Way-too-early 2022 NBA mock draft: Gonzaga commit Chet Holmgren leads the way

NBA scouts and executives got a first look in over 18 months at 2022 NBA prospects at an event last week in Memphis, Tennessee. It was the first time watching players like Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero work out in person since the USA Basketball training camp in October 2019.

All the normal high school All-Star games — McDonald’s All-American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic — were canceled this year due to COVID-19, so this was the only chance NBA personnel had to see 28 of the top high school seniors compete this year.

Here is Yahoo Sports’ way-too-early look at the first round of the 2022 NBA draft.

1. Chet Holmgren

Ht./Wt.: 7-1, 195

Position: Center

Team: Gonzaga (incoming freshman)

This past weekend was the first time Holmgren and Duke commit Paolo Banchero went head-to-head in their high school careers, and it did not disappoint. Holmgren has a bit more fluidity to his game and defensively, he’s the best shot blocker in America, averaging 5.2 blocks per game his senior season. As an NBA prospect, Holmgren has more upside and is intriguing as a long-term player. He reminds scouts of Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokusevski with his long frame and the way he can handle the ball off the block. There has never been a high school prospect like Holmgren, and every time scouts see him play, there’s always something new to his game. “He was impressive in the game against Emoni Bates in the fall and isn’t ducking the competition here. It’s impressive to see how well he moves on the court for a player with his size and frame,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports.

2. Jaden Hardy

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 180

Position: Shooting guard

Team: Undecided

Hardy is still undecided on what route he’ll take next with college teams like UCLA and Kentucky in the mix. The G League Ignite team is the rumored favorite with his decision coming in the next month. Hardy is the best scorer in his high school class and can get to anywhere he wants on the court with his sharp change of speed and athleticism. His high release on his jump shot makes it impossible to defend and he does a great job at creating separation from his defender off the dribble to get a shot off. If there’s any player who can compete with Holmgren for the top spot next year, it’s Hardy. He has a solid frame for a shooting guard and is a dynamic scorer who can be plugged in right away to any NBA team.

3. Jabari Smith Jr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 210

Position: Small forward

Team: Auburn (incoming freshman)

Smith Jr.’s dad, Jabari Smith, played four years in the NBA and five years overseas. Last fall, Smith Jr. went up against Holmgren at the Pangos West All-American camp and held his own. He found ways to scoop shots around Holmgren’s 7-foot-6 wingspan in the lane and was easily the best player on the court, getting shots off over Holmgren in a half-court set. His game translates extremely well with his 6-foot-9 frame on the wing and can knock down shots consistently from 3-point range.

4. Paolo Banchero

Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 240

Position: Power forward

Team: Duke (incoming freshman)

Banchero is the best hybrid power forward in this draft class. He has a strong handle and can make plays off the pick-and-roll and also has the size to bang down low with bigger, stronger players. Banchero is the most NBA-ready player in the draft class right now, and his only fault is his lateral movement on defense when guarding the wing. Some early mock drafts have him going No. 1 overall and with one year developing under coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, he could very well be in the conversation for the No. 1 pick next year.

5. Peyton Watson

Ht./Wt.: 6-8, 185

Position: Shooting guard

Team: UCLA (incoming freshman)

Watson might have been considered an under-the-radar prospect before last week, but the 6-foot-8 shooting guard out of Long Beach, California, is now on every NBA scout's radar. Watson was one of the best players on the court last week and showcased his versatility on both offense and defense, blocking shots and hitting a long 3-pointer over Kentucky center Daimion Collins. UCLA will most likely lose Johnny Juzang to the NBA draft this year, but what Mick Cronin is getting in Watson could give the Bruins a chance for another Final Four run.

6. Patrick Baldwin Jr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 205

Position: Power forward

Team: UW-Milwaukee (incoming freshman)

Baldwin Jr. announced on Wednesday that he would be playing his one year of college basketball for his dad at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “I don’t know where I would be without my dad and my parents, along with what his job is. It has opened up so many opportunities for me to be around players, to be at Final Fours, around so many coaches and high-level basketball,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin Jr.’s early NBA comp is Denver Nuggets wing Michael Porter Jr. He has a high IQ with a smooth jump shot that extends past the 3-point line. Baldwin Jr. can facilitate for others off the wing and is a great passer who can find others in the lane.

7. Jaden Ivey

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 200

Position: Shooting guard

Team: Purdue (Sophomore)

Purdue played in only one NCAA tournament game this past season, and it was Ivey who caught the eye of every NBA scout at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Ivey is the son of Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Niele Ivey, who was previously an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 26 points in the overtime loss to North Texas. It was the most points scored in the NCAA tournament by any Big Ten freshman. Ivey is a strong guard who has incredible touch around the rim and great size in a mismatch situation. He’s a player who can score at all three levels and will undoubtedly be option one in the offense next season for the Boilermakers.

8. A.J. Griffin

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 210

Position: Small forward

Team: Duke (incoming freshman)

Griffin elected not to play his senior year of high school and has been working out with his father, Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, in Miami. This Duke recruiting class is reminiscent of the 2018 class where Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish took the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight and were all lottery picks in the 2019 NBA draft. Griffin will bring great size to the wing and has shown NBA scouts his killer hesitation crossover to get to the lane or hesitation step-back 3-pointer. The five-star prospect shows promising upside, and if he has a dominant season at Duke, Griffin could creep up into the top five.

