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The Three Biggest 2022 NBA Draft Sleepers

The beauty—or horror—of the 2022 NBA Draft is that it’s sleepers all the way down. Absent the franchise-changing players like Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley and Jalen Green and Scottie Barnes that comprised last year’s top four picks, every selection this year required some combo of augury and faith. While the top three picks were always pretty well calcified, the draft got weird really fast—nobody can really divine who’s the fifth best player in the draft, never mind the 15th best, never mind the 25th best. More than any other year, this draft was a subjective endeavor as teams hunted for their guy regardless of the faint public consensus. Here are the three 2022 NBA Draft sleepers you should know before they go mainstream.

Jaden Hardy, Dallas Mavericks:

The top-ranked guard coming out of high school, Hardy was the putative star of this year’s G League Ignite team. Until wasn’t! In his 12 games during the GLeague Showcase, Hardy scored a decent-enough 17.7 points per game, but shot 35.1% from the field (26.9% from three) and racked up more turnovers than assists. For anybody, this performance would be bad. For a player whose entire value is wrapped in his ability to be good at offense, it was cataclysmic. Last summer, Hardy was projected to be a top three pick. Last night, he languished in the green room until the 37th pick.

Despite the overwhelming statistical evidence that Hardy is probably  bad, his embers of goodness are irresistible. No matter what the “numbers” and “empirical fact” suggest, Hardy is an elite shooter and shot-creator. In a perverse way, the mere fact that he missed so many shots is evidence of his ability; a less talented player wouldn’t be given the latitude to miss so many shots every game without being benched. Hardy might not necessarily be the best shooter in the draft (that’s probably AJ Griffin), but he’s certainly the most functional, able to thrive in nearly any context. As a ball-handler, he’s all swagger and compact muscle,  launching pull-up threes in the pick-and-roll or creating space with a step-back. In spot-up situations, he made 50 percent of the 40 unguarded catch-and-shoot threes he took. Most promising, he seemed to adjust to the rigors of professional basketball over time, putting up 22 points on much-improved 52 percent True Shooting. Entering the season, Hardy was known as an immensely talented and incendiary scorer. Eleven months later, he still is. 

Dereon Seabron, New Orleans Pelicans

Here are the things Dereon Seabron is bad at: shooting, finishing, on-ball defense, off-ball defense. Here is the thing Seabron is better at than just about anybody in the world: getting to the rim. A 6’7 guard at NC State, Seabron rampaged through overmatched ACC backcourts to put up 17.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in a breakout sophomore season. When he’s attacking the basket (which is nearly all the time), Seabron moves like a Pro Bowl edge rusher, using his flexibility and sudden explosiveness to bend around defenders. At the risk of getting too nerdy and granular, Seabron has freakishly flexible ankles which allow him to maintain his balance and his thrust without embarking on arcing, indirect detours along his path to the basket. 

Outside of Jaden Ivey, no player in the draft generates as much unrelenting rim pressure as Seabron. In fact, not many players in any draft do. Last year, Seabron attempted 319 shots at the rim; Zion Williamson, the most singularly dominant interior player in recent college basketball history, is the only drafted player to come close over the last 15 years, attempting 313 during his one year at Duke. But whereas Williamson leaned on his teammates to create looks for him, Seabron needs no assistance—he was only assisted on 25.5 percent of his 177 lay-ups. 

As such, Seabron’s single superlative skill offsets his other deficiencies, yet he somehow went undrafted before signing a two-way deal with the Pelicans. Yeah, he only made 11 of his 43 three-pointers last year, but he’s still able to slice through a crowded paint for a layup. Who cares if his off-ball defense is a little sleepy if he’s collapsing the defense whenever has the ball?  

Jaylin Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder:

Certain, special players don’t merely have talents; they have gifts. For Lebron James, it’s his intelligence. Steph Curry, his shooting. And with Jaylin Williams, it’s his capacity to have guys run into him over and over again. As the linchpin for a stingy Arkansas defense, the 6’10 Williams pioneered a new flavor of rim protection, grounding drivers before they take off rather than trying to meet them at the summit. Accordingly, Williams led the country with 54 drawn charges (more than double any other player) while blocking just 41 shots. 

Although college refs who relish in the theater and drama of calling a charge undoubtedly aided Williams’ grift, he has an unparalleled understanding of the game on a moment to moment basis. Williams isn’t some beached Fred the Fish who unwittingly finds himself in harm’s way. Instead, he grinds for this shit, suddenly appearing in the path of offensive players. On each possession, Williams susses and snuffs out the central action. It’s a smaller scale, college version of the handiwork that defensive geniuses like Draymond Green perform every game, albeit one in which Williams lacks the same physical tools.

Offensively, Williams displays a similar headiness; he’s the best passing center in the draft, cannily working dribble-handoffs and picking out cutters from the elbows. Beyond his big wrinkly brain, Williams has some nascent ball skills—he sometimes beat pokier big men off the dribble at Arkansas—but he’s hardly an offensive dynamo. In totality, Williams is at once incredibly impressive and fairly ordinary—he’s an excellent thinker who’s an ok doer, a collectivist who’s a middling soloist, a clear first-rounder who slipped into the second. 

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Sports

Who Is Johnny Davis?

The state of Wisconsin has produced some elite-level NBA talent in recent years. Tyrese Haliburton, Tyler Herro, Jordan Poole, and Kevon Looney all call Wisconsin their first home. Now, Johnny Davis is looking to become the next Wisconsin born athlete to take the NBA by storm. After starting in 31 games for the University of Wisconsin this past season, Davis has declared for this year’s NBA draft. So how good is Johnny Davis?

