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Jabari, Chet or Paolo: Which rookie will have immediate NBA success?

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Published in Basketball
Friday, 24 June 2022 00:43

With the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, the Orlando Magic selected Duke forward Paolo Banchero. The move came as something of a surprise, given that Banchero never met with the Magic and the consensus around the league was that Auburn's Jabari Smith Jr. would be headed to Orlando.

Instead, it was Banchero who heard his name called first. Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren went No. 2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the Houston Rockets took Smith with the No. 3 overall pick. The Sacramento Kings drafted Iowa forward Keegan Murray at No. 4 and the Detroit Pistons rounded out the top five by selecting Purdue guard Jaden Ivey.

Our NBA Insiders break down the biggest draft-night takeaways, including which of the top three picks will have the best rookie season. And what about the major deals that went down on Thursday?

The Rockets and Pistons began making moves days before drafting Smith and Ivey, respectively. The Rockets traded center Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 26 pick and four players on expiring contracts. The Pistons traded forward Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 36 pick, as well as future draft picks.

The trades continued to pour in through draft night, with both the Pistons and Rockets making additional deals. In one of the biggest moves of the night, Detroit acquired the Charlotte Hornets' No. 13 overall pick, Jalen Duren, in a three-way deal that also included the New York Knicks -- who sent point guard Kemba Walker to the Motor City.

The Philadelphia 76ers got in on the trade action, sending swingman Danny Green and the No. 23 overall pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for guard De'Anthony Melton.

Which pre-draft or draft-night trade will have the biggest impact? Which of the top-three picks is best suited for immediate success next season? Which teams underperformed on draft night? Our experts answer the biggest questions and make their bold predictions following a night in which 58 players heard their names called.

MORE: NBA draft trade grades | NBA trade tracker


1. Which of the top-three picks is best suited for immediate success as a rookie?

Kevin Pelton: I like Smith's combination of readiness and fit. Banchero will likely be asked to create a lot of offense for a limited Orlando team, something Houston doesn't need as much with Jalen Green as a go-to guy. Plus, I expect the Rockets to push Smith's long 2s off the dribble beyond the 3-point line, improving his efficiency.

Andrew Lopez: Banchero slots in nicely in Orlando, surrounded by Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. The 6-foot-10 Banchero can play at the power forward spot and use his offensive skills that made him the surprise No. 1 pick. As ESPN Stats & Information points out, Banchero is one of two freshmen with 600 points, 300 rebounds and 100 assists in a season over the past 30 Division I seasons, along with Ben Simmons (LSU). Banchero should fit right in with Orlando's young core.

Tim Bontemps: While all three picks have a chance to be really good, Banchero is set up to be the clear favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year. He already was arguably the most NBA-ready player in the class and is going to an Orlando team desperately in need of offense. He should have the ball in his hands all the time, and is a near-lock to put up big numbers if he stays healthy.

Jeff Borzello: Banchero would have been my answer had he gone No. 3 as originally anticipated -- and he's still my answer now that he's going to Orlando as the first pick. The Magic have a number of backcourt playmakers who are more effective with the ball in their hands, but Banchero is good enough to be a focal point in the half court from the start. He can score at all three levels, he's an excellent passer for someone his size and he is a capable outside shooter -- he shot 52.6% from 3 in the NCAA tournament. He was the most college-ready freshman last fall, and he's the most NBA-ready draft pick now.

Israel Gutierrez: Banchero, and it has nothing to do with where he was drafted. It's because he's best suited to defend his position at the moment, which should keep him on the floor long enough to record strong numbers. Smith has the ability to guard multiple positions and could potentially be reliable as a defender who you can trust on a switch. Much like Holmgren, however, Smith's thin frame will be something NBA bigs will take full advantage of next season.


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2. Which team impressed you most in this year's draft?

Lopez: Oklahoma City identified the players it wanted and went after them. After Orlando shook up the draft at No. 1, the Thunder stayed true to what they wanted by taking Holmgren at No. 2. Instead of waiting for Ousmane Dieng to slide to them at No. 12, they sent three future first-round picks to New York for Dieng, and then drafted Santa Clara's Jalen Williams with their No. 12 pick. With the No. 34 pick, the Thunder did their coaches, PR staff and fans no favors by drafting Arkansas' Jaylin Williams -- which surely won't confuse anyone.

