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Sam Smith's Final 2022 NBA Mock Draft

With the 18th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select...

I’ll tell you a secret about the NBA Draft, which this year is Thursday. Those of us who have been around are not supposed to say. So don’t tell anyone. Move a little closer.

They have very little idea what they are doing.

Not that it should be a big surprise. How is anyone supposed to project what a teenager or just-turned-20 with a still developing body—and certainly mind—is supposed to be while playing against adult men, say, five years from now. The truth is no one really can, though fans and especially media prefer their default position to excuse all their personal misjudgments. You know, it’s their job, they’re supposed to know. Not me. 

So this is what all the scouts do, and you probably can’t blame them. They travel around all winter watching players, watch tapes, and then compare views. And then they make those one-to-10 lists and—shush, wink wink—share them. How else can you explain all these mock drafts basically being in the same order? How is it possible that so many people from so many different backgrounds and so many different races, religions and cultures can come up with basically the same numerical lists based on analysis of immature kids playing sports?

Heck, one of these kids who everyone has in the top 10 hasn’t even played basketball in more than a year.

The practice reminds me of a scene from my favorite comedy, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, in which the lazy Gov played by Brooks gets word of chaos in a town and declares to his staff something much be done: “Gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phony, baloney jobs.”

Just kidding, guys. Hey, it’s a comedy. But it is unrealistic that all these teams can basically come up with virtually the identical order with a player or two moved up or down. Look, all those media people aren’t out scouting. They’re asking team officials, who are telling them at least what they heard about the other guy. 

One of the problems, though, is it’s on TV. The TV guys also have basically that same list, and you don’t want to be the executive who picks some kid No. 7 while the TV guys had him No. 41 on their list. You know, like Nikola Jokic.

Redo the order five years or so later when these kids are coming into their primes and we all can see how inexact is this “science.”

Let’s look at a few drafts where the players now should be in the primes of their careers:

2013. None of the top nine guys selected is an NBA starter today. The best players were selected at Nos. 15 and 27.

2014: Basically half the top 10 picks are either out of the NBA or barely hanging on. Joel Embiid was No. 3 and Julius Randle No. 7. But Zach LaVine was No. 13 and Jokic was No 41.

2015: Karl-Anthony Towns took awhile, but is worthy of No. 1. The next best player was Devin Booker at No. 13. Seven of the top 10 are either out of the league or journeymen role players.

2016: It was a credible top three with Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram and Jalen Brown. Pascal Siakam at No. 27 is as accomplished as any. Again, five of the top 10 are out of the NBA or barely hanging on.

2017: Jayson Tatum was No. 3, but the other All-Stars were taken at Nos. 13, 14 and 22. Six of the top 10 are out of the league or have been traded at least once. 

I’m not saying I could do better since it’s so difficult to project. Football makes them stay in school and seriously compete awhile. Baseball makes them do so in remote places for several years. The NBA wants to know why they’re not ready to be stars by the time they hit 20.

So Thursday’s draft.

It seems like 6-10 forward Jabari Smith from Auburn will be the No. 1 pick to the Orlando Magic. That’s reasonable. He looks like a guy who will walk into the NBA and score immediately. He could be a star at 20. There’s the usual Kevin Durant comparisons, but there’s no one like him. Maybe a version of Rashard Lewis, who made a few All-Star teams and averaged 20 points in a seven-year stretch. I’d take that at No. 1. You just can’t miss there.

I don’t see it for everyone’s No. 2 and No. 3 guys, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. 

Maybe if Holmgren still is OK in five years. He’s certainly skilled and seems intelligent. But I can’t see that 190-pound body holding up or having much impact. Banchero doesn’t seem athletic enough to me. He looks like a guy who will handle college kids much better than pros. He should be OK, though not much more.

I haven’t seen all those guys projected in the lottery except in highlights, and you know in those they shoot 100 percent and make every great pass. The guys who to me stand out the most are 6-4 Jaden Ivey of Purdue and 6-11 Jalen Duren of Memphis.

Ivey looks like what an NBA player is supposed to look like. He’s a guy who’s going to do spectacular things running all over the court like Russell Westbrook. Duren is 18 and a man. He’s huge, athletic, strong. I know centers are passe’, but it’s nice to have one if you have to play Embiid or Jokic or Gobert or Jarrett Allen. There’s still a bunch around. And guys will have second thoughts trying to dunk on your guys.

Otherwise, I’m as interested as you to see just what everyone does Thursday—except Orland—offering some version of Jerry Krause’s famous, “We can’t believe he fell to us.”

So with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, the...

Orlando Magic: Jabari Smith Jr., 6-10 forward, Auburn.

He seems like the safest pick for them and an interesting tandem with last year’s Franz Wagner. Holmgren often has been mentioned as a possible No. 1 because of his skill with his unusual size. But they probably can’t afford any talk of Mo Bamba 2.0.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder. Chet Holmgren, 7-1 center, Gonzaga.

