The NBA Draft is just a few hours away, and teams will soon be on the clock selecting what could be their franchise cornerstones of the future. As determined by the NBA Draft Lottery last month, the Orlando Magic won the right to the No. 1 pick Thursday. Following them will be the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings.
Will the Magic select Jabari Smith Jr. and make him the first No. 1 pick in Auburn history? Or will there be a draft-night surprise with Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren or Duke’s Paolo Banchero going first overall?
The Athletic is here to answer that and more ahead of what draft expert Sam Vecenie calls “as unpredictable a draft as I can remember.” With that said, let’s take a look at how our reporters see Thursday night turning out.
1. Orlando Magic
Jabari Smith Jr. | 6-10 forward | 19 years old | Auburn
It was definitely a struggle to choose between Smith and Chet Holmgren, so I can almost imagine how Jeff Weltman and John Hammond feel. The Magic choose Smith here and stick with the player they’ve been tied to most since lottery night. Smith is a smooth shooter and athlete, especially for his size.
The Magic need a player who can become the No. 1 offensive option, and Smith fits that label as a super-sized perimeter threat. He’ll make for an easy fit with the rest of the roster, though that doesn’t really matter because if Smith hits his ceiling, Orlando will only have to worry about how the rest of the roster fits around him. — Mike Vorkunov
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Chet Holmgren | 7-1 center | 20 years old | Gonzaga
I am taking Holmgren at No. 2. The Thunder are in the second draft of their rebuild and have a lot of needs, and Holmgren fills a few of those. He is an elite rim protector and has some switchability on the perimeter. He can be the fulcrum of the Thunder defense for years to come. Offensively, he is a terror in transition, which fits the way coach Mark Daigneault wants to play.
You can also picture Holmgren as a play finisher at the rim and from 3 with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey running the offense. Holmgren is one of the bigger swings in the draft, and it will require some patience as his body matures, but this could be a big payoff for the Thunder as they look to get back on top. — Andrew Schlecht
3. Houston Rockets
Paolo Banchero | 6-10 forward | 19 years old | Duke
Banchero to Houston just feels like a match made in heaven. If the Rockets taking Jalen Green last year was the engine of this rebuild, Banchero’s arrival has the potential to be the steering wheel.
Offensively, Banchero’s going to be a nightly mismatch. He’s got the size at 6-10 and is a savvy three-level scorer with a penchant for playmaking — his IQ alone raises the floor of this team overnight. Head coach Stephen Silas watched from the sidelines last season as his young team struggled with half-court execution. With Banchero in tow, perhaps his deep X’s-and-O’s bag opens up a bit more. Defensively, Banchero isn’t quite up to speed yet, but that can come with time and development.
In three years, we’re going to look at a Rockets team that features two 20-point scorers, like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in Boston or Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles. So, did Houston get better? Of course it did. Onto next season. — Kelly Iko
4. Sacramento Kings
Jaden Ivey | 6-4 guard | 20 years old | Purdue
Do the Kings really need Ivey with De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell already on the roster? Probably not. Would Keegan Murray fill more of a need? He probably would. But barring a trade, the Kings cannot afford to play it safe, and they need to take the best player available. Ivey might be a lead guard, but the Kings have already messed up in a major way by passing on a playmaker to keep the ball in Fox’s hands (you might have heard of some guy named Luka Dončić who’s off to a nice start to his career in Dallas).
This would be the third straight year general manager Monte McNair has taken a point guard in the lottery, but he’s already traded Tyrese Haliburton, and with a lack of backcourt depth, a Fox-Ivey starting backcourt is something to work with for now and gives the Kings another trade asset. — Jason Jones
Keegan Murray | 6-8 forward | 21 years old | Iowa
There is part of me that feels like Bennedict Mathurin could be Detroit’s pick in this scenario, but, ultimately, I’m going to stick to my gut and pick Murray, who has long had fans in Detroit. Murray should be able to come in and be impactful right away while still holding upside for the future despite his age. Murray has gotten significantly better every year since being a sophomore in high school, so I don’t buy that he doesn’t have more room to grow.
The addition of Murray obviously fills a void left by the Jerami Grant trade, as both play the same position. Detroit should be able to collect another asset or two in doing so. Back to Murray, who was the best scorer in college basketball last season, I think he’ll be a low-maintenance player in the NBA, one who can score in a variety of ways and doesn’t need the ball to be impactful. He, too, should be able to punish switches at the NBA level.
