2022 Lottery Simulation and NBA Mock Draft: Who Would Blazers Take No. 1?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 10, 2022

2022 Lottery Simulation and NBA Mock Draft: Who Would Blazers Take No. 1?

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    The Portland Trail Blazers coming off their worst season since 2005-06 raises the stakes entering the lottery and 2022 NBA draft.

    Getting that top pick could launch them back on track by pairing Damian Lillard with a young star and making the team more attractive to free agents. Interim general manager Joe Cronin created extra cap flexibility after the CJ McCollum-Josh Hart trade, but with Lillard now 31 and returning from an injury that limited him to 29 games, the Blazers' window is now. 

    June 23 represents an important night for a franchise that has only added Nassir Little, Greg Brown and CJ Elleby over the past three drafts. The Blazers have a 9 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick and a 37.2 percent chance of jumping into the top four. 

    While Cronin has hinted about ignoring position and taking the best prospect available, there is a lot to like about the fits for the consensus top prospects in Portland. 

    With Lillard unlikely to go anywhere, Anfernee Simons (restricted free agent) and Hart (non-guaranteed contract) look like full-time starters at the 2 and 3. Then there is that glaring opening at power forward, a hole Cronin can potentially fill with another franchise player if the Blazers catch this break on lottery night.

    This is Part 2 of a five-part series of mock drafts with a different team winning the lottery each edition, courtesy of Tankathon. Part 1: New York Knicks; Part 3: New Orleans Pelicans; Part 4: Washington Wizards; Part 5: Oklahoma City Thunder.

1. Portland Trail Blazers: Jabari Smith (Auburn, PF, Freshman)

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    The Blazers are entering a critical period with the team rock-bottoming to 27 wins and Damian Lillard turning 32 this offseason. Assuming the front office has no plans of trading its franchise player, there will be a short window to build the roster back to playoff-caliber, and there won't be any margin for error in the draft or free agency.

    The Blazers would obviously benefit from a second star, and like any team that winds up with the first pick, the decision will surely come down to Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren. Given Smith's skill set, his fit at the 4 and Banchero and Holmgren's particular weaknesses, he'd be the best fit.

    With the league's No. 29 defense, Portland also ranked No. 23 in three-point percentage and still loved to get up threes (No. 12 in attempts). As a versatile, frontcourt defender who can slide with wings, Smith also just became one of two freshmen 6'9" or taller to make 70 threes, and the other, Dante Green, wasn't nearly as accurate or threatening off the dribble. Auburn's star 18-year-old shot 42 percent on 188 three-point attempts and 40 percent on 105 pull-ups, unheard of numbers for a 6'10" big.

    He also generated 75 points on 82 isolation possessions and 54 points on 60 post-ups, per Synergy Sports, showing the ability to separate with dribble moves and fallaways in one-on-one situations.

    Banchero would give the Blazers an immediate offensive boost as well, but as a 30-minute starter, he wouldn't improve the team's defensive trajectory or shooting.

    Holmgren makes plenty of sense on paper, mostly because of his rim protection and special defensive upside. The fear with Holmgren for this team revolves around how long it could take the 195-pound big man to become a consistent difference-maker. The only other 6'11"-plus NBA player under 200 pounds is Aleksej Pokusevski. 

    Compared to Smith, it's also reasonable to question how well Holmgren's shooting will translate early given the relatively small sample size of three-point attempts (3.3 per game), cold stretches and questionable free-throw percentages dating back to high school. 

    Smith would give Portland a different type of defensive asset valued for his perimeter coverage and switchability. The Blazers would still need to add a true rim protector, but it may be easier to find one than a three-and-D big who also creates for himself.

    With Smith, Portland can add a frontcourt player it can feature or use to space the floor for Lillard and Anfernee Simons. 

    Ultimately, each of the No. 1 overall candidates makes some sense for a Blazers team that needs more star power and frontcourt help. If the front office believes Banchero or Holmgren are the best long-term prospects, then that's all that really matters. But Smith has seemingly become a popular preferred option, as he checks the boxes of a high ceiling, zero risk thanks to three-and-D and easy fit, again for his shooting and defensive projection. 

2. Houston Rockets: Paolo Banchero (Duke, PF, Freshman)

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    Having the NBA's worst record should mean the Houston Rockets only think about drafting the best prospect available. But when it's too close to confidently call—and scouts sound split on Paolo Banchero versus Chet Holmgren—it's worth thinking about who's better suited to develop and elevate teammates based on the Rockets' roster and situation. 

    In this case, they could use another creator. And while Holmgren struggles to create in the half court, Banchero—who averaged 4.1 assists over Duke's last 14 games—is more effective in an on-ball, high-usage role compared to one where he's spotting up. 

    The Rockets could help Banchero unlock some of the point-forward potential he flashed in high school and college. Whereas Holmgren is more reliant on being set up off pick-and-pops/rolls, drive-and-kicks and dump-downs, Banchero would give the Rockets a No. 2 option who can create his own shot and set up teammates off transition, ball screens and perimeter or post passes.

    If the Rockets had a more reliable point guard with a track record for making the game easier for others, then Holmgren may have the more compelling case. But Banchero having the opportunity to handle and create—and give the Rockets a needed extra source of playmaking—makes too much sense at No. 2.

