There’s an old adage that says no one can accurately judge a draft pick for at least five years after the selection is made. That’s undeniably true, but it has never stopped us from giving our snap judgements on the picks from the moment they are made.
The 2022 NBA Draft is here, and again we will be grading every first round draft pick. Our grades will be informed mostly by our final top-60 draft board, which was published earlier this week. We will also factor in perceived team fit and value in each spot when giving our grades.
We have been writing about this draft for a full year, with our first board for this class publishing the day after the 2021 draft. So much has changed since then, but our top-two players — Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren — stayed in the same spots all season. It’s been such a fun draft cycle to cover.
Let’s grade every first round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Feel free to get back to us in a few years and tell us how wrong we were. Until then, we are sticking by these grades.
1. Orlando Magic – Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
Banchero has been our No. 1 prospect all year because he’s the best shot creator in the class at 6’10, 250 pounds. Banchero’s ball handling and live dribble passing ability is remarkable for someone with his frame. He’s also an excellent scorer who can finish with strength when he gets downhill, drain midrange shots from the elbow after creating space with his jab step, and bury defenders in the post with his power and touch. Banchero is only an average three-point shooter right now, and he’s not an elite run-and-jump athlete. There will be questions about his defensive translation, but his size and feel for the game should help him be at least average on that end. Where Banchero is really special is with the ball in his hands creating shots for himself and his teammate. The Magic have a nice stable of guards, but they don’t have anyone who profiles as the primary option on a team that can make a deep playoff run. Banchero can be that guy. After months of rumors that Jabari Smith Jr. would go No. 1 to Orlando, I think the Magic eventually landed on the right pick.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Chet Holmgren, C/F, Gonzaga
Holmgren was our No. 2 prospect in the class, and feels like a great fit for the Thunder’s long-term rebuild. Oklahoma City already has two gifted young guards who can create good looks for others but have shaky outside shots in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. Holmgren gives them a front court player with extreme length (7’6 wingspan), the ability to space the floor to three-point range on offense, and incredible shot-blocking skills on defense. He was one of the most productive players in the country as a freshman at Gonzaga, and has essentially aced every test he’s faced since first emerging as a top prospect in the high school ranks. It’s easy to question Holmgren’s translation because of his thin frame, but his tools, statistical output, and relentless motor makes him an easy player to bet on. The Thunder got a good one.
3. Houston Rockets – Jabari Smith Jr., F, Auburn
It’s easy to see the appeal of Smith: he might already be one of the best 6’10+ shooters in the world, and he’s a strong defender in space, as well. We had Smith as the No. 4 player on our board because he often struggles to create shots for himself and his teammates off the bounce. He only shot 43.5 percent on two-pointers this season, which feels way too low for a 6’10 player going in the top-three of the draft. The most interesting top-end outcome for Smith might be as an oversized wing defender a la Mikal Bridges — because he really is that good on his feet defensively. Smith can still become the best player in this class if he tightens his handle and gains more craft as an interior scorer. Smith probably has the highest floor of any player in the draft, but we have questions about his ceiling. Still, Smith feels like a great fit in Houston next to last year’s No. 3 overall pick Jalen Green. That’s a dynamic young pairing.
4. Sacramento Kings – Keegan Murray, F, Iowa
Keegan Murray is going to be a good NBA player for a long time. At 6’8, 220 pounds, Murray can rip three-pointers off movement, score in transition, and play solid team defense. At the same time, he feels like more of a “high floor” pick than a “high ceiling” pick — and the Kings need all the upside they can get. Jaden Ivey was the best player on the board and the Kings didn’t take him because of his fit with De’Aaron Fox. Drafting for fit is the wrong move for almost every team. Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 in large part because they are so inept in the draft. The Kings once passed on Luka Doncic to take Marvin Bagley III. Somehow, they’ve made another blunder by overthinking fit instead of just going with the best player on the board. We had Ivey as our No. 3 overall player and Murray as our No. 9 overall player. He just doesn’t have the upside to warrant this selection.
5. Detroit Pistons – Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
The Pistons found their franchise star in Cade Cunningham last year with the No. 1 overall pick. They never expected Jaden Ivey to still be on the board with the No. 5 pick in the draft, but good things happen when you select behind the Kings. Ivey is clearly the best available player on the board, and a great fit with Cunningham. The Purdue guard is the most athletic player in the draft, blessed with extreme speed in the open floor, incredible burst in the half court, and ridiculous leaping ability around the rim. One of Cunningham’s few weaknesses is he’s not an elite run-and-jump athlete. Getting a super fast guard like Ivey next to him is going to cause massive problems for opposing defenses for the next decade. Cunningham can take on the tougher defensive assignment and space the floor around Ivey’s drives. Ivey gets to the basket both in transition and against a set defense in a way that will make Cunningham’s life so much easier. The Pistons have an elite backcourt foundation moving forward.
6. Indiana Pacers – Bennedict Mathurin, G, Arizona
The Pacers need star-power. They should have done everything possible to trade up for the hometown hero Jaden Ivey. They could have taken a swing for a high-upside wing like Shaedon Sharpe or AJ Griffin. Instead, the Pacers played it safe with Mathurin, a bouncy athlete, good three-point shooter, and awesome cutter who should fit nicely next to Tyrese Haliburton. We had Mathurin at No. 11 on our board because he isn’t great at creating offense for himself and others off the dribble. We also have questions about how he translates defensively. Mathurin just feels a little one-dimensional to us with a loose handle and a lack of refined playmaking chops. How you feel about this pick probably comes down to how you feel about Mathurin’s defense. Ultimately, the Pacers are a team that badly needed to take an upside swing, and it feels like they left higher-ceiling options on the board.
7. Portland Trail Blazers – Shaedon Sharpe, G, Kentucky
Sharpe is the mystery man of this class after enrolling at Kentucky midseason as next year’s No. 1 and deciding not to play. He has a great frame for a shooting guard at nearly 6’6 with a 7-foot wingspan. He has ridiculous leaping ability, and can make plays way above the rim. He also has soft touch from three-point range. What else does Sharpe do? Who knows. His NBA debut will mark a full year since his most recent game. There will be major questions about Sharpe’s feel for the game, how he translates defensively, and what kind of passer he is. It sure seemed like he settled for tough shots too often against the high school level, even if those shots often went in. Still, we’re giving this pick a high grade because of Sharpe’s tools. With the right amount of patience and development, Sharpe can eventually be a really good player who does things you can’t teach. This is a nice upside swing by the Blazers even if it’s a risky pick.