2022 NBA Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions as March Madness Tips off

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 16, 2022

2022 NBA Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions as March Madness Tips off

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    March Madness always represents an opportunity for prospects to strengthen their NBA draft cases with the stakes high.

    And this year, the heavy majority of our first-round projects will be participating in the NCAA tournament.

    The board usually looks different after the Final Four, but here are Bleacher Report's predictions heading into the most crucial stretch of the season.

    The draft order was based on the standings heading into Tuesday, March 15.

Top Five

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    1. Houston Rockets: Jabari Smith (Auburn, PF, Freshman)

    Winners of just two games since February 4, the Rockets suddenly have the league's worst record. And Smith, who's still 18 years old, has continued to strengthen his case as a No. 1 pick by averaging 23.7 points on 51.1 percent shooting from three over Auburn's last seven games. With Jalen Green starting to come alive and show why Houston picked him No. 2, the Rockets could follow up by drafting Smith to build around two special shot-makers—one in the backcourt and the other up front.


    2. Orlando Magic: Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga, PF/C, Freshman)

    Holmgren has recently had a few quiet games that highlighted a lack of self-creation and physicality. And with Smith, who's a full year younger, lighting up college basketball, it could cause the lottery winner to hesitate just enough on Gonzaga's big man. However, the Magic would have a tough time passing on Holmgren's potential two-way impact. He's already recorded 40 threes and 104 blocks with an NCAA tournament run in front of him. Plus, a 7-footer who's 18-of-24 scoring as a transition ball-handler just feels too rare and enticing. 


    3. Detroit Pistons: Paolo Banchero (Duke, PF, Freshman)

    Banchero's passing has popped more over the past month, a good sign for a prospect teams will want to run offense through. His shooting will come last, though he's made enough threes (34) to feel optimistic about Banchero eventually giving a team like the Pistons a regular perimeter threat. In the meantime, with outstanding mid-range and post scoring skill, plus some point-forward playmaking ability, he'd be a fitting eventual replacement for Jerami Grant and a strong No. 2 option next to Cade Cunningham.


    4. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jaden Ivey (Purdue, PG/SG, Sophomore)

    The Thunder will think about Keegan Murray, who'll look like the best fit among qualified candidates at No. 4. They'll also likely make an effort to jump into the top three for either Smith, Holmgren or Banchero. But in this spot, the perception is that Ivey will be the best available prospect with more star potential than Murray due to his elite explosiveness, budding playmaking and improved shooting for a prospect who turned 20 last month. Murray will turn 22 in August.


    5. Indiana Pacers: Keegan Murray (Iowa, PF, Sophomore)

    Murray has looked like college basketball's toughest cover, though it's the three-point shooting that could push him into the draft's top-five mix. He's made 22 threes over Iowa's last seven games, turning Murray into a 40.5 percent three-point shooter on the season. Otherwise, between his off-ball scoring, defensive tools, motor, instincts and overall two-way versatility, he figures to be an easy fit, even if the self-creation flashes don't fully carry over.

Nos. 6-10

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    6. Sacramento Kings: Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)

    Sharpe could ride the mystery wave and sway the Kings to gamble on upside over production. He won't play a game at Kentucky, but that won't stop teams from becoming enticed by explosive bounce and shot-making that pops in high school tape and will pop in workouts.


    7. San Antonio Spurs: AJ Griffin (Duke, SF/PF, Freshman)

    Griffin's outstanding physical profile (6'6", 222 lbs) and shooting (46.7 percent) hint at a high floor and easy fit. He hasn't flashed as much explosion, self-creation or playmaking (1.0 assist per game), but for an 18-year-old, his shot-making and room to improve are worth betting on at No. 7 overall.


    8. Portland Trail Blazers: Johnny Davis (Wisconsin, SG, Sophomore)

    Some of Davis' limitations separating and shooting have been exposed over the past week. But for the majority of the season, he's still produced and won games with a convincing mix of quick dribble moves, power drives, physical finishing, mid-range shot-making, clutch three-balls and competitive defense. Though Davis might not project as the No. 1 option he's been at Wisconsin, he's too well-rounded to nitpick.


    9. New York Knicks: TyTy Washington Jr. (Kentucky, PG/SG, Freshman)

    The Knicks could look at Jalen Duren if they aren't prepared to overpay Mitchell Robinson in free agency. But they be more enticed by the idea of finding a potential lead guard like Washington, an efficient three-level scorer whose playmaking potential sometimes feels masked by the presence of Sahvir Wheeler. Heading into the NCAA tournament, Washington has made 42 pull-ups (38.9 percent), 57.8 percent of his floaters and 62.5 percent of his rim finishes while totaling 119 assists to 49 turnovers.


    10. Portland Trail Blazers (via Pelicans): Jalen Duren (Memphis, C, Freshman)

    A 21-point, 20-rebound effort last week became the signature game of Duren's season. It highlighted his ferocious, above-the-rim finishing, as well as his potential to offer more as a post scorer and passer. Still, the Blazers would target Duren for his rim protection and overall defensive presence. In a potential round-of-32 matchup against Gonzaga, a big game against Chet Holmgren could help sway more NBA teams, despite the fact that he isn't a modern, skilled center.

Nos. 11-15

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    11. Memphis Grizzlies (via Lakers): Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona, SG, Sophomore)

    Mathurin should look NBA-ready with his 6'6" frame, explosiveness and shot-making confidence. Given his limitations as a creator, he'd thrive alongside a point guard like Ja Morant who can draw attention and set the table.


