This is the time when rumors, conjecture and flat-out lies saturate the NBA air. We have the infamous smokescreens being tossed out to throw people off the draft selection and transaction scents. The espionage is exquisite, and something that should be celebrated. There will be at least one trade or selection (or both!) on draft day/night that shocks the basketball world and throws everything off its axis as people figure out what it means for the NBA landscape.
Leading up to the draft, I find people are asking questions constantly. Fans, media, executives, players, agents, everybody. I thought I would try to answer some of the questions I’m being asked the most, I’m hearing asked the most and the ones I have most often heard in the intel-gathering process prior to Thursday’s big night. For some other reading material, Sam Vecenie just unleashed his latest mock draft, and we also have my mock draft from Monday to peruse, in addition to our 2022 NBA Draft Guide.
Here are five big questions and a bonus pseudo-question for the 2022 draft. We’ll also dive into what I like to call “Scuttlebutt SZN” for all of the upcoming trades and free-agent signings/pursuits being bandied about the league. We’ll try to figure out what’s real and what might be bait.
1. Will Jabari Smith Jr. or Chet Holmgren be the top pick in the draft?
As of right now, the money is on the Orlando Magic taking Smith with the top pick. BetMGM.com has the big man out of Auburn at -140 to end up as No. 1. I floated the idea in my mock draft of Holmgren being the top pick, and while some people around the league can definitely see it, there is this belief that Smith is more foolproof as a prospect. Smith also fits with what the Magic have a lot better than Holmgren on the surface. Assuming Orlando keeps Mo Bamba in restricted free agency, it gives the Magic a bunch of options and combinations to utilize on the court as they figure out their future.
That versatility, in addition to the skill set of Smith, seems like he’s more of a lock to end up No. 1 overall. The little success the Magic saw last season often involved Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. playing alongside each other on the court. Their two-big lineup worked, particularly with their primary lineup. You can plug Smith next to Carter or Bamba pretty easily, although you eventually have to worry about all three guys getting enough playing time. There are plenty of people around the league not convinced that Holmgren can play the five at the NBA level because of his lack of strength. Maybe he fits into the four like Smith does with these guys, but the smart money is still on Smith getting called to the stage first.
2. Are they a lock to be the top two in this draft?
Here’s the interesting thing about the betting odds for the No. 1 pick: Holmgren doesn’t have the second-best odds by far. Newest odds have Paolo Banchero out of Duke with +230 odds and +200 for Holmgren, according to BetMGM.com. The opening odds were Holmgren at +145 and Banchero at +350 for the top spot. Now we’ve seen that gap narrow dramatically. It begs the question of whether Banchero should have better odds for the second pick than Holmgren. Reading the tea leaves on that, it sounds like Banchero’s possibility of going No. 1 over the other two top prospects has more to do with Orlando being intrigued by a player like Banchero.
The Magic hit a home run with Franz Wagner at No. 8 in last year’s draft. The Jalen Suggs pick at No. 5 isn’t quite the same standing ovation. Perhaps getting more of a point forward or playmaking forward like Banchero helps absolve Suggs of some of that playmaking responsibility. Or maybe they shouldn’t overreact to Suggs’ rookie season. Either way, Smith continues to be the guy everybody feels safe saying will go first. That leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder trying to decide what the second-best player (of the future) looks like next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
There is a case to be made for both Holmgren and Banchero. The skill set on offense and the shot-blocking timing on defense make Holmgren look extremely enticing. Comparisons will get out of control any time a player at 7-foot can handle the ball and shoot the ball like Holmgren does. Kevin Durant’s name has been floated a little bit, but obviously, there are massive differences in how they both move and attack coming out of college. Holmgren is slight of build for even a stick figure, but we’ve seen the Thunder throw their support behind Aleksej Pokuševski.