High School

Johnny Davis grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin and played for La Crosse Central High School. La Crosse Central hadn’t won a state championship since 1925, that was until Johnny Davis stepped on the court. In his freshman year Davis helped his squad win the Wisconsin D2 state championship. In his senior season Davis would take a massive leap. He was unstoppable averaging 27 points and 9 rebounds and earning Wisconsin Mr.Basketball honors. He ended his career at La Crosse Central as the all-time leading scorer with 2,158 points. Davis ultimately would stay close to home and commit to the University of Wisconsin.

University of Wisconsin
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Johnny Davis would enter his freshman year at Wisconsin as a sixth man. He would see the floor in 31 contests but start in none. Even as a 6th man Davis was a major contributor, averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds. We would get to see the full potential of Johnny Davis in his sophomore season. Davis would start all 31 games for Wisconsin as a sophomore and was electric. He put up averages of 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists, en route to a 25-8 record and a three seed in March Madness. Wisconsin would meet their demise in the second round to Iowa State.

Pro’s
(Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

There is a lot on the court that Johnny Davis does great. He stands at 6’5” and 190 pounds. Although he doesn’t possess a maddening amount of strength, Davis more than makes up for it with his speed. He is elite in transition and is always primed to score a fast-break layup. Although he saw a dip in his three-point percentage last season, Davis finds the most success shooting in the mid-range. The most touted aspect of his game however comes on the defense end. Davis has excellent defensive IQ and is regularly beating guys to spots. Not only can he guard on-ball like a hound, Davis is active in passing lanes and causes havoc for the opposing team. If Davis can build out his frame and continue to work on his shooting he could be a legitimate contributor to winning in the NBA.

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Why Paolo Banchero is the Best Player in the 2022 NBA Draft

In the world of NBA Draft sickos, Paolo Banchero has been famous for too long—he’s been a stalwart on recruiting rankings since he was eligible to be included in recruiting rankings, never falling below sixth in his high school class since his freshman year of high school in 2018. But now, after years of hype as the prospective number one pick in the draft, he has seemingly lost ground to Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, who present a novel, alien goodness rather than Banchero’s quotidien greatness. Familiarity has bred contempt—the nits are being picked. Still, Paolo Banchero is the best player in this year’s NBA Draft, no matter what the Orlando Magic think.

The most basic explanation for Banchero’s appeal is that he’s more skilled than just about anybody who’s bigger than him and bigger than just about anybody who’s more skilled than him. Even as the NBA charges into its age of monsters, he’s built different; 6’10, 250-pound teenagers shouldn’t be able to pass, dribble, and shoot with his level of fluency. During his one season at Duke, Paolo Banchero was the unquestioned best player on a Final Four team—his 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game over the course of the full season were very good; his NCAA Tournament run, punctuated by 20+ point outbursts against Texas Tech and UNC, was even better. 

Although Banchero isn’t an overly elastic ball-handler or bursty speed merchant, the basic fact that he’s a 6’10, 250-pound person who can score off the dribble offers a basic physics problem for opposing defenses. Smaller, faster defenders will be battered by his 6’10, 250 pound frame; bigger, slower defenders will be dusted. It hardly takes the scientific method to deduce that that boy nice; his 17.2 points per game were the most of any power conference freshman. Even within Duke’s recent lineage of  highly-drafted wing scorers, he stands alone—his 131 unassisted two-point field goals represent a level of self-sufficiency that fellow Dookies Brandon Ingram (111 unassisted twos), Jayson Tatum (98) and Jabari Parker (97) couldn’t reach. 

For Duke, Banchero was the nominal power forward who served as the de facto point guard by virtue of being the team’s most capable ball-handler. While he initially processed the game with the torpor and uncertainty of a guy who hadn’t played high-stakes basketball since the start of the pandemic, he regained his sharpness as the season progressed. In the Sweet 16, he hung 22 points and 4 assists (and just a single turnover) on Texas Tech’s top-ranked defense, the sole Duke player who didn’t seem dragooned by the Red Raiders’ suffocating no-middle defense. 

If Tech throttled offenses by turning their opponents into quivering worrywarts, Banchero calmly exploited their aggression. Since no-middle defense is a fairly dogmatic scheme built upon pre-programmed rotations, he forced Tech to tip their hand, provoking help defense before firing the ball to the open space where the help came from. Aware of his own gravity as a scorer, he punished overzealous rim protectors by feathering lobs and drop-offs to Mark Williams and caught perimeter players in traction by finding AJ Griffin for open threes. To paraphrase the honorary poet laureates of Daytona Beach, Banchero is scary and he knows it. 

Certainly, Banchero isn’t a perfect prospect. There’s a nagging feeling that he’s distracted by the vastness and variegation of his own talents—at times, it looks like he’s preoccupied with side-missions, hunting down perfect pelts rather than advancing the plot of the possession. Accordingly, he sometimes showed a frustrating tendency to settle for pull-up jumpers rather than dunk through the cranium of some terrified Clemson galoot; there’s no reason that somebody as physically dominant as Banchero should take more mid-range jumpers than shots at the rim. As a result, Banchero’s 55% True Shooting at Duke was probably lower than it should’ve been.

Ultimately, Banchero is at once the safest and riskiest player in the Draft. Regardless of where he’s drafted, he’ll be the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year; