The Top Prospects: Pick 2
All eyes will be locked in on how the Oklahoma City Thunder go about navigating the top of the draft board. The Thunder’s No. 2 pick carries a slew of options in this particular draft as the cream of the crop prospects all check plenty of boxes the organization has been looking to check off.
(All evaluations excerpts from my scouting report series)
Jabari Smith is exactly what teams yearn for at the forward spot. With postseason teams finding major success disregarding positional locks and overall size – Smith is an ideal power forward who can be a perfect co-star with a small forward or members in the backcourt.
Smith, age 19, has been deemed the top shooter in this year’s draft class. In his lone season with the Tigers, Smith shot 42.0% from deep en route to averaging 16.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists across 34 games. To tag with this stat line, his 6-foot-10, 200-pound build makes him the lengthy shooter teams have desperately wanted.
His overall shooting ability is hard to come by at his size, and his overall speed and point of release make him a hard player to stop from downtown. Smith is a player who has mastered the catch-and-shoot game as he’s able to bury jumpers from almost anywhere on the court when open. To add to this, his hallmarked two-dribble pull-up is a jumper that should translate into consistent scoring outbursts moving forward.
Smith’s on-ball play does need some touch-ups as he lacks a go-to move to create distance from his opponent in halfcourt situations. Given his ability to make shots off the bounce already, adding some marquee dribble moves gives him the seeds to be a good isolation piece. If his handling ability never comes to fruition, I think he could still find success working out of high-ball screens.
Defensively, Smith’s overall frame fits the bill for what NBA teams are looking for. His length and overall lateral quickness make him a chess piece able to defend 2-4, and with a high motor and active hands – he wouldn’t be terrible defending the post in stints.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, targeting a player such as Jabari Smith would be nothing short of a perfect marriage between the two parties. Per Synergy, Smith ranked in the 85th percentile as a catch-and-shoot target at Auburn this season. If you combine that hardy stat with his limitless range and well-oiled jumpshot – you have a lethal off-court threat to play alongside Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey.
In terms of how his development coincides with the Thunder blueprint, he slips in perfectly as someone who can play second or third fiddle in the offense. But, with one of his biggest question marks resting in his isolation ability, he’ll need additional reps playing on-ball. Because the Thunder have been all hands on deck with recent draftees, handing the forward an on-ball role in stints would most definitely be in the cards, allowing him to blossom offensively with the backcourt.
(Full scouting report on Jabari Smith can be found here)
Chet Holmgren is a unique talent that you won’t find in any given draft cycle. His excellence around the basket, the perimeter, and even creating for himself is uncanny for a seven-footer – and with a bulk in the cards, he’ll be a handful for other teams for years to come.
With his agility, Holmgren is an elite pick-and-roll player as if his three-pointer stays a float, he’ll be insanely difficult to cover as his frame makes him a deadly roll man while his ability to pop also can torch defenses. Around the basket, his footwork and overall grittiness to take contact also make him a threat.
Holmgren is a name to watch in the shot-blocking category for years to come as well. Collegiately, he stayed disciplined in the foul department while providing rim protection both standing and on the move.
If he manages to check the boxes as a shooter and as a ball-handler, the sky becomes the limit for Holmgren. He is a bit clunky taking up the basketball now, but once in space, he’s a player who can erupt both pulling up at the three or slashing to the basket for penetrations.
In terms of versatility, it’s hard to find a player more fitting than Holmgren. Barring injury, he’s a high-floor, high-ceiling prospect who can yield you stats any day of the week. And his hybrid of speed and self-creation puts him on the map for sliding down to the power forward spot as well if need be.
Holmgren still needs to hone in on mastering both his on-ball creation and handle to limit potential inconsistencies in his play. But, even with his current archetype, he’s a contributor who should be able to make an impact right away on both ends of the ball as he slips right into most systems as a screen setter who can both stay outside and defend on the other end.
Chet Holmgren easily checks the most boxes by a prospect in this year’s draft class.
Oklahoma City has desperately needed a long-term answer for their center situation, as while playing smaller players up a few sizes has its benefits, it also won’t yield the long-term success necessary to propel them out of their ongoing rebuild. In selecting a seven-footer in Chet, the Thunder obtained their first true center via draft since Dakari Johnson in 2015. The selection would also mark the Thunder’s first center selection in the lottery since Steven Adams in 2013.
The Thunder’s space-and-pace play has needed a stretch five in the mix. With Holmgren, not only does he provide the spacing necessary, but he also has shown flashes to create off of DHOs and through top-of-the-key pull-ups in transition. Defensively, his overall agility also solves an issue that plagued the Thunder in previous playoff runs as his versatility on screens adds an element centers such as Adams and Enes Kanter could not provide in the postseason.
(Full scouting report on Chet Holmgren can be found here)
Paolo Banchero is a special offensive talent.
