The power forward group is by FAR the most talented in this year’s draft class as it boasts the big-three freshman who all have the potential to be superstars over their NBA careers. These three guys figure to be the first three players to hear their names called on draft night.
The order of how they will be drafted and ultimately end up is a great debate and there are certainly many variables at play. Here is a look at how we see it.
1. Jabari Smith 6-10 220 Auburn Tigers
It didn’t take long for scouts to realize that Smith should be in the running for the top overall pick. With his relentless two-way intensity and incredible shot making at 6-10, Smith is both safe and with a chance to be elite, which make him the likely top pick in the draft. He may lack a strong ability to create and in particular drive by opponents off the dribble to the rim. But his skill set fits in well in today’s game with such a premium on floor spacing and bigs that can guard the perimeter.
He has elite size on the wing and has the quickness and athleticism to truly defend 1-4 and maybe 1-5 if he puts on some weight and strength. He can be used as a stretch-four or off-ball wing early in his career. If he does improve as a ball-handler and as a driver to the basket, Smith can become truly special.
2. Paolo Banchero 6-10 250 Duke Blue Devils
Banchero might be the same height and position as Smith, but he is a completely different player than the Auburn standout. While Smith is able to settle for jumpers and shoot over his defender, Banchero has more brute strength and actually creates baskets for himself and others more proficiently.
I love the fit as a modern small-ball five because of how impressive of a rebounder Banchero is and how well he sees the floor. He can stretch out to the 3-point line and can make a living playing on both sides of the pick and roll with his terrific body control on the floor while he dissects opposing defenses with great feel and instincts in the lane. Look for Banchero to be in the rookie of the year running and end up a better pro than many expect.
3. Chet Holmgren 7-0 195 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Holmgren has the drat’s highest ceiling by a considerable margin. And his former high school teammate Jalen Suggs is pushing hard for Orlando to reunite the duo. The Minnesota native is a brilliant basketball player with the length and skill to be special on both ends with his passing, shooting touch and rim protection. Chet brings a number of elements that Smith’s game is missing, including his 7-6 wignspan, passing and ability to create off the dribble.
The major concerns surrounding Holmgren are strength, toughness and durability. His lacks physicality and figures to struggle with conditioning over a grueling 82 game NBA schedule. If it were a guarantee that Chet Holmgren would be able to add 20-30 pounds of muscle, maintain his current speed and have a long and relatively injury free career, he would hands down be the number one pick.
4. Jeremy Sochan 6-9 230 Baylor Bears
Sochan is another versatile defender and athlete at a stacked power forward position group. He’s got great size to perhaps play as a small ball five plus the fluidity and athleticism to become a standout rim runner on top of the defensive potential.
He is just 19 years old and has shown flashes of decent 3-point shooting and self-creation skills, but he likely is not ready to make animpact in these areas as a rookie. Sochan will make his mark early on is with his aggressiveness and pressure as an on-ball defender. His shooting efficiency should improve over time as he’s developed a reputation for putting in the work and also being a good teammate both in high school and college.
5. Tari Eason 6-8 215 LSU Tigers
Outside of the sensational top-three of this position group stands Tari Eason who is no joke and is getting buzz as a possible lottery selection. Eason went from zero to hero after transferring from Cincinnati to LSU. After averaging seven points with the Bearcats on 24% perimeter shooting, Eason jumped to 17 points per game and 36% shooting from beyond the arc, coming off the bench.
Eason has an argument for the best defender in the entire 2022 draft class and he does it in a variety of ways. He is an instinctive, versatile defender who was able to pick up on and anchor the Tigers defense. Eason’s block and steal rates were standout in 2022 and it’ll be exciting to see how much he can disrupt offenses in the NBA with his defensive tenacity.
6. Patrick Baldwin 6-10 220 Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers
It was a rough season for Baldwin who chose to play for his father instead of attending a blue-blood, and was riddled with injuries and disappointment limiting him to just 11 games and 34% shooting. This challenging season caused quite the dip in Baldwin’s draft stock as he has gone from five-star recruit to possible-second round prospect in a matter of a few months.
Still, Baldwin has the potential to be a terrific shot maker with his size and fluidity along with his shooting. He’ll benefit by landing in the right situation at the next level and should see his shooting efficiency increase in more of a spot-up role as he continues to impact the game in other ways with his length and versatility. There aren’t many guys available in the second round who were former top 5 prospects in their class with tantalizing potential. it’s a matter of whether he has the desire and toughness to realize his potential.
7. EJ Liddell 6-7 245 Ohio State Buckeyes
Liddell was one of the most dominant college basketball players in the country during his junior season and he did it on both ends of the floor. He might not have the mobility and quickness to stay with the elite athletes in the NBA, but he certainly won’t be a defensive liability and will force turnovers just as effectively.
Offensively, he drastically improved from beyond the arc after receiving NBA feedback last summer and now is ready to make the jump as an impressive three-level scorer and stretch-four.
8. Josh Minott 6-8 205 Memphis Tigers
It was a crazy year for the Memphis Tigers this season with more ups and downs than a rollercoaster, which isn’t the ideal setting for a star freshman to flourish. Minott climbed into the lottery early in the preseason on our mock draft, on the heels of rave reviews from scouts, but didn’t receive the minutes or productivity to justify that projection.
He still has a ways to go with his development and needs to revamp his shooting form, so it could take him a while to establish himself as an NBA contributor. Minott clearly has intrigue in scouts minds and he’ll be an interesting project pick at some point in the second round.
9. Jabari Walker 6-8 215 Colorado Buffaloes
It was the year of the sophomore in college basketball this season, but Walker didn’t make the same elite jump that many expected from him. He certainly improved and nearly doubled his point total, but with more volume, his 3-point shot dipped from 52% to 35%.
A team will still buy into his upside and athleticism in hope that he can make the jump back up in 3-point efficiency. Walker can fill this rotational role right away and has the potential to be an effective small ball four at some point in his career. He is still only 19, so he has plenty of time to develop.
10. Michael Foster 6-9 235 G-League Ignite
Foster is a bulky and physical stretch-four with the athleticism, size and strength to compete in the NBA. He is one of the better rebounders in this position group and shot the best 3-point percentage out of his guard and wing teammates with the Ignite.
His ability to immediately shoot efficiently from the outside bodes well for his fast adjustment to the NBA as he will hopefully become a rotational player with plenty of time to grow as a 19-year-old highly regarded prep prospect.