Gutierrez: Detroit. After moving Jerami Grant before the draft, the Pistons made it clear they would be building around a young core -- and maybe Deandre Ayton in free agency. If that's the case, a guard combination of Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and No. 5 pick Jaden Ivey is a good place to start. Ivey brings some of the flair that the more reserved Cunningham doesn't. If they can find a way to complement each other, Ivey and Cunningham could be a lethal combination in a few seasons. Jalen Duren was also a necessary pickup for a team that needs toughness up front.

Bontemps: For Detroit to come away with Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren is a pretty nice haul -- especially since the Pistons only had to take on Kemba Walker and give up the future Milwaukee first-round pick from the Jerami Grant deal. Ivey has massive upside and could be a terrific fit alongside Cade Cunningham, while Duren adds athleticism and shot-blocking potential inside. Now, the Pistons have money to spend in free agency to continue to supplement their young core, too.

Borzello: It feels like this could be the answer nearly every year, but it's hard not to like what the Spurs did with their three first-rounders. Jeremy Sochan's stock has skyrocketed in the past year, and he ended up going at No. 9. The Poland native played his entire freshman year at 18 years old and showed flashes of how high his ceiling can be. He can guard multiple positions, is comfortable taking shots from the perimeter -- despite his low shooting percentage -- and showed an ability to buy into a team culture. The Spurs then landed two more young guards with potential in Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley. Branham earned lottery buzz early on in the draft process after a terrific second half at Ohio State, and his offensive ability should translate immediately. Wesley was inconsistent as a freshman at Notre Dame, but he's explosive and will have time to fine-tune his game.

Pelton: The Rockets tend to see things a lot like I do (both likely influenced by statistical draft projections), and for a second consecutive year they drafted one of the players I considered most underrated, adding LSU's Tari Eason at No. 17 after drafting Alperen Sengun at No. 16 last year. Before that, Houston was positioned to take advantage of Smith's surprising fall to No. 3. Later, the Rockets added Kentucky guard TyTy Washington Jr. with the 29th pick and banked a pair of future second-rounders in a trade down. All in all, I liked what Houston did.


3. Which team had the most underwhelming draft night?

Bontemps: What the Knicks did was simply confusing -- for now. It legitimately took me an hour to methodically figure out all of the moves they made -- which essentially turned into trading the No. 11 pick, four second-round picks and Walker and getting back three future conditional first-round picks -- none of them likely to be as good as the No. 11 pick. The Knicks do, however, now have the ability to shed a lot of salary moving forward, which could allow the Knicks to pursue players such as Jalen Brunson or Kyrie Irving in free agency. Until we see the full picture, this was just a confusing night for the Knicks and their fans.

Lopez: For now, it's the Knicks. New York started the night with the No. 11 pick and ended up sending out that pick, four second-round picks and Kemba Walker for three future first-round picks (protected 2023 picks from Detroit and Washington and a top-four protected Milwaukee first-rounder in 2025). Of the two 2023 picks, the Washington pick is lottery-protected and the Pistons pick is top-18 protected next year. It's possible neither could move over. It does free up cap space for the Knicks this season, so if they pull off a deal for Jalen Brunson -- or another guard -- it all works out.

Pelton: I don't particularly care for the fit of Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis with the Washington Wizards. Davis is most dangerous as a volume scorer off the dribble, so pairing him with a player capable of doing the same thing more efficiently -- assuming the Wizards re-sign Bradley Beal, who can become an unrestricted free agent -- doesn't seem like a good use of the No. 10 pick.

Borzello: I don't think there were any bad drafts, but the Thunder and Grizzlies raised some eyebrows with their first-round moves. Chet Holmgren was a no-brainer, but trading three first-round picks -- all heavily protected -- to the Knicks for Ousmane Dieng at No. 11 was unexpected. Taking Jalen Williams at No. 12 felt a bit early, even though Williams' stock has continued to rise. As for the Grizzlies, both David Roddy and Jake LaRavia will be able to contribute thanks to their shooting and versatility, but both players felt a little early. Roddy didn't have a great combine and it's unclear how effective he'll be defensively. LaRavia had a fantastic season at Wake Forest, but trading Nos. 22 and 29 to move up three spots for him was a surprise. Kennedy Chandler in the second round was a great value pick, though.