Banchero, age 19, is well-equipped for the jump to the next level. With a 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame, he’s already the ideal slab at the forward spot, he just needs some chiseling. In his lone year with the Blue Devils, he averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists for Duke across 39 games.
His seasoned mid-range game and shot mechanics make him a player who should be able to be a competent three-level scorer. As a ball-handler, he has the handling ability that requires a team’s “swiss-army knife” defender who is handsy at the perimeter, can cut off driving angles, and contest on the interior. Even when faced with a team’s primary defender, Banchero is someone who should be able to yield some success working on the deck, and if stifled with his shot, his passing vision should come in handy.
Banchero’s physical nature on both sides of the floor may need a few tweaks, but his energy level is a plus. He’ll be able to create fouls inside, and with a jumper, his net of foul methods should increase. This hustle caters towards his rebounding efforts, as he’ll be a good transition player as a self-creator or outlet passer.
Defensively, Banchero should be sound. His weak-side play and moments of success switched onto guards are enough to believe he’ll hold up when faced against heavy screen-setting teams, which is a good sum in today’s NBA.
With the ball in his hands, Banchero is a player who’ll be able to get a bucket. Off the ball, he’ll make a significant impact, even as an average three-point player.
In terms of role, Banchero is a player slotted as a secondary playmaker who can be entrusted with a high volume of on-ball situations when needed. He’s the ideal archetype to play as the co-star to a backcourt piece.
Paolo Banchero is not a slam dunk fit for the Thunder organization per se. However, there’s a legitimate case for him to be the best prospect in this year’s draft. I am in this camp.
Banchero’s handling ability at his frame is nothing short of special. He can put the ball on a string and create openings at all three levels for himself in isolation possessions. He’ll need to fine-tune his three-point shot. However, even at the base level, he’s a player that would add fire to the flames in Oklahoma City’s penetration furnace. The clear overlap here is that Banchero is a primary on-ball figure which is not the smoothest fit alongside Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey. But, if the Thunder are confident in his catch-and-shoot game development – he’d undoubtedly add the most lethal frontcourt threat Oklahoma City had carried since Paul George.
The fit is not the smoothest here, but if the Thunder place talent in the forefront of their picking preference, Banchero would be an ideal fit for the franchise. There is no ceiling to his play, and at the bare minimum, he adds even more firepower on the playmaking front.
(Full scouting report on Paolo Banchero can be found here)
Jaden Ivey took major strides this season with the Boilermakers. His ability to take over games with his freakish athleticism, acceleration, ball handling, and shot-creating give him the core pieces to be a successful producer at the next level.
Ivey, age 20, made some noise as a Freshman, but his breakout campaign as a Sophomore has him soaring up draft radars. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Ivey has a build akin to a modern-day point guard. But, with an elite ability to play above the rim – he’s slotted in at either guard spot.
Ivey finished the year averaging 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists across 36 games.
Ivey is a player who should be able to create offense out of thin air when penetrating to the basket, and if a pull-up develops, there’s no good option when defending him in space. Because of the guard’s uncanny speed and athletic ability, he has a clear advantage over some of his peers, making him a franchise’s first or second option as a scorer.
Prospects such as Jaden Ivey do not roll around in every draft class. His wide array of offensive attacks will make him a tough cover moving forward, making him a player who could lead in scoring on any given night.
Jaden Ivey fits the mold of an All-Star caliber scorer. He possesses the elite athletic ability, a quick handle, the ability to create his shot, and shades of being a three-level scorer. If you top this off with him being able to slow down in stop-and-pop situations, better playmaking in the halfcourt, and better defense against screens – he’s the high-output scorer franchises can build around.
He’ll need reps, particularly in catch-and-shoot and mid-range situations to fully fill out his offensive game. Under the assumption he becomes a reliable scorer at all three ranges, him becoming the primary or secondary scoring option is well within reach.
Under the assumption no trades are made, there will be some tough rotational decisions if the Thunder elect to select Jaden Ivey with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Ivey’s predicament is basically the polar opposite of Banchero. While Banchero’s main concern is playstyle overlap, Ivey’s potential issue would lie in position. However, if Ivey is valued as one of Oklahoma City’s top prospects, which there is a case for – the positional woes would be tossed on the backburner.
His offensive skill set would undoubtedly create must-watch TV playing alongside Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey. With his elite on-ball skills and some added help as a mid-range creator. He’s an isolation threat who can put anyone on a poster. On the flip side, he’s a solid off-ball piece who could play off either member in the catch-and-shoot department.
A clear ripple would be created by selecting Ivey without offloading a current member of the roster. A three-man group has been established in Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey, and Dort, and Mann is the presumptive guy in the sixth-man spot.
(A full scouting report on Jaden Ivey can be found here)