    12. Washington Wizards: Tari Eason (LSU, PF, Sophomore)

    Scoring versatility and defensive toughness could help Eason draw lottery looks. At 6'8", 216 pounds, he stands out for his ability to face up and drive, outwork opponents at the rim, guard multiple positions and make plays on the ball defensively.  


    13. Charlotte Hornets: Jeremy Sochan (Baylor, PF, Freshman)

    Sochan could be highlighted on the Hornets' board if they choose to prioritize defense. Guarding different positions and switching will be his NBA calling guard, though he's flashed enough shooting, passing and off-ball scoring instincts to feel good about his all-around versatility. 


    14. Atlanta Hawks: Ochai Agbaji (Kansas, SG/SF, Senior)

    The Hawks could view Agbaji as an immediate three-and-D rotational wing. He'd be a strong fit in Atlanta as a scorer and shot-maker who feeds off catch-and-shoot and transition opportunities. 


    15. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Clippers): MarJon Beauchamp (G League Ignite, SF, 2000)

    Beauchamp earned fans during his G League stint by scoring efficiently within the flow and flashing translatable defensive tools for guarding both forward spots. Shooting will be a key swing skill, but he still managed to impact games for the Ignite as a play finisher, ball-mover and defender.

Nos. 16-20

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    16. Houston Rockets (via Nets): Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee, PG, Freshman)

    Coming off a strong conference tournament resulting in a Tennessee SEC championship, Chandler is starting to make a case for teams to buy his speed, finishing crafty, playmaking and defense. The challenge is still getting them to overlook his 6'0", 171-pound frame, 29.9 percent off-the-dribble shooting and 61.1 percent free-throw mark. However, the Rockets could still value his ability to break down defenses while betting on clear passing and shot-making skill.


    17. San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors): Kendall Brown (Baylor, SF, Freshman)

    The Pacers could see Brown as the type of non-skill forward who can impact games with his athleticism, defense, energy and IQ. He won't score a lot early, but he'll still add value by generating easy baskets, passing and guarding the perimeter.


    18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Blake Wesley (Notre Dame, SG, Freshman)

    Wesley's ups should outweigh the downs in the Nos. 15-30 range. Despite signs that he's still on the raw side, teams remain intrigued by his 6'5" frame, quickness off the dribble, shot-making flashes and defensive length for guarding or getting into passing lanes.


    19. Indiana Pacers (via Cavaliers): Malaki Branham (Ohio State, SG, Freshman)

    Entering the NCAA tournament shooting 42.5 percent from three and 46.2 percent on two-point jumpers, Branham has gradually built steam as a three-level scoring first-round prospect. Skill and a sense of maturity/poise make it easier to look past his average athletic traits.


    20. San Antonio Spurs (via Celtics): Patrick Baldwin Jr. (Milwaukee, SF/PF, Freshman)

    With three first-round picks, the Spurs may wind up moving some around. Baldwin figures to crack their radar regardless with his shot-making for a 6'9" forward. He didn't produce this year like a typical first-round pick, but after drafting Josh Primo, the Spurs have shown they are willing to overlook numbers for long-term potential flashes.

Nos. 21-30

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    21. Denver Nuggets: Mark Williams (Duke, C, Sophomore)

    With spectacular length for above-the-rim finishing and shot-blocking, Williams could give Denver a different look from Nikola Jokic. 


    22. Chicago Bulls: E.J. Liddell (Ohio State, PF, Junior)

    Liddell's improved shooting and defensive coverage/playmaking have helped convinced scouts not to worry as much about a 6'7", 240-pound, post-up-heavy big. 


    23. Brooklyn Nets (via 76ers): Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite, PG/SG, 2003)

    Two-way versatility has become Daniels' selling point—not necessarily scoring or upside. Improving his shooting remains a priority, but even without a reliable jumper, he's proved he can impact games by passing, rebounding and creating turnovers.


    24. Memphis Grizzlies (via Jazz): Christian Braun (Kansas, SG/SF, Junior)

    Scouts have started to picture a pro in Braun, who's up to 37.7 percent from three and has been far more effective using his 6'6" frame and athleticism for attacking and defending.


    25. Dallas Mavericks: Nikola Jovic (Mega Leks, SF, 2003)

    A 22-point effort for Jovic on March 6, when he hit five threes and delivered five assists, highlighted the creation and shot-making potential that makes the 6'10", 18-year-old a first-round option.


    26. Milwaukee Bucks: Walker Kessler (Auburn, C, Sophomore)

    Kessler's shot-blocking alone figures to earn him first-round consideration. Whether he can be valuable enough to win a starting job may come down to his shooting development, given his lack of athleticism, speed and scoring skill.


    27. Miami Heat: Jean Montero (Overtime Elite, PG, 2003)

    Scouts sound unsure how to assess Montero playing against high school competition. But the eye test still sees translatable playmaking and streak scoring based on his quickness off the dribble, passing flashes and shot-making confidence.


    28. Memphis Grizzlies: Bryce McGowens (Nebraska, SG, Freshman)

    McGowens won't be playing in the NCAA tournament, but with six 25-point games this season, he flashed enough creation and scoring for a 6'7" freshman wing to go in the 20s.


    29. Golden State Warriors: Jaden Hardy (G League Ignite, SG, 2002)

    Hardy's inefficiency and feel in the G League raised questions and leaves him vulnerable on draft boards during March Madness. He's still an appealing buy-low pick based on the self-creation, secondary playmaking and shooting flashes for a productive 19-year-old against pros.


    30. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Suns): Christian Koloko (Arizona, C, Junior)

    With Arizona a strong No. 1 seed and candidate to last deep into March or April, Koloko will have a good chance to showcase his value as a rim-runner, shot-blocker and switch defender.


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports-Reference.com