Top NBA Draft Storylines in Epic 2022 Final Four MatchupsMarch 31, 2022
Top NBA Draft Storylines in Epic 2022 Final Four Matchups
Even after an entire season and four rounds of an NCAA tournament, NBA scouts and executives still have plenty of reasons to attend the Final Four.
Between Duke and Kansas, there could be up to seven first-round picks, including a No. 1 overall candidate and three others who'll generate interest from lottery teams.
We highlighted the biggest storylines to monitor for the 2022 NBA draft, plus the prospects who'll be trying to earn more fans and improve their stock.
Paolo Banchero Trying to Make a No. 1 Overall Case
Expected to be guarded by: Leaky Black, Brady Manek
What scouts want to see: Lead scoring, good decision-making, defensive effort
New Orleans figure to attract top decision-makers from the league's worst teams. Because even after 30-plus games, scouts still don't seem confident about how to rank Paolo Banchero on a board with Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren, Auburn's Jabari Smith and Purdue's Jaden Ivey.
However, if the NBA star hype for Banchero lost steam during the season, it's back heading into the Final Four. He's right in the mix at No. 1, averaging 18.7 points and 4.4 assists on 52.6 percent shooting and 44.4 percent from three since February 26.
Was it overthinking to downgrade Banchero for his love for the mid-range, iso-heavy game, catch-and-hold habits, flickering defensive motor or 7.6 box plus-minus, the fourth-best on Duke after Mark Williams, AJ Griffin and Wendell Moore Jr.?
It's starting to feel like it. Despite the one-on-one play and tendency to settle for contested shots, Banchero happens to be an outstanding isolation scorer (top 10 nationally in iso baskets) and two-point jumper shooter (43.8 percent). And he's clearly emphasized showcasing his point-forward skill and vision.
Banchero's ability to create for himself, play-make for teammates and shoot off the dribble is almost unheard of for a 6'10", 250-pound forward. And lately, he's looked more decisive when making decisions, shots, passing reads and late-game winning plays.
Banchero carrying Duke to a national title would obviously make it easier for NBA teams to picture their next lead scorer. Meanwhile, Jabari Smith's struggles inside the arc were evident in Auburn's loss to Miami, while Chet Holmgren's 195-pound frame remains a fear for a No. 1 overall pick.
Perception of Mark Williams' Potential NBA Value Changing
Expected to be guarded by: Armando Bacot
What scouts want to see: Impact, offensive flashes
There are levels to the finisher/shot-blocker center archetype, from Rudy Gobert to Clint Capela, Robert Williams III and Daniel Gafford. Earlier in the season, Mark Williams was viewed as one of the duplicable versions teams can find later in every draft or relatively cheaper in free agency. The narrative has started to change, however, with Williams' impact and masked skill becoming more evident.
He delivered some wow flashes over the past few rounds, including a late defensive stand against Texas Tech when he slid his feet with a driving Bryson Williams before swatting his running hook. Against Arkansas last round, he stripped JD Notae at half court, dribbled down the floor in a one-on-one race and euro-stepped into a layup.
His coordination looks different from most 7'1", 242-pounders who sport wingspans in the 7'7" range. It even shows on more basic finishes with how quickly he gets off the ground or fluidly he puts back a miss.
Williams has also executed some tougher shots that haven't been right at the rim, demonstrating promising touch from tougher angles. He's made 74.7 percent of his free throws, and though he hasn't taken many jumpers, the four-of-six he's hit tells us he's capable when given a chance.
He'll face off against the 6'10", 240-pound Armando Bacot in the Final Four, who's totaled 180 post-up points (85th percentile) in 37 games. Opponents are shooting just 31.9 percent against Williams in the post.
However, he struggled earlier in the month containing Bacot (23 points), who finished through and by Williams on multiple occasions.
While it would have been ideal to evaluate Williams against a smaller frontcourt who could test his lateral quickness, scouts will still be monitoring how strong he walls up against Bacot in the paint. If Duke and Kansas advance, Williams will go head-to-head with another powerful inside big in 250-pound David McCormack. Neither team runs pick-and-rolls often.
At this stage, we've seen enough evidence of top-tier finishing (99th percentile cuts, 96th percentile transition, 91st percentile rolls) and rim protection (11.6 block percentage) with elite tools for Williams to all but guarantee a spot in the 2022 first round. He's also been the primary driving force behind a handful of Duke wins this season.
Williams dominating a Final Four game or two with his two-way presence around the basket—while also teasing scouts with some post moves, counters and touch shots—could lead to lottery teams seeing a quality NBA starter and not just a replaceable, athletic dunker.
