The college basketball season -- and by extension the sprint to the 2022 NBA Draft -- will begin in earnest Tuesday night as the 2021-22 campaign gets underway. So with a new year upon us, it's time to set the table for what lies ahead in the coming months as the draft starts to come into focus.
Below is our first stab of the season at what we expect. Much will change between now and next summer when the draft takes place as the college season drags on and international play continues, but it may be more shifting than anything, with a number of this year's top prospects viewed as lottery locks entering the season.
That seems especially true at the top. Duke freshman forward Paolo Banchero will begin the season No. 1 in our mock and is viewed as one of the safest to go inside the top three of the draft next summer. It's seen right now, though, as a two-man race with Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren, who is No. 2 in our mock, pushing Banchero. Jaden Hardy, Jalen Duren and international standout Yannick Nzosa loom as possible contenders and all come in near the top of our mock as well.
Duke's Banchero and AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels and Mark Williams are Blue Devils projected to go in the first round of this mock draft. They will face Kentucky, led by prospects TyTy Washington and Daimon Collins, in Tuesday's Champions Classic. Michigan State's Max Christie will play in the first game at Madison Square Garden when the Spartans take on Kansas giving this year's Champions Classic seven projected first-rounders.
Our full preseason projections are as follows. The order is determined by SportsLine projections, but team needs for the selections are not taken into account because the NBA season remains in its infancy and the order may change drastically between now and the end of the season.
Round 1 - Pick 1
Duke • 6'10" / 250 lbs
We can't and shouldn't react to exhibition games -- they are largely meaningless -- but Banchero's line in a win over Winston-Salem State is a good indicator of how rounded his game is: Team-high 21 points, team-high nine rebounds, two assists, no turnovers and a made 3-pointer for good measure. He does a little of everything from scoring to creating as a four-man that has him positioned at No. 1.
Round 1 - Pick 2
Gonzaga • 7'1" / 195 lbs
Easily the most interesting prospect in the class. Holmgren is 7-foot-1 and doesn't tip the scales past 200 pounds. Still, he's a center who can block shots but has the skills of a guard. Combine that with one of the most competitive spirits among players in this class and it's easy to see why and how he could wind up going No. 1.
Round 1 - Pick 4
Memphis • 6'11" / 250 lbs
Duren was the No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class before reclassifying to 2021. Still just 17 years old, Duren has relied upon his physical tools to dominate at the high school level and should do the same at Memphis, where for the Tigers he'll flash his potential as a high-energy big can dominate on defense in stretches and finishes around the rim with ease.
Round 1 - Pick 5
Purdue • 6'4" / 195 lbs
No. 5 is higher than everyone in the industry has Ivey but I'm banking on a true star turn. He was sensational down the stretch as a freshman for Purdue last season and was a true difference-maker for the USA U19 World Cup team this summer, where he earned all-tournament honors averaging 12.3 points per game. Type of player who seems to do the right things and is always in the right spot. The Purdue version of Marcus Smart.
Round 1 - Pick 6
Michigan • 6'8" / 205 lbs
Players Houstan's size who play the wing position and have good shooting ability are by default going to land somewhere in the first-round range for me because what he brings to the table as an NBA player is so valuable. He'll need to shoot it consistently but physically he checks out and from a skills perspective he has shown in the past that he's more than just a floor-spacer with real ball skills as a creator and driver.
Round 1 - Pick 7
Auburn • 6'11" / 220 lbs
With Auburn star Allen Flanigan sidelined indefinitely coming off an injury, Smith, a five-star recruit, is in line to star from day one at Auburn and showcase his top-10 talent. Big-bodied power forward who has finesse to his game to shoot it from range and the mobility to hold up well against NBA competition. Hard to find combo of skills that'll land him somewhere in the lottery.
Round 1 - Pick 8
UCLA • 6'7" / 200 lbs
Raw talent who could be a wild card in the draft. Physically checks out as a long, athletic wing, just needs to develop his frame and be able to shoot it consistently. Type of long-term prospect who could really pop under the right circumstances.