Gutierrez: The Hornets. It has not been the greatest of offseasons so far for Charlotte. After getting knocked out of the play-in for the second straight year, Miles Bridges found a dose of controversy with a social media post, and Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson backed out of an agreement to be the next head coach. Then Thursday, the Hornets traded pick No. 13, a much-needed big man in Jalen Duren, to Detroit for a 2025 first-rounder. Huh?


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4. Which pre-draft or draft-night trade will have the biggest impact?

Borzello: I love everything the Rockets did over the past several days. Getting a first-round pick in the Christian Wood deal made a difference on Thursday. They nailed their three first-round picks and received two future second-round picks in the process. Smith should form a highly effective scoring duo with Jalen Green, and having Kevin Porter Jr. means Smith won't have to shoulder a huge scoring load from Day 1. And then the Rockets added one of the best defensive players in Tari Eason at No. 17. After trading down from No. 26, landing TyTy Washington at No. 29 was a steal; he was considered a lottery pick all season and before a January ankle injury. Washington can make plays in pick-and-rolls and was a 40% 3-point shooter when healthy. The Rockets' rebuild made huge strides this month.

Lopez: Philadelphia traded two players who were likely to have minimal impact next season -- Colorado State forward David Roddy, whom they drafted with the No. 23 pick, and Danny Green, who suffered a torn ACL in the 2022 playoffs -- for someone who can make an immediate contribution next season in De'Anthony Melton. The 24-year-old Melton averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds last season in Memphis, both career highs, as he found more minutes playing off the ball with the Grizzlies.

Bontemps: Depending on what the Knicks do, it could be that deal. But I'll go with Philadelphia turning Danny Green and the No. 23 pick into De'Anthony Melton. Trading Green, who unfortunately is all but certain to miss the season with a knee injury, into a young, athletic wing player in Melton -- who is a perfect fit as a defender next to James Harden and Tyrese Maxey -- was a terrific piece of business by 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey.

Pelton: The three-team deal between the Hornets, Knicks and Pistons has all sorts of fascinating implications for free agency. It moved New York a step closer to being able to make a big offer to Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson, while giving Detroit Jalen Duren, a center who might take the Pistons out of the market for restricted free agent Deandre Ayton. Could the Pistons instead make a run at Charlotte's restricted free agent, Miles Bridges? The Hornets may unwittingly have helped facilitate that.

Gutierrez: The Blazers can recover from an awful season to become a top-six seed in one year, especially with Grant, a healthy Damian Lillard and one more frontcourt upgrade. If Anfernee Simons can still produce with a healthy squad around him, that should keep this team competitive with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves, at the very least.


5. My bold prediction is:

Lopez: Jabari Smith will win the Rookie of the Year award. I know I said Banchero is best suited for immediate success, but Smith should put up better numbers. Also, a draft-night slight should provide all the extra motivation for Smith to have a big season. Alongside 2021 rookies Jalen Green, Josh Christopher, Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba, Smith will have a chance to grow and learn -- and more importantly -- get up shots. Houston is going through a complete rebuild right now and Smith should be able to shine.

Pelton: E.J. Liddell follows the footsteps of New Orleans Pelicans teammate Herb Jones by making the All-Rookie team as a second-round pick.

Gutierrez: Dyson Daniels will be a rotation player for a Pelicans team that finishes in the top four in the Western Conference. The No. 8 pick has the build and defensive ability to be an instant impact player, and he also has an IQ that should help on a balanced New Orleans roster.

Borzello: Jaden Hardy is one of the draft's biggest impact players despite being picked in the second round. Less than a year ago, Hardy was projected as a top-three draft pick, one of the game-changers in this class. Then he had an up-and-down season with the G League Ignite, putting up impressive counting stats -- 17.7 points -- but shot 35.1% from the field and 26.9% from 3. At his best, Hardy has a case as one of the draft's best pure scorers. In Dallas, he won't have to do anything but score. With experienced ball handlers Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie, Hardy can just go out and be a shot-maker. It's a great fit for him.

Bontemps: Shaedon Sharpe will make the Trail Blazers look good for taking him No. 7 overall someday. I don't pretend to be Jonathan Givony, who does a terrific job with our draft stuff, but Sharpe has massive upside and the chance to be a big-time wing player. Portland was wise to take a big swing on him, rather than making more of a win-now move with that pick.

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