With the NBA Finals officially complete, it means one thing: For at least the next few days, it's NBA Draft SZN, baby!!!!
That's right, the NBA Draft is Thursday, and let me say this: While the draft has no signature star at the top (there is no Zion Williamson, or even Cade Cunningham in this draft), it has actually created a lot of intrigue. Unlike most years, we have no real idea who is going to go No. 1, and the draft could break a million different ways, based on both the Orlando Magic, and the wants and needs of the teams behind them.
With that, it's time to do what I do every year around this time: Give you all, the ultimate draft guide. As someone who follows college hoops 365 days a year, and watches more of the sport than pretty much anyone, I always like to drop a huge piece on draft eve, sharing my thoughts on all the biggest players, guys I like, guys I don't all that stuff.
So, what do you need to hear about this 2022 NBA Draft: Here is your guide. Also, if you missed draft conversation, you can catch up on a recent Aaron Torres Pod below
So, Aaron, Orlando is on the clock - Jabari Smith should go No. 1, right?!
I'm nothing if not a man with strong opinions. So, let's start with one... I'm not totally sure on?
Now look, to be clear, I love Jabari Smith and his game. The numbers speak for himself, as a 6'10 forward who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game and did it all on 42 percent three-point shooting this season. It isn't an exaggeration to say that he was one of the best shooters - regardless of size - in college basketball and did it all at 6'10, and as one of the youngest players in college basketball. And to me, that last part is important. Smith played his entire freshman year at just 18-years-old and just turned 19 a few weeks ago. He is more than a full year younger than Chet Holmgren. Imagine what he could've been like as a 19-year-old freshman next year, like Chet was this season?
Add in the fact that Smith is, by all accounts a great teammate and someone that people genuinely love being around (more on that below) and if (and likely when) Orlando chooses him No. 1 overall on Thursday I'm not going to throw a fit.
But as I said at the top, there is no definitive clear No. 1 like there have been in years past, and to me, that's for a reason. Smith is really, really talented with insane upside. But he isn't full-proof.
One, despite averaging 17 and seven, he does tend to hang out on the perimeter quite a bit, especially on offense. I'm not saying he should be playing with his back to the basket like it's 1982, but nearly half of his shot attempts were beyond the arc, and he averaged less than one offensive rebound per game. Paolo Banchero, who was also accused of spending too much time on the perimeter, averaged nearly double that.
Add into the fact that while Smith is an elite three-point shooter, he isn't much of a creator, and I have my concerns. Will, being able to create for himself be a skill he develops? And if not, what is the actual upside?
Point being, when you're drafting No. 1 overall, you want a surefire, no doubt about it thing - and I'm just not sure he's it. Again, I'd have no problem taking him No. 1 overall, but it wouldn't be my choice.
It's worth noting of course that while I feel the way I do, the man who actually coached him, Bruce Pearl came on my podcast the other day. And gave a pretty compelling case why Smith should go No. 1.
So, if you're not taking Jabari Smith No. 1, who are you taking?
So, I've discussed this since the day after the NBA Draft lottery, but if I was selecting No. 1, I'd take Duke's Paolo Banchero No. 1 overall.
First off, part of that is the team selecting. Orlando is in a precarious spot where, unlike the two teams behind them, they are not in the early-to-middle stages of a rebuild. Orlando is an organization that hasn't won a playoff series since 2010 and has won a grand total of two playoff games since then.
They simply can't (or at least shouldn't) take a guy who is a developmental project. They need a guy who can step in and contribute right away. Which is why I believe they need to take Banchero.
To me, Banchero is the best combination of "NBA ready" that still has tons of loaded, untapped potential. He averaged 17 and seven at Duke this season, and what I loved about him, is that he played his best in his biggest games. He had 22 in the season-opener against Kentucky and dominated the first half against Gonzaga (in a game I was at) before cramping up, but still finished with 21 points. He had 20 in a Final Four loss to North Carolina to end the season.
But as good as he was, and as good as I believe he can be next year, I still believe there is plenty of untapped upside.
Part of this is simply knowing the kid's trajectory after covering college hoops. He's a player who began his career as basically just a low post dude, who - especially during Covid - refined his game, to be the three-level scorer he was this past season.