Analyzing AJ Griffin's Rise, Potential Trajectory
Expected to be guarded by: Brady Manek, Leaky Black
What scouts want to see: Multidimensional offense
AJ Griffin has taken at least four threes in 20 games and shot over 40 percent in 15 of them. Incredible shooting consistency has helped paint the freshman as arguably the class' most convincing shooter, who also sports Jaylen Brown's physical measurements (6'6", 222 pounds, 7'0" wingspan) at 18 years old.
He's coming off an 18-point game against Arkansas in which he showcased a little more scoring versatility than he had been. And that's what scouts want to see—drives and cuts into paint-finishing opportunities and off-the-dribble shot-making.
In February, he erupted for a season-high 27 points against North Carolina, mostly by shooting over or driving by a slower-footed Brady Manek. During Duke's loss to the Tar Heels in March, however, he finished with just five shot attempts. With 48.2 percent of his offense coming out of spot-ups, he can be vulnerable to those types of quiet games while Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore Jr., Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach get the creation reps.
For most of the year, Griffin has done a nice job of staying patient, playing to his strengths and taking what the defense gives up. He still seems like a near top-10 lock in the draft despite taking just 7.6 shots a game. His shooting/touch profile is off-the-charts impressive: 45.8 percent from three, 47.8 percent on standstill spot-ups, 46.0 percent on pull-ups, 62.5 percent off screens, 44.4 percent on runners and 77.6 percent on free throws.
However, he lacks a degree of explosiveness for a wing. He relies more on his size, length and release point for creating separation than shiftiness or blow-by burst. Spotting up, he's just 4-of-16 on drives past closeouts.
Scouts will want to see more three-level scoring and assertiveness to help squash the notion or possibility that Griffin projects as just a catch-and-shoot/finish complementary player.
Ochai Agbaji the Next Lottery Senior, Immediate NBA Contributor
Expected to be guarded by: Caleb Daniels, Jermaine Samuels, Brandon Slater
What scouts want to see: Signature shot-making, efficiency
Between the improved percentages, lead-role success and Kansas' Final Four run, Ochai Agbaji has positioned himself to be the next senior NBA teams view as an immediate contributor. He's on the verge of following Chris Duarte, Corey Kispert, Desmond Bane and Cameron Johnson as an older prospect teams can bank on for rookie-contract shooting.
His last game against Miami (18 points, 8-of-12) was noteworthy, considering he entered it converting just 36.1 percent of his field goals over Kansas' previous 10 games. He found his groove in the Elite Eight, drilling quick-release jumpers off spot-ups and movement, getting out in the open floor and slashing through gaps.
He'll have a challenge against Villanova, who's been one of the better teams defending spot-ups (80th percentile) and transition. Even without an injured Justin Moore, the Wildcats' senior wings and forwards have solid size between 6'4", 210-pound Caleb Daniels, 6'7", 230-pound Jermaine Samuels and 6'7", 220-pound Brandon Slater.
Agbaji struggles to create or score off the dribble, having converted just 24.7 percent of his pull-ups, made 1-of-8 shots out of isolation and shot 35.4 percent as a pick-and-roll scorer.
But at this stage of his college career, scouts have accepted his limitations. They value his strengths for off-ball shot-making and finishing, which appear translatable and valuable to the right rotations.
NBA teams would love for Kansas to advance and play Duke in the championship game, where he'd face pro-sized defenders Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, scouts still expect an NBA team to scoop up Agbaji somewhere in the No. 11-20 range on draft night.
Wendell Moore Jr. (Duke, SG/SF, Junior)
Latest mock draft projection: No. 24
From a scouting perspective, Wendell Moore Jr.'s improved three-point shooting (41.1 percent) and playmaking (4.4 assists) have created enough versatility to make up for his lack of one signature strength that NBA teams can bank on. He gives Duke a little of everything each game, whether it's playmaking, spot-up scoring or perimeter defense.
NBA teams will value his fit and interchangeability over his upside. They should feel comfortable with his ability to make a play in different roles or actions. He's adaptable and has proven he can be used to facilitate in the half court and initiate fast breaks or play off the ball to catch-and-shoot or attack closeouts.
Moore consistently helps Duke's offense run, and on this stage, continuing to play a key role by creating opportunities and efficiently finishing them should highlight first-round caliber versatility.
Christian Braun (Kansas, SF, Junior)
Latest mock draft projection: No. 27
Christian Braun has turned himself into a potential first-round prospect by improving his shooting efficiency from deep (39.2 percent), finishing (54.6 percent 2PT) and ability to make plays off the dribble (81st percentile pick-and-roll ball-handler).
There are still some questions about whether he's a threatening-enough creator or if his limited pull-up game (33 attempts) and low-volume threes (3.3 attempts per game) are worrisome.