But Banchero might make more sense for a couple of reasons. 1) He’s someone who can handle the ball and make plays with a bully-ball element to his game. That takes playmaking duties off SGA’s plate, and it’s a little easier to project him getting to spots on the floor physically to make said plays. Banchero will be able to get wherever he wants, in theory, whereas Holmgren can be easily bodied up and kept away from the areas on the floor he covets. 2) Skill development with Banchero (already a highly skilled, 6-foot-10 dynamo) could be easier than bulking up Holmgren. We’re still likely to see Holmgren called in the first two before Banchero gets up from his green room table, but it’s an interesting (and good) dilemma for the Thunder to be in.
3. Will Houston take anybody but Paolo Banchero with the third pick?
Assuming Banchero isn’t a surprise selection in the first two picks, it seems likely he’ll be taken third in this draft. From what I’m hearing, Banchero is a lock at No. 3 in the draft, assuming it’s still Houston having the chance to select him. The Rockets aren’t expected to move off this pick, and their other selections in this draft are gettable. It’s just a matter of whether or not Banchero will be around at No. 3. With all of the smart money going to Smith as the first pick and a lot of assumptions that Holmgren’s ceiling is too high for the Thunder to pass on, Banchero at No. 3 feels and sounds like a lock.
Banchero joining the team and Alperen Şengün showing so much promise as a rookie provide even more depth and layers to the idea of moving on from Christian Wood this past week when they sent him to Dallas for a potpourri of role players and the 26th pick in the draft. Wood is entering free agency in 2023, and it appears ponying up the money to keep him around didn’t really entice general manager Rafael Stone. But you also don’t need some logjam for a veteran very concerned about his stats while trying to develop a bunch of young guys with high potential.
Banchero gives the Rockets more versatility at the four, but he’ll also be very difficult to pair with Şengün as a four/five big-man combo. That’s fine for now as the Rockets are still very much in a rebuilding phase of roster construction. Maybe Banchero figures out defense at the NBA level and competes. Maybe Şengün turns into a guy you can trust as a positional defender in a team concept. However, both guys give a lot of hope but still plenty of questions about pairing them for the long-term future.
4. What do we then make of Jaden Ivey and the Sacramento Kings owning the fourth pick?
There’s plenty of chatter around the league that the Kings are hoping teams who are at loggerheads with Portland in discussions for the seventh pick in the draft will come kick the tires on the fourth pick instead, though as our Shams Charania reported earlier this week, the Kings are becoming increasingly comfortable drafting at No. 4.
Harrison Barnes’ name has been in trade rumors in the lead-up to the draft, and Sacramento is thinking it will probably take more than just Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox to bring them back to the postseason after an NBA-record 16-season drought. That’s the accurate way of looking at it. That pairing isn’t good enough to contend with what is expected to be a deeper Western Conference next season, but the Kings do feel it’s a great start toward building out a trio they can rely upon. What happens if those deals don’t materialize prior to Thursday night’s selection at No. 4?
Ivey is, by far, the best prospect on the board, but how well does he end up meshing with Fox if they’re so intent on keeping the guard entering his sixth season? Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé is believed to be a big fan of Keegan Murray out of Iowa. The idea of Ivey and Fox working together has its holes, and they’ve already committed the max to Fox while also jettisoning Tyrese Haliburton to grab Domantas Sabonis at the trade deadline. Murray makes more sense for the roster construction, plus he looks like he’s going to be really damn good. We’ll see what can materialize for them if anybody feels desperate to move up for a guy like Ivey, Murray or someone else.
It’s difficult to sift through the smog of what to believe will happen in this top 10, but it sounds less and less likely that Ivey is the pick at No. 5. General manager Troy Weaver and the Detroit Pistons are being linked to the wings quite a bit. Murray is the wing/forward everybody wants to move up for. The Pistons would love for Murray to drop to them at No. 5, but if Murray is gone, where does that put the Pistons and the Indiana Pacers?