I'll readily admit that he might not have the long-term upside of Smith or Holmgren, but the idea that he's a totally finished project is laughable as well.
Now to be clear, I'm not saying that Orlando will take Paolo No. 1. I don't think they will. It's just what I would do.
What are your thoughts on Chet Holmgren?
Unfortunately for anyone who came here for NBA Draft hot takes, this is the wrong spot. Like Jabari Smith, I have no crazy strong hot takes on Chet Holmgren. I see both sides to the argument on Holmgren, and wouldn't blame Orlando for taking him at No. 1 or Oklahoma City at No. 2. I also wouldn't blame either if they decided to pass on him.
It's funny really on Holmgren, because in November I go to see him twice in a short, couple days, and actually saw both sides of the Chet Holmgren debate with my own two eyes. I saw the good and the bad. The strengths and the weaknesses. Why NBA teams love him. And why they have concerns.
In the first game, which was against UCLA on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the full Chet package was on display. He ran the floor and hit threes, altered shots at the rim. Against the Bruins, he finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, all while hitting two of four from beyond the three-point arc.
Yet I was also in the building a few days later against Duke, where Chet didn't have nearly as much impact. While the stats look similar (he finished with 16 points, seven boards and three rebounds) it was a completely different effort. That night, Banchero was the clear best player on the floor and Mark Williams' size (Williams finished with 17, nine and six blocks) gave Chet fits all day. He also finished that game without a single three-point make.
So really when you're talking about Chet, what it really comes down to is something that we don't normally discuss when it comes to Top 5 picks: How quickly can you develop him into a serviceable NBA player. The size and skill-set is there, but it's clear that he will need time to add strength and weight to his body.
Again, I really do see both sides on the Chet Holmgren debate.
Well Torres, finish out the Top 4: What about Jaden Ivey?
It's interesting, because I do think as the draft process has gone on, and as I've had more time to evaluate and think about these prospects, Jaden Ivey has actually grown on me.
That seems strange considering he hasn't played a game since March, but let me explain.
Coming out of the college basketball season, I was a little down on Ivey. The natural gifts were no doubt there, but if you watched closely, Ivey didn't always use them. Too often he was off the ball and in the corner, waiting for someone else to create a play for him, or acting aloof and too "cool" for college hoops. His final college game against Saint Peter's was the one that stuck with me, as he had just nine points on 4 of 12 shooting from the field. In an NCAA Tournament game with everything on the line, I would've liked to see my Top 5 pick take over that game.
But as time has gone on, my attitude has changed a little bit. Was Ivey disappointing late? Or was he just completely mis-used by a program and coach who had no idea what to do with his talent?
The more I got into draft prep, I think it might be the latter.
It's interesting because every year around draft time, we always hear about John Calipari misuses the talent he has on his roster. That he doesn't play a modern style and doesn't let his guards create and do what they do best. It's why - according to the critics - guys like Tyrese Maxey and others thrive the second they get out of Calipari's system.
Yet at the same time, couldn't you make that argument about how Ivey was used by Purdue and its head coach Matt Painter this year?
Look, Painter is obviously a great coach. But he is a guy that for years, has stuck to "his system" which has featured at least one seven-footer on the floor, and often two. That was no different this year when either 7'3 Zach Edey or 6'11 Trevion Williams was on the floor. Often, they were on the floor together. And too often (basically all the time, actually), the offense ran through the post, rather than the guard who could get the Boilermakers a bucket every time down the court.
And as I look back, it leads me to this question: Did Painter really play that way because it gave his specific team in 2022 the best chance to win? Or just because that's the way he's always done it? Especially since he's never had a guard with the capabilities of Jaden Ivey on his roster.
In the end we'll never know, but what I do know is that far too often, I've given up on the hyper-athletic guy who didn't thrive in college... only to see him get to the NBA and use the speed, spacing and pace of the game to flourish.
I'm not going to make the same mistake with Jaden Ivey. I think he has a chance to be a special NBA player.
Alright Torres, enough of the cute stuff: What do you think of Shaedon Sharpe?
