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The top three picks in the 2022 NBA draft are reportedly going to be the players most analysts have been predicting since the order was finalized.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero are “increasingly firm” as the first three players off the board to the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
When the lottery results were revealed last month, the first question was what the Magic would do at No. 1.
Smith and Holmgren have been the two most likely picks for Orlando throughout the process. Wojnarowski said on his podcast immediately after the lottery they were “really the two players competing” for the spot.
Banchero has been making a late push in some circles for the top spot, and some betting outlets even moved the odds overnight to make the Duke star the favorite to end up in Orlando.
B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman has Smith as the No. 1 overall pick in his final mock draft.
“The team picking first never wants to worry about risk, and Holmgren’s body and slower delivery when creating have evaluators a tad bit nervous,” Wasserman wrote. “Smith, a year younger and widely praised for his maturity and approach, feels safe to everyone, and he’s perceived to offer the same level of upside as anyone in this draft with a skill set that Orlando could use.”
On ESPN’s mock draft special that aired Wednesday night (h/t Clemente Almanza of Thunder Wire), Wojnarowski said Holmgren has “been the focus” for the Thunder throughout the predraft process.
Oklahoma City’s grand plan of acquiring draft picks could start to yield significant results as early as next season. The team has a total of 16 first-round selections between 2022 and 2025, including three Thursday night (Nos. 2, 12 and 30).
Adding Holmgren to a core that already includes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey has the potential to make the Thunder a formidable team in a few years.
The Rockets are still very early in their rebuilding process and are trying to find players with superstar potential. Jalen Green showed promise as a rookie last season, leading the team in scoring with 17.3 points per game.
Banchero would give Houston a potential go-to scorer and playmaker who creates problems for opposing defenses because of his combination of size and quickness.
If this trio does end up going with the top three picks, the real drama will begin with the Sacramento Kings at No. 4. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported they are open to dealing the pick, but the asking price is believed to be steep.
The Kings have seemingly been desperate to make the playoffs with some of their recent roster moves. They dealt Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson to the Indiana Pacers for Domantas Sabonis, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb and a 2023 second-round draft pick in February.
If a postseason push is a mandate in Sacramento for this season, general manager Monte McNair might be inclined to trade the pick.
All of the questions will be answered when the draft begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.