Murray is also a good cutter and spot-up shooter. He tends to make the right play more often than not. Lastly, I think he has sneaky athleticism. Murray fits right into what the Pistons are building from a roster and culture standpoint. — James Edwards III
Bennedict Mathurin | 6-6 wing | 19 years old | Arizona
If we’re assuming the Pacers don’t successfully move up in the draft and grab either Ivey or Murray, I’m thinking Mathurin is the guy right here. The Pacers were very impressed by both Mathurin and Dyson Daniels in their personal workouts in Indianapolis, but Mathurin feels like the choice. He’s a 6-6 wing with the ability to slash and finish at the rim, and he’s a solid shooter from the perimeter.
At this point, the Pacers are exceedingly thin at the wing position, and Mathurin fits the bill for a team that is likely to look a whole lot different after Thursday’s draft. Malcolm Brogdon is likely a goner, and there’s a lot of talk that Myles Turner, who is in the final year of his deal, may be moved. Mathurin is a high-upside player who should provide immediate help for a team that is drafting in the top seven for the first time since 1989 (George McCloud). — Bob Kravitz
Shaedon Sharpe | 6-6 forward | 18 years old | Kentucky
Is this a risky pick? Maybe. Is it a moonshot? Definitely. Everyone’s risk tolerance is a little different when it comes to the draft, but for this make-believe GM, it’s not worth drafting in the lottery if you’re not trying to land a star. Sharpe has star potential. Will he hit it? Who knows.
There’s no such thing as a safe pick in the draft, so if that’s your baseline, then it’s definitely worth it to start taking shots. Sharpe is the former No. 1 player in his recruiting class, he has the blue-blood pedigree from Kentucky even if he never played there and, most importantly, he has the size and skill and capability to become a very good player.
The Trail Blazers are trying to bridge the present and future, but what could make Damian Lillard happier than if he discovers he might have a young future All-Star for a teammate about 40 games into next season? What a way this would be for Joe Cronin to make his mark in his first draft. — Mike Vorkunov
8. New Orleans Pelicans (from Lakers)
Dyson Daniels | 6-7 wing | 19 years old | G League Ignite
The Pelicans would be delighted if things played out like this on draft night. The front office in New Orleans loves what Daniels can bring to this current core, and his skill set would be a perfect fit next to CJ McCollum, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
There are some questions about Daniels’ outside shot and if he’ll be able to hit open jumpers the way Mathurin or Sharpe can. But Daniels provides so much on the floor that it won’t matter early in his career. He has the potential to be an elite on-ball defender at the guard position, and his basketball IQ is through the roof for a player who just turned 19 a few months ago. He’s the exact kind of role player you’d want to complement the stars New Orleans has at the top of its roster. —Will Guillory
Jalen Duren | 6-11 center | 18 years old | Memphis
It is no surprise the franchise has yet to find its replacement for a Hall-of-Fame, face-of-the-franchise center in Tim Duncan. I don’t know what deal Gregg Popovich and the Spurs made, with which demon, to find Duncan to carry the torch while David Robinson was still on the roster. Finding the next standard bearer takes time.
By the way, taking Duren at No. 9 does not make him necessarily the next Spur every NBA fan is going to know. But Duren is probably the best big man in this draft, can be an immediate threat as a shot blocker and rim runner – two highly valuable skills in the modern game – and is the right pick here with Jakob Poeltl entering the final year of his contract. — Joe Vardon
AJ Griffin | 6-6 forward | 18 years old | Duke
I think the Wizards would have preferred Mathurin, Daniels or Sharpe, but this is the problem of picking 10th — all of those guys are off the board. I’d be tempted to draft Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan here because of his defensive capabilities, but Griffin already has shown signs of being an elite long-range shooter and shot maker.
At Duke, Griffin made nearly 45 percent of his 3s on four attempts a game. I have significant concerns about his defensive want-to, but at some point, a team has to rely on its coach and coaching staff to hold a young player accountable. Wes Unseld Jr. has defensive expertise, as do his assistant coaches.
This choice of Griffin is a referendum on Griffin, sure. But it’s also a sign of faith in Unseld and his coaching staff; this is the kind of coaching task they were brought to the District to do — and do well. — Josh Robbins
11. New York Knicks
Jeremy Sochan | 6-9 forward | 19 years old | Baylor
My strategy here should be clear. I’m taking the best player available, no matter what. Sure, there will be questions about Sochan’s fit with RJ Barrett. Sochan isn’t a 3-point shooter, and Barrett lives inside the arc. The same could be said for the way he would slot next to Julius Randle, another guy who is best near to the basket.
But Sochan’s defensive capabilities are too great to pass up. He has the length, brawn, smarts and motor to become a wing stopper against various types of players. He and Quentin Grimes make a staunch defensive combination on the wings moving forward. And it’s not like his offense is a zero, even if the scoring numbers are underwhelming. He’s a ball-mover and cutter. He’s already a shrewd decision-maker, and he’s only a teenager.
