The 2022 NBA draft has nearly arrived, and the speculation is only beginning. There will be plenty of storylines at issue from the outset of Thursday’s event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ABC and ESPN app) — will the “Big 3” of Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero go in the order expected, and to the teams expected? If it’s Smith to the Orlando Magic at No. 1, Holmgren to the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 2 and Banchero to the Houston Rockets at No. 3, what might that mean for the Sacramento Kings at No. 4? Will the Kings, who must consider the likelihood of their pick signing with the struggling franchise, strike a draft-night deal? If they do, how will the rest of the night’s dominoes fall?
As we consider those questions, ESPN will be tracking every twist and turn until the first name is announced at the Barclays Center podium on Thursday, with this version of the draft undergoing any and all necessary alterations up until draft time, based on ESPN’s latest intel and any first- or second-round moves up until that hour:
Orlando has been diligent in evaluating its options beyond Smith atop the draft, working out the likes of Chet Holmgren, Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray and Shaedon Sharpe. Every NBA team we’ve talked with expects Smith to end up being the pick here — any other scenario would be a major surprise to league executives. Smith, whose only workouts have been for the Magic and Thunder, makes quite a bit of sense here as he’s arguably the best shooter in the draft despite standing 6-10 and is more than a full year younger than Holmgren, the No. 1 prospect on the ESPN big board. The intensity level and versatility Smith brings defensively will be attractive as well, along with the fact that he checks every box the NBA teams look for from a character and competitiveness standpoint.
Holmgren, who has only worked out for Orlando and the Thunder, seems comfortable with the idea of being selected here. OKC’s rebuild has been viewed favorably by players and agents thanks to the Thunder’s strong player-development infrastructure, coaching staff, organizational culture and a trove of players and future picks assembled that should allow OKC to quickly pivot toward respectability in the near future. Adding a 7-footer with a 7-6 wingspan to that core, one who projects as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate with the mobility, timing and competitiveness Holmgren offers, makes perfect sense. He’ll give the Thunder offense, which ranked last in the NBA in 3-point percentage, as well as much-needed spacing with his ability to shoot, push off the defensive glass, create for others and finish emphatically around the basket and should fit in very well with their existing pieces thanks to the two-way versatility and excellent feel for the game he brings.
The Rockets got a close look at Banchero in a private workout at his home base in Memphis, before bringing him to Houston for another visit. Hours later, the team elected to trade their starting power forward, Christian Wood, for a late first-round pick, signaling their increasing comfort with Banchero as the pick here. Banchero is a 6-10, polished and aggressive scorer who can carry a significant load with his versatility to handle, pass and shoot. His ability to create off the dribble both for himself and teammates should pair well with the explosive transition scoring and shot-making prowess Jalen Green offers. Banchero should compete for Rookie of the Year honors and has considerable upside to grow into as the Rockets surround him and Green with the requisite defensive pieces and floor spacers to return to playoff contention.
In the view of many NBA teams, the draft starts here — Sacramento’s decision to either trade this pick to a team vying for Ivey, or retain it and pick from a group expected to consist of Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin and Keegan Murray will represent a key moment on Thursday night. The Kings have been approached in exploratory conversations by almost every team picking after Sacramento in the lottery and even beyond, a source says, a group including Indiana (No. 6), Washington (No. 10), New York (No. 11), Oklahoma City (No. 12), Atlanta (No. 16) and others.
Rival teams say the asking price will be considerable, with a mix of established vets (Malcolm Brogdon, Kyle Kuzma, Jerami Grant, John Collins), a 2022 draft choice and rookie-scale contract players such as the Pacers’ Chris Duarte believed to be some of the options teams have studied. Even if the Kings stand pat — considered the most likely scenario as of now — Ivey could make quite a bit of sense here despite Sacramento not being his preferred destination. He’s viewed as the best prospect available by many around the league thanks to his superior long-term upside, physical tools and shot-creation prowess, giving him the type of star power the Kings might not want to pass on, despite Ivey not being an ideal fit on paper with the likes of De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell.
5. Detroit Pistons
Mathurin drew strong reviews on the private workout trail, excelling in competitive action, individual drills and interview sessions everywhere he visited and boosting his stock into the mid-lottery in the process. Detroit’s front office and coaching staff is said to be especially interested in the All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year’s intriguing combination of current productivity and future upside at just 19 years old, as well as his potential fit with Cade Cunningham thanks to his ability to shoot coming off screens and his prowess operating in the open court. NBA teams say they will also be monitoring the Pistons’ plans for Jerami Grant, who is entering the final year of his contract, and may be on the move as early as draft night.
