June 27, 2022

When the Orlando Magic present their draft card to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday night at Barclays Center, they will settle a debate that has raged in draft circles for much of the year: who should be the No. °1?

The favorite is Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a lean but strong seven-footer who can shoot, dribble, pass and defend with poise. But there are equally strong arguments to be made for Auburn big man Jabari Smith, who spent last season making seemingly impossible shots, and for Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a creative shooter who is also polished in the paint. only on the perimeter.

“All three guys are incredibly talented,” said Jonathan Givony, founder of scouting service DraftExpress and NBA draft analyst at ESPN. “This draft has some really good players at the top and really good depth as well.”

Here are five more prospects you should know about.

6-foot-11, 223 pounds, forward, Mega Mozzart (Serbia)

People ask Nikola Jovic all the time about Nikola Jokic. And it makes sense. Jovic and the Denver Nuggets star have quite a bit in common: they’re both great Serbian men who played for the same club, Mega Mozzart, and only one letter separates their surnames. But the comparison doesn’t bother Jovic, who is expected to be the first international player selected on Thursday.

“People talk about it all the time,” he said. “I’m really cool with it. I think it’s kind of funny too because the chances of something like this happening are really low. At the same time, I feel good because people compare me to a two-time league MVP”

As a boy, Jovic wanted to be a professional water polo player. He spent his summers with his mother in Montenegro and loved swimming in the Adriatic Sea. At 13, his father introduced him to basketball. What started as a garden hobby quickly became an obsession and a profession. “I was getting bigger and bigger,” Jovic said, “and it was pretty easy to see that basketball would be a better choice than water polo.”

Although many NBA teams have followed European stars since their teenage years, Jovic didn’t become a big name on the draft boards until he broke out at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade in March 2021. Offensively , it could become a ground spacing. 4 who can shoot 3s, lead fast breaks and make smart passes. He said he was ready to stay in Europe after being drafted, but hopes to land with a team that wants him to play straight away.

“Even if I need to play in the G League, it’s cool,” he said, referring to the NBA development league. “But right now, I think the NBA is perfect for me”

6-foot-9, 221 pounds, forward, elite overtime

When NBA evaluators visited Overtime Elite this year, it was with an eye to the future. The starter league is among the top 10 potential players in the 2023 and 2024 drafts. But one player in the 2022 draft class has taken advantage of all that extra attention and gone from an unheralded 3-star high school prospect to a potential first-round pick: Dominick Barlow.

“The fact that this is OTE’s first year has 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, NJ. He didn’t land with a powerful Amateur Athletic Union program until the summer before his senior year, when a New York Renaissance coach spotted him performing in an audience. Park. He surprised most basketball insiders in September when he left a prep program and declined several major offers to sign with Overtime Elite. It offers six-figure salaries to male and male basketball players who are at least in their freshman year of high school.

Barlow hopes his story will inspire other underdog players to keep working. “I came in as a 3-star kid and I’m leaving as an NBA draft pick. Some 5-star kids struggle to join the NBA a year out of high school,” he said.

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

When Keegan and Kris Murray were going through the recruiting process for college basketball, the twin brothers told each coach they weren’t a forfeit. Their father, Kenyon, had played college basketball in Iowa in the early 1990s, and he encouraged them to each find their own path.

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

“Having a DI player as your coach, teaching you everything and guiding you through the recruiting 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 pros and we believed him.”

After turning down the offer from western Illinois and decamping to Florida for a year at prep school, Keegan and Kris signed with their father’s alma mater, Iowa. Keegan showed remarkable efficiency as a rookie and started to generate NBA draft buzz, but he wasn’t considered a top talent until last season. As a sophomore, Murray was the top scorer among Power 5 conference players, he had the second most rebounds in the Big Ten, and he shot 55.4% from the field and a solid 39.8% on 3 .

“He’s been the most productive player in college basketball this year,” Givony said, adding that he was good in transition and on defense. “Everyone is looking for a player like him.”

Keegan is expected to be a top-five pick, while Kris has decided to return to Iowa for another season. “To think about where I was three years ago and where I am today is surreal,” Keegan said. “I didn’t always know where or when all that hard work would pay off, but I knew it would eventually pay off.”

6-foot-3, 179 pounds, guard, Toledo

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

“I feel like one of the best players in the draft,” Rollins said. “If I’m not chosen in the first round, that’s fine. In the long run, I’m going to be very good for a very long time in this league. No matter where and when I go, I’ll be proud to be there.

Originally from Detroit, Rollins performed for a major AAU program, The Family. But the stacked roster, combined with nagging injuries and his decision to commit to college early, kept him under the recruiting radar. “I always thought I was where I was for a reason,” he said. “I kept working, I kept trying to perfect my craft. I didn’t worry about the politics of basketball. I knew if I was good enough, the NBA would find me.

Over two seasons at Toledo he developed into a major player, with a slick grip, fluid footwork and deadly mid-range game. Now he’s likely to be a second-round pick with the potential to sneak into the first round. But he’s more worried about what he’ll do when he gets to the NBA. He hopes he can be the next intermediate player to become a superstar.

He is inspired by former mid-major NBA players, such as Ja Morant (Murray State), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh University).

“They went to small schools but managed to make a name for themselves,” Rollins said. “I feel like I’m next.”

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

There’s no more mysterious player in the 2022 draft than Shaedon Sharpe. Although he is on Kentucky’s prospect list, Sharpe has never played with the Wildcats. In fact, he hasn’t played in a competitive basketball game in almost a year.

The Ontario, Canada native moved to Kansas to play for Sunrise Christian Academy in his sophomore year of high school, then transferred to Dream City Christian in Arizona in 2020 for his junior season, when he was not ranked in the Class of 2022. Then a dominating performance with Team UPlay Canada in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League last summer got everyone on their toes. The tournament is often a proving ground for future NBA stars, and Sharpe averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 28.3 minutes per game over 12 games.

Sharpe graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in Kentucky this spring. Although there were rumors that he would join the team on the court or return for the 2022-23 season, he entered the NBA draft instead. And there’s a good reason: he’ll almost certainly be caught in the top 10.

“In terms of physical ability and talent, it’s all there,” Givony said. “He’s a dynamic shooter, an aggressive defender, a smart passer.”

NBA teams haven’t been able to see much of him, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan, explosive athleticism, and polished shot-stopping might tempt most NBA teams outside of the top five to take the risk.

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