The NBA Draft provides the platform to welcome the next crop of young, talented players who hope to make a name for themselves at the top level of professional basketball. In recent years, such players as Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Zion Williamson, and Anthony Davis have all been drafted at the top of the first round and have since become big NBA stars.
So, who looks set to follow suit when the 2022 NBA Draft takes place on June 23? Here is a look at some of the leading players to watch in the NCAA, especially on March Madness when you can watch a variety of college basketball games, in what should be a very enticing tournament.
Paolo Banchero (Duke)
One of the top contenders to take the No 1 draft pick spot, Banchero has been starring for Duke during his freshman year and looks set to be one of the leading offensive options at this summer’s draft.
The 6’10 19-year-old from Seattle is averaging 17 points per game and has been instrumental to Duke’s Atlantic Coast Conference-leading record of 11-3 (21-4 overall). He has the frame, athleticism, and shooting ability to make a swift transition to the NBA.
While it’s perhaps too early to predict where he might end up – and much will depend on where he goes in the Draft – it is expected that if he goes No 1, Orlando Magic appears to be the most likely destination.
Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)
Another of the leading top-pick Draft contenders and another freshman, Gonzaga center Holmgren has lived up to his billing as the No 1 player in the 2021 high school class during his rookie NCAA season.
The 7ft 19-year-old has been a star for the untouchable Bulldogs, who top the West Coast Conference after 10 straight wins (21-2 overall). Holmgren currently boasts an average of 14.5 points per game and a field goal percentage of nearly 64 percent.
There are some concerns over his thin 195-pound frame and how we might initially cope with the power and athleticism of the NBA, but Holmgren possesses a toughness and competitiveness that belies his shape, while he is one of the best rim protectors the NCAA has seen for many years.
So, where could he end up? The Detroit Pistons are thought to be front of the queue.
Jabari Smith Jr. (Auburn)
The third of the three leading contenders to be the No 1 pick at this summer’s NBA Draft, Smith Jr. is one of the best shooters in college basketball – at 6’10 and 220lb.
The 18-year-old forward is another freshman who is destined for the NBA after just one season of college ball, and he has helped lead the Auburn Tigers to the top of the Southeastern Conference with a record of 11-1 (23-2 overall).
Smith Jr. has the stats to back up his sniper-like status: he averages nearly 40 percent from behind the three-point line and is an 80 percent free-throw shooter. Like Holmgren, he needs to develop his physical stature and aggression to be ready for the NBA, but Smith Jr. is a special talent and Oklahoma City Thunder are expected to lead the chase.
Jaden Ivey (Purdue)
While the three players above are star freshmen who are building on lofty high school reputations, Ivey has forced his way towards the top of NBA Draft contention with a breakthrough sophomore season.
The 20-year-old guard has significantly improved in every important facet of his game and has been key to the Purdue Boilermakers sitting second in the Big Ten Conference with an 11-4 record (22-4 overall).
Ivey has taken his scoring average from 11.1 to 17.7, his field goal percentage from 39.9 to 48.5, and his three-point shooting has risen from 25.8 percent to 40.5. He has the speed and athleticism to make the transition to the NBA, and the Houston Rockets appear to be his most likely destination at this stage.
Adrian Griffin Jr. (Duke)
A five-star recruit out of high school and previously tipped by many to be a top-three pick, Griffin Jr. is just starting to show what he is capable of after recovering from a knee injury that limited his high school playing time over the past two years.
The 18-year-old forward – the son of former NBA player and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin – recently delivered his best game for Duke, scoring 22 points and taking down four rebounds in the win over Wake Forest.
Griffin Jr. is undoubtedly a player NBA scouts will be keeping a very close eye on in the months ahead, and in a Draft that looks set to be dominated by frontcourt players, Griffin’s size, strength, and power is sure to interest a host of teams.
Jalen Duren (Memphis)
Memphis Tigers may be underperforming this season (8-4 in conference, 14-8 overall) to sit third in the American Athletic Conference, but that has little to do with their freshman center.
Duren, 18, is a physical specimen at 250lb and plays with power and explosiveness at both ends of the court – even if he is slightly on the shorter side for a center at 6’10. Still, he has the athleticism to transition to the NBA and the New Orleans Pelicans would be a good fit for Duren.