The NBA has been flooded with so many headlines and stories in the first month that one major development seems to have been overshadowed – the rookie class has been great. Here, we take a look at the top five picks in the 2022 NBA Draft and see how each selection has fared so far. We’ll also identify some of the later picks that have had good early returns.
Paolo Banchero - Orlando Magic
It is clear that Paolo Banchero has been on another level since pre-season. In the summer league, he looked overqualified. He was comfortable in the Magic’s pre-season, so the only concern is whether he can continue to stand out in the league’s competition.
The one-time Blue Devil Duke has done more than that. “He looks like a veteran”, “He looks comfortable on the floor”, “He makes scoring look easy” and all the other clichés used without exaggeration to describe his The game. At 20 years old, Banchero looks to have 10 years of NBA experience under his belt.
In 11 games, Banchero is averaging 23.5 points per game on 46.1% shooting from the field, with 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. It’s not like he’s going up against the dregs of the league. He’s faced some solid veteran defenders like Dorian Finney-Smith and DeAndre Hunter, and even All-Stars like Jaylen Brown and Draymond Green. He didn’t even struggle as much as the top rookies. Banchero is too big, too fast or too smart for individual defences to contain him.
He’s going to be special for a long time, and that’s exactly what the Magic need – a scorer. When most boards have him at 1st overall, they should have all the support they need to make him a first-round pick. 3.
Chet Holmgren - Oklahoma City Thunder
Chet Holmgren will miss the entire season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot, which is a shame. But if you’re an OKC fan, you’ve probably seen how Holmgren has adapted to the team’s building future and the chaos of a big rotation.
With Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Kenrich Williams, Ousmane Dieng, Mike Muscala and Darius Bazley, the Thunder have filled the power forward and centre positions by committee. All of these are inconsistent.
Now, if the Thunder can find another pawn in next year’s top-heavy draft, they could be in contention.
Jabari Smith Jr - Houston Rockets
Of the top five picks, Jabari Smith Jr. has the most challenging transition to the NBA. The Auburn standout looks to have all the tools to make an immediate impact in the draft, but he scored just 10.5 points and shot a paltry 30.8% from the field.
His struggles can be attributed to uncharacteristically poor shooting, as he made just 29.4 per cent of his three-point attempts. Smith Jr has a solid skill set and was an above-average shooter in college, so he should improve as the season progresses. But part of the blame can also be laid at the feet of the Rockets’ overall system. Smith shot 56.7 per cent from long range and only attempted a few uncovered shots.
Houston could make their rookie look better to ease his transition, but that’s easier said than done when their two main ball handlers – Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr – are young and eager to prove themselves.
Keegan Murray - Sacramento Kings
The Kings have a knack for drafting players to play on a winning team. They did it in 2020, drafting Tyrese Haliburton 12th overall, and they drafted Keegan Murray with the fifth pick in the 2022 draft.
Murray hasn’t done one thing very well, but he has done a lot. He is very comfortable without the ball and can cut inside and set pieces to open up space for Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. He is a rookie in terms of defensive play, making up for misreads with agility and quickness. At 6’8″ with bigger arms, Murray’s defensive potential may be greater than his offensive toolset.
In his first five games, Murray is averaging 17.4 points per game, shooting 49.3 per cent from the field and 39.5 per cent from three-point range. Recently, he has been experiencing some personal issues which have caused his numbers to drop significantly. But it is clear that the Kings are making the necessary progress in their accumulation to end the longest playoff drought in North American sports.
Jaden Ivey - Detroit Pistons
For a regular highlight reel producer, Jaden Ivey has barely made a splash this season. As a point guard, Ivey has adapted to the NBA fairly quickly.
The former Purdue star makes all comparisons to Jammerland look solid. Ivey is great on the fast break, helping the Pistons create fast breaks by being a pest on the defensive end. He has solid ball handling skills and has mastered some of the abilities needed to block at the NBA level for a pass rushing back.
For now, he survives mostly on his athleticism. He doesn’t get many opportunities to score, as he spends more than half of his time playing alongside Cade Cunningham. He is shooting just 43.8% from the field and 68.9% from the free throw line, but he is still finding ways to contribute, averaging 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
With the Pistons likely to be without Cunningham for the next two weeks, Ivey will be tested early on as the Pistons’ only organisational core.