Predicting Top Breakout 2022 NBA Draft Prospects

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 18, 2021

Predicting Top Breakout 2022 NBA Draft Prospects

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Every year, we see college basketball players break out and generate new NBA interest.

    Chris Duarte, Trey Murphy III and Davion Mitchell weren't on draft boards to start last season. Each of them wound up being selected in the top 20 of the 2021 NBA draft.

    Based on 2020-21 flashes, summer developments and early results, we've pinpointed the most likely non-freshmen to go from off the NBA radar to top-50 scouting lists. While other players are bound to break out as well, these are the ones who'll crack NBA draft boards.

Ochai Agbaji (Kansas, SG, Senior)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Mid-first round to early second round

    Everything about Ochai Agbaji's game looks cleaner.

    There was a different level of decisiveness and confidence behind his 29 points against Michigan State last week. Mostly a spot-up and transition scorer last year, Agbaji appears to have improved off the dribble, both as a shooter and self-creator. 

    At Madison Square Garden in front of dozens of NBA scouts, he knocked down a pair of pull-up threes and pulled off multiple ball-handling moves to beat his man for a layup. Three alley-oop finishes highlighted his impressive bounce above the rim as well. 

    Agbaji's defense has always been viewed as a plus. He stands 6'5" and 215 pounds, and he has the anticipation to blow up plays and the tools to guard wings or smaller forwards. 

    Currently 6-of-13 from deep after raising his three-point percentage in each of his first three seasons, the senior seems likely to strengthen his three-and-D profile for the NBA. But signs of a more nuanced, skilled creator and shot-maker should help teams see a more multidimensional, useful role player at the next level.

MarJon Beauchamp (G League Ignite, SG/SF, 2001)

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    Projected draft range: Late-first to second round

    MarJon Beauchamp spent the past two years training and playing junior college ball, so scouts didn't have many expectations or confident takes about him before the season.

    He's currently the Ignite's leading scorer through three games, averaging 18.7 points. However, he'll need to prove that his shooting against the Agua Caliente Clippers (4-of-7 3PT) was real to generate first-round type of buzz.

    Beauchamp's shot-making ability for a 6'6" wing is an obvious draw. And he's done an effective job using his tools and motor against G Leaguers to earn himself baskets on physical drives, putbacks and miscellaneous finishes.

    It's hard to get too high on Beauchamp since he's a limited athlete and passer.  But his body, three-level scoring skills and production against quality competition are already helping the 20-year-old establish his NBA credibility.

Jaden Ivey (Purdue, SG, Sophomore)

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    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    Projected draft range: Late-lottery to mid-first round

    Freshman flashes followed by a strong U19 FIBA World Cup led to a Jaden Ivey breakout alert. 

    Explosiveness mixed with change-of-direction speed makes the 6'4" combo guard difficult to contain in space and easy to picture on an NBA floor. Almost all of his offense so far this season has come in transition (nine of his 16 field goals). 

    Ivey relies on slashing through defenses and beating shot-blockers to the spot around the rim. He's flashed some improved handles so far to help him get there, too.

    Ivey already has a 27-point game on his sophomore resume, and he's also averaging 3.3 assists, showing signs of passing and playmaking that popped this summer.  Otherwise, he impacts games with his athleticism and motor at both ends, and NBA coaches figure to picture a player they can call on for hustle and energy plays.

    Maximizing his draft stock and potential will mean becoming more dangerous around the perimeter, where he's currently 0-of-7 on pull-ups after shooting 25.8 percent from three last year. But for a 19-year-old with clear shot-making ability, his jump shot has enough room and time to improve. 

Jaime Jaquez Jr. (UCLA, SF, Junior)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Late first to second round

    Jaime Jaquez Jr. elevated his play during UCLA's 2021 NCAA tournament run, and it's carried over to his junior season.

    Used to create and space the floor as a shooter, the 6'7", 225-pound wing could make a case to NBA scouts with skill versatility that makes it easier to look past his athletic limitations. 

    Early results this season suggest he's poised to build on last year's three-point improvement and become more of a threat to attack or play-make. He lacks explosiveness to blow by or lift off one foot, but he compensates with strength to play through contact and body control and coordination for finishing. 

    Though Jaquez isn't shifty enough to be used as a lead ball-handler, his passing IQ gives him extra value as a potential connector piece. He also shot 46.4 percent on pull-ups last year, a key strength for his NBA chances.

    On Friday, he made big plays late to bring UCLA back and earn an early upset over Villanova. He exudes the type of toughness and maturity that scouts typically find appealing in a potential role player. 

Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona, SG, Sophomore)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Projected draft range: Late lottery to late-first round

    More touches and confidence should lead to a draft-stock spike for Bennedict Mathurin.

    It seems safe to assume that last year's flashes of shooting and explosive finishes will become more frequent this year. But after averaging 16.1 points for Canada at the FIBA U19 World Cup over the summer, Mathurin looks ready to take a jump with his self-creation to add more driving ability and pull-ups.

    He's attractive even without the one-on-one scoring, as he's a 6'6", 210-pound plus athlete who shot 41.8 percent from three as a freshman. He graded in the 96th percentile as a spot-up player last year while generating 29 points on 16 cuts (99th percentile). 

    Mathurin hasn't shown many playmaking skills, which reduces his margin for error and lowers his perceived ceiling. But by June, NBA teams should still be drawn to his frame, burst, shot-making and potential to keep sharpening his dribble-jumper game and ball-screen play.

