With the NBA Draft commencing Thursday night, the time has come again to release a mock draft unlike the others you've been checking in on as of late. This annual exercise is one man's big board come to life. While (thankfully!) we have no shortage of mock drafts for you to peruse that are trying to predict team-by-team behavior, this one, conversely, is my projection on who should be taken and in what order.
Once again, like the fool I am, I've done my best to assemble a Nos. 1-30 order of who I believe will be the best NBA players and have the strongest pro careers once all careers encapsulated have finished. Let's mix up this mock-draft exercise, right?
I'm not trying to tell you who will be the best player as a rookie, or who will be the 10 best players from this class in the NBA by the year 2027. This is a big-picture projection of who will prove to be the best when the uniforms are put away for good for all of these guys well over a decade from now. If I was in an NBA front office (in a stunner, nobody's calling yet), this would be my submission for any given franchise's big board. Try to eschew groupthink, try to trust what the tape is showing vs. what the data is providing, but also making plenty of room for how players' skill sets will translate and grow in the years to come.
So it's key to keep in mind that I'm not lining up these guys based on fit or team need. This is purely about projecting who can, and who I think will, be the best NBA players in totality. As best as I can, here is my big-board mock draft.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Duke • 6'10" / 250 lbs
Having the Duke star at No. 1 should not be a contrarian opinion. Banchero was the best freshman in college hoops last season, he led his team to the Final Four, he has an NBA-ready body, he has a litany of skills and is one of the best passing bigs in this year's draft. There has never been a moment over the past three-plus years where his skills didn't translate/project to being a wonderful combination of old-school mobile big and modern play-thru power forward. He is the most NBA-ready player in this draft. Be it in dribble pull-ups, using the post, rim-running, coming off screens, catch-and-shoots or on cuts, Banchero is capable of scoring in myriad ways. He's also got some touch around the rim that, combined with his physicality, makes him a tough matchup. The fullest package.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Jabari Smith PF
Auburn • 6'10" / 220 lbs
Barring injury (these things are always barring injury, of course) the floor for Jabari Smith is a 10-year starter in the NBA. His size, frame, shooting stroke, shooting range and defensive potential make him highly likely to hit and hit big. He checks essentially every box. The only reason I have him below Banchero is I feel Banchero has more it-factor than Smith, which isn't to say Smith can't get there. He's just got more room to grow. I'd like to see more of a killer mentality late in games, too. Still, Smith would appear to be the most bust-proof player in this year's pool. If you could build an NBA Draft pick in a lab, Smith would in many ways be the model.
Round 1- Pick 3
Kentucky • 6'5" / 198 lbs
We all need to acknowledge something regarding the top of this year's draft. The Banchero-Smith-Holmgren 1-2-3 is probably how the draft will shake out, in some order, on Thursday night. That said, the chances of those three players (which is to say: three bigs) actually proving to be the three best players from this draft is small. They each deserve to be where they are projected, but deserve has nothing to do with how this will unfold in the years to come. At least one player outside the top three is going to leapfrog at least one of those guys and wind up being better. So, this is my arrow in the dark. Sharpe hasn't played competitive basketball in almost a year. He's a total gamble. There is a lot there, though. Shooting, athleticism, explosiveness, gobs of potential. Some believe he'd be in the No. 1 conversation had he played at Kentucky. He didn't. Maybe it takes a year or three. But maybe we look up in 10 years and he's an All-Star. Let's swing big.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Arizona • 6'6" / 205 lbs
Can't reject his toughness, composure, magnetism to the rim and defensive upside. The '22 lottery is wing-heavy once you move past the three bigs. Mathurin should prove capable of being a great secondary playmaking option, and someone who will grow into a near-20-point-per-game scorer. I think he winds up being as durable as pretty much anyone in this class. Because his decision-making is good, he grades to me as the safest wing this year.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Gonzaga • 7'0" / 195 lbs
I think it's more than reasonable to project at least one of the big three to not be a top-five player in this class by the time we look up in 2030 and take stock of all that's happened. I just can't bring myself to put any of them lower than five on my list. Since Holmgren's still dogged by questions about his frame and shelf life as a durable presence, I'll pick him to be the worst of the three. Some NBA evaluators still believe there's a shot he falls to fourth or fifth on draft night. Some think he's going first. Nobody knows how this is going to go. I don't question his work ethic or love for the game at all. I can't wait to see him in the NBA, but I think he winds up as a good, but a bit inconsistent, modern stretch-center.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Jaden Ivey SG
Purdue • 6'4" / 195 lbs
Top-three athlete in this draft, a lead guard who is going to have his opportunity to grow into being a No. 2 guy on a team by the end of his rookie contract. I think his 3-point shot will get better. I think his defense will improve. I think he'll be in the conversation to be Rookie of the Year, and I think he'll have a shot at making a few All-Star teams before he turns 30. I do think his play will be a bit sporadic, and in my opinion there were times when he wasn't even the best player on his team last season.