The Pacers have drawn quite a few inquiries from around the league in trade scenarios involving Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner, sources say, a circumstance that could net them other lottery picks if they so choose. Indiana could move as high as No. 4 if it elects to include Chris Duarte in such a package, or No. 11 if they acquiesce to the Knicks’ overtures and ship Brogdon out as many around the league expect. But keeping the band together and trying to make a run at the playoffs is also a possibility, especially if a player like Murray falls to them at No. 6. Murray, the most NBA-ready player in the draft, could slide seamlessly into the power forward position that was vacated in the Domantas Sabonis trade, and will be attractive with the two-way versatility he displays, his efficient scoring ability and the fact that he doesn’t need plays called for him to be effective.
Sharpe’s standing has solidified with some outstanding showings in competitive private workouts — his performances have improved with every visit and he has demonstrated significantly more fire than teams expected from the intel they gathered on Sharpe coming out of Kentucky. Damian Lillard is said to be high on Sharpe’s talent, despite Sharpe being 12 years younger and seemingly on a completely different timetable from Lillard. Sharpe is clearly oozing with natural ability, possessing elite physical tools with his exceptional frame, length and explosiveness, to go along with dynamic perimeter shooting ability. There was a reason he was the No. 1-ranked player in his high school class, but his lack of experience and how little he has been evaluated might make it difficult for a team picking higher than this to roll the dice on him.
G League Ignite
The Pelicans have less of a need at any particular position than other lottery teams, making this a natural target for teams looking to move up in trade conversations and creating quite a bit of chatter in NBA circles around this pick. The Phoenix Suns are said to be one of the teams potentially looking at trade scenarios here, possibly including a player like Cameron Johnson in order to free up salary cap flexibility to keep Deandre Ayton. New Orleans has four surefire starters and a plethora of young talent at every position that gives it tremendous depth and role players to plug virtually any hole.
If New Orleans elects to keep the pick, drafting Daniels and allowing him to come along slowly would make plenty of sense, but the fact that he can guard three positions, has an outstanding feel for the game and has improved his perimeter shooting gives him the type of multi-positional versatility to operate in a variety of lineup configurations.
Duren offers a natural succession plan for Jakob Poeltl, who is entering the final year of his contract. He’s arguably the most physically gifted big man in the draft at 6-10, 250 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan, and has a ready-made role from day one as a lob-catching shot-blocker with his huge catch radius, his excellent timing as a rim-protector and the way he uses verticality to his advantage. Duren also has significant room for growth in terms of skill level as the game slows down for him entering his 20s. Jeremy Sochan is said to be another player the Spurs are exploring here. Rival teams have pondered the viability of packaging Poeltl and this pick for a player like Deandre Ayton in a sign-and-trade scenario, a deal that couldn’t be consummated until July.
The Wizards need to improve their backcourt after cycling through a cascade of guards this past season, and are said to be scouring the league for point guard options in trade scenarios, with names like Malcolm Brogdon, Monte Morris and others being batted around in league circles. Should they elect to keep the pick, drafting an All-American like Davis makes sense, as he should be able to play an immediate role with his defensive versatility, unselfishness and scoring ability, while also bringing many winning intangibles to which the Wizards will be attracted. He would fit well alongside the ball-dominant Bradley Beal and has plenty of upside to tap into at just 20 years old. This pick is widely assumed to be available in trade talks, in exchange for a proven backcourt player.
Few teams expect the Knicks to be drafting here when all is said and done. The team is said to be aggressively exploring scenarios in which they will trade down, or trade out of the draft altogether if they can land a starting caliber-point guard such as Malcolm Brogdon. The Knicks could also create enough cap room by dumping significant salary on a team like Oklahoma City, in order to go after a big-name free agent — Kyrie Irving, for example. If they decide to keep the pick, drafting a player such as Griffin, who is arguably the best shooter in the class after making 45% of his 3-pointers, could make sense. His 7-foot wingspan gives him significant potential defensively, he’s one of the youngest players in the draft and he plays one of the most coveted positions in the modern NBA.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Clippers)
The Thunder are said to be aggressively pursuing trade conversations for this pick, seeking to package it with future assets or existing OKC players in order to move into the mid-lottery, with players including Jaden Ivey and Shaedon Sharpe believed to be among the potential prospects they covet. Adding another pick in this range is also said to be a possibility. If they elect to stand pat, picking one of the draft’s most talented wing forwards in Dieng could make a lot of sense, as there are minutes to be had and quite a bit of potential left to tap. A fluid wing with ample size to slide to the power forward position as his frame fills out, Dieng hit his stride as the Australian NBL season progressed, flashing impressive shot-making prowess, the ability to create for teammates out of the pick-and-roll and the length and off-ball instincts to defend multiple positions.
Rival teams don’t expect the Hornets to hold onto both of their mid-first-round picks — adding two rookies in need of minutes and patience might not be the most attractive proposition for a team that just fired its head coach after failing to advance past the play-in game. Regardless of who is making this pick, Sochan is likely to come off the board right in this range as most teams have him graded as a late lottery-level talent, with some even having him firmly in the top 10. Sochan brings several different dimensions with his ability to defend all over the floor, pass the ball effectively and slide up or down positions depending on the matchup, while also possessing plenty of upside to grow into, having just turned 19. His feel for the game, versatility and competitiveness gives him a very high floor as well. One player who is said to intrigue the Hornets front office in a trade-up scenario (likely involving packaging both draft picks) is Shaedon Sharpe, who surprised many teams by electing to work out for Charlotte.
The Cavs will be looking to add size and perimeter shooting on the wing this offseason, both in free agency and in the draft. Agbaji, one of the best shooters in the draft with a 6-10 wingspan and chiseled frame, projects as a plug-and-play, 3-and-D prospect who should be ready to contribute immediately after winning All-America honors and coming off a national championship in which he won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player for Kansas. Ousmane Dieng is another prospect rival teams point to as someone the Cavs are very high on, but is already off the board in this scenario.
15. Charlotte Hornets (via Pelicans)
The Hornets can be strategic with their two first-rounders that sandwich Cleveland’s pick, knowing it is highly unlikely the Cavs will take a center with two outstanding big men already in place. The Hornets have been seeking a legitimate rim-protecting, lob-catching center to pair with LaMelo Ball from the moment they drafted him, and could very well be attracted to Williams, with whom they’ll be familiar with down the road in Durham. Williams led college basketball in dunks last season, won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and made considerable progress as a sophomore. He’s an absolute game-changer on both ends of the floor with his combination of size (7-1), length (7-8 wingspan) and non-stop energy, providing a steady offensive presence with his excellent hands and finishing ability and putting a lid on the rim defensively thanks to his mobility, timing and reach.
The Hawks, perpetually one of the most active front offices in the NBA, are said to be exploring a host of options to strengthen their defense and better position themselves to make a playoff run next season. John Collins could be a catalyst for a major draft-day trade, potentially in a package with Kevin Huerter that would net Atlanta the No. 4 pick in the draft. Should the Hawks still be picking at this spot when the dust settles, a player like Williams makes sense, as he has the length to defend power forwards with his 7-2 wingspan, but also possessed the court vision, playmaking and shooting to be utilized as a big playmaker in college, which should provide him with the versatility to slide all over the floor for a team that has strong positional depth.
17. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are early in their rebuilding and will likely be looking to take swings on talent and upside, as they don’t appear to be particularly close to contention. Eason is one of the most explosive and productive players in the draft, putting consistent pressure on opposing defenses with his quick first step, physicality and insatiable intensity — characteristics that allow him to live at the free throw line. These same traits helped make him one of the most versatile defenders in the college game, a magnet for steals, blocks and rebounds who flew all over the floor in LSU’s suffocating press while rotating from guarding point guards to big men.
Rival teams say the Bulls aren’t in love with their options here, and they are open to trading the pick, potentially in a package with combo guard Coby White. If they stand pat, the upside offered by Branham could be attractive, as he has a strong case to be considered the most talented prospect on the board. Branham’s combination of size, frame, length, scoring instincts and shot-making prowess off the dribble (44% FG%) and with his feet set (43%) look seamlessly translatable to what the NBA is looking for at his position. He plays with a unique combination of aggressiveness and poise for a player who just turned 19, and the fact that he made such impressive strides as the season moved on, facilitating more for others and showing competitiveness defensively one-on-one, gives him a high ceiling as a prospect.
