When the Orlando Magic hands over their draft card to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, they’ll settle a dispute that’s been raging in draft circles for most of the year: who should be number one. 1 choice?
The leader is Chet Holmgren Gonzaghi, a lean but burly seven-footer who can shoot, dribble, pass and defend with aplomb. But there’s a strong case for both Auburn big man Jabari Smith, who spent last season scoring seemingly impossible shots, and Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a creative shotmaker who’s as polished in the paint as he is on the perimeter.
“All three are incredibly talented,” said Jonathan Zhivoni, founder of scouting service DraftExpress and NBA draft analyst at ESPN. “This draft has some really great players at the top and very good depth.”
Here are five more perspectives to know.
6’11”, 223 lbs, forward, Mega Mozzart (Serbia)
People ask Nikola Jovic about Nikola Jokic all time. And it makes sense. Jovic and the Denver Nuggets star have quite a lot in common: they are both Serbian big men who played for the same club Mega Mozzart, and their surnames are separated by only one letter. But the comparison doesn’t deter Jovic, who is expected to be the first international player to be selected on Thursday.
“People talk about it all the time,” he said. “I’m really at peace with it. I think it’s pretty funny also because the chances of something like this happening are very small. At the same time, I feel good because people are comparing me to a two-time league MVP.”
As a child, Jovic wanted to be a professional water polo player. He spent summers with his mother in Montenegro and loved to swim in the Adriatic Sea. When he was 13 years old, his father introduced him to basketball. What started as a backyard hobby soon became an obsession and profession. “I got bigger and bigger,” Jovic said, “and it was pretty easy to figure out that basketball would be a better choice than water polo.”
While many NBA teams have been following European stars since their early teens, Jovic didn’t become a celebrity on the draft boards until he burst onto the field. Next Generation Adidas Tournament in Belgrade in March 2021. Offensively, he can turn into a fourth player who can throw triples, drive fast breaks and make smart passes. He said he’s open to staying in Europe after the draft, but hopes to get on a team that wants him to play right away.
“Even if I have to play in the G-League, it’s cool,” he said, referring to the NBA development league. “But right now I think what’s perfect for me is the NBA.”
6’9″ 221 lb Striker Overtime Elite
When NBA evaluators visited the Overtime Elite this year, they looked to the future. The starting league has potential top 10 players in the 2023 and 2024 drafts. But one player from the 2022 draft class took advantage of all that extra scouting attention and went from a surprise 3-star high school prospect to a potential first-round draft pick: Dominic Barlow.
“The fact that this was the first year of OTE intrigued the scouts,” said 19-year-old Barlow. “And once the scouts were in the building, they could see what I could do.”
Barlow played for Dumont High School, a small public high school in Dumont, New Jersey. He didn’t get involved in the powerful Amateur Athletic Union program until the summer before his senior year, when a New York Renaissance coach spotted him playing in a public park. . In September, he surprised most basketball insiders when he left prep and turned down several big offers to sign with the Overtime Elite. It offers a six-figure salary to boys and men basketball players who are in at least the first grade of high school.
Barlow hopes his story will inspire other undervalued players to keep going. “I came in as a three-star kid and I’m leaving NBA draft pick. Some 5-star kids find it hard to get into the NBA a year out of high school,” he said.
6’8″ 225 lb forward Iowa
When Keegan and Chris Murray were recruiting for the college basketball team, the twin brothers told every coach that they weren’t a package deal. Their father, Kenyon, played college basketball in Iowa in the early 1990s, and he encouraged each of them to find their own path.
Their father’s faith and knowledge helped the brothers remain cheerful even as they ended their high school careers with just one scholarship offer to Western Illinois, a Major League school that never competed in the NCAA Division I tournament.
“Having a DI player as your coach to teach you everything and guide you through the hiring process is very rewarding,” Keegan, 21, said of his father, who was an assistant on his high school team in Iowa. “He told us we were going to be professionals and we believed him.”
After turning down an offer from Western Illinois and moving to Florida for a year at a prep school, Keegan and Chris signed with their father’s alma mater, Iowa. Keegan showed remarkable performance as a rookie and began to garner hype in the NBA draft, but he wasn’t considered a top-notch talent until last season. As a sophomore Murray became the top scorer among the players of the Power 5 conference, he had second most rebounds in the Big Tenand he threw 55.4 percent from the field and a solid 39.8 percent from 3.
“He’s been the top scoring player in college basketball this year,” Zivoni said, adding that he’s good in transition and defense. “Everyone is looking for a player like him.”
Keegan is expected to be in the top five, while Chris has decided to return to Iowa for another season. “Thinking about where I was three years ago and where I am now is surreal,” Keegan said. “I didn’t always know where and when all that hard work would pay off, but I knew it would pay off in the end.”
6’3″ 179 lb guard Toledo
Ryan Rollins heard people say that he should have returned to the University of Toledo for his junior season. With another year of experience, he could be a likely first round pick in 2023. But Rollins dismisses the idea. He sees no reason to wait.
“I feel like one of the best players in the draft,” Rollins said. “If I don’t get picked in the first round, it’s okay. In the long run, I will play very well in this league for a very long time. Whenever and wherever I go, I will be proud to be there.”
A native of Detroit, Rollins played on the acclaimed AAU program The Family. But the stacked list, combined with some nagging injuries and his decision to go to college early, kept him in the shadow of the recruiting radar. “I always had the notion that I was where I was for a reason,” he said. “I continued to work, tried to improve my skills. I didn’t worry about basketball politics. I knew if I was good enough, the NBA would find me.”
In his two seasons at Toledo, he became the best mid-range player, with smooth play, smooth footwork, and deadly mid-range play. Now he is likely to be selected in the second round with the potential to make it to the first round. But he’s more concerned about what he’ll do when he arrives in the NBA. He hopes he can be the next mid-man to become a superstar.
He is inspired by former NBA midfielders such as Ja Morant (Murray State), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh University).
“They went to small schools but were able to make a name for themselves,” Rollins said. “I feel like I’m next.”
6’5″, 198 lbs, security guard, Kentucky
There is no player more mysterious in the 2022 draft than Shaydon Sharp. Although listed as a prospect from Kentucky, Sharp was never a good fit for the Wildcats. In fact, he didn’t compete in basketball for almost a year.
The Ontario, Canada native moved to Kansas to play for Sunrise Christian Academy in his sophomore year of high school before moving to Arizona Dream City Christian in 2020 for his junior season when he missed the class in 2022. UPlay Canada’s performance in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League last summer caught everyone’s attention. The tournament is often a testing ground for future NBA stars, and Sharp averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 28.3 minutes per game over 12 games.
Sharp graduated from high school a year early and entered Kentucky that spring. Although there were rumors that he would join the team on the court or return in the 2022-23 season, he entered the NBA draft instead. And there’s a good reason for that: he’s almost certain to make the top 10.
“In terms of physical ability and sheer talent, it’s all there,” Zivoni said. “He’s a dynamic shot, an aggressive defender and a smart passer.”
NBA teams couldn’t get much out of him, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan, explosive athleticism, and polished shot could have most non-top-five NBA teams willing to take risks.