Round 1 - Pick 9
Duke • 6'6" / 220 lbs
Griffin missed some of his junior season in high school with a knee injury and missed some time in the preseason at Duke with a knee injury before returning earlier this month for exhibition play. So those questions are, and likely will continue to, follow him during the draft process. But he's a long and crafty wing who can create, and some team, probably in the lottery, will wind up betting on his potential. If he stays healthy at Duke his stock should soar.
Round 1 - Pick 10
A 17-year-old Congo product, Nzosa is a tall, athletic big who has great mobility and a strong defensive motor but still needs to add polish to his game to warrant a selection this high. He picked up the game as a teenager so his skill and feel are still a work in progress but athletically he looks the part of a rim-running big who can defend the rim and has room to grow.
Round 1 - Pick 11
Wisconsin-Milwaukee • 6'9" / 220 lbs
An injury derailed Baldwin's senior season and he's off the national radar a tad playing for Milwaukee this season, but he's an automatic shooter with great fundamentals and the pedigree of a former No. 1 recruit. Three-and-D type skill set with an elite skill as a shooter.
Round 1 - Pick 12
Tennessee • 5'11" / 170 lbs
Chandler recorded 24 assists in seven games on the FIBA U-19 team this summer and averaged more than one steal per game as USA marched to win the gold medal. He's a true point guard who loves to get teammates involved and his selfless style of play will endear him to Tennessee fans as a potential day-one starter in Knoxville. Big question here is whether his game can overcome his 6-1 frame. Having him in the lottery is my answer, but scouts will want to see what it looks like this season with the Vols before jumping fully on board.
Round 1 - Pick 13
Kentucky • 6'3" / 195 lbs
Washington was barely ranked inside the top-100 as a recruit two years ago but has played his way into the lottery conversation after a strong year on the AAU circuit that pushed him just inside the top 20. And reports out of Lexington for him have been glowing, with the combination of his handles and scoring giving him a real chance to star even alongside an experienced UK roster. A player I'm betting will be in the conversation as a top-10 prospect soon.
Round 1 - Pick 14
I had Prkacin as a borderline first-rounder in the 2021 draft before he withdrew in the final hour. The decision may ultimately pay off as he enters this cycle as a lottery guy on my board. Good sized forward who can shoot it and rebound at a high level. He hit nearly 40% of his 3-pointers last season with Cibona in the Adriatic League as a 17-year-old.
From Los Angeles Lakers
Round 1 - Pick 15
Alabama • 6'1" / 195 lbs
It's both a great and tough situation for Davison at Alabama, where he steps into a system that has featured guards but may play behind Jahvon Quinerly at point guard. Minutes won't matter, though. If he shows he can run Bama's high-octane offense and shoots it well he'll be among the first point guards taken in the 2022 draft.
Round 1 - Pick 16
Arizona • 6'5" / 210 lbs
As a freshman, Mathurin quietly averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 boards while hitting 41.8% from 3-point range. He'll enter his sophomore season as one of the big beneficiaries of Tommy Lloyd's system with a chance to star as a sophomore. Big wings who can shoot and defend the way Mathurin can don't last long in the draft so if he shoots it above 40% from beyond the arc in a bigger role then the lottery could be in the cards.
Round 1 - Pick 17
Kentucky • Soph • 6'9" / 210 lbs
No. 17 could wind up being way too high or way too low for Collins, one of the true boom-or-bust talents in this class. The Kentucky freshman is an A+ athlete who can run the rim and defend it but there's still a lot of development needed from him on offense to feel good about his chances to go one-and-done. Teams will want to see what he looks like when he's not able to win solely with his athleticism and his skills as a shooter and passer will be under the microscope.
Round 1 - Pick 18
Montero is probably the best prospect involved with the Overtime Elite league this season. The 6-foot-2 lead guard plays with pizazz and his playmaking pops as both a creator and shooter. Loves attacking downhill and has the know-how to pull up on a dime. Think his season with OTE will really help him as he grows into a two-way prospect.