Twin Towers lineups are becoming more in vogue these days with the success teams like Boston and Cleveland had with bigger lineups this season. For a Minnesota team looking to take the next step defensively, drafting the NCAA’s Defensive Player of the Year could make some sense, even if that means playing Kessler alongside a super-skilled 7-footer in Karl-Anthony Towns. Kessler is a force as a rim protector but also brings strong pick-and-roll finishing ability and even some potential as a perimeter shooter. Kessler is a steady offensive presence with his ability to catch difficult passes, hammer home lobs, finish with touch around the basket and make good decisions out of short rolls, which should make him a good fit in Minnesota’s offense.
20. San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors)
With three picks in the first round, the Spurs can afford to take a swing on the player with the biggest upside possible, as adding star power to the roster is a major priority for the team. Wesley is one of the most physically gifted guards in this draft, capable of getting into the paint at will with his strong frame and explosive first step. He made strides as the season moved on both defensively and with his ability to create for teammates, and if he can continue to evolve as a shooter, he has the potential to be a real mismatch with the ball in his hands.
Having drafted well and being forced to play their young players extensively due to injury, the Nuggets developed some solid depth in 2021-22 that gives them good flexibility heading into the draft. Adding quality depth in the backcourt could be attractive for the Nuggets, especially a highly versatile guard like Terry who has significant upside to grow into at just 19. His length, unselfishness, feel for the game and ability to defend multiple positions could make him a viable NBA rotational player as his jumper continues to improve, and the fact that he isn’t the most instinctual or hungry scorer won’t be as big of an issue alongside the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
TyTy Washington Jr.
With the impending free agency of backup point guard Tyus Jones, who is in line for a raise after an excellent season, adding depth in the backcourt could make a lot of sense, especially a steady-handed guard like Washington who can play with or without the ball, excels in pick-and-roll and is a strong perimeter shooter. Washington has the size and length to play in many different lineup configurations for a team like Memphis, giving him nice positional versatility to go along with his strong feel for the game.
23. Philadelphia 76ers (Nets deferred pick to 2023)
Wendell Moore Jr.
The Sixers are slated to select here as the Brooklyn Nets elected to defer the pick they received in the James Harden trade to 2023. With Harden turning 33 in August and on the downside of his career from a physical standpoint, and Danny Green out for most or all of next season with a torn ACL, adding more talent on the wing could very well be a major priority for the Sixers, who don’t have much in the way of future draft capital to work with to strengthen their roster. Moore has had a strong pre-draft process with excellent showings in several private workouts, helping to solidify himself as a first-round pick. The Duke product has intrigued teams with a strong frame, 7-foot wingspan, passing ability and outside shooting at only 20 years old, with more than 2,500 minutes of college basketball experience under his belt.
The Bucks are said to be exploring a host of options with this pick, with names including Andrew Nembhard, Jake LaRavia, Christian Braun and Ismael Kamagate bandied about and indicating the team is exploring “older” players who can help the team win now while their championship window is open. Rival teams say the Bucks have indicated a willingness to explore moving up in the mid-to-late teens portion of the first round, potentially targeting some of the draft’s best 7-footers like Mark Williams and Walker Kessler.
Beyond that, with several frontcourt players on expiring contracts or entering their final seasons, adding an All-American big man such as Liddell could be attractive. Liddell is a solid rim protector who can switch on the perimeter and improved his shooting significantly as a junior, giving him a high floor as a prospect. Liddell’s productivity and toughness make him a solid option at this stage of the draft.
25. San Antonio Spurs (via Celtics)
With three first-round picks at their disposal and a roster that is far from settled, the Spurs can afford to take a long view in selecting the best player available regardless of positional fit. After a rocky start, Chandler emerged as one of the premier point guards in the college game in the second half of the season, showing blazing speed, dynamic ball-handling and passing ability and an increasingly consistent pull-up jumper. His measurements (6-foot-1, 172 pounds with a 6-5½ wingspan) are what might keep him out of the top 20 like his talent suggests, but didn’t prevent him from playing outstanding defense and leading the SEC in steals. The fact that he proved capable of playing off the ball in two- and three-guard lineups should be attractive as well.
G League Ignite
The Rockets acquired this pick from the Mavericks in exchange for Christian Wood and financial flexibility. Beauchamp is the type of rim-running, elite-cutting, hard-playing wing who doesn’t need plays called for him and can find his own offense alongside players such as Jalen Green and Paolo Banchero just by virtue of his energy. Beauchamp could emerge as a starting-quality player if his jumper and ball-handling continue to improve, and his defensive versatility as a long-armed wing who can check point guards through power forwards will be useful in the meantime, along with his ability to score off his hustle and instincts.