Well, let me put it this way: If my opinion on Jaden Ivey has changed in a positive way since the end of the season, my opinion on Sharpe has changed in a negative way.
Coming out of the season, my thoughts on Sharpe were pretty straightforward: More than anything, I felt bad for him. It felt like the adults in his life were pulling strings, he had no real say, and his time at Kentucky was all for show, and for his handlers to fast-track his path to the NBA.
To a degree I still believe that. But as time has gone on, and more specifically, as Sharpe has begun speaking in the last few weeks, my opinion has flipped.
One, he had those comments about wanting to be one of "greats" to ever play the game of basketball. Admittedly, while that's kind of a face palm moment, it didn't really bother me. Every player says stuff like that at times (although most of them actually play in games before they say it).
Really though, it's everything else he's said since then.
One, he told reporters that it was his decision not to play at Kentucky. Well, that basically flies in the face of everything that we have heard to this point.
It would also raise a huge question for me if I was an NBA GM, player personnel guy, whatever. That question: Well, why didn't you play then?
To be clear, there are legitimate answers to that question, but it doesn't appear as though Sharpe has them. Because he was asked not once, but twice, by Indy Star reporter Gregg Doyel on Monday, why, if it was such a tough decision not to play, why he didn't just play. As you can hear below, he had no good answer.
When you factor in that he really has no answers as to why he didn't play, along with the fact that many already questioned his motor, and that reports are he isn't doing all that well in workouts, you can see where teams, umm, might have concerns.
I had already heard that Sharpe was falling down draft boards. And don't be surprised if he drops a bit on draft night.
Give us some quick thoughts on the other big prospects
In typical Torres fashion, this post has already gone long, so let me give you some quick thoughts on some of the other topic prospects:
Keegan Murray: Love everything about him, and what I especially love about him is that - despite being an All-American this season - he was actually a role player alongside Luka Garza two seasons ago. It sounds dumb, but he will be asked to play a role early, something that a lot of elite players have never had to do. Murray will be comfortable doing it and that feels important. Especially early in his career.
Johnny Davis: It's funny, because NBA teams for the most part start scouting guys at 15, 16 and 17-years-old. So, struggling over a 2-3 game stretch in college shouldn't matter. But I really feel like that's what's happened with Johnny Davis. Davis got hurt late in the year and didn't play well in both the conference tournament, and more importantly, the NCAA Tournament, where he shot just 4 of 16, in a loss to Iowa State.
Again, it sounds weird, but I really do feel like if Davis had been healthy, and say, led Wisconsin to an Elite Eight (the path was there), rather than a second round loss, we'd be talking about him as a potential Top 5 pick. Instead, it now feels more likely that he'll end up in the 8-12 range.
Jalen Duren: So, over the last couple years, there's this weird narrative that you can't take big guys who can't shoot threes high in the draft anymore. Because of it, many have Duren outside the Top 10.
But while I understand the narrative, I do think it's mostly non-sense. I just watched an NBA playoffs, where Giannis, Bam Adebayo, Robert Williams and Kevon Looney, were all big guys who weren't elite three-point shooters but played big minutes.
I'm not claiming Duren is the next Giannis. And I'm not saying he should go No. 1 overall. But even in a three-point and spacing NBA, there is still a need for size, rim protection and athleticism down low. Duren brings that.
Who is your favorite player in the draft?
We've gotten this far without discussing my favorite player in the draft, so let's do it: Let's talk about Arizona's Ben Mathurin.
Why is he my favorite player in this draft? Two reasons.
First, I remember talking to someone on Arizona's old staff (the one led by Sean Miller) shortly after last season. I asked if Mathurin - projected by many as a fringe first round pick - would declare, and was flatly told "no." What I was told was that Mathurin understood where he was in his development, and knew he wasn't ready to be a professional.
That's the first reason I love him: I like guys that are self-aware. I like guys that don't rush the process.
But it's one thing to be self-aware, it's another thing to return to school and take your game to another level - which is exactly what Mathurin did this season. Now part of the credit goes to the new coaching staff led by Tommy Lloyd, and their ability to put Mathurin in the best position to succeed and showcase his skill-set.
