The first quarter of the NBA season is over, and we’re already starting to get a feel for how this rookie class will shake out. With that in mind, I can’t resist a way-too-early 2022 NBA redraft to assess where the top rookies are now, what they need to do to reach their potential, and where they might land if teams could draft all over again today.
I also recorded a podcast version of this redraft, alternating selections with my colleague J. Kyle Mann, that you can listen to on The Ringer’s NBA Draft Show.
The podcast version is more of a re-ranking. This is a redraft, so let’s get it started with some chalk before getting to some of the more intriguing lottery hypotheticals:
1. Orlando Magic: Paolo Banchero
Despite all the debate and mystery leading up to the draft, Orlando ultimately made the right selection in taking Banchero. And it’s clear now what the Magic are trying to do by building around massive length and players like Bol Bol and Franz Wagner. Even alongside so many long-limbed teammates, it’s still unusual to see a big man move the way Banchero does.
At 6-foot-10, he’s fluid like a guard, utilizing shifty crossovers, but he can still plow through defenders like stars his size traditionally would. Banchero can lower his shoulder to drive opponents underneath the basket, then spin like a ballerina from left to right to dunk over him with both hands. Or he can use crossovers to step back into jumpers unless he decides to counter by driving back into the paint to dunk over the entire defense. He makes the types of abnormal plays you see from megastars, and so far he has excelled in isolations. Even without a knockdown jumper, he could become one of the game’s best players, but developing that skill could send him soaring to All-NBA consideration in the future.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Chet Holmgren
Thunder’s original pick: Holmgren
Holmgren’s predraft ranking: 3rd
What a bummer Holmgren hasn’t been able to make his debut this season, considering how well the Thunder are playing. The no. 2 pick underwent Lisfranc surgery in August, and the Thunder said he will miss the entire season. But in the meantime, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has blossomed into a top-10 player, Aleksej Pokusevski is emerging as a shot blocker who can also shoot 3s, and a bunch of other young players have made great progress.
Unless the Thunder have learned of new long-term injury concerns since the draft, I can’t fathom they’d select anyone other than Holmgren here, no matter how well some of the upcoming choices have performed so far. On paper, Holmgren can fit with any of OKC’s existing centerpieces. He and Poku will swat away everything near the basket. He’ll give SGA and Josh Giddey another lob or pick-and-pop target.
Even though we haven’t seen Chet log any regular-season minutes, he still gets the nod for OKC.
3. Houston Rockets: Jabari Smith
Rockets’ original pick: Smith
Smith’s predraft ranking: 2nd
The numbers are not great so far for Smith: 11.6 points a game on 35 percent shooting with 15 assists and 21 turnovers. He’s not finishing plays efficiently. He’s not creating much of anything. Granted, the Rockets are a mess, but he’s simply not making open shots. Here’s the fear: Smith made 42 percent of his 3s last season at Auburn. But what if that was an outlier performance? He’s shooting just 33.6 percent from deep with the Rockets.
But his stroke is so pure, and his touch is so soft from the line. He should improve. It’s too soon to say Smith won’t at least become a good shooter, even if he never becomes elite. Part of me wants to move Bennedict Mathurin up to third in this redraft, as I did on the podcast version of this exercise. But I can’t envision Houston selecting him given the presence of Jalen Green; neither of them is a facilitator, and the reason for drafting Smith wasn’t just scoring. It was his defense, too.
Smith has immediately made contributions on that end, looking like a massive, long, and active defender. Against the Luka-less Mavericks earlier this month, his defense helped win the game with high-effort help blocks and vice-grip defense.
Situation is everything, and Smith seems like the type of player who’d be performing far better if he were drafted by a more competitive team. At least, Rockets fans can still hope that’s the case.
4. Sacramento Kings: Bennedict Mathurin
Kings’ original pick: Keegan Murray
Mathurin’s original team: No. 6 to Pacers
Mathurin’s predraft ranking: 6th
Now things get interesting. This is a fun alternate universe to consider now that Mathurin is excelling in Indy alongside an ex-King, Tyrese Haliburton. In this scenario, he’d be playing behind De’Aaron Fox, creating a dynamic bench trio next to Malik Monk and Davion Mitchell. Would the Kings have too many guards? Probably, but Mathurin is 6-foot-5 and playing out of his mind so far this season.
No player in NBA history has ever won Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year in the same season. But Mathurin has a chance. He’s averaging 19.1 points in 28.1 minutes a game, ranking first in total points off the bench and first in the same category for a rookie. After spending most of his freshman season at Arizona playing off the ball, and then running the show more often as a sophomore, he’s blending both styles with the Pacers.
