NBA Draft Preview: A Deep Field Could Yield Stars Surprise

When the Orlando Magic hand over their draft card to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, they will resolve a debate that has thrown a better part of a year into draft circles: Who should be the number 1 choice?

The lead is Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a rail-thin but nail-hard seven-footer who can shoot, dribble, pass and defend with aplomb. But there are equally strong cases to be made for Auburn big man Jabari Smith, who spent last season seemingly unable to shoot, and for the Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a creative shotmaker who is as polished in paint as he is on the perimeter .

“All three guys are incredibly talented,” said Jonathan Givony, founder of scouting service DraftExpress, an NBA design analyst at ESPN. “This design has really great players at the top and really good depth, too.”

Here are five more perspectives to know.

6-Foot-11, 223 Pounds, Forward, Mega Mozzart (Serbia)

People are always asking Nikola Jovic about Nikola Jokic. And it makes sense. Jovic and the Denver Nuggets star have quite a lot in common: They are both Serbian big men who played for the same club, Mega Mozzart, and only one letter separates their family names. But the comparison does not bother Jovic, who is expected to be the first international player to be taken on Thursday.

“People bring this up all the time,” he said. “I’m really cool with that. I think it’s also pretty funny because the chances of something like that happening are really small. At the same time, I feel good because people compare me to a two-league MVP.

As a boy, Jovic wanted to become a professional water polo player. He spent his summers with his mother in Montenegro and loved to swim in the Adriatic Sea. When he was 13, his father introduced him to basketball. What started as a backyard hobby quickly became an obsession and a profession. “I was getting bigger and bigger,” Jovic said, “and it was pretty easy to see that basketball was a better choice than water polo.”

Although many NBA teams chase European stars from their early teens, Jovic did not become a big name on draft boards until he broke out at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade in March 2021. Offensively, he was able to develop to a ground distance. 4 who shoot 3s, take quick breaks and make smart passes. He says he is willing to stay in Europe after being eliminated, but he hopes to land with a team that wants him to play immediately.

“Even though I have to play in the G League, it’s cool,” he said, referring to the NBA Development League. “But now, I think the perfect fit for me is the NBA.”

6-foot-9, 221 pounds, Forward, Overtime Elite

When NBA evaluators visited Overtime Elite this year, it was with an eye to the future. The start-up league has potential top-10 players in the 2023 and 2024 draft. But one player from the draft class of 2022 benefited from all the extra scouts’ attention and worked his way from an unheralded 3-star high school perspective to a potential first-round draft pick: Dominick Barlow.

“The fact that this was the OTE’s first year of intriguing scouts,” said Barlow, 19. “And once the scouts were in the building, they could see what I could do.”

Barlow played for Dumont High School, a small public high school in Dumont, NJ. parks. He surprised most basketball insiders in September when he dropped out of a pre-season program and turned down some big offers to sign with Overtime Elite. It offers a six figure salary for boys and men basketball players who are at least in their junior year of high school.

Barlow hopes his story inspires other well-informed players to continue working. “I came in as a 3-star kid, and I left as an NBA Draft Pick. Some 5-star kids struggled to get through the NBA one year after high school,” he said.

6-Foot-8, 225 Pounds, Vir, Iowa

As Keegan and Kris Murray went through the recruiting process for college basketball, the twin brothers told each coach that they were not a package deal. Her father, Kenyon, played college basketball in Iowa in the early 1990’s, and he encouraged them to find their own way.

Her father’s faith and knowledge helped the brothers remain buoyant even though they ended their high school careers with only one scholarship offer, at Western Illinois, a Summit League school that had never been to the Division I NCAA Tournament.

“Having a DI player is your coach and teaching you everything and guiding you through the recruitment process is really helpful,” said Keegan, 21, of his father, who was an assistant on his high school team in Iowa. “He told us we would be professionals, and we believed him.”

After rejecting the offer from Western Illinois and spending a year in a preparatory school in Florida, Keegan and Kris signed with Alma Mater of her father, Iowa. Keegan has shown remarkable efficiency as a freshman and started collecting NBA draft buzz, but he was not considered a top-flight talent until last season. As a sophomore, Murray was the top scorer among the Power 5 conference players, he had the second most rebounds in the Big Ten, and he shot 55.4 percent from the field and a solid 39.8 percent from 3.

“He was the most productive player in college basketball this year,” Givony said, adding that he was good in the transition and on defense. “Everyone is looking for a player like him.”

Keegan is expected to be in the top-five picks while Kris decides to return to Iowa for another season. “Thinking about where I was three years ago and where I am today is surreal,” Keegan said. “I did not always know where and when all this hard work would pay off, but I knew it would pay off in the end.”

6-Foot-3, 179 Pounds, Gard, Toledo

Ryan Rollins has heard people say he should return to the University of Toledo for his junior season. With another year of experience, he would be considered a likely first-round pick in 2023. But Rollins rejected the idea. He sees no reason to wait.

“I feel like I’m one of the better players in the draft,” Rollins said. “If I am not selected in the first round, that’s fine. In the long run, I’ll be very good in this league for a long time. Whenever and wherever I go in the end, I’ll be proud to be there.

Born in Detroit, Rollins played for a prominent AAU program, The Family. But the stacked roster, combined with some devastating injuries in his decision to commit to college early on, kept him under the recruiting radar. “I always had the feeling that I was where I was for a reason,” he said. “I kept working, trying to perfect my craft. I did not worry about the politics of basketball. I knew if I was good enough, the NBA would find me.

Over two seasons in Toledo, he emerged as a mid-sized showstopper, with a smooth grip, fluid footwork and a deadly midrange game. Now he is possibly a second round pick with the potential to snowball into the first round. But he’s more worried about what he’s going to do when he arrives in the NBA.

He’s been inspired by former NBA midfielders like Ja Morant (Murray State), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh University).

“They went to small schools but were able to make a name for themselves,” Rollins said. “I feel like I’m next.”

6-Foot-5, 198 Pounds, Guard, Kentucky

There is no player more mysterious in the 2022 draft than Shaedon Sharpe. Even though he is listed as a Kentucky prospect, Sharpe has never adapted for the Wildcats. In fact, he has not played in competitive basketball for almost a year.

Born in Ontario, Canada, he moved to Kansas to play for Sunrise Christian Academy in his second year of high school, then transferred to Arizona’s Dream City Christian in 2020 for his junior season, as he moved to the 2022 class. was not classified. Playing with the UPlay Canada team in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League last summer caught everyone’s attention. The tournament is often a testament to future NBA stars, and Sharpe averages 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 28.3 minutes per game over 12 games.

Sharpe graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in Kentucky this spring. Even though there were rumors that he would join the team in court, or return for the 2022-23 season, he instead entered the NBA draft. And there is a good reason: he will almost certainly be taken into the top 10.

“In terms of physical ability and pure talent, it’s all there,” Givony said. “He’s a dynamic shooter, an aggressive defender, a smart passer.”

NBA teams could not see much of him, but his 6-foot-11 wing span, explosive athleticism and polished shot could have made most NBA teams outside of the top five ready to take the risk.

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