The 2022 NBA draft is a top-heavy draft class with the same four players projected at the top since the start of the college basketball season. Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey all played well this season and have maintained their draft stock since November.
Halfway through the NBA season, a few teams started the tanking process to ensure a higher percentage for a top draft pick when the NBA draft lottery rolls around on May 17. The Oklahoma City Thunder sat star rookie Josh Giddey after he suffered a minor hip injury in February. Starting point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was also out for the last couple weeks and Lu Dort’s last game was in early February.
The Sacramento Kings traded Tyrese Haliburton after taking the up-and-coming guard with the 12th overall pick two short years ago and also traded Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III in February.
The Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons are clearly in rebuild mode but everyone is looking for that franchise-changing player and that potential drops off after pick No. 4.
The Rockets, Magic and Pistons all have the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick (14%) and a top-four pick (52.1%). The Thunder are next with a 12.5% chance for the top pick and a 48.1% chance at top four. The Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Kings follow, rounding out the top-seven teams with the best odds, according to Tankathon.
What does a team do if they fall outside the top four? Here’s a look at five players (plus two bonus frontcourt players) who are good options for teams drafting five-to-seven.
Murray might be the safest pick at No. 5 after a strong sophomore season at Iowa. He led the entire country in points (822), field goals made (307), player efficiency rating (37.8) and box plus/minus (15.7). He averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and shot 40% from 3-point range. At 6-foot-8 and with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Murray was one of the most versatile offensive players in the country. He preferred getting downhill when possible, connecting on 62% of shots in the paint. He was also solid in the pick-and-roll and read the defense well and was a threat when the defense went under the screen, knocking down 66 threes this season. Whether it was in the open court or a half-court set, Murray proved he was one of the most efficient scorers this past season.
Defensively, he doesn’t have that burst to keep up with stronger forwards in the open court and his lateral quickness isn’t great against faster guards off switches on the perimeter.
A team that could be targeting Murray near the top of the draft is Portland. The Blazers are in need of a player with size at the wing, and Murray’s elite offensive abilities could help him see early minutes.
There is no other player in this draft with a bigger question mark attached to his name than Sharpe. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard was the No. 1 player coming out of high school and didn’t play a single minute at Kentucky after enrolling early and was deemed eligible for the second semester. Sharpe declared for the NBA draft on April 21 and said he would maintain his college eligibility, but the chances of him returning are slim.
"I have to take this next step to officially go through the process, to test the waters and receive feedback," Sharpe said.
Sharpe averaged 21.4 points, six rebounds and three assists in his final high school season. Last summer, Sharpe dominated Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League, averaging 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per outing. He’s an athletic guard who loves to play above the rim and has a solid outside jump shot. It will be interesting to see where he lands on draft night, but there’s enough potential there to take him as high as No. 4 and as low No. 10 overall, depending on team workouts.
Mathurin is a long combo-guard at 6-foot-6 and finished his sophomore season strong, averaging 20 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in postseason play. His best game of the season came in an overtime thriller over TCU where he put up 30 points (8-for-19 from the field) and did a little bit of everything offensively.
It’s difficult to project what Mathurin’s role at the next level will ultimately be. He has a strong grab-and-go style off a missed shot and is a reliable one-read passer who connected on some great alley-oops off the dribble. Arizona played with two centers on the court for the majority of the game and Mathurin didn’t necessarily have to show off his creativity in the lane with the strong inside presence.
His improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year is encouraging. Mathurin is a bit of a late bloomer and has room for growth in his game at just 19 years old. Mathurin isn’t as big as Murray but is still a solid 3-and-D option for a team. He’s a reliable defender who disrupts set offenses, whether that’s on a dribble-handoff or sneaking over to the weak-side block to help on a double team. A solid 3-and-D player is always in demand and if a team falls out of that powerhouse top four, Mathurin could soar at the next level with the spacing of the NBA game allowing him to open up his game.
Griffin was up and down during his one season at Duke, but the NBA potential is definitely there. He has tremendous size for a wing at 6-foot-6 and a strong 220-pound frame. Physically, he’s the most ready NBA wing and will be able to bang off the block in mismatch situations.
Griffin has been plagued with a few injuries during his young career, including a knee injury to start the season at Duke. Griffin excels in iso situations and his inconsistency at Duke might have been the set playing at the college level and all the other options on the court like Banchero and center Mark Williams. He was rated ‘excellent’ in spot-up shooting, averaging 1.2 point per possession and ranked in the 99th percentile on offense against man-to-man defense, according to Synergy Sports. Also, According to KenPom, Griffin’s two-point field goal percentage increased from 54.7% to 56.2% when facing top-tier opponents.
If Griffin’s medical looks strong during the pre-draft process, his draft range is anywhere from fifth to 10th overall.
Davis was the biggest draft riser from the start of the season to now. The Wisconsin sophomore is a gritty point guard who is an excellent playmaker when getting downhill. Although Ivey might be a more consistent shooter, both players are excellent in transition and crafty around the rim. Davis has similarities to Jalen Suggs (who went fifth overall to the Magic last year) in the way he sees the court, his toughness on defense and high basketball IQ. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 19.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and two assists per game and shot 35% from deep during his two years at Wisconsin.
The Pacers could be targeting Davis toward the top of the draft. With his court vision and Tyrese Haliburton’s passing, the duo could be a dream backcourt duo to build around in the coming years.
Bonus options at the center position
Although neither one of these players are projected in the five-to-seven range, there are teams that need help in the front court. If a team like Oklahoma City falls outside the top three and misses on Holmgren, Smith or Banchero, the Thunder could look to either trade down or take Duke’s Mark Williams or Memphis’ Jalen Duren.
Williams’ draft stock rose after a strong NCAA tournament appearance. He’s still pretty raw as a prospect, but has huge upside with his 7-foot frame and 7-foot-7 wingspan. Williams blocked 110 shots in 39 games and offensively, he shot 72.1% from the field during his sophomore season.
Duren is one of the youngest players in this draft class, reclassifying a grade up to play for Penny Hardaway a year earlier. He has the most physically ready frame, alongside Banchero, at the forward position standing at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds. In the head-to-head matchup with Holmgren during the second round of the NCAA tournament, Duren held his own, and on a few plays, he bullied Holmgren to the rim. He won’t be a plug-and-play guy right away at the NBA level but can be a difference-maker in the paint after a couple of years of development in the league.