Mathurin already has proved to be a knockdown shooter capable of sprinting through elevator screens to hit contested 3-pointers, and he’s also able to finish with athleticism acrobatically at the rim. There aren’t many players capable of doing both, and he’s only a rookie.
Playing next to Haliburton has allowed Mathurin to focus on scoring. But he has shown off some improved passing chops, as well. The missing piece for him is defense. He’s still a bit aloof off the ball, and rather inconsistent man-to-man.
For now, though, he deserves to rise up these rankings. About a week before the draft, a high-ranking executive from a team with a top pick told me they thought Mathurin would go down as the player everyone regretted not selecting. So far, that prediction is ringing true.
5. Detroit Pistons: Shaedon Sharpe
Pistons’ original pick: Jaden Ivey
Sharpe’s original team: No. 7 to Blazers
Sharpe’s predraft ranking: 4th
Sharpe didn’t play a single minute last year at Kentucky, but the first quarter of his rookie season has shown why the Blazers saw enough from him at the high school level to take him in the mid-lottery. Sharpe is making just under 40 percent of his 3s and showing a dynamic ability to score off of movement, and he already has multiple highlight at-rim finishes.
Sharpe has flashed his go-to scoring ability this season. Though Portland has limited his usage out of isolations, he uses his chances out of pick-and-rolls and closeouts to pull up from midrange. So far, he’s making over 40 percent of his dribble-jumper 2s, but he needs to extend his comfort zone to behind the arc, where he’s taking just 2.4 attempts per game. If that happens, he’ll blossom as a scorer.
Perhaps more importantly in the short term, Sharpe needs to show more progress as a playmaker given the talent surrounding him on Portland’s roster. That would be less important if he had been drafted by the Pistons to play alongside Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes, who’s played his best basketball since Cunningham was sidelined by injury. Sharpe would have provided the Pistons franchise a potential go-to scoring wing, but he’s an even better fit with the Blazers.
6. Indiana Pacers: Keegan Murray
Pacers’ original pick: Mathurin
Murray’s original team: No. 4 to Kings
Murray’s predraft ranking: 8th
Murray got off to a sensational start this season, averaging 12.0 points a game on 37.5 percent shooting from 3 while making smart decisions and playing strong defense. For a while, Murray looked like the player the Kings hoped to draft: someone who could help right away on offense and get stops on defense. It all was working, but then he got sidelined for a game due to back soreness in mid-November and hasn’t really been the same since.
In his past five games, Murray is averaging 6.6 points a game on 39.5 percent shooting from 2 and 15 percent shooting from 3. Maybe it’s a rookie wall. Maybe he’s being scouted more. Maybe he’s in more pain than he or the team is letting on. Whatever the reason, he needs to return to form and keep improving or he’ll eventually slide further down these rankings. But Murray’s regression isn’t a huge deal for the surging Sacramento Kings right now. The team is winning games, and that’s what matters most.
I’d imagine his season would be going similarly with the Pacers, thriving in the role occupied by Aaron Nesmith right now or even as a smaller power forward in place of Jalen Smith. Indiana did have interest in Murray prior to the draft, so this would have been a plausible outcome had the board broken differently.
7. Portland Trail Blazers: Dyson Daniels
Blazers’ original pick: Sharpe
Daniels’s original team: No. 8 to Pelicans
Daniels’s predraft ranking: 7th
During every Pelicans practice, Daniels works out with Fred Vinson, the assistant coach who helped Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball improve their jump shots. So far, things seem to be working with Daniels, as well; he has made eight of his 17 shots from 3. Developing a reliable jumper is the skill that will keep him on the floor early in his career, but he’s already shown a knack for cutting, playmaking, and defending.
So far this season, he’s more than held his own. At 6-foot-7 with great strength and quickness, he’s able to mirror movements of opposing scorers and withstand any blows to his chest. With his jumper falling and his defense immediately translating, his role has begun to increase.
Head coach Willie Green hasn’t fully unleashed Daniels, though. The Pelicans have a ton of guards and depth in general. Maybe Daniels would be playing an even bigger role for the Blazers, providing ballhandling and defense off the bench in addition to the spot-up shooting Sharpe adds for Portland. In the short term, that’d probably be an upgrade for the Blazers, but they’re likely happy with what they have in Sharpe just as the Pelicans are with Daniels.