There are no sure things at this point in the draft, but Sochan has enough upside that he’s worthwhile here. Especially if he develops a capable jump shot, people could look back on this pick and wonder how he fell to 11th. — Fred Katz
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Clippers)
Johnny Davis | 6-5 guard | 20 years old | Wisconsin
The Thunder don’t have an immediate need for a guard, but Davis is the best player available, and they need talent over fit. Davis provides toughness, defense and scoring ability. He struggled with efficiency last season as the focal point of the offense at Wisconsin, but with the Thunder, he would be down the pecking order.
In unguarded catch-and-shoot situations, Davis scored 1.38 points per possession, which was in the 90th percentile in the NCAA. That is a small sample of his shots, but if he can replicate that alongside Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Holmgren, you can start to see the vision of a tough and versatile team in Oklahoma City. — Andrew Schlecht
Ochai Agbaji | 6-5 wing | 22 years old | Kansas
Because there are no trades in this drill, the Hornets are one million percent sure Cleveland is not taking a big here (which tells you what’s coming at No. 15). The Hornets have been ransacked by Gordon Hayward’s injuries over the last two seasons. Honestly, they’ve been the largest contributing factor to their missing the playoffs and to James Borrego losing his job. Who’s going to replace Borrego, well, that’s another matter.
Agbaji is a winner, obviously, as the top player on the NCAA Division I championship team. He is a catch-and-shoot wing who can defend, which is what the Hornets thought they were getting with Hayward. Obviously, Hayward is still under contract and Miles Bridges is a restricted free agent. Charlotte wouldn’t have all three of them on the roster, but let’s expect there to be other movement at that position with the Hornets. — Joe Vardon
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
Ousmane Dieng | 6-9 forward | 19 years old | New Zealand Breakers
A number of names on the board here at No. 14 could be in consideration for Cleveland. Guys like Malaki Branham, Tari Eason and even Jalen Williams (who worked out for the Cavs on Monday) could all be fits for the Cavs. Yet, since Dieng fell here in this exercise and was available at No. 14, the Cavs take a swing and select him. They need a big wing, and Dieng fills that need.
Cleveland took important steps forward last season, and the growth of young players like Darius Garland and Evan Mobley allows the Cavs an opportunity to develop a guy if they want to. There’s a level of upside in Dieng. If Dieng can pass the ball well, play-make, rely on his court vision and improve his perimeter shooting, he could bring an interesting mix of size and versatility as a wing — two attributes that are important to Cleveland. During his pre-draft media availability, Dieng spoke about how he believes his versatility sets him apart in this draft class. — Kelsey Russo
15. Charlotte Hornets (from New Orleans)
Mark Williams | 7-0 center | 20 years old | Duke
As we were saying, this is the obvious choice for the Hornets that they didn’t need to make at No. 13. He could be a GREAT fit with LaMelo Ball, running the floor and catching lobs. (Williams led the nation in dunks!)
He is the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The Hornets, who played no defense of any kind, could have used Williams last season. Of all the trade machinations one can imagine involving the Hornets with their cache of picks, I think Williams is the first-rounder most likely to wind up on Charlotte’s roster. He fits the Hornets’ bigger need and in a different drill probably would have gone at No. 13. — Joe Vardon
16. Atlanta Hawks
Jalen Williams | 6-6 wing | 21 years old | Santa Clara
Williams is the prototypical prospect Hawks president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk usually goes for — wings who can dribble, pass and shoot. Williams can do all three of those at an above-average rate.
The Hawks have been looking for lengthy wings to fit around Trae Young since they acquired him in the 2018 draft. They selected Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter with the thought process of having length, size and the ability to make open shots next to Young as a requirement to be on the Hawks. With Williams’ 7-foot-2 wingspan and positional versatility, it’s hard to see Schlenk passing on him if he’s still on the board and the Hawks stick at No. 16. — Chris Kirschner
17. Houston Rockets (from Brooklyn)
Tari Eason | 6-8 forward | 21 years old | LSU
Eason represents the sort of defensive versatility Houston is desperate for on the wings — a 6-8 forward with a monster 7-2 wingspan who can seemingly be three places at once on that side of the ball.
There are some questions about Eason’s offense — his tunnel vision gets the best of him at times, and his jumper is still a work in progress. But 36 percent from deep is more than enough to work in Houston, and Eason’s real value comes from his ability to generate stop after stop, something the league’s worst defense needs — badly. —Kelly Iko
18. Chicago Bulls
E.J. Liddell | 6-7 forward | 21 years old | Ohio State
The Bulls easily could select Malaki Branham, Liddell’s college teammate here, and look to address their spotty perimeter shooting. They could go big with Auburn center Walker Kessler, among the nation’s top shot blockers. He would provide the interior size and rim protection Chicago lacks.