Bennedict Mathurin sounds like the leader in the clubhouse for Detroit. He had a great workout there, and his stock has been climbing while more and more people feel unsure about Shaedon Sharpe — another wing in the mix here. Ivey could potentially be a great fit next to Cade Cunningham as primary playmakers (Ivey more as a scorer than the all-around approach of Cunningham), but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of steam there for the Pistons to take him. This could all be a smokescreen to keep teams from trading up with the Kings to try to get Ivey. Or this could be a sign that Mathurin really is the leader to be picked at No. 5.
It may come down to what the Pacers want to do at No. 6. There’s no mistake about whether they’re trying to free up some minutes in that backcourt. Haliburton is their guard of the future, and you can comfortably put him at the one or two. The Pacers have been fielding Malcolm Brogdon calls, and they’ve also been making their own. It sounds like they’d love to end up with Murray, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be there when they pick. Both the Kings and the Pistons passing on Murray doesn’t sound feasible. Ivey is very much in the mix for being picked at No. 6 if he’s still available, and then the Pacers can just figure out the backcourt logjam at some point.
Sharpe also could be an option for the Pacers at No. 6, which would then bring us to possibly the biggest wild card in the top 10.
Bonus: How likely is Portland to move the seventh pick in this draft?
The Portland Trail Blazers seem to be involved in all kinds of trade talks that involve the seventh pick in the draft. They’ve been hot on the OG Anunoby trail in the lead-up to the draft. It sounds like Anunoby doesn’t love his role with the Toronto Raptors, especially after Scottie Barnes came in and locked up being their wing of the future. Anunoby has two more seasons on his deal plus a player option in 2024-25. He wants a more prominent role and the opportunity to show what he can do on offense. The Blazers probably love the idea of adding him to the core with Damian Lillard, and their best trade chip in accomplishing that is using the seventh pick to entice Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
If the Blazers do end up selecting at No. 7 for their own use, Dyson Daniels and Sharpe are the two perimeter players most likely to join Lillard. There’s also some consideration for Jalen Duren, the big man out of Memphis. If we believe that Jusuf Nurkić will go elsewhere in free agency, Duren seems to have the most upside for big men in this draft and should edge out Mark Williams as the first more-traditional center off the board.
• Dyson Daniels: Speaking of Daniels, the Washington Wizards are believed to be high on him. They don’t pick until 10th, so he might be available for them. New Orleans is thought to be very interested in Daniels at No. 8, but the Pelicans are not anticipating him getting past the Blazers (or whoever picks there) at No. 7. They’d love for Mathurin to fall, as well, but he’s probably not going to be there at No. 8, either.
• Ousmane Dieng: With the Pelicans hoping for Daniels or Mathurin to fall to No. 8, they’re probably going to need a realistic backup plan. That’s where someone like Dieng out of Australia’s NBL shows up. He’s a big playmaker who can potentially guard multiple positions. For a team with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, that’s exactly the type of role player to put with them. The Pelicans might look to trade down to select Dieng if he ends up being their guy.
• Johnny Davis: The Wizards and San Antonio Spurs are big on Davis. The Spurs pick at No. 9, so Davis might not end up being a viable target for the Wizards at No. 10. If Washington misses out on Daniels and Davis, AJ Griffin could be the guy. The Spurs need a big man with Jakob Poeltl becoming a very rich man soon, but Davis appears to have the advantage as of right now.
• Tari Eason: The forward out of LSU is a big target for teams looking to move into the first round or higher in it. Maybe this surge in interest for Eason could move him up to the lottery, but he’s expected to go somewhere in the mid-to-late teens. Sources have told me the Celtics are high on him and could be looking to move into the first round to grab Eason by dangling a young role player like Payton Pritchard or Aaron Nesmith. They may have to get above No. 17 to do so, because it’s also believed Houston loves Eason at that selection if they end up keeping that pick.
