery has had more responsibility on both ends of the floor, night in and night out. And when the chips are on the table, he delivers.
I’m so excited to continue to watch how this race plays out all the way up to that fateful night in June. And yes, it’s a race, folks. These players are FAR from done jockeying for position.
5 Games To Watch This Week
2/22, 7pm EST: Michigan State @ Iowa: Keegan Murray has been on a fantastic run all season long for Iowa, as his numbers have shown little to no variance between conference and non-conference play. But Michigan State always poses a significant challenge even when they’re on the road. Max Christie has shown many more flashes over the last few weeks, and look for Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham to attempt to make life hell for both Murray brothers.
2/23, 9pm EST: LSU @ Kentucky: Despite TyTy Washington being in and out of the lineup for Kentucky, the veteran-led squad has still held their own near the top of the SEC standings. LSU will look to try and regain as much ground as possible before the conference tournament, and they have the personnel to win this game. Tari Eason has been discussed as a likely lottery pick in draft circles of late, and he’s been one of the most efficient players in college basketball all year.
2/24, 9pm EST: Gonzaga @ San Francisco: This is more so just a PSA for draft enthusiasts: if you haven’t seen Chet Holmgren over the last few weeks, please watch this Gonzaga outing which will be broadcast on ESPN2. Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard, Julian Strawther, and Nolan Hickman are also prospects worthy of consideration in the 2022 draft.
2/26, Time TBD: Auburn @ Tennessee: This, to me, is Kennedy Chandler’s last great opportunity before the tournament slate to prove himself against a team loaded with size in Auburn. Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler make life difficult for anyone in the paint, but the trio of Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge, and Jaylin Williams also bring it defensively. KD Johnson and Wendell Green should both be great tests for Chandler on the defensive end. Sneaky good prospect for the Volunteers likely in the 2023 class: Brandon Huntley-Hatfield.
2/26, 8pm EST: Kansas @ Baylor: Last time these two teams faced each other, Kansas won in a landslide 83-59 over Baylor. I would expect this matchup to go a little differently, especially with the Bears squaring off on their home floor. Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan have fared well and are viewed as the best prospects on Baylor, but this team goes as Adam Flagler, James Akinjo, and LJ Cryer go. Meanwhile, Ochai Agbaji continues his flamethrower senior campaign, with Christian Braun also looking to keep positive momentum in the draft space.
Having watched Holmgren for a few years living in MN, I rated him #1, Ivey was my #2, where we go from there is??’s thanks Nathan for your take, the tournament should provide answers adding a couple new prospects to the top 5…