9. Caleb Houstan

Ht./Wt.: 6-8, 200

Position: Small forward

Team: Michigan (incoming freshman)

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard was named coach of the year for the 2021 season and has the No. 1 recruiting class coming in next season headlined by five-star Houstan. The 6-foot-8 wing played his high school career at powerhouse Montverde Academy where past players like Cade Cunningham, Ben Simmons and RJ Barrett all attended. Houstan has a strong handle for his size and can bring the ball up as a point guard at times. He’s quick off the dribble and has great body control in the lane against bigger forwards. Michigan is a team to watch next season, and as good as Houstan is on offense, Howard lives and dies by his defense. Houstan will be a much-needed asset on the wing with his quickness and length.

10. Yannick Nzosa

Ht./Wt.: 6-11, 180

Position: Center

Team: Unicaja Malaga (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Nzosa is the best prospect to come out of the Republic of the Congo since Dikembe Mutombo. He’s a lanky 6-foot-11 center who is an elite shot blocker, similar to Holmgren. Nzosa left home at age 14 and headed to Italy to pursue a career in basketball, and he has high aspirations for his NBA career.

“I want to emulate what [Serge] Ibaka is doing in Congo and help my people,” Nzosa told Slam Online. “When I was young, since I’m tall, people were calling me Dikembe Mutombo. If you are tall in Congo, they call you Dikembe Mutombo.”

Nzosa’s presence on defense is what makes him a top-10 draft pick, but he also is solid on offense, moving well in transition and showing flashes of solid shot selection outside of the paint.

11. Daimion Collins

Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 205

Position: Power forward

Team: Kentucky (incoming freshman)

Kentucky is losing 6-foot-10 center Isaiah Jackson to the NBA draft this year and will refill the presence in the lane with Collins. The Texas native is extremely bouncy and has raw athleticism similar to New Orleans Pelicans forward Jaxson Hayes. Collins was a little inconsistent in front of NBA scouts last week, but he has a lot of upside as an NBA professional and a player every team will keep an eye on next season.

12. Kennedy Chandler

Ht./Wt.: 6-0, 165

Position: Point guard

Team: Tennessee (incoming freshman)

Chandler is one of the best point guards in high school basketball and hit the game-winner against Montverde earlier this season, handing them the first loss in 44 straight games. Chandler is extremely athletic for his size and plays above the rim.

“He doesn’t have the size for the typical NBA point guard, but his IQ is off the charts,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “His shot has improved this year, and he’s become more explosive. Kennedy checks every box of a lead guard, and it will be interesting to see how he leads this Tennessee team this year.”

13. Matthew Cleveland

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 190

Position: Small forward

Team: Florida State (incoming freshman)

Florida State is on a roll with developing one-and-done talent. Head coach Leonard Hamilton and staff have had great success in the last few drafts with Patrick Williams, Devin Vassell and Scottie Barnes. Cleveland could be the next great prospect to come out of Florida State. He has great hands and runs the floor well in transition. Cleveland makes good reads off the wing, and if he continues to develop his game at Florida State, he’s a player who NBA teams can plug in right away and get solid minutes.

14. Kendall Brown

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 200

Position: Small forward

Team: Baylor (incoming freshman)

Baylor is the defending national champion and will lose Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler to the NBA draft this year. Brown will bring size and added athleticism to the wing next season at Baylor. He was one of the most exciting players in transition this high school season and played well alongside point guard Kennedy Chandler at Sunrise Christian. Brown needs to show more consistencies with his outside jump shot, but is an intriguing prospect who is a player to watch next season.

Post Lottery

15. JD Davison

Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 180

Position: Point guard

Team: Alabama (incoming freshman)

16. Ty Ty Washington

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 180

Position: Point guard

Team: Kentucky (incoming freshman)

17. Jean Montero

Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 175

Position: Combo guard

Team: Gran Canaria (Spain)

18. Bennedict Mathurin

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 195

Position: Small forward

Team: Arizona (sophomore)

19. Josh Primo

Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 190

Position: Shooting guard

Team: Alabama (sophomore)

20. Nolan Hickman

Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 175

Position: Point guard

Team: Undecided (incoming freshman)

21. Allen Flanigan

Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 215

Position: Shooting guard

Team: Auburn (junior)

22. Aaron Wiggins

Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 200

Position: Shooting guard

Team: Maryland (senior)

23. Caleb Love

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 195

Position: Combo guard

Team: North Carolina (sophomore)

24. Nikola Jovic

Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 205

Position: Small forward

Team: Mega Soccerbet (Serbia)

25. Josh Minott

Ht./Wt.: 6-8, 195

Position: Small forward

Team: Memphis (incoming freshman)

26. Micah Peavy

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 215

Position: Small forward

Team: TCU (sophomore)

27. Andrew Nembhard

Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 193

Position: Combo guard

Team: Gonzaga (senior)

28. Matthew Mayer

Ht./Wt.: 6-9, 225

Position: Small forward

Team: Baylor (senior)

29. Mark Williams

Ht./Wt.: 7-0, 243

Position: Center

Team: Duke (sophomore)

30. Dyson Daniels

Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 180

Position: Shooting guard

Team: NBA Global Academy (Australia)

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