But the Bulls have put an emphasis on collecting two-way players who are smart and multifaceted. And since they’ve still got a long way to go toward that goal, Liddell gives them a versatile wing option who can command minutes immediately while someday potentially serving as a critical Swiss Army knife type who’s solid at some of everything. — Darnell Mayberry
Walker Kessler | 7-1 center | 20 years old | Auburn
I was eyeing Liddell until Darnell swooped in and got him. Jalen Williams and Eason were intriguing as well, but both are gone. If the Wolves end up trading D’Angelo Russell, I think Kentucky’s TyTy Washington is a candidate to go here. But in the end, the Wolves are one of the smallest teams in the league with a real need for rebounding and rim protection. Kessler is huge, giving them a different dimension in the frontcourt and a player who was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year.
People will question Kessler’s fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns, but KAT has played next to centers several times in his career, including Gorgui Dieng, Taj Gibson and Jarred Vanderbilt, the last two who may have been listed at power forward but played like centers in Minnesota. I’ve heard Kessler impressed in a workout in Minnesota, so I lean that way. Bigs generally are not valued as much in the league these days, so I can see arguments for Dalen Terry, MarJon Beauchamp or Malaki Branham as well. —Jon Krawczynski
20. San Antonio Spurs (from Toronto)
Blake Wesley | 6-5 guard | 19 years old | Notre Dame
This is an upside pick more than a “need” pick if you’re talking about skill set. Wesley is a big guard who is a creator, great with the ball in his hands, gets to the rim, all of that good stuff. He’s an inch taller than Dejounte Murray, the guy the Spurs already have to do all of that stuff.
San Antonio, though, has been on a slow walk down the back nine since the 2014 NBA Finals, honorably and gradually forging on, making the playoffs and then barely making the playoffs and then fighting to get into the Play-In Tournament but not quite making it. Popovich, et. al, refuse to tank, which is great. But it’s a roster full of players who, for the most part, do not generate great interest or enthusiasm about the future.
21. Denver Nuggets
MarJon Beauchamp | 6-6 wing | 21 years old | G League Ignite
The Nuggets desperately need to upgrade their perimeter defense, and Beauchamp should be able to defend in the NBA right away. His excellent lateral movement and 7-1 wingspan should make him a disruptor on the wing, and he has the body to hold up on switches in the post. He is a plus rebounder for his size and has a high motor.
Questions about Beauchamp’s shooting shouldn’t be a concern for the Nuggets. His 24 percent from behind the line in the G League came on fairly low volume, but I’m convinced his shooting motion will eventually translate into made shots. Beauchamp’s cutting and ability to attack a closeout should pair nicely with Nikola Jokić and his incredible court vision. — Dave DuFour
22. Memphis Grizzlies (from Utah)
TyTy Washington | 6-3 guard | 20 years old | Kentucky
Tyus Jones started 23 games for the Memphis Grizzlies last season, the last of the three-year deal he signed in 2019. His upcoming free agency is likely a concern for the Grizzlies, who might get priced out of the market for one of the best backup point guards in the league. Washington would give the Grizzlies a potential replacement on a value contract.
While he’s still coming into his own as a defender, Washington’s length and frame should give him a leg-up when defending at the point of attack. His ability to score in the midrange would pair nicely in bench units that feature floor spacers for Memphis. — Dave DuFour
Malaki Branham | 6-5 wing | 19 years old | Ohio State
Playing Daryl Morey’s role for this exercise, there are some mixed feelings with this pick. This represents solid value for Branham, who is typically being mocked higher than in the 20s. The last time that happened to the Sixers was in 2020, when Tyrese Maxey fell down the board. That worked out well for them.
Branham’s ability to create shots off the bounce and rise up over smaller defenders in the midrange shows more polish than we typically see from someone his age. And yet the way the board fell is also a reminder of why the Sixers would be looking to move this pick to bolster their current roster. Players like Eason, Jalen Williams and even Branham’s teammate, Liddell, feel like they have a better chance than Branham to slide into a rotation and help in a supporting role right away. — Rich Hoffman
24. Milwaukee Bucks
Dalen Terry | 6-7 wing | 19 years old | Arizona
At 6-foot-7 with a 7-1 wingspan, Terry picked up All-Defensive honors in the Pac-12 hounding guards and played point guard for long stretches. Even if he makes mistakes as a rookie, he can bring instant energy and grow as an offensive player while playing alongside the big three members who get staggered onto bench units. — Eric Nehm
25. San Antonio Spurs (from Boston)
Wendell Moore Jr. | 6-6 wing | 20 years old | Duke
In most (but not all) of the mocks I have seen, Moore is off the board here and prognosticators look to players like Kendall Brown, a wing, Kennedy Chandler, a point guard, or even Kessler, another center. I personally do not see San Antonio taking two centers in this draft, I’ve already drafted Wesley for them, and I am taking Moore over Brown.
