The 2022 NBA Draft Lottery has come and gone, and we now know the order of picks Nos. 1-14 in June’s upcoming draft. On Tuesday night in Chicago, the Orlando Magic earned the right to select the No. 1 overall pick. The Magic weren’t the only team to come away winners, though as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets landed the No. 2 and No. 3 picks respectively. The Sacramento Kings snagged the No. 4 pick to potentially add a dynamic and explosive player to their roster.
Why is it so important to land one of the top selections this year? According to The Athletic’s NBA Draft analyst Sam Vecenie, this draft is somewhat top-heavy. Vecenie called the 2022 NBA Draft “as unpredictable a draft as I can remember,” for a few reasons.
“The top four is there for the taking,” Vecenie noted. “The next tier is seven or eight guys long, followed by another mini-tier of likely first-round picks. After that? It’s wide open.”
Now that the draft order is set, who should your team take? We asked The Athletic NBA beat writers, national writers and podcast hosts to weigh in and make the call on the first 14 selections.
You can also find the latest mock draft from Vecenie here.
1. Orlando Magic
Jabari Smith Jr. | 6-10 forward | 19 years old | Auburn
This is a difficult choice, but the Magic should take Jabari Smith Jr. here over Chet Holmgren. Perhaps Holmgren has a greater upside than Smith does, but I think Smith has a better chance of reaching his upside than Holmgren does considering how Holmgren needs to add productive weight to his physique.
Smith is a superb shooter, especially for someone who is 6-10, and he projects as a plus defender who will bring agility. I know there’s positional overlap between Smith and Jonathan Isaac, but Isaac has not shown he can remain healthy.
— Josh Robbins
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Chet Holmgren | 7-1 center | 20 years old | Gonzaga
At No. 2, the Thunder take Chet Holmgren. He’s a versatile big man on both ends with a high ceiling. The biggest concern with Holmgren is his physical profile. Standing at 7 feet and 190 pounds, he is not physically ready for the NBA. The Thunder can afford to wait on his development and might even prefer a long-term project like Holmgren.
The Thunder need a big man to protect the paint and stretch the floor for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, and Holmgren could provide both. Oklahoma City could potentially have one of the most fun and unconventional teams in the NBA with SGA, Giddey and Chet leading the way
— Andrew Schlecht
3. Houston Rockets
Paolo Banchero | 6-10 forward | 19 years old | Duke
The Rockets are in the business of taking the best player available regardless of position, and with Holmgren and Smith off the board, the next best option is Duke’s Paolo Banchero. There is already a considerable amount of internal intrigue in Banchero and the fact that Jalen Green essentially signed off on the 19-year-old after the final regular-season game — citing their relationship and praising his game — only adds more fuel to the fire.
At some point during this rebuild, Houston needs to begin to outline what the future of this team looks like. In Green, there is already a capable scoring guard with playmaking chops. Their frontcourt still lacks a complement to that — insert Banchero. He’s a confident, smooth, capable-passing scorer with size. His versatility allows him to function in different lineups, even operating in pinches as a small-ball big.
His defense still leaves a lot to be desired, which is likely why he isn’t higher on the board, but there’s no denying his offensive wizardry. Rockets head coach Stephen Silas will be overflowing with joy finding creative ways to weaponize Banchero’s ballhandling, a necessity for his variance offense. His inside-outside combination should be a welcome fit with Green — and might just be the writing on the wall for Christian Wood.
— Kelly Iko
4. Sacramento Kings
Jaden Ivey | 6-4 guard | 20 years old | Purdue
For the third straight year, this front office drafts a guard in the lottery. There are good wing options on the board with Keegan Murray and Shaedon Sharpe, but Jaden Ivey has the biggest potential for being a star. Ivey is a crazy athlete who thrives in the pick-and-roll. He’s so explosive going to the basket, and the Kings would ideally have multiple attackers on the floor at the same time.
Ivey is more of a scorer than a playmaker, but there’s potential to believe he can be enough of a distributor to be a proper lead guard. He’s not a great shooter but he’s improving. He’s not a great defender, but he makes some plays. And if the Kings want to avoid paying that entire contract to De’Aaron Fox, he gives them flexibility there too.