8. New Orleans Pelicans: Jaden Ivey
Pelicans’ original pick: Daniels
Ivey’s original team: No. 5 to Pistons
Ivey’s predraft ranking: 5th
With Cade Cunningham out for an extended period of time, possibly even the rest of the season, Ivey will receive ample opportunity to run the show for the Pistons. That’ll lead to a lot of losing since he’s still figuring out how to change pace, and his shot selection has generally been quite frustrating. He’s settling for early-clock jumpers way too often.
It’s probably advantageous for the Pistons to empower Ivey to jack up these bricks since their priority is player development and losing games. But it’d be nice to see him build better habits by being more choosy about the times he does unleash his jumper, and the times he instead attacks the basket. Right now, interior finishing is what Ivey does best. We’ve seen him finish a variety of finesse and power moves around the rim and he’s also shown the ability to dish to teammates.
This type of opportunity would not be available with the Pelicans. With CJ McCollum, Jose Alvarado, and a ton of bigger ball handlers, Ivey would have been more of a long-term prospect who wouldn’t be playing much as a rookie. Daniels was a better pick for the franchise because of the defense he can offer in the short term.
9. San Antonio Spurs: Jeremy Sochan
Spurs’ original pick: Sochan
Sochan’s predraft ranking: 9th
“Gen Z Dennis Rodman” for Sochan is probably my favorite player comparison in recent years. Though it’s a tall order to sniff Rodman’s production, Sochan brings flair, a possessed appetite for getting stops, and, just like Rodman, an array of hair colors from the entire spectrum of the rainbow.
So far this season, we’ve seen Sochan do a little bit of everything, from sliding laterally to contain Damian Lillard to battling (and getting buried by) Zion Williamson. Succeed or fail, he never backs down from a challenge, and he has both the quickness and strength to take on any matchup. After a defensive stop, he can rip down boards and instantly start a transition chance all on his own. In the half court, he needs to work on his jumper but possesses enough skills as an aware cutter to the basket, interior finisher, and playmaker that he can make a positive impact.
With the athleticism to put opponents on posters, he will live on highlight reels for many years to come. And someday, if the Spurs find the right supporting pieces, those moments will define him in the games that really count for something.
10. Washington Wizards: A.J. Griffin
Wizards’ original pick: Johnny Davis
Griffin’s original team: No. 16 to Hawks
Griffin’s predraft ranking: 11th
A few weeks ago, I was home alone on a Saturday night watching NBA League Pass and I decided to tune into Hawks-Raptors. That was the epic overtime game we all saw play out on SportsCenter and social media:
It ended with OG Anunoby hitting two clutch free throws to tie the game with seconds remaining, but then Atlanta inbounded the ball with a football style hook-and-ladder play leading to a lob from Trae Young to Griffin for the victory. Those who tuned in saw Griffin have one of the best all-around games before converting the biggest shot of his career.
Griffin is averaging 17.5 points in the four games he’s logged at least 24 minutes. On the season, he’s making 36.9 percent of his 3s while playing solid defense. He’s already become a rotation piece, an invaluable versatile wing next to Young and Dejounte Murray. Long term, perhaps he’ll grow into a third star.
To think the Wizards could’ve had him spacing the floor and defending multiple positions alongside Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma has to hurt a little bit. Instead, they got Davis. Maybe it will work out with Davis in the future, but he’s off to a terrible start and is playing timidly even in the G League. Griffin would’ve helped more in the short term and probably been a better pick in the long term, too.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jalen Duren
Thunder’s original pick: Ousmane Dieng
Duren’s original team: No. 13 to Pistons
Duren’s predraft ranking: 12th
Duren is the NBA’s youngest active player, and his game is undoubtedly raw. But raw doesn’t mean unproductive. He’s already arguably the best big on the Pistons. Duren holds his own in over 20 minutes per game, showing off the type of shot-blocking, above-the-rim finishing, and rebounding that the Pistons were expecting when they selected him in the lottery. It should be only a matter of time before Pistons head coach Dwane Casey gives him a heavier workload. Plus, he’s also flashing some of the passing upside he showed as a college freshman, operating out of the post and the short roll.
At only 19 years old, Duren has a long way to go. He’s still working on the intricacies of screening at proper angles. He still needs to improve as a free throw shooter. He’s not anchoring a top defense yet. But the signs are there that he’ll someday be a major two-way presence in Detroit.