Round 1 - Pick 7
AJ Griffin SF
Duke • 6'6" / 222 lbs
If the NBA is headed to a place in this decade where shooting, somehow, gets even more important than the advanced stage it's at in 2022, Griffin should be in a good spot. He's got injury concerns and he's a bafflingly absent-minded defender, but his shot will probably eventually put him into the 3-point contest on All-Star Weekends. If he ever truly wants to put it all together, he will do more on All-Star Weekends than just participate on Saturday nights. The upside is obvious, and his father played (and now coaches) in the NBA. A lot to like.
From Los Angeles Lakers
Round 1 - Pick 8
Ochai Agbaji SG
Kansas • 6'6" / 215 lbs
National champion. Easy to play with. Gotten better every year, has a great stroke, will be a smart and a hard-working teammate. Agbaji's about to enter into a 10-years-or-longer NBA career. I don't think he ever rises to the level of All-Star, but I think he will have opportunities in his career to be as valuable to team as, say, Mario Chalmers was during points of his career. (Let's ride with a fellow Jayhawk to make the comparison that much more translatable.)
Round 1 - Pick 9
Duke • 7'2" / 242 lbs
Will never be a do-it-all big man, but has a chance to be a top-five defensive big in the NBA. Maybe it won't even take that long. Williams is a rim-running problem who can guard in the interior, rebound like hell and is probably going to grow into an adept passing center. He's a true center, and it's hard to see him expanding his game too much from there, but his length, hand size, jumping ability and always-searching eyes will ensure he won't bust.
Round 1 - Pick 10
E.J. Liddell PF
Ohio State • 6'7" / 243 lbs
I'm ranking the Ohio State product this high despite skepticism he'll ever rise to the level of making even one All-Star Game. Instead, how about: three contracts or more in the NBA while playing as the fourth-, fifth- or sixth-best player on a roster for the majority of his career. That sound good? Liddell has tempting potential to reliably guard 2s, 3s and 4s while also having admirable shooting touch, a nose for rebounding and a giving sense to pass the rock. Will likely be a fit no matter who drafts him.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Baylor • 6'9" / 230 lbs
One of the breakout draft sleepers of the past season. Sochan steadily grew from being a multi-year college player into a surefire draft pick, then first-rounder, and is now a viable lottery selection. Few players in this draft have the defensive upside he possesses. He's always moving, always nagging opposing players. Can guard four positions at the NBA level right now, it seems. Plus, he's athletic enough to be useful in a variety of offenses. Don't overthink it. He'll play a long time in the pros because his battery is always running at full.
From Los Angeles Clippers
Round 1 - Pick 12
Iowa • 6'8" / 225 lbs
Had a tremendous sophomore season that put him in the conversation for national player of the year. An efficient player with a great jump shot. The reason I have him lower than most is my skepticism over where he'll land and how he'll be used in the NBA vs. the carte blanche approach he thrived from last season at Iowa. I also think he's a smidge overrated defensively. That said, I still think he turns into an NBA starter. High-end comp I could see: Harrison Barnes.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Wisconsin-Milwaukee • 6'9" / 220 lbs
The letdown, injury-plagued one-and-done season at Milwaukee will prevent Baldwin from being taken in the top 20, but there's a chance this becomes a Michael Porter Jr.-type situation. Baldwin has long been a proven offensive commodity with size, a great shooting stroke and good basketball IQ. The biggest question he has to answer is whether he will embrace and overcome on-court adversity. This could be a slow cook, but I expect him to develop into a long-term NBA starter, so long as he doesn't back down from competition.