As they also have 190-pound seven footer Aleksej Pokuševski this may be the most unusual NBA team we ever have seen, and if bowling pins is the de rigueur Holloween costume they win.

3. Houston Rockets. Paolo Banchero, 6-10 forward, Duke.

He’s the consensus third guy in the top three tier, so they have to take him. It probably doesn’t matter much who they take as they seem to be just putting together a bunch of guys running around shooting a lot of shots. They have a few other firsts so wait, wait, wait..and watch.

4. Sacramento Kings. Jaden Ivey, 6-4 guard, Purdue.

It’s a relief that the Kings are about to again be the Kings. We need something to count on in the NBA. Hey, we just drafted a guard in Davion Mitchell, so we can’t take him. You know, the better guy. The Kings predictably seem oblivious that about a half dozen teams are trying to trade with them. Wonder why? GM Monte McNair may think everyone is just is happy he got the job and wants to congratulate him. So the latest conventional wisdom is they’ll move the pick to trade down to get someone like Iowa forward Keegan Murray. The Knicks, of course, are interested and offering all the guys no one wants.

5. Detroit Pistons: Bennedict Mathurin, 6-6 wing, Arizona.

He’s who sounds like the modern NBA, and pretty much describes most of the guys in the top 20, athletic, shot maker, defender, or two of three with varying levels of production. He seems like a favorite of most after the top three/four.

6. Indiana Pacers. Keegan Murray, 6-8 forward, Iowa.

Another modern NBA prototype, wing, shooter (we all love saying wing instead of forward; sounds analytical). Suddenly everyone is looking to find the next Andrew Wiggins, who was the second best player in the NBA Finals. Not sure the betting apps ever had odds on anyone writing that one.

7. Portland Trailblazers. Jalen Duren, 6-11 center, Memphis.

I’ll put him here, though none of the mock drafts do. The Portland deal seems all about retaining Damian Lillard, and they basically don’t have any picks left with the Bulls getting their next non lottery one, and another off to the Pistons for the trade for Jerami Grant the week. That seems to suggest they’ll try to trade this pick for another veteran. But if they keep it Duren makes sense even that young. Jusuf Nurkic is a free agent, probably too risky with injuries and not much defensively, where the ‘blazers have been bad.

8. New Orleans Pelicans. Dyson Daniels, 6-7 wing, G League Ignite.

None of those G-league guys seem like they can shoot, but they’re athletic guys, some of whom seem like they’ll be able to defend and definitely run the court. The Pelicans, like the Thunder, have most of the rest of the first round draft picks this decade. So who knows what they’ll do with all these guys. Stack up those wings and see what happens. At worst, a Buffalo Wild Wings franchise.

9. San Antonio Spurs. Shaedon Sharpe, 6-6 forward, Kentucky.

This guy may be my favorite in the lottery as a John Wall protege. Though Wall played at Kentucky for awhile. He just talked about it and no one really has seen him play in more than a year. Maybe the Rockets will draft him and let him stay home with Wall. The Spurs have been taking high ceiling risks in the draft, and he’s supposedly a talent. Not that anyone has seen him to know that.

10. Washington Wizards. A.J Griffin, 6-6 forward, Duke.

This is another team being run by its main player for now to get him to stay, Bradley Beal. The player model instead of create a Big Three now seems to be sign long term, as Beal likely will, and then in a year or two decide if you’re happy or not. So they’ll probably try to trade the pick. But if they keep it they can use perimeter shooting to space for Beal and Griffin’s one of the best in this draft. They also need a point guard, but none are rated highly.

11. New York Knicks. Ochai Agbaji, 6-5 wing, Kansas.

They want to trade up, but only local media values their players. Or trade out. If they keep the pick and Thibs gets any say, he makes some sense with shot making ability and defense. Not a flashy guy, but solid and reliable and elderly by draft standards at 22, so more ready to help now. And Thibs’ job is on the line.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Clippers). Ousmane Dieng, 6-9 forward, New Zealand Breakers.

Sounds a bit like last year’s lottery breakout for them, Josh Giddey. Dieng is another high ceiling, we’ve got time big, skinny ball handler with promise. Seemingly with everyone on the roster 6-9 or above they sure will be able to switch.

13. Charlotte Hornets. Mark Williams, 7-0 center, Duke.

He’s the heart breaker for Bulls fans. Or at least me. He’s just the long, defensive interior player the Bulls could use. Charlotte, too, without much inside as well. They also have No.15 and supposedly will put one of the picks in play. Of course, if they hire Mike D’Antoni after Kenny Atkinson backed out they may not need anyone over 6-8.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers. Jeremy Sochan, 6-9 forward, Baylor.

They have the size up front and can use the defense outside. He’s regarded as one of the best all around defenders who could move Lauri Markkanen to sixth man, where he probably fits best and be a secondary ballhandler in transition for a developing young team. And still with a move they could make with Collin Sexton.

