2022 NBA Draft: 5 Prospects Who Could Realistically Become No. 1 Pick

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2021

2022 NBA Draft: 5 Prospects Who Could Realistically Become No. 1 Pick

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    The No. 1 overall discussion for the 2022 NBA draft includes a handful of names and no heavy favorite. 

    Five prospects stand out with the upside to be the first prospect selected. Two will suit up for the same college team. One will test his luck with the G League Ignite the way Jalen Green did last season.

    The projected class is forward/big-oriented, and there is a good chance the lottery winner will wind up filling a frontcourt position next summer.

AJ Griffin (Duke, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Roughly 15 months ago, we noted AJ Griffin would have a path toward the No. 1 overall spot on the 2022 draft board. Since then, he's played sparingly because of injury and the pandemic, so there is some guesswork when projecting his current developmental state. 

    He did look on track during May's Iverson Roundball Classic, the only event NBA scouts have been able to see Griffin live since the 2019 U16 Americas Championship. 

    At 6'6", 222 pounds with a 7'0" wingspan, Griffin already measures similarly to Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, only the Duke freshman will be one of the nation's youngest prospects, having just turned 18 years old in August. 

    Aside from a standout physical profile, three-level shot-making separates Griffin, who's also flashed self-creation skills for one-on-one scoring. Griffin figures to spend most of his Duke possessions spotting up, taking wing and corner threes and attacking closeouts, but he'll also generate offense out of isolation or post-ups with step-backs, fallaways and runners. He mixes calculated moves with improvisation.

    And though it's difficult to confidently evaluate him defensively, given how little he's played, his strength and length clearly indicate defensive upside. Given the competition, entering the No. 1 conversation will require Griffin to defend with urgency/awareness and score in volume with efficiency—by wisely picking his spots in Duke's offense, converting in traffic and shooting at least 35 percent from three.

Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga, PF/C, Freshman)

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    None of the No. 1 overall candidates have been more visible over the years than Chet Holmgren. Between the nationally televised high school games, NBA-sanctioned camps, May's Iverson Roundball Classic and this summer's FIBA U19 World Cup (MVP), scouts have had plenty of access to the 7-footer's dominance, development and unique game.

    They've also questioned how his 195-pound frame and skinny limbs will grow and hold up at higher levels of competition. But his special skill level, feel for the game and defensive mobility have also made it easy to look past physicality concerns so far.

    At 7'0", Holmgren just hit seven of 13 threes during FIBA play, demonstrating an effortless, believable shooting stroke. It's still his ball-handling, agility off the dribble and coordination/dexterity around the rim that differentiate him from other stretch bigs. He's a coast-to-coast threat anytime he grabs a defensive board. In the half court, he can be used to initiate offense from behind the arc, where Holmgren can get low and blow by, pull up for a jumper or pass over the defense.

    Despite his height, he'll wind up playing forward, a more suitable position for his perimeter skills and a body that could have trouble against NBA 5s.

    Holmgren's defensive projection remains as appealing as his offense. His length, timing, second jump, court coverage and competitiveness combine for exciting shot-blocking potential. And he's shown he can slide his feet away from the basket, at least fast enough for his long arms to remain in reach of his man's shot during one-on-one possessions in space.

    Just showing a lack of strength isn't too problematic could be enough for Holmgren to emerge as the No. 1 overall favorite.

Jaden Hardy (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)

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    Even in the G League, Jaden Hardy could lead all No. 1 overall candidates in scoring. Watching Jalen Green light it up for the Ignite suggests Hardy could experience similar success with the extra freedom and faster pace (compared to college) that benefited the 2021 No. 2 pick.

    Scouts haven't seen Hardy in a meaningful setting in quite some time, though his high school tape remains convincing enough.

    For an athletic, 6'4" guard, his combination of handles, shot-creation, shot-making versatility, shooting accuracy and confidence fuels explosive scoring potential. That confidence leads to some wacky field-goal attempts, but tight defense isn't enough when Hardy enters a zone. Hardy's pull-up and step-back games, deep range and knack for catching fire should lead to takeover stretches and 25-30-point outputs.

    And with rhythm, balance and a quick release off the catch, Hardy should remain dangerous when slotted off the ball.

    He'll share it with Australia's Dyson Daniels and 17-year-old Scoota Henderson for the Ignite. So it wouldn't be surprising if his assist rate is low, given the roster's other ball-handlers and Hardy's tendency to hunt for shots.

    Persuading scouts he can develop into a lead guard with enough passing could be Hardy's ticket to No. 1 overall buzz. Limiting the wild hero jumpers will be key for him to avoid questions about his efficiency or whether his style of play lends itself to winning.

Jalen Duren (Memphis, C, Freshman)

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    The 2022 draft received another No. 1 overall candidate with the reclassification of Jalen Duren.

    He did a lot of winning this past year as a high school junior, earning a GEICO National Championship at Montverde Academy, a Peach Jam title for Team Final and MVP award at the Pangos All-American Camp. The 17-year-old was physically dominant against teenagers and figures to continue posing problems in college with powerful arms, strong shoulders and athleticism. 

    That AAU teammate Emoni Bates is joining him at Memphis should only help reduce the pressure and make the game easier for Duren. Even in a new-school NBA where many high-upside bigs can shoot and handle, Duren remains appealing for his inside presence (at both ends) and finishing. He's an easy-basket target for guards, as well as a center who can create his own opportunities by running the floor, crashing the glass and playing through contact.

    Based on his current size (6'10"), age (turns 18 in November) and frame, Duren looks on track to fill out into one of the NBA's most impressive physical profiles.

    He uses his strength, length and mobility for rim protection, demonstrating a propensity for challenging shots from the mid-range to the basket. His shot-blocking numbers aren't always indicative of his impact; whatever team considers Duren will picture him anchoring the paint.

    Whether he can build a realistic No. 1 overall case will come down to how much skill (and how sharp) he showcases at Memphis. In flashes, we've seen fluid post turnarounds, short-range jumpers and high-IQ passes. But he still relies mostly on tools from the dunker's spot or off offensive rebounds, rolls and fast breaks.

Paolo Banchero (Duke, PF, Freshman)

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    We highlighted Paolo Banchero in June 2020 as one of the most interesting prospects for 2022. His draft stock and development have only strengthened since.

    Banchero showcased an updated skill set during March's The Grind Session in Phoenix and the Iverson Roundball Classic in May. And assuming the flashes weren't fluky, at 6'10", 250 pounds, his evolving ball-handling for creation/playmaking and improving three-level shot-making should generate No. 1 overall buzz.

    While offense can run through him in the half court, both at the point of attack and post, Banchero has developed into a grab-and-go initiator of fast breaks. Otherwise, Duke will feature him around the elbows and short corners, where he's a matchup problem with power, footwork and finesse.

    Still, his upside has recently shined brightest in face-up situations. He's started to look more comfortable separating one-on-one with step-backs, pull-ups and fallaways. Off-balance jumpers and threes have fallen and seem poised to become regular weapons, even if it's a few seasons from now. And he'll set teammates up with quick hit-aheads in transition and kick-outs after drawing attention.

    Of all the No. 1 overall candidates, Banchero appears the most well-rounded without any glaring concerns. While scouts may see Holmgren having the higher ceiling, they could also picture Banchero having a higher floor. Showing the self-creation and shooting are real without losing his presence/efficiency around the rim could elevate him to No. 1 overall.