G League Ignite
Few teams have been as successful drafting in the first round as the Heat have over the past few years. Hardy entered the year as a potential top-five pick and still has plenty of upside to tap into as a shot-making, instinctual scorer who is only 19. Adding more shooting alongside their stars should be an attractive proposition for the Heat, and Hardy has the type of scoring talent that could allow him to anchor a bench unit down the road if he continues to progress with his frame and decision-making.
The Warriors have some interesting young pieces in place waiting in the wings in Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman, along with 22-year-old budding star Jordan Poole. The NBA champs could be in the market for a versatile wing-forward who can play off others, make shots from the perimeter and defend multiple positions. LaRavia, who shot 38% from 3 last season and 78% at the free throw line, brings a strong feel for the game and intriguing playmaking ability defensively. The fact that he’s only 20 years old gives him some additional upside he can tap into as he continues to improve his frame, maximize his talent and become a more assertive perimeter shooter.
29. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have proved to be one of the shrewdest teams in the NBA the past few years in terms of using their draft capital. With a loaded roster, it remains to be seen how attractive adding another two first-round picks will be, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team swing for the fences with a high-upside prospect to see if it can uncover another draft-day steal. Enter Jovic, who has excellent size at 6-11, a strong feel for the game, good shooting indicators and could eventually slide nicely into the role Kyle Anderson, an unrestricted free agent, played this season.
30. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets received this pick in a trade with Oklahoma City last week that also provided them with financial flexibility this summer. Braun looks like a plug-and-play wing who brings lockdown defense, passing ability and excellent rebounding and is also a career 38% 3-point shooter in college. After winning a national championship and demonstrating he can do all the little things needed to help a team win games, Braun is exactly the type of role-playing, two-way wing many NBA teams are actively seeking these days.
31. Pacers (via Rockets)
Andrew Nembhard | Gonzaga | PG | Age: 22.4
Trevor Keels | Duke | PG/SG | Age: 18.8
33. Raptors (via Pistons)
David Roddy | Colorado St | PF | Age: 21.2
Jaylin Williams | Arkansas | C | Age: 19.9
35. Magic (via Pacers)
Peyton Watson | UCLA | SF/PF | Age: 19.7
36. Trail Blazers
Christian Koloko | Arizona | C | Age: 22.0
Khalifa Diop | Gran Canaria | C | Age: 20.4
38. Spurs (via Lakers)
Caleb Houstan | Michigan | SF | Age: 19.4
39. Cavaliers (via Spurs)
Ismael Kamagate | Paris | C | Age: 21.4
40. Timberwolves (via Wizards)
Josh Minott | Memphis | PF | Age: 19.5
Bryce McGowens | Nebraska | SF | Age: 19.6
Kendall Brown | Baylor | SF | Age: 19.1
Justin Lewis | Marquette | SF/PF | Age: 20.1
Hugo Besson | NZ Breakers | PG/SG | Age: 21.1
Patrick Baldwin Jr. | Milwaukee | SF/PF | Age: 19.5
46. Pistons (via Nets)
Ryan Rollins | Toledo | SG | Age: 19.9
47. Grizzlies (via Cavaliers)
Max Christie | Michigan State | SG | Age: 19.3
JD Davison | Alabama | PG | Age: 19.7
49. Kings (from Bulls)
Jean Montero | Overtime Elite | PG/SG | Age: 18.9
50. Timberwolves (from Nuggets)
Dominick Barlow | Overtime Elite | PF/C | Age: 19.0
Michael Foster | G League Ignite | PF | Age: 19.4
52. Pelicans (via Jazz)
Karlo Matkovic | Mega Mozzart | C | Age: 21.2
Gabriele Procida | Fortitudo Bologna | SG | Age: 20.0
54. Wizards (via Mavericks)
Ron Harper Jr. | Rutgers | SF/PF | Age: 22.1
Yannick Nzosa | Unicaja Malaga | C | Age: 18.5
56. Cavaliers (via Heat)
Dereon Seabron | NC State | SG | Age: 22.0
57. Trail Blazers (via Grizzlies)
Matteo Spagnolo | Cremona | PG | Age: 19.4
58. Pacers (via Suns)
Ziga Samar | Fuenlabrada | PG | Age: 21.3
Note: The Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat have each forfeited a second-round draft pick.
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.