• Jake LaRavia: The Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks could find themselves in a chase for LaRavia out of Wake Forest. The Bucks will have the first shot at him between these two teams with them selecting at No. 24 and the Raptors having to wait until nine picks later. LaRavia can shoot, and we know the Bucks love role players who can be deadly from the outside. I’ve also heard they have some interest in Andrew Nembhard, but the point guard position isn’t a priority here. The Raptors don’t select until No. 33, but as long as someone like Caleb Houstan is still available, they’ll be happy with waiting until early in the second round.
• Dallas Mavericks: Despite moving their first-round pick in the Christian Wood deal, the Mavs are believed to want back into the late first round or early second round, from what I’m told, if it can land them Trevor Keels out of Duke. Ismaël Kamagate could also be a guy they trade into the draft for, so they can stash him overseas and bring him into the mix in a year or two.
• Golden State Warriors: The defending champs are apparently open to moving their 28th pick in the draft, and that could be tied to some guaranteed money causing them an even greater luxury-tax bill, although there isn’t a huge difference between a minimum deal and what the 28th pick would command. If they do decide to keep it, the Warriors are thought to be interested in Houstan or Christian Braun. E.J. Liddell would be the dream scenario, but it’s hard to imagine him falling to No. 28.
• Utah Jazz: While searching for a new coach is definitely the priority for the Jazz, they could be looking to get back into the first round of this draft. Their pick belongs to Memphis for the Mike Conley sign-and-trade back 2019. But the Jazz would love to get into the mix, likely somewhere in the back end of the first round, to grab a cost-effective role player. There’s been a little bit of chatter about whether Royce O’Neale could be the guy moved in this trade, but the franchise’s dedication to Donovan Mitchell and making him happy means they’re unlikely to move his good friend off the team for a rookie. More likely, it would be dangling a young player — maybe even Nickeil Alexander-Walker — for that first-round selection.
Is Deandre Ayton really out of Phoenix no matter what?
In the blink of an eye, the Phoenix Suns went from, “Could this be the year they finally win the title?” to getting knocked out in the second round and nobody expecting Ayton to be back with them next season. The tricky part about is that Ayton is a restricted free agent. There are only two ways he ends up far away from the Suns’ organization. He could sign the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2023, or he and his agent orchestrate a sign-and-trade in restricted free agency. The Suns can match any offer sheet thrown his way, and once the offer sheet is signed, the Suns can no longer manufacture that sign-and-trade.
It’s going to come down to how willing both sides are to work together to make sure both sides end up happy but also separated from each other. Sources have told The Athletic that Ayton is being highly sought after by Detroit and Atlanta, and Sacramento has checked in on a potential acquisition. The Hawks and Pistons both have a ton of flexibility to get a deal done. Even if a team is able to offer Ayton a max offer sheet, the Suns would be expected to match rather than lose him outright.
Atlanta could offer up any number of its nice young players and satiate the Suns in their “win-now mode” by parting with Clint Capela to keep the defensive-minded Suns approach whole at the center position. Detroit doesn’t quite have that Capela piece to include, but it could dangle Jerami Grant as the veteran ready to help you keep winning. The Suns could do a lot of small ball with him, but they’d still need a center in the mix. Sacramento can offer Barnes as the veteran and also include the fourth pick in the draft in a potential sign-and-trade deal for Ayton, but the Kings wouldn’t be able to complete that until after free agency starts. It would have to be somewhere Ayton wants to go. It also would involve the Suns being cool with trading to a division foe.
Will Utah actually move Rudy Gobert?
It’s hard to gauge what the Jazz will end up doing with Gobert. It’s clear they’re committing to Mitchell and trying to find a way to make him happy long-term in Salt Lake City. While some in the organization value Gobert greater than they do Mitchell, that is ultimately going to lose out to owner Ryan Smith and how he feels about Mitchell. Gobert and Mitchell have tried to make it work following some turmoil in the locker room throughout 2020. It doesn’t. I do think they made a valiant effort to make it work as a duo and a team, but the Jazz fell apart time and time again due to a lack of cohesion on both ends of the floor.
