Trio of Freshmen in Running for Top Draft Pick
This much seems certain when it comes to the upcoming NBA Draft: A college freshman will be the top overall pick. That is hardly a new phenomenon considering that the last 12 players to go first overall turned pro after one collegiate season. The last time a player was picked first and spent more than one season playing college basketball came when Blake Griffin was the top pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009.
Much like last year’s draft, there is a leader in the 2022 NBA Draft odds, but not one player that is an absolute lock to be taken with the top overall pick.
Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero of Duke are the top candidates to go first overall. Which team gets the top pick won’t be known until the NBA Draft lottery on May 17. The draft will be held on June 23, so there is plenty of time for those who bet on the NBA Draft to get a sense of the pecking order.
Auburn’s Smith Ready for Next Step
While Holmgren and Banchero have yet to officially declare for the NBA Draft, Smith made his intentions known on April 5 when he announced that he would make himself eligible for the draft.
Smith’s lone season at Auburn ended a little earlier than he anticipated when the Tigers were upset by Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but the 6-foot-10 forward still had quite the season.
He averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists to help Auburn ascend to the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in program history.
Smith shot 43 percent from the field, 42 percent on 3-pointers and 80 percent at the foul line, numbers that are exciting to NBA teams.
Smith scored in double figures in each of the last nine games at Auburn, although he was just 3 of 16 from the floor in the loss to Miami.
Auburn has had six players chosen in the first round in the NBA Draft. Chuck Person and Chris Morris were the top picks from the school as they went fourth overall in 1986 and 1988, respectively.
Isaac Okoro was the last No. 1 pick from Auburn, going fifth overall in 2020. Now Smith is the current favorite in the 2022 NBA Draft odds.
Versatility Makes Holmgren Intriguing Prospect
While seeing 7-footers with the ability to shoot 39 percent from 3-point range is not as rare as it used to be, it is still something that catches the eyes of NBA executives.
Unlike the other top prospects in the draft, Holmgren didn’t have the weight of carrying the team on his shoulders thanks to the presence of Drew Timme at Gonzaga.
Holmgren was a major reason why Gonzaga headed into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win the national title. However, the Zags fell to Arkansas in the Sweet 16. Holmgren’s offense down the stretch was a little inconsistent as he scored in single figures in three of the last six games of the season.
Holmgren averaged 11.8 and 9.5 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, which aren’t exactly numbers that scream top NBA Draft pick.
Holmgren averaged less than 10 points against ranked foes during the regular season.
He is not being drafted for the numbers he put up at Gonzaga, but for his potential at the next level. Holmgren’s game could flourish at the pro level and it is no wonder he is a top candidate for the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft odds.
Banchero: Stellar Debut Season at Duke
Unlike the other candidates to be the top pick in the draft, Banchero was able to lead his Duke squad to the Final Four.
Banchero finished as the leading scorer and rebounder for a Duke team that lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season with the Blue Devils.
Banchero averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists during March Madness. Banchero made 10 3-pointers in five NCAA Tournament games. He scored at least 20 points in six of the last 11 games of the season.
Duke products went first overall four times while a player from the school was selected in the top three 16 times, with 11 of those top-three picks happening since 2002. Seven Blue Devils went in the top three at the NBA Draft from 2014-19 and Banchero seems likely to add to that number. The NBA Draft betting odds list Banchero third, but he is nipping at the heels of both Smith and Holmgren.
Big Ten has Strength in Numbers
While no Big Ten player is in the top three in the 2022 NBA Draft odds, there could be plenty of conference products going in the lottery.
Purdue sophomore guard Jaden Ivey has the fourth-best odds among the NBA Draft prospects while Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Iowa’s Keegan Murray have a chance to go in the top five.
Ivey and Murray have already declared for the draft. Ivey has a chance to go first overall if the team with the top pick values a perimeter scoring threat over the three frontcourt players with the best odds to be selected with the top pick. Those who bet on the NBA Draft might consider taking a chance on Ivey surging to the top of the draft.