NBA Draft Preview: A deep field that can bring surprising superstars

When the Orlando Magic handed their draft card to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Thursday night at the Barclays Center, they will settle a debate that has raged in draft circles for the better part of the year: Who should be the first pick?

The leader is Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a seven-footed player who is extremely skinny but hardy-eared, who can shoot, dribble, pass and defend with confidence. But there are equally strong cases to be made for Auburn big man Jabari Smith, who spent last season sinking into seemingly impossible shots, and Duke Paolo Banchero, a creative shotmaker with just as much shine in the paint as he is in the ocean.

“All three guys are incredibly talented,” said Jonathan Givoni, founder of Scouting Service DraftExpress, an NBA draft analyst at ESPN. “This draft has really great players at the top and really good depth as well.”

Here are five other possibilities to know.

6-foot-1 – 11 and 223 pounds striker Mega Mozart (Serbia)

People ask Nikola Jovic about Nikola Jokic all the time. This is logical. Jovic and the Denver Nuggets star have a few things in common: They are both two great Serbian men who have played for the same club, Mega Mozart, and separated by a monogram from their names. But the comparison does not bother Jovic, who is expected to be the first international to be selected on Thursday.

“People bring it up all the time,” he said. “I’m really cool with that. I think it’s also funny because the chances of something like that happening are very low. At the same time, I feel good because people compare me to the best player in the league twice”

As a boy, Jovic wanted to become a professional water polo player. He spent the summer with his mother in Montenegro and loved swimming in the Adriatic. When he was thirteen, his father introduced him to basketball. What started as a backyard hobby quickly became an obsession and a profession. “I was getting bigger and bigger, and it was very easy to see that basketball would be a better option than water polo,” Jovic said.

Although many NBA teams have been tracking European superstars since their early teenage years, Jovic didn’t become a big name on the draft boards until he broke out at the Adidas Next Generation Championships in Belgrade in March 2021. 4 Who Can Shoot 3 Thats, Lead Breaks Quick and smart passes. He said he’s ready to stay in Europe after enlisting, but hopes to land with a team he wants to play right away.

“Even if you need to play in the G League, that’s great,” he said, referring to the NBA Development League. “But for now, I think the NBA is the best fit for me.”

6-foot-9, 221 pounds, front, Elite Extra

When NBA evaluators visited the Overtime Elite this year, it was very forward-looking. The Junior League features the top 10 potential players in the 2023 and 2024 drafts. But one player from the 2022 class has benefited from all that extra scouting interest and worked his way up from being a little-known 3-star freshman to a potential first-round draft pick: Dominic Barlow.

“The fact that this was my first year of OTE was interesting,” Barlow, 19, said. “And once the scouts got into the building, they were able to see what I could do.”

Barlow played at Dumont High School, a small public high school in Dumont, New Jersey. park. Most basketball insiders were surprised in September when he dropped out of a preliminary program and turned down several big offers to sign with the extra elite. It offers a six-figure salary to basketball players for boys and men who are at least in their junior year of high school.

Barlow hopes his story will inspire other overlooked players to keep working. “I came in as a 3-star kid, and I’m going away as a draft pick in the NBA. Some 5-star kids struggle to get into the NBA after one year of high school.”

6-foot-8, 225 pounds, forward, Iowa

When Keegan and Chris Murray were going through the college basketball hiring process, the twin brothers told each coach that they weren’t a package deal. Their father, Kenyon, had played college basketball in Iowa in the early 1990s, encouraging them to find their own path.

Their father’s faith and knowledge helped the brothers stay fresh even as they ended their high school careers with just one scholarship offer, to Western Illinois, a Summit League school that never competed in a Division I NCAA Tournament.

“Having a DI player who is your coach and teaches you everything and guides you through the hiring process is really helpful,” 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 professional, and we believed him.”

After turning down Western Illinois’ offer and moving to Florida for a year in middle school, Keegan and Chris signed with their mother, Iowa. Keegan showed remarkable efficiency as a freshman and began to gain buzz in the NBA, but he wasn’t considered a top-tier talent until last season. As a sophomore, Murray was the top scorer among Power 5 Conference players, had the second most rebounds in the Big Ten, shooting 55.4% from the field and 39.8% of 3.

“He’s been the most productive player in college basketball this year,” Givoni said, adding that he’s been good in transition and in 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 today 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-foot-3, 179 pounds, goalkeeper, Toledo

Ryan Rollins has heard people say he should have been back to the University of Toledo for his junior season. With another year of experience, he would likely have been a first-round pick in 2023. But Rollins rejects that idea. Sees no reason to wait.

“I feel like one of the best players in the draft,” Rollins said. “If I am not selected in the first round, that is fine. In the long run, I will be very good for a very long time in this league. Wherever and wherever I finish going, I will be proud to be there.”

Rollins, a native of Detroit, played on the prominent AAU family program. But the stacked roster, combined with some nagging injuries and his decision to commit to college early, has kept him under the recruiting radar. “I always had the mentality that I was where I was for a reason,” he said. “I kept working, and I kept trying to improve my craft. I didn’t worry about basketball politics. I knew if I was good enough, the NBA would find me.”

Over the course of two seasons in Toledo, he emerged as a big show average, with smooth grip, smooth footwork, and a deadly midrange game. Now it’s likely to be a second-round pick with the potential to sneak into the first. But he’s more concerned about what he’s doing when he gets to the NBA. He hopes to be the next player in the middle of the season to become a star.

It is inspired by former mid-level players in the NBA, 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 names for themselves,” Rollins said. “I feel like I’m next.”

6-foot-5, 198 pounds, guard, Kentucky

No player is more mysterious in the 2022 draft than Shydon Sharp. Although shortlisted in Kentucky, Sharpe never suited the Wildcats. In fact, he has not played in a competitive basketball game in nearly a year.

The Ontario, Canada native moved to Kansas to play for Sunrise Christian Academy in his sophomore year of high school, then moved to Dream City Christian in Arizona in 2020 for his junior season, when he was unranked in the 2022 class. Then he performed with UPlay Canada in a Major League Soccer. The Nike Elite Youth Basketball this past summer made everyone take notice. 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 one year ago and joined Kentucky this spring. Although there have been rumors that he will join the team on the field, or return for the 2022-23 season, he has instead entered the NBA draft. And there’s good reason: He’ll almost certainly be selected in the top ten.

“In terms of physical ability and sheer talent, it’s all there,” Jevonne said. “He’s a dynamic shooter, a strong defender, and an intelligent passer.”

The NBA teams couldn’t see much of him, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan, explosive athletic performance and polished shooting stroke could make most of the NBA teams outside of the top five willing to take risks.

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