15. Charlotte Hornets (from Pelicans). Johnny Davis, 6-5 wing, Wisconsin.

He’d be a reason to hold onto the pick if he were to be here. He’s a highly regarded scorer who also can be a playmaker to support LaMelo Ball and keep that high scoring team mentality. 

16. Atlanta Hawks. Tari Eason, 6-8 forward, LSU.

They fell into that trap of believing they were the 2020 conference finals team instead of who they are. So changes are afoot. Presumably especially with a brutally poor defense. If they were to retain the pick, he’d fit as a potentially top defender and someone who can run the court with Trae Young.

17. Houston Rockets (from Brooklyn). Jalen Williams, 6-6 wing, Santa Clara.

He’s the late riser in the class, a mid major guy who does a little bit of a bunch of things as they sort things out for their 2029 playoff run.

18. Bulls. E.J. Liddell, 6-7 forward, Ohio State.

He’s long been the guy most likely to fall who won’t fail. It seems like the Bulls are going to rebuild their bench, and the intangible that might be most important is toughness. He’s a physical guy, undersized as it goes but 6-7. He was the guy who took on the toughest opponent no matter the size. That’s been too much for Patrick Williams. He may not have the high ceiling, but might be able to put someone through a wall. Good enough tradeoff.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves. TyTy Washington Jr., 6-3 guard, Kentucky.

They’ve talked about moving the pick as well as D’Angelo Russell. It’s not a big draft for point guards, and he’s believed to be the best just in case they need one. Though Anthony Edwards will take the ball, thank you.

20. San Antonio Spurs (from Toronto). Dalen Terry, 6-7 wing, Arizona.

He’s another player who supposedly has moved up, though how he’s done it always is curious since basically all these guys do is have dinner with team executives. May have known which fork to use. In any case, the Spurs seem mostly to be accumulating talent and he’ll defend, which Popovich prefers.

21. Denver Nuggets. MarJon Beauchamp, 6-6 wing, G League Ignite.

A high altitude guy more than high ceiling. Jokic isn’t running the court much, but they long have had that edge with guys who’ll play in transition in the mile high atmosphere. Athletic player who doesn’t shoot much yet. Michael Porter will do that if he’s back from the back.

22. Memphis Grizzlies (from Utah). Blake Wesley, 6-5 guard, Notre Dame.

They’re putting together a stable of two-way potential players with some playmaking and defense and he’d add to that.

23. Philadelphia 76ers. Malaki Branham, 6-5 wing, Ohio State.

They’re another team willing to offer its pick, but the price often is too high for the reward. He’s generally projected higher, though I didn’t like what I saw. He’s likely to get over that. If they keep the pick they could use shooting (who can’t?) off Embiid.

24. Milwaukee Bucks. Patrick Baldwin Jr. 6-10 forward, Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Maybe take a chance? He’s falling into  the second round among most projections after a horrendous season with plenty of explanations, like injury and his dad being fired, who was his coach and why he went there. He’s got sort of a Michael Porter Jr. potential and they like tall shooters. No rush.

25. San Antonio Spurs (from Boston). Jake LaRavia, 6-8 forward, Wake Forest.

Them again? No one uses all those picks, though Jerry Krause did use six one year in the early 2000s. That didn’t go well. He seems like an Alex Caruso type, and not just because of the head band. More and more teams having seen that (not the head band) feel they can use that.

26. Houston Rockets (from Dallas). Jaden Hardy, 6-4 guard, G League Ignite.

Another why not take a shot guy since they aren’t going anywhere. Improved as the season went on from being bad, but still just a kid and no college. He can handle the ball and score, and that’s a lot of it.

27. Miami Heat. Kennedy Chandler, 6-0 guard, Tennessee.

A small point guard, but so is Kyle Lowry. He’s more the pure point guard type and can make a shot. Everyone worries about small guys and defense, and sure, they are a defensive group. But he’ll compete, which is a culture thing.

28. Golden State Warriors. Nikola Jović, 6-11 forward, Serbia.

With their luxury tax bill and young guys still not having played, they don’t need a draft pick. If they can’t package it, a stash makes sense. He’s one of those tall kids who learned at point guard, so call us back in a few years.

29. Memphis Grizzlies.  Wendell Moore, 6-5 shooting guard, Duke.

A good shooter and potential all around player who could be another fit with their dynamic young group. Ja likes shooters and runners.

30. Denver Nuggets (from Oklahoma City) Kenny Lofton Jr. 6-6 power forward, Louisiana Tech.

Why can’t I have a dark horse, too? He’s mostly a second rounder or not drafted on most lists after being a surprise entry following a good showing at the Chicago Draft Camp. He’s huge, a Robert “Tractor” Traylor type, and I thought he would have a chance. Lofton (no relation to the baseball player) was about 280 at the camp, but with light, dance-like movements. A lot quicker than you think he’ll be. Worth a shot. Not going to be easy to defend. Hey, Zion wants a lot of money weighing more.

And let the second guessing begin. 

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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