Matthew Mayer (Baylor, SF/PF, Senior)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Mid-first to early second round

    The departures of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague have opened a door for Matthew Mayer to make a larger impact at Baylor. More offense now runs through the 6'9" Swiss army knife, whose shoot-dribble-pass skill set should look like an obvious fit for a supporting NBA role.

    Though he was mostly a spot-up player last year, Mayer was still used in a variety of ways, having logged 29 ball-screen possessions, 15 out of isolation and 12 as a roll man. He'll have more opportunities to create or finish plays this season, particularly since he graded in the 88th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and showed signs of pull-up shooting (14-of-38).

    In limited action this season, we've seen Mayer look comfortable from three, cut and drive for dunks and play-make for teammates. He offers the type of versatility NBA teams continue to crave and value in the draft. And he'll have an excellent opportunity to showcase it in a lead role at Baylor.

Wendell Moore Jr.

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Late first to second round

    A Wendell Moore Jr. breakout seems obvious after four games. The question is whether it results in NBA interest. 

    He should register enough to get drafted by June, assuming his start isn't fluky. So far, it's looked convincing based on the level of decisiveness and confidence in Moore's creation and shot-making.

    Averaging 15.0 points and 5.3 assists, he's clearly sharper off the dribble as a ball-handler, playmaker and pull-up shooter. Duke is running offense through Moore, a notable development for a 6'5", 213-pound wing whose most translatable strengths have been slashing and defending. 

    Continuing to show signs as a shooter should lead to more scouts taking him seriously. It's improvement worth betting on in the draft's second round, considering he shot over 80.0 percent on free throws the past two seasons and jumped from four three-point makes as a freshman to 22 in 2020-21.

    Turning 21 years old after the draft, he's also young for his class.

Keegan Murray (Iowa, PF, Sophomore)

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Projected draft range: Late lottery to late-first round

    A Keegan Murray breakout is already happening. He's scored at least 24 points in three consecutive games to start the season after never tallying more than 14 points as a freshman. 

    If Murray's early shooting flashes are real (four threes, 20-of-21 free throws), it raises his ceiling dramatically. The high-motor energy and instinct plays are definitely real.

    At 6'8" and 225 pounds with wheels, Murray maximizes his tools and every ounce of mobility. NBA teams should have an easy time picturing his rim-running, offensive rebounding and defensive playmaking translating.

    The role-player qualities NBA teams look for are evident. He's constantly active by putting himself in the right position to make a play, whether it's in transition, as a cutter, put-back threat and off-ball shot-blocker. He rarely turns the ball over, showing high passing IQ and quick processing. 

    Murray will soar up draft boards with more of the face-up and ball-handling moves he's unleashed so far. There is far more upside than originally thought if he can create for himself to get to the rim and hit the catch-and-shoot corner and wing threes.

Marcus Sasser (Houston, PG, Junior)

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Second round

    Marcus Sasser has taken over Houston's offense with Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau having gone pro. And he's been awfully persuasive (23.3 points, 4.0 assists) while carving up defenses with his tight ball-handling, decisive change of direction and scoring off the dribble. 

    After making 2.7 threes per game last year, including a combined 10 between Houston's Elite Eight and Final Four games, Sasser has started off 12-of-25 this month from deep. His shooting feels real, and his advanced skill for creating space and hitting contested shots makes him look even more convincing as a pro prospect.

    Defenses are having trouble containing Sasser's change of direction. So far, he's capitalizing by getting to the free-throw line, setting up teammates and making his pull-ups (9-of-19) and floaters (3-of-3).

    At this point, it seems safe to assume that Sasser will continue to score at a high level in college. The growth he demonstrates as a passer and decision-maker will determine the amount of love NBA teams show. But the strong, 6'2", 195-pound guard looks poised to earn a spot on scouts' radar.

Julian Strawther (Gonzaga, SF, Sophomore)

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Late first to second round

    Being surrounded by future pros will naturally elevate a shooter and cutter like Julian Strawther. NBA teams could start to picture him thriving at the next level in the same role that he's playing for Gonzaga.

    At 6'7" and 205 pounds, he possesses textbook positional size and buyable three-point potential based on early results. He's shown a knack for positioning himself to earn an easy basket by moving without the ball or streaking down the floor in transition.

    His effort level so far has also been noticeable. Strawther already has seven offensive boards in three games, as he's been extremely active crashing the glass, making hustle plays and getting his hands on loose balls.

    Strawther isn't likely to get many opportunities to create in Gonzaga's loaded lineup. But his shot-making, off-ball production and defensive activity figure to help scouts see a fit as a role player.

Jabari Walker (Colorado, SF/PF, Sophomore)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Projected draft range: Late first to second round

    Flashes of skill versatility last season earned Jabari Walker a spot on breakout watch this year. His 24- point game against Georgetown in the NCAA tournament made the strongest impression.

    So far, he appears to have made the necessary improvements for a sophomore leap and NBA buzz. 

    The 6'9", 215-pound forward looks more confident and threatening with the ball. He's handling it more, including in the open floor to start breaks. Higher confidence has led to extra aggression as well, with Walker averaging 7.0 free-throw attempts in only 28.0 minutes per game.

    A handful of smart passes so far highlight a sharper read on the game. And he continues to pick up points by rim running and knocking down threes.

    Walker was active in the paint last year and shot 23-of-44 from deep as a 18-year-old freshman. Between his shot, nose for the basket and possible versatility to operate back-to-the-basket or facing it, Walker should already look like a popular breakout candidate to track.

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports Reference.