Other teams know the Jazz may have to move off Gobert, and they’re ready to pounce. Teams all over the league have called to ask about what it would take to part with Gobert. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has a lot of complications for a deal happening. His perceived value around the league is high, but not nearly as high as how the Jazz view him. He also has a cap number of $38 million for next season, and he’s owed just under $170 million over the next four years (including his player option). It will take some big money to match salaries enough here.
The Hawks are very interested in Gobert but may wait to see what the Ayton market looks like — both in terms of money and complications in making a trade with Phoenix. The Minnesota Timberwolves called about Gobert, as they’re interested in pairing Karl-Anthony Towns with a defensive-minded five (Capela is also an option for them to pursue). But the Chicago Bulls might hold the keys to all of this. They can provide a solid-enough veteran big man (Nikola Vučević) back in the deal to help the Jazz play/win now. The Bulls’ willingness to attach Patrick Williams in a deal at the end of the day is a game of chicken that has yet to approach its breaking point.
A dozen other teams, at least, will kick the tires on a Gobert acquisition, but the Jazz are preparing to see what life without Gobert might look like in their next era of basketball.
Is John Collins on the move?
Hawks team president Travis Schlenk has not been shy about making members of this roster not named Trae Young available in trade discussions. He openly commented on the radio this past season that he probably shouldn’t have brought everybody back from the Eastern Conference finals run in 2021. Collins is probably the most enticing player the Hawks could move, and we may see them toss out a Godfather-type offer to Utah if Schlenk decides Gobert is the perfect complement to Young. We just don’t know if Gobert’s defensive capabilities and impact are exactly what the Hawks are looking for in a big man, especially at nearly $170 million over the next four years. Even if it is, the Hawks might not be looking to trade Collins in that move. They might be bringing Gobert in to ease some of the defensive responsibilities on Collins. Or what if it also gives them the opportunity to move Collins for something else?
The Kings are also said to be interested in Collins. He would pair horribly with Sabonis if a trade came to fruition, but a bad pairing never stopped Sacramento from making a move before. It’s almost expected at this point. The Kings are also looking around for a potential acquisition with Grant out of Detroit or Tobias Harris out of Philadelphia. In fact, it sounds like the Kings want to put themselves in the mix with any available trade target at this point because they’re so desperate to make something happen that puts them in the postseason.
There’s also some chatter the Celtics could be interested in a deal for Collins. Al Horford is 36 years old, and he has one more year on his deal, which is non-guaranteed. As great as he was for them in the postseason, the Celtics shouldn’t plan on him being a viable part of this rotation for the long term. Collins is only 24 years old, and putting him with Robert Williams III and Jayson Tatum in the frontcourt would give the Celtics a young, dynamic trio up front. The problem is … who do you give up for Collins in this scenario? It isn’t Horford.
Would Jaylen Brown be in the mix here? This is where it gets quite complicated. Brown is a far better player than Collins is. Unless the Celtics have a guarantee at the point guard position that moves Marcus Smart to the two, finding some version of a Collins-for-Brown swap doesn’t make a lot of sense. Brown is from Georgia, so it would be a nice homecoming for him. My guess is Boston’s to-do list doesn’t have “get Brown back home” as a high priority. The Celtics were two wins away from a championship, and tinkering is a better operation here than an overhaul.
Either way, expect the Hawks to shake things up and dangle Collins as a guy to help galvanize it.
Are any teams looking to move up in the draft, and why?
• Spurs: The Spurs will have to move up in the draft if they become fixated on Keegan Murray. That means finding a deal with the Kings, because he’s not going to fall past Detroit at No. 5. We’re not even sure he’s going to be someone Sacramento passes on. The Spurs have a lot of ways to go about trading up with the Kings. Poeltl is a year away from getting paid in the summer of 2023. Could he be someone to dangle as a defensive big man you can play next to Sabonis? Would that allow them to keep their ninth pick and take Duren there?