Dieng was an upside pick for the Thunder, and I think there’s a strong chance they’d stick with him in a redraft. Dieng has shown his versatile defense already in the G League, but his offense will be slow to come along. There also might have been a tad bit of redundancy with drafting Duren and Holmgren. But both of them can also play on the perimeter and Holmgren can fit with anyone on offense.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jalen Williams
Thunder’s original pick: Williams
Williams’s predraft ranking: 15th
With a wealth of on-ball talent on the roster, it’s important for OKC to have players who can fill the gaps, sometimes control the rock, sometimes attentively cut to the rim, and always grind on defense. That’s where Williams comes in. He does all the little things for the Thunder, and is especially impactful as an off-ball defender flying into the paint for shot alterations or jumping passing lanes for deflections. On offense, he isn’t hitting his 3-pointers yet but already does everything else. He’s a mixer. And sometimes he shows his playmaking skill with cross-court lefty skip passes.
Williams saw his role change in three years at Santa Clara, first excelling as a complementary player before leading his team in assists as a junior. It’s passes like the one above that suggest his destiny could be as one of the game’s best sixth men, a player who can let his shot creation shine in certain lineups without the stars but then fill other roles when they share the floor.
So far, Williams looks the part of a potential third star for Oklahoma City’s future as a constant presence on defense and a mixer on offense.
13. Detroit Pistons: Walker Kessler
Pistons’ original pick: Duren
Kessler’s original team: No. 22 to Jazz
Kessler’s predraft ranking: 24th
The Jazz might’ve found their new Gobert. Kessler is making 71.7 percent of his shots this season, with the majority of them coming on lobs, cuts, and dump-offs near the basket. He can catch tough passes then finish with either hand, and even score after dribbling once or twice.
On defense, the Jazz allow only 0.9 points per pick-and-roll defended by Kessler, the best mark of any rookie and one of the best marks of any player, per Second Spectrum. Kessler won Defensive Player of the Year in college and his skills have immediately translated because he has a veteran feel for bothering the ball handler while also containing the roller. Though he plays only 15.1 minutes per game off Utah’s bench, he should climb these rankings as his role continues to grow.
The Pistons got the better fit for them in Duren because of his youth. But Kessler would have filled the same need as an enforcer.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers: Tari Eason
Cavaliers’ original pick: Ochai Agbaji
Eason’s original team: No. 17 to Rockets
Eason’s predraft ranking: 18th
Houston sucks this season, and ranks no. 28 in defensive rating, but it’s no fault of Eason. The rookie hustles all over the court. He’s producing while also making 37.5 percent of his 3s. The Rockets have a ton of ball handlers, but Eason has also flashed a handle when provided chances, just like he did at LSU. He doesn’t play much (18.4 minutes per game) but his potential is obvious and he could go down as one of the biggest steals of this class.
Eason is exactly what the Cavaliers are missing: a versatile forward who can effectively space the floor on offense. Basically, he’d be better than Isaac Okoro on offense though worse on defense. If he had been sent to the Jazz in the Donovan Mitchell trade like Agbaji, he also would have fit in there and provided energy off the bench. He’d certainly be playing more than Agbaji, who’s off to a slow start in his NBA career.
Four Other Rookie Risers to Monitor
Jaden Hardy, Mavericks: I had Hardy ranked in my top 10 for most of last season until the draft got closer and I dropped him to no. 17—which was still way higher than most other outlets and much higher than where he ended up going (no. 37). But I still may have undervalued him. Hardy is averaging 29 points per game in the G League while shooting 48.2 percent from 3 on 9.2 attempts a game. The dude is getting any shot he wants on the court, just like he did in high school when he was a top-ranked player. Granted, he still needs work as a defender and a playmaker, but he would have gone in the lottery had he scored like this last year. The Mavericks might have found a steal, but now the team needs to give him a chance in the big leagues.
MarJon Beauchamp, Bucks: Beauchamp has played only sparingly so far for the Bucks. He’s performing much like he did for the Ignite, though, with active defense, aware cutting, and solid playmaking for a wing. If he could just find his jump shot, he’d probably already be a rotation fixture.
Christian Koloko, Raptors: Koloko fell to the second round but would go in the first in any redraft. He’s already a major lob threat and an impactful defender, occasionally playing heavy minutes for Toronto.
Andrew Nembhard, Pacers: Everyone saw his game-winning 3-pointer against the Lakers. What gets overlooked is his steady playmaking and gritty defense. In that same game, he was doing a good job against LeBron James despite being nearly a half-foot shorter. Nembhard already looks like the type of guard who will offer winning qualities to a rotation for 10-plus years.