— Zach Harper
5. Detroit Pistons
Keegan Murray | 6-8 forward | 21 years old | Iowa
The Lottery Gods weren’t in the Pistons’ favor this year, as the team with the third-worst record fell back two spots. Here, I think Detroit ends up with Keegan Murray, a forward who was one of the best scorers in the country last season and is a bit of a late bloomer. Murray is someone I’ve heard that the Pistons’ organization have been monitoring for some time. He can score at all three levels and has a good feel for the game. He comes with good size and length, too. Selecting Murray allows Detroit to trade Jerami Grant if it chooses to, as the latter is seeking an extension.
— James Edwards III
6. Indiana Pacers
Shaedon Sharpe | 6-6 forward | 18 years old | Kentucky
At No. 6, the Pacers will take a run at Shaedon Sharpe, a strong, athletic 6-6 wing with a 7-foot wingspan who has shown glimpses of shot-making and an ability to finish at the rim. The issue is he’s an international man of mystery, having not played last year after enrolling at Kentucky.
After the lottery, Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard said his team would be very aggressive and attempt to move up in the draft, but if they fail to make a deal, Sharpe is an intriguing, if unproven talent.
— Bob Kravitz
7. Portland Trail Blazers
Bennedict Mathurin | 6-6 wing | 19 years old | Arizona
Beep-boop-bap … beep-bot-beep … bop-boop-beep-bat … That sound you hear is Trail Blazers’ general manager Joe Cronin dialing up his colleagues around the league looking to trade this pick. The Blazers desperately wanted to move into the top four to get a franchise-changing player who could align with Damian Lillard’s shrinking window of opportunity (he turns 32 this summer). Cronin’s biggest tell this offseason came after the season, when he said, “you are more likely to win with veteran players than young players, so (trading the pick) will definitely be a part of our decision-making process.”
But, if there are no takers for the seventh pick, my guess is the Blazers will look to shore up their depth on the wing, or at power forward, and now that the Pacers took Sharpe — who is the type of high-risk, high-upside player Cronin says he likes to pursue — the safest pick would be Mathurin from Arizona. Portland wants long, athletic, defensive-minded players, and while The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie says Mathurin is “solid” defensively, he is more known for his offense, which is predicated on attacks at the rim and having a wide arsenal of shots. But again, picking here is not what the Blazers wanted, or will want on draft night. They will look to trade.
— Jason Quick
8. New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers)
Dyson Daniels | 6-7 wing | 19 years old | G League Ignite
With the core New Orleans already has in place, it can go in a few different directions with this pick. There are a few solid options still on the board but taking Dyson Daniels makes sense for a few reasons.
Even after the addition of CJ McCollum and the emergence of Jose Alvarado, the Pels can use some reliable depth in the backcourt. Daniels is a smart playmaker who knows how to be effective around other high-volume scorers. He has size and he plays with physicality. There’s still some work to be done on his jump shot, but that can improve over time. He’s just going to be a solid role player that can fit around the stars New Orleans already has in place.
The great thing for Daniels is he won’t have to step in and play a huge role immediately. He’ll have time to work on the mechanics of his jumper and adjust to the speed of the game. Over time, he could become an even bigger offensive weapon once he works on the other aspects of his game. But Daniels can step in and make winning plays in Year 1 because of his basketball IQ. This would be a big win for both sides.
— Will Guillory
9. San Antonio Spurs
Johnny Davis | 6-5 wing | 20 years old | Wisconsin
The Spurs are in the lottery for the third year in a row, and despite taking wings in the previous two stints with Devin Vassell in 2020 and Joshua Primo in 2021, there’s room for a wing whose strength is getting a bucket.
Johnny Davis, who won Big Ten Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American, had three 30-point games and averaged nearly 20 points per game last season. Davis was not at his best toward the end of the season while struggling with an ankle injury, but he still averaged 6.3 free-throw attempts per game. San Antonio struggled mightily to get to the free-throw line, finishing last in the NBA in free-throw attempt rate. With Vassell as a 3-and-D, Primo as a shooter and All-Star Dejounte Murray as the primary playmaker, there’s room for a downhill player like Davis. It also gives the Spurs insurance with 2018 first-round guard Lonnie Walker IV entering restricted free agency.