Round 1 - Pick 19
Big wing playing for G League Ignite who scored 22 points and went 3-of-5 from 3 in his debut with the team earlier this month against the South Bay Lakers. Daniels has some real chops as a playmaker and creator off the bounce and has a smooth stroke. Like his chances of being a 3-and-D type prospect if his shot continues to drop.
From Phoenix Suns
Round 1 - Pick 20
Auburn • Sr • 6'6" / 220 lbs
An injury in September to Flanigan's right Achilles is expected to sideline him 12-14 weeks, dealing a significant blow to his early-season draft stock. But this is a look-ahead projection and not a snapshot in time. And Flanigan's long-term potential should be in this range after a sophomore season in which he averaged 14.3 points and 5.5 boards while making 34% from 3-point range.
Round 1 - Pick 21
Duke • 6'5" / 221 lbs
I'm admittedly a tad higher on Keels than most of the industry. He has an NBA frame and legitimate explosive power that should equip him to create off the dribble. We'll see what his opportunities look like at Duke, especially next to Banchero and Griffin, but I'm willing to buy into his potential as a two-way guard who can create and think eventually he'll play his way into first round range.
Round 1 - Pick 23
Baylor • 6'7" / 205 lbs
Folks in Waco are already buzzing about the potential of first-year addition Brown. Strong athlete with a big frame who can really get after it defensively. Needs to add to his game on offense and prove he can shoot it consistently.
Round 1 - Pick 24
Florida State • Soph • 6'7" / 200 lbs
Toolsy guard who has the size and scoring acumen to be a difference-making 2-guard at the NBA level. Cleveland barely made the cut as a five-star in his class and there's still a need for him to develop his overall game, particularly on offense, but the upside remains big and he has the physical tools to be a Round 1 pick.
From Los Angeles Clippers
Round 1 - Pick 25
Duke • 7'1" / 240 lbs
Over his final six games last season at Duke, Williams averaged 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, finishing off his mini-breakout with a 23-point, 19-rebound outing vs. Louisville. If he continues on that trajectory this season the 7-foot sophomore will have plenty of interest given his size, rebounding and interior presence.
From Miami Heat
Round 1 - Pick 26
Arizona State • Soph • 6'8" / 215 lbs
Injuries plagued a promising freshman campaign for Bagley in the desert but averaging 10.8 points and 6.2 boards while hitting 34.7% from 3-point range on 72 attempts is enough promise to pique the interest of teams. He'll need to show he can consistently produce in a bigger role and should have ample opportunity this season with the Sun Devils.
Round 1 - Pick 27
Colorado • 6'8" / 200 lbs
As a freshman at Colorado, Walker didn't wow in the stat sheet -- he averaged 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 boards per game -- but talent evaluators view him as a potential breakout star for 2021-22. He shot above 50% from 3-point range last season on 44 attempts and has the length to be a role-playing wing capable of impacting the game on both ends.
Round 1 - Pick 28
Dieng is expected to be one of the first international prospects drafted in 2022. He has a big frame for a wing, can handle it and create like a guard and has the versatility to play multiple positions in the backcourt -- precisely the type of toolsy player that teams love to gamble on in the mid-to-late first round.
Round 1 - Pick 29
Michigan State • 6'5" / 190 lbs
NBA teams covet players who fit the archetype of Christie -- a 6-foot-7 wing who can score it and handle it -- so I'm expecting he'll get first-round buzz as a freshman despite narrowly making the cut as a top-20 prospect in his class. He should have every opportunity to flash his diverse weaponry at Michigan State as well.
From Utah Jazz
Round 1 - Pick 30
Arizona • Jr • 6'9" / 235 lbs
Tubelis finished his freshman season at Arizona strong and has the measurables to be a first-rounder under a new coaching staff led by Tommy Lloyd. He's a smooth scorer, a tenacious rebounder and a potential floor-spacing big man at the next level if his outside shot starts falling with regularity.