It's also partly on Mathurin for working on his game, and becoming a star.
My buddy Doug Gottlieb says this all the time, but the problem with the basketball culture is that we too often move guys along, without any of them learning how to be a star. Learning how to be the focal point of scouting reports. Learning how to deal with adversity.
You certainly can't say that about Mathurin, who used his second year in college to his advantage. And could be a Top 5 pick because of it.
Give us one player you like more than most, and one player you don't
I'll do you one better: I'll give you one player I like, one player I don't, and one player I'm really just not sure on
Player I like more than most - Dalen Terry, Arizona: If you listen to the Aaron Torres Pod, you know I've been gushing about Terry since the moment he decided to test the NBA Draft waters. He's a big, athletic guard who thrived alongside Mathurin this year, and then, when starting point guard Kerr Krissa went down with injury, stepped his game up. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the Pac-12 title game against UCLA, and was the only guy who didn't seem scared against Houston in the Sweet 16.
I've been told Terry could go much higher than most expect on draft night.
Player I like less than most - EJ Liddell, Ohio State: So look, this is a safe space here at Aaron Torres Online. So I'm just going to be 100 percent honest, and get something off my chest: I just don't get the projections on EJ Liddell being a potential Top 20 pick. I don't get them at all.
Liddell was a fine player at Ohio State, and to his credit, evolved his game quite a bit, going from what was basically a 6'7 low post player, who attempted just 19 three-pointers as a freshman, to one who hit 37 percent from beyond the arc as a junior.
At the same time, I just don't see what he does at an elite level heading into the NBA. He isn't an elite athlete, doesn't have elite quickness, can't really create his own offense and has never proven to be an elite defender. Also, as a soon-to-be 22-year-old, he's probably a lot closer to "finished product" than all upside.
To be clear, I don't wish ill will on anyone. I hope I'm wrong on this. But I just don't get the hype on Lidell. I really don't.
Play I just don't know what to make of him - AJ Griffin, Duke: To me, there is no bigger mystery in this draft than AJ Griffin.
On the positive side, he has a great pedigree, as the son of a former NBA player, averaged double figures at Duke and hit a staggering 44.7 percent from behind the three-point arc. He did it all as one of the youngest players in college hoops, arriving at Duke at just 17-years-old. He's currently 18 and won't turn 19 until late August of this year.
At the same time, there are concerns as well.
He missed most of his junior year of high school with a knee injury, didn't play as a senior because of Covid and dealt with an injury to start his Duke career. Once he came back roles were established, and he was little more than a three-point shooter. Yes, he shot almost 45 percent from three, but more than half his attempts came from behind the arc.
As a super young player with a good pedigree, my guess is there is more to his game than just "standing in the corner and shooting threes." But if there is, we really haven't seen it yet.
Before we get out of here, give us a few late first/early second round sleepers you like:
It's almost time to say good-bye, but before we do, here are a few late sleepers that I like:
Kennedy Chandler, G, Tennessee: I feel bad for Chandler. If he were 6'4 instead of 6'0, I genuinely believe that he would be discussed alongside Jaden Ivey as the best lead guard in the draft. But he is 6'0, and I just don't know if that guy can find a role in today's NBA.
With that said, he has all the talent in the world, and Tennessee took off as a team when Chandler took off as a player. I know he's small, but I'd bet on Chandler if I was running an NBA team.
Jaylin Williams, F, Arkansas: When you're drafting in the late first or early second, you're looking for guys who can fill a role. Williams can do that as a 6'10 energy big man, who doesn't need offense run for him, doesn't care about stats and just wants to win.
Those are the guys you want at that point in the draft, and that's exactly who Williams is.
Tyrese Martin, G, UConn: It's the same with Martin. He is a hustle and energy guy, who - to his credit - averaged just under 14 points per game this past season, even though RJ Cole was UConn's lead guard, who had the ball in his hands most of the time. The fact that he averaged over seven boards per game as a 6'6 wing shows you the energy he plays with, and has the tools to be an elite wing defender.
Mark my words, Tyrese Martin will find a spot in the NBA.