Round 1 - Pick 14
Santa Clara • 6'6" / 209 lbs
Too athletic, rangy, defensively sound and offensively dynamic to not stick for years and years in the best basketball league in the world. The first NBA pick out of Santa Clara since Steve Nash, Williams' rise in the past three months has been as aggressive as any prospect in this class. His skillset translates easily from college to pros, and he's probably only 65% of the player he's capable of growing into. That's why he'll go in the top 20. Potential is immense. Teams have fallen in love with him since the combine.
From New Orleans Pelicans
Round 1 - Pick 15
Auburn • 7'1" / 256 lbs
Watch Kessler grow into an example of how a "traditional" big can still have a role in the NBA. He might even help redefine the concept. I expect he'll be one of the best defensive centers in the game by the time his second contract rolls around. He's also got good form and will be able to score from beyond eight feet. While he's projected as a first-round pick, too many are still a smidge too low on him. What he brings on both ends is obvious, and unlikely to fail.
Round 1 - Pick 16
My highest grade for any player who didn't play in college last season. Daniels was a G League standout in 2021-22. The Aussie would be a top-10 pick if he was an efficient scorer. He's a stud defender and highly developed for his age. He lacks a big burst, but his penchant for passing in transition and the halfcourt should make him a good rotation piece for a long time. The G League competition shouldn't hold him back too much, but the sample size most recently is just 29 games.
From Brooklyn Nets
Round 1 - Pick 17
Memphis • 6'11" / 250 lbs
Ever-present lob threat, great rebounder, strong player who has physically developed at an alarming rate for his age. I can't put him in the top 15, though, because at this stage there's not a lot to suggest he'll be a modern 5 in many ways. He needs to go to the right team and with a coach who knows how to use him effectively. Duren has big-time energy, reliable presence in the paint and can even do some defensive switching. I'm not sure how much he'll be used in an NBA offense, though.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Watching his tape, he looks more 6-9 than 6-10 to me, but there's certainly enough here to warrant top-20 projection. He's rubbery on defense, understands spacing, can be used in virtually any help situation. Offensively, Dieng never gets tunnel vision. He's prone to the skip pass, plays well both on and off the ball. At his size, he's a good perimeter shooter and can also get to the lane with dribble creation, which became more prominent as his NBL season went on.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Kentucky • 6'4" / 196 lbs
Wonderful shooting touch from the mid-range. Washington's ability to get into the lane and utilize pick-and-roll scheming is what's going to safely get him drafted in the first round. He's a smidge undersized, and I don't know if he'll be able to be a starter for more years than not, but I do like his chances of being a good secondary option at the point for years to come.
From Toronto Raptors
Round 1 - Pick 20
Johnny Davis SF
Wisconsin • 6'5" / 194 lbs
If you've been scrolling and thinking I forgot Davis, fear not. I can't stress this enough: all those mock drafts you've been reading that have a lot of sameness to them? They'll in many regards wind up being wrong (and that's to be expected). So many guys will eventually prove they were taken too late or too early. With Davis, I'll side with the too early camp. He was a college stud (I loved him at Wisconsin), but I'll sell him being a lottery-level value in the long run because I'm projecting that the gap between college and the NBA will be a significant one for someone who wasn't an exceptional shooter, isn't an elite athlete and had problems with some of his decision-making. This is a like-don't-love situation for me.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Gonzaga • 6'5" / 191 lbs
The size, passing acumen and overall basketball IQ make Nembhard a no-brainer first-round grade for me. At Gonzaga he was consistently overshadowed by the likes of Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren, but the Bulldogs would not have rated as a top-two team in college hoops the past two seasons if not for Nembhard's steadiness. The most crucial thing for Nembhard will be to become a dependable shooter at the second and third level. I'm banking on that happening.