    Houston could think about him as Christian Wood's long-term replacement or a partnership built around versatile, inside-out scoring.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga, PF/C, Freshman)

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    Chet Holmgren could be the Oklahoma City Thunder's choice if they wind up winning the lottery. 

    It's tough to picture a more fitting, mutually beneficial partnership than Holmgren and Josh Giddey, whose passing IQ would make the game easier for the 7-footer by putting him in a position to catch and finish or shoot in rhythm. 

    For a team with an identity built around guard play, Holmgren also gives the Thunder a needed frontcourt cornerstone and defensive anchor to build around.

    Still, it's the combination of having creative, high-IQ ball-handlers, plus a green light to work on his half-court scoring, that makes Oklahoma City an attractive landing spot for Holmgren. 

4. New York Knicks: Jaden Ivey (Purdue, PG/SG, Sophomore)

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    With a 9.4 percent chance of jumping into the top four, the New York Knicks catch their break and get a chance to draft a guard with the explosiveness the lineup lacks. 

    Jaden Ivey would give the rotation a jolt of speed for rim pressure and breakdown penetration. His skill set isn't perfectly suited for a full-time point guard role, but it's still worth trying him out there after the improvement he's made creating and using his elusiveness to set up teammates.

    Either way, RJ Barrett could easily slide to the 3 if needed, which would allow Ivey to operate as a secondary ball-handler and the Knicks to continue their search for a more natural facilitator.  

    Ideally, the Knicks try to develop Ivey as their lead guard while starting either Immanuel Quickley or Quentin Grimes at the 2 and Barrett at small forward. 

5. Orlando Magic: Keegan Murray (Iowa, PF, Sophomore)

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    Loaded with young prospects, the Orlando Magic could favor Keegan Murray, a top-five scorer in the country who'll turn 22 in August.

    Assuming the improved shooting isn't fluky—and 39.8 percent on 166 three-point attempts feels like a convincing sample size—Murray looks NBA-ready with a skill set suited for Orlando's current roster.

    With offense expected to run through Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs, Murray can thrive as an off-ball scorer who eats off transition opportunities, cuts, rolls, screens and offensive rebounds. He'll give the Magic production without needing too many dribbles or plays called. 

    Orlando could also use him as a half-court weapon, as he became one of the nation's most efficient post players and an occasional threat out of isolation.

Late Lottery

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    6. Detroit Pistons: Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)

    The Pistons would love to grab one of the draft's top-three bigs, but Sharpe still comes off as an exciting backup plan for his athleticism and perimeter scoring between Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey. Given his 6'6" size, effortless bounce, self-creation flashes and persuasive shot-making, he may even be undervalued at No. 6, where he could still be available only because of a lack of tape and experience. 

    7. Indiana Pacers: AJ Griffin (Duke, SF, Freshman)

    The Pacers could experiment with the 6'6", 222-pound Griffin as a small-ball shooting 4 next to Myles Turner. Or they could use Buddy Hield in a sixth-man role and draft Griffin, a more efficient scorer with superior defensive tools. 

    8. Sacramento Kings: Jalen Duren (Memphis, C, Freshman)

    After trading for Domantas Sabonis to balance out the offense, the Kings could think rim protection and athleticism with Duren. They still haven't fixed their defensive problems (No. 27 in NBA), and given Richaun Holmes' down year on and off the floor, this may be too good of an opportunity to grab a physical center with a 7'5" wingspan and serious hops for easy baskets and shot-blocking.

    9. New Orleans Pelicans: Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite, PG/SG, 2003)

    Daniels could be a terrific fit in New Orleans as a 6'8", interchangeable guard who's valued for passing and defense. The Pelicans already have their key scorers in place and could use more versatility and glue between Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum.

    10. San Antonio Spurs: Johnny Davis (Wisconsin, SG, Sophomore)

    Considering Lonnie Walker IV (restricted free agent) hasn't made the jump, and it's difficult to know what the Spurs really have in 19-year-old Josh Primo, the team could have a tough time passing on Davis' shot creation, scoring potential and toughness. San Antonio hasn't been known to consider needs or position in the draft, and the Spurs wouldn't here with one of college hoops' most productive, impactful guards.

    11. Washington Wizards: Jeremy Sochan (Baylor, PF, Freshman)

    The Wizards' rotation could use more defensive-minded players, making Sochan an obvious target to consider in the late lottery. There isn't a more versatile defender in the draft in terms of positional switchability, and at 18 years old, he still flashed enough shot-making, passing and off-ball finishing to feel optimistic about him offering value on offense.

    12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Clippers): Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona, SG/SF, Sophomore)

    With Mathurin on the board at No. 12, the Thunder could see a needed, athletic shooter or simply the best player available. They could plug-and-play him on the wing, where he'd provide instant transition offense and shot-making.

    13. Charlotte Hornets: Mark Williams (Duke, C, Sophomore)

    Charlotte has likely already discussed Williams, given its glaring need for a rim protector and the sophomore's clear improvement and impact at Duke. 

    14. Cleveland Cavaliers: Ochai Agbaji (Kansas, SG/SF, Senior)

    The Cavaliers could see a shooting specialist in Agbaji, who'd also give them another transition weapon and competent wing defender.

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