— Law Murray
10. Washington Wizards
Jeremy Sochan | 6-9 forward | 18 years old | Baylor
I know the Wizards need a point guard and 3-point shooting. And I know the team has a plethora of 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10 forwards. But I still think Sochan should be the pick here, because I’m not overly impressed with the options at point guard. I think TyTy Washington would be over-drafted if he’s selected here.
Sochan is an intriguing player in his own right. He should become a strong, versatile defender, and he has a good feel for the game. His shooting is not what it needs to be, no doubt about it, but at No. 10, it’s rare to find a perfect player.
— Josh Robbins
11. New York Knicks
Malaki Branham | 6-5 wing | 19 years old | Ohio State
Everyone needs wings. The Knicks are no exception. Ideally, Malaki Branham becomes a two-way one who can drain 3s and help off the dribble as a secondary playmaker.
The Knicks are already overflowing with young players they consider part of their future. RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley all play on the perimeter and are 22-or-under. Cam Reddish fits that category, though he is a restricted free agent after this season. But if Branham can guard at a high level, he brings them a different kind of skill set to add to their core. You can never have too many wings.
— Fred Katz
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (from LA Clippers)
A.J. Griffin | 6-6 forward | 18 years old | Duke
This is the gravy pick for the Thunder. They can either take a sure thing or take another swing at 12. A.J. Griffin is the best of both worlds for Oklahoma City.
He’s one of the youngest players in the draft but will also come into the league with the skill every team needs from the wing: shooting. Griffin shot 44.7 percent from 3 this past season on 4.1 attempts per game. This past season, the Thunder didn’t have a player shoot above 36 percent from 3 that played 1,000 minutes or more, so Griffin would fill an immediate need.
Griffin is only 18 and played a smaller role with Duke. It’s possible there is more creation ability to discover in his game. Additionally, if Griffin buys into Mark Daigneault’s defensive philosophies, the Thunder could have one of the better 3-and-D wings in the draft at 12.
— Andrew Schlecht
13. Charlotte Hornets
Jalen Duren | 6-11 center | 18 years old | Memphis
Charlotte would have its pick of centers between Memphis freshman Jalen Duren and Duke sophomore Mark Williams. Too bad Michael Jordan won’t get to go to the Tar Heel well for Armando Bacot to add to the consideration here, right? The pick here is Jalen Duren, despite Williams being more decorated as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Duren has a high ceiling, won’t turn 19 until November and was productive on both ends of the floor as a freshman in the AAC.
Charlotte rolled out veteran Mason Plumlee as a starter last season, and while Plumlee is one of the better passing centers in the league, he doesn’t block shots at a high level anymore. Moreover, only the Brooklyn Nets were worse on the defensive glass than the Hornets last season. Plumlee is entering the last year of his contract, midseason trade acquisition Montrezl Harrell is a free agent and 2021 first-round pick Kai Jones played a grand total of 63 minutes as a rookie.
It’s hard to figure how Duren would fit in Charlotte just yet with the Hornets still in the midst of a replacement for head coach James Borrego. But it’s not hard to imagine Duren being LaMelo Ball’s next high-octane alley-oop recipient.
— Law Murray
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
Ochai Agbaji | 6-5 wing | 22 years old | Kansas
The Cavaliers are at the point in their rebuild where they can focus more on positional fit than just talent, especially after drafting the last four lottery picks based on talent. With Cleveland landing the No. 14 pick, it can focus on position and fit here. There are a few areas the Cavs can address as well: a backup point guard, a two-way wing and a backup center.
At No. 14, there are different ways the Cavs could go with this pick. But with one of the biggest areas of need being a wing, I think the Cavs take Ochai Agbaji. His age isn’t an issue, mainly because of the youth of the core group in Cleveland. At 22, Agbaji could fit in with that group. He is a catch-and-shoot player, he can come off screens and makes solid cuts. He also fills a defensive need with his physicality. Agbaji can shoot, which is an element the Cavs need. He shot 40.9 percent from 3 in his last season, averaging 6.5 attempts per game. Agbaji does lack some playmaking and self-creation, which are other aspects the Cavs need, but here they can address a need for a wing that can shoot.
Now, especially because it is still early on, other guys that I considered here are Ousmane Dieng and Tari Eason, who were both still on the board. Prospects that were off the board that I would have considered were Dyson Daniels and Malaki Branham.
— Kelsey Russo
(Top photos: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images, and Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
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