From Utah Jazz
Round 1 - Pick 22
Arizona • 7'0" / 221 lbs
It would be hard to argue there were three or four defenders more versatile last season than Koloko. He'll never be an all-around big who's capable of performing as a top-two or maybe top-three player on a roster, but his defensive upside is so massive, he has to be considered for the value he'll bring there. The more I look back on his Arizona career, the more it seems clear he was scratching the surface. If the right organization develops him, Koloko will grow into a full-time starter by his third season. The fact he doesn't have a midrange or outside shot is why he has a second-round grade for most. Take him for who he is, and not what he isn't.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Duke • 6'5" / 217 lbs
A steady three-year riser at Duke, Moore picked the right time to leave. His 3-point shooting jumped from 30% to 41.3% this past season. He's a career 81.4% foul shooter, and has lead guard attributes with 6-5 size. He should be receiving more first-round prognostication. Few on-ball defenders playing guard or wing last season were as game-over-game reliable as Moore, who bolstered his reputation by rarely committing bad fouls or racking up time on the bench due to foul trouble. A mature player with so much good to his game, it's easy to see how he'll find a place and likely stick around in the NBA for a long time.
Round 1 - Pick 24
A tough projection. Hardy was not efficient last season while playing for G League Ignite. He shot just 26.9% from 3 and 37.9% from 2 in 25 games. At 6-4, his size is just on the cusp of being big enough to warrant franchises giving him a first-round grade. He has a good wingspan and has clearly shown an understanding of how to use pick-and-roll to exploit defenses with his playmaking ability and good-not-great jumper. He's a project, but the tools are there to grow into an off-the-bench combo guard.
From Boston Celtics
Round 1 - Pick 25
Too tall and skilled to not have a first-round grade on. The tempo and body movement with his dribbling and step-back reminds me of Michael Porter Jr. Jovic hails from Serbia — the land of two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokić. Jovic is a fascinating prospect. He plays just a bit faster than he looks, is a bit lighter than his frame belies and has a better touch around the rim than it seems when you watch the tape. Talent-wise, he's among the best this year has to offer.
From Dallas Mavericks
Round 1 - Pick 26
Tennessee • 6'0" / 172 lbs
The only thing preventing Chandler from being a top-20 guy is the frame. He's a 6-footer, which is what will cause him to fall on draft night. Otherwise, there's a lot to love here. He was a top-shelf point guard in his one-and-done season with the Vols. Magnificent athlete and someone who's perceived to be a traditional point guard at the next level. He'll still be able to score some, the question is how much. I do think his size will restrict him, and I'm not sold on the staunchness of his shooting, but there is zero debate as to whether he's a top-30 (maybe even top-20) talent in this draft.
Round 1 - Pick 27
USC • 6'10" / 240 lbs
Time to mix it up and take a few more chances. Mobley's brother is already looking like a long-term franchise-type player with the Cavs. Isaiah is not going to be that, but I do think he'll grow into a useable and switchable 4-man who can create a little offense, be a good rebounder and knows how to pass in a variety of schemes. He's vulnerable to going undrafted, but he'll quickly get snatched up to a team, and I think he'll go from Summer League stud to eventually finding his way onto a roster. Wouldn't surprise me to see him bounce back and forth from the G League initially, but by Year Five or so, I think he'll have the frame and offensive shrewdness to stick in the league.
Round 1 - Pick 28
This is a deep cut and Hail Mary-type projection. Diop played in Spain and is projected on the back end of the second round. He's a center, but he's strong, long, a bit raw, and with a 7-2 wingspan can grow into a plus-PLUS defender. Really good off of screens, good lob-catcher, understands how to use his length and has useful power to his game. He also has promising foot instincts and hip fluidity. Long-term play. Major upside.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Connecticut • 6'6" / 215 lbs
Having seen Martin play in person many times over the past two years, this is my sleeper-in-plain-sight inclusion. He carries a good frame for an NBA shooting guard. Martin shot 43% from beyond the arc last season and was still devoted enough to rebound at both ends. There are understandable concerns about his free throw and 2-point percentages. As a four-year player, I'd guarantee you he doesn't get a first-round grade from a single NBA team. I will trust the growth. He'll become a good plug-and-play scorer and wind up as a top-30 producer by the end of his career.
Round 1 - Pick 30
Colorado • 6'9" / 215 lbs
Walker has been getting some rave reviews from a few teams behind the scenes. I'm higher on him than most, as he gets my final first-round grade here (narrowly beating out Purdue's Trevion Williams). Walker has a 7-foot wingspan on an NBA frame and will be a prototypical sub-in wing at the next level. He's an active rebounder and a pro-caliber defender who can equally play on- or off-ball with effective resistance. There is 3-and-D potential if he can prove his shot is reliable off the catch.