Still, at 6'7", 218 pounds, he possesses translatable tools and athleticism for transition scoring and defense. And after struggling in ball-screen situations last year (51 points on 71 possessions), this season, he's generated 109 points (97 possessions) as a scorer and passer.
He'll face a pair of strong Villanova forwards in Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater, but Braun should have an advantage with his speed and versatility. A matchup with Duke's AJ Griffin would be the scouts' ultimate wish.
Trevor Keels (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
Latest mock draft projection: No. 35
Scouts have shown interest in Keels' solid 6'5", 221-pound frame and skill versatility, but they question his athleticism and skill level, particularly for scoring.
He's been best in ball-screen situations (89th percentile), using hesitation and strength to finish downhill or passing IQ to set up teammates. On the other hand, he's not a sharp self-creator without a screen, and he's struggled to convert off the ball, appearing shaky as a catch-and-shooter (29.8 percent) and limited explosively attacking closeouts (3-of-12).
But with 52 three-point makes and tough defensive tools, he clearly has an appealing foundation for an 18-year-old guard who can pass.
Realistically, the best way to help himself in the Final Four will be by shooting well and really emphasizing his positional strength for finishing through contact and defending.
Armando Bacot (North Carolina, C, Junior)
North Carolina's leading scorer, Armando Bacot, has been tough around the basket off post-ups, rolls, cuts and offensive rebounds. He gave Duke's Mark Williams problems earlier in the month when he made 10 of his 11 field-goal attempts. Bacot is strong after contact below the rim, and he does a nice job avoiding shot-blocking on finishes above the rim.
NBA franchises might not see a fit for a 6'10" center who's a limited athlete, shooter, passer, ball-handler and defender. International teams may admire his inside presence, though returning to North Carolina and adding some shooting touch would presumably be scouts' recommendation.
Collin Gillespie (Villanova, PG, Senior)
With backcourt partner Justin Moore out for the Kansas game, Gillespie will have a huge workload to showcase his ball-handling and advanced perimeter-scoring skills. He's made 72 pull-ups in 37 games while shooting 40.9 percent from three.
Athletically, he's limited to the point where he hasn't had a dunk or block over the past two seasons. It's tough to picture Gillespie on an NBA floor, though his shooting and passing IQ should earn him a chance to make a training camp out of summer league.
Caleb Love (North Carolina, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Love's 30 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16 served as a reminder of his scoring potential. It will also be difficult for NBA teams to ignore that he shot a scary 37.2 percent inside the arc for the season.
His positional size/athleticism and shot-making off the catch and dribble remain intriguing. And another takeover performance, this time against Duke, could help teams try to forget about his inefficiency.
Ideally, though, Love returns to fine-tune his decision-making and figure out how to start finishing more plays in the paint.
Brady Manek (North Carolina, PF, Senior)
During Manek's freshman year, he was one of Trae Young's favorite targets at Oklahoma. Now he's one of the key cogs in North Carolina's Final Four run, having averaged 21.5 points through four tournament games.
For NBA teams, the obvious draw to Manek is his stretch-4 potential. The 6'9" senior has made a career 327 threes on 38.1 percent shooting. It's possible more lethal shooting this weekend could help sway an NBA team to take a chance or make a quick post-draft phone call to get him for summer league.
Jeremy Roach (Duke, PG, Sophomore)
Jeremy Roach has given Duke an extra jolt of creation and playmaking this tournament. For a 6'2", below-the-rim guard, he doesn't offer NBA teams enough shooting or scoring skills at the moment.
He'd be in a good position to come back and boost his 2023 draft stock, however, as Duke will be reloading with star-caliber freshman wings and bigs but no point guard. He'd be the lead ball-handler surrounded by talent, assuming Wendell Moore Jr. and Trevor Keels both leave.
Jermaine Samuels (Villanova, PF, Senior)
Jermaine Samuels has had a strong tournament, averaging 17.5 points through four rounds. He's strong and tough at 6'7", 230 pounds, with the versatility to drive, post up and play the roller in ball-screen situations.
He'll still have a tough time generating second-round interest at 23 years old without plus athletic traits or having shot well from three (27.5 percent) as a fifth-year senior. He could be a target for teams overseas.
Jalen Wilson (Kansas, SF, Sophomore)
Jalen Wilson's draft stock has taken a hit—he has regressed as a perimeter shooter (26.4 percent 3PT) and has had trouble hitting shots this tournament (34.0 percent from the field). Nonetheless, Wilson has been more effective inside the arc (58.0 percent) this season, mostly by making off-ball plays as an offensive rebounder and cutter. He just won't be taken seriously by NBA teams until he improves that three-ball.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports Reference.