• Wizards: Washington really loves Daniels, so what kind of deal makes sense for them to move up to ensure they get him? Would it make sense to try to convince the Blazers that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the veteran wing they need to put next to Lillard? Is that even enough for both sides to feel comfortable in the trade? The Blazers are looking for more home run deals for them, and they just might not be there at No. 7 for someone looking up to grab Daniels. Or maybe Ivey if he’s still around.
• Knicks: The Knicks definitely need a new backcourt after the disaster that was Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. Trading up to get Ivey would make a lot of sense toward doing so. That probably means trading with Sacramento, unless they take the wait-and-see approach and then Ivey happens to be around at No. 7. They’re not going to part with RJ Barrett or Immanuel Quickley. Cam Reddish isn’t likely to be moved, although Tom Thibodeau would probably love it if he’s included. Griffin appears to be the consolation prize for the Knicks at No. 11 if he’s around. If not, they could actually look to trade down to get TyTy Washington out of Kentucky.
Second-round sleepers I absolutely love
• David Roddy | 6-foot-6 forward | Colorado State: The key to Roddy being a massive value in the second round comes from whether you believe in his 3-point shooting from his junior season. The indicators are a little all over the place. In his first two college seasons, he made 35 of 149 from deep (23.5 percent). Yuck. His junior season saw a massive improvement with a 46-of-105 mark (43.8 percent). However, he went from being a 76.7 percent free-throw shooter his first two seasons to a 68.9 percent freebie shooter as a junior. Free-throw accuracy is typically a good indicator of future shooting success outside of the free-throw line. Roddy’s went opposite directions his junior season.
The shot looks pretty good, although he’s so plodding as a wing player that everything looks a bit labored and mechanical. Not necessarily a bad thing unless he’s trying to create the shot for himself. He reminds me a lot of a P.J. Tucker type of forward. He’s short, but he has a wingspan in the neighborhood of 7-foot. He can lock in defensively and hit the boards quite well for someone his height. Could Portland target him with its pick at 36?
• Caleb Houstan | 6-foot-8 wing | Michigan: There’s a chance Houstan winds up at the back end of the first round, but he’s been mostly projected as a second-round guy. Houstan was missing from the pre-draft combine, which made a lot of people wonder if he had a promise in the first round or early in the second round. Oklahoma City was the presumed team with that, but then it traded the 30th pick to Denver. That doesn’t mean the Thunder wouldn’t have promised him the 34th selection, but it definitely confused that assumption. As for Houstan the player, he’s extremely intriguing with his length and potential to shoot the ball.
Houstan only shot 35.5 percent from deep in his freshman season at Michigan, but over his last 20 games, he was putting up five 3-pointers per game and made 39.6 percent of them. His slow start killed his season percentage, but he eventually found his groove. Teams are banking on that groove being the norm for him, and his jumper looks aesthetically pleasing. He moves a bit off the ball like Kyle Anderson (but quicker) or Kyle Kuzma (but physically weaker). You hope he can turn into a defender to complete the 3-and-D projection. I think he can. Golden State and Toronto are both thought to be high on him.
• Justin Lewis | 6-foot-7 wing | Marquette: Right away, you notice Lewis has a 7-foot-2 wingspan to swarm and harm the opposition in front of him. Lewis is definitely a project at just 20 years old, but there was some encouraging growth out of him from his freshman year to sophomore year. His free-throw shooting and 3-point shooting both improved in an increased role on offense. Everything shot up straight across the board as he became the first option for Marquette. He needs a lot of polish to his game, but his jump shot looks really good and effortless, either spotting up or pulling up off the bounce.
He looks exactly like the type of guy teams like Miami and Toronto covet. He has good size, good strength and long arms. He isn’t a great defender, but get him in the right system, and he could end up being a terror on defense. Lewis has enough ability on offense to make something happen. He’s a little awkward with the ball driving and shooting against contact, but he’s got good enough touch to feel like you’ll get something out of it.
(Top photo of Jabari Smith Jr.: Matt Pendleton / USA Today)