Best available NBA Draft prospects: Scouting reports, coach insights on top players

The 2022 NBA Draft gets underway tonight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Here are the best available players in tonight’s draft, based on The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie’s latest Top 100 Big Board, which you can find in our 2022 NBA Draft Guide. Our Top 5 list will be updated as the draft unfolds:

1. Chet Holmgren

Scouting summary: The word “unique” is overused in scouting circles, but Holmgren is that. There has never been a prospect like this to enter the draft. He’s so skilled but so skinny. He is one of the best defenders I have ever evaluated as a teenager. He’s positionally elite already and has every length-based tool at 7-foot with a 7-6 wingspan. His anticipation and instincts are insane. If his frame allows it, he is going to win at least one Defensive Player of the Year award. And beyond that, he’s genuinely tough and competitive. Those latter two skills are arguably the most important ones in his game. But can he get the most out of those instincts in a more physical NBA? How long will it take him to put on the requisite core strength to be able to defend at that level? Offensively, he has all the skills. He can shoot, he can dribble in open spaces, and he’s a good pass. But does he have the athleticism or burst to separate? It all comes down to functionality. Can Holmgren’s frame functionally work at the NBA level, even with him possessing a skill set that is more complete than any other player in this class?

If Holmgren had Evan Mobley’s strength at 215 pounds, he would be the no-brainer No. 1 overall prospect, even with some of the questions I have about him as a shot creator. But he’s 20 pounds away from even that. It’s a complicated evaluation. NBA teams are validated to have concerns. Holmgren will require a genuine plan of attack regarding strengthening his core and lower half from the team that selects him. But I also don’t think any other player has quite the same upside in this class if his frame comes together. He can be one of the best defenders in the NBA while also spacing the floor. His game has a chance to have a tremendous impact on winning.

2.Jabari Smith Jr.

Scouting summary: Much like the other two prospects in the class, where you rank Smith is kind of a cipher for how you see basketball in the modern era. I don’t see Smith as the primary ballhandler on a team, but I do see him as an efficient, effective 20-plus point-per-game scorer who also plays great, switchable, versatile defense. Elite shooting and very good defense are two of the best assets for a teenage NBA player. It sets him up to be a no-fail prospect in many respects and a guy who could make a real impact early on. I do think there is some real upside as a shot creator, depending on how much explosiveness, athleticism and strength he can add. There is a real chance that by the time he’s 25, Smith can strong-arm his way into whatever spot he wants on the floor and shoot efficiently over the top. I see him as a high-floor, high-ceiling prospect. Because he plays on both ends, he’s someone who could impact winning at an exceptionally high level, either as a No. 1 or No. 2 option. Every team is looking for big, switchable defenders with shooting ability and potential to create shots. Smith is that guy in this class.

3. Paolo Banchero

Scouting summary: Where you are on Banchero depends entirely on how much you value offensive upside above all. If you want someone who has a chance to carry an offense, Banchero should probably be the No. 1 guy on your board. If the shooting comes around — and I think it will — his game translates toward being both a primary offensive creator and a No. 2 option. He’s a sharp passer, a very fluid shot creator with the best bag of tricks in the class and at least has enough touch toward projecting him as a shooter. He’s a genuine mismatch nightmare and likely will continue to be effective in that regard at the NBA level. Can he knock down enough shots to be efficient at it? And can he defend in space at a reasonable enough level to where he’s not targeted? Those are the two questions. Right now, I think he would be targeted on defense for his poor closeouts and his movement in space (and because of faulty effort). But he has potential to get to a level where he’s not because he’s big, he’s strong and he’s intelligent. There is enough to work with there. I like the two-way games of the other two prospects ahead of him a little bit more, but he’s the last guy in this top tier of players in this class.

4.Jaden Ivey

Scouting summary: Ivey is all about how much you value athletic traits and how much you think you can fix some of the issues. There is not a guard in this class with a higher ceiling if it all comes together. His ability to get downhill with power, force and speed is an immediately translatable skill. He can separate from about any defender. But the difference between him and, say, a Ja Morant type, is what happens after. Whereas Morant has incredible natural feel as a passer and playmaker (plus has more vertical pop as a finisher), Ivey doesn’t have that right now and makes too many negative-value plays because of it. He’s going to get away from his man and collapse the defense, but he has to be able to make the right choice after that happens. The good news? Coaches and trainers can watch tape with him, train him to see the backside of the defense and fix some of the issues he has. At Purdue, the offense was completely unlike anything he’ll be asked to do in the NBA. Can NBA teams teach him the reads when he gets there? Can they teach him what they need in terms of his awareness on defense? A bet on Ivey is a bet on player development as much as anything else. I would understand him going as high as No. 2 if a team wanted to completely buy into it. I would understand him falling to No. 4 or No. 5 if a team felt like the awareness was never going to come around. If I were a team in that range, I’d want to sit down with him, watch tape with him and see his overall understanding of the reads he’s missing. That’s the insight teams will have access to and ultimately will be the critical part of their evaluations. If things go right, he could easily turn into a 25-point, six-assist guy. But the floor is something like Eric Bledsoe without the elite defense.

5. Bennedict Mathurin

Scouting summary: There is a high floor for Mathurin because of his natural shooting ability. He’s going to hit shots off the catch, and he’s going to do so off real movement, meaning he can generate open 3s on his own with or without the ball. On top of that, he’s a steady pull-up shooter who has taken strides both as a creator and a playmaker. It’s hard to see how he fails on offense. Defensively, there are questions because of Mathurin’s lack of fundamentals, but he has enough tools worth investing into where he can make strides in the coming years. Ultimately the reason he’s ranked this high, though, is his upside. I think teams, in time, are going to have a chance to run second-side actions if he can learn how to control the ball in terms of his handle. There is a world where he can be a solid No. 3 option offensively on a good team, with a bit of upside beyond that. There’s safety here, plus a chance at upside.

Coaches’ insights

Tobias Bass, an associate news editor for The Athletic, is a former high school and college basketball analyst/scout. In the lead-up to the draft, he solicited opinions on some of this year’s top NBA Draft prospects from a slew of coaches across the country. Here’s some of what they had to say:

SEC assistant coach on Jabari Smith Jr.: “In my opinion, the best prospect in the draft. As everyone knows, he can do everything on the floor. What makes him special is that he’s extremely competitive. Very rarely did I see him not play hard. Top 5 percentile in skill and competitiveness, makes him closer to a unicorn than not.”

Pac-12 assistant coach on Chet Holmgren:Was a dual threat. Elite rim protector. Could block your shot at one end, then start the break and go coast to coast for a dunk. I was surprised how well he shot the ball from 3. Wasn’t much of a back-to-the-basket player but made up for it in so many other areas.”

SEC assistant coach on Paolo Banchero:NBA ready game, mismatch problem. Can overpower smaller defensive matchups and can take bigger matchups on the perimeter. Shoot it well from deep. Can run drops on the low post and mid-post and will demand a double team or dig inside. Can switch on pick-and-rolls and guard smaller players in pick-and-rolls. Good spot-up shooter. Can handle and pass for his size. Really high upside.”

Related reading

Draft Confidential: Guards | Forwards | Bigs
Mock Draft: Beat writers make their picks for first round
Live updates: Draft-day analysis, predictions, more

(Photo of Bennedict Mathurin: Kirby Lee/USA Today)


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