Moore played under Pop’s good friend Mike Krzyzewski, is an experienced player, which nowadays is at a premium on draft day, and has a 7-foot wingspan and can shoot. The Spurs need to get going offensively and, as we’ve discussed earlier, infuse the roster with players with big upsides whom fans want to watch. — Joe Vardon
26. Houston Rockets (from Dallas)
Nikola Jović | 6-11 forward | 18 years old | Mega
Honest hour — Houston hedged its bet thinking Beauchamp would still be here, but at 26th, the Rockets are once again swinging for upside with Jović. Offensively, honestly, you could make the case for Jović being a Banchero-lite. He has a nice, comfortable handle for his size, is a confident scorer and will take — and can make — tough shots.
From a playmaking lens, Jović would thrive in Houston’s second unit, allowing Silas to mix-and-match lineups to give his team multiple creators. There is some Hedo Türkoğlu in there. The defense isn’t good and will require a ton of work but it’s not a dealbreaker. The Rockets need to take chances here, and Jović is just that. — Kelly Iko
27. Miami Heat
Bryce McGowens | 6-7 wing | 19 years old | Nebraska
The Heat have a position of need, and it is not “wing,” first and foremost. But picking this far down, and with the depth on the current roster, taking a project like McGowens, getting him in with Miami’s proven development staff and G League program, and watch him become an NBA contributor not next season, maybe not the following year, but by Year 3, is the right plan. And someone like McGowens should be thrilled to follow that path.
Just ask Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent and so on. Because of those names alone, assuming none are traded, (Caleb Martin is a restricted free agent, and he counts too, oh, and there is the good possibility P.J. Tucker returns), McGowens’ opportunity on the Heat for next season would be small, but again, anyone taken here is a long-term play. — Joe Vardon
Andrew Nembhard | 6-4 guard | 22 years old | Gonzaga
The Warriors are lacking a true backup point guard, for the immediate and long term. Jordan Poole is an electric combo guard who can make some spectacular passes. But he’s a scorer who revs the offensive engines. He doesn’t settle the situation and organize proceedings. It isn’t his job. That used to be Shaun Livingston’s and Andre Iguodala’s. Livingston is in the front office now, and Iguodala is near retirement.
The Warriors need a backup point guard layered into this emerging young core. Steve Kerr, in particular, values that type of player. Nembhard, who has good size for the point position, is a candidate to fill that role. — Anthony Slater
29. Memphis Grizzlies
Jaden Hardy | 6-4 guard | 19 years old | G League Ignite
I think Memphis is likely to sell this pick, but when Hardy is sitting there in your mock, that’s the pick. He’s a pure scorer. Hardy has a plus handle and enough shiftiness to break down a defense off the dribble but shoots the ball very well playing away from the ball, so playing with another lead guard shouldn’t be an issue.
Hardy could be a guy who gives you 17 off the bench one day but might also develop into something more. The talent is there. While Hardy’s not a very good defender, he does have decent positional size and Memphis has the defense to cover for most of his struggles on that end. — Dave DuFour
30. Denver Nuggets (from Phoenix)
Christian Koloko | 6-10 Center | 22 years old | Arizona
The never-ending quest for a defensive backup center for Nikola Jokić has led us to this selection. Koloko is an athletic shot blocker who has the potential to be a disruptive rim protector. With a 9-5 standing reach and 7-5 wingspan, Koloko definitely has the length to cause chaos as a help defender in the lane, but his mobility should allow him to survive on switches. On the offensive end, he has a soft touch around the basket but is a powerful finisher on cuts and lobs. Koloko is a raw prospect, but the Nuggets have a strong core and should be able to bring him along slowly. He’s a project with some identifiable talents. The Nuggets have needed an athletic big for a while now. This could be their guy. — Dave DuFour
More NBA Draft reading
Vecenie: The Athletic’s 2022 Draft Guide
Davis: Scouts get candid on top prospects
Hollinger: My top 75 prospects in 2022 draft
Aldridge: Coaches, execs dish on draft’s top bigs
(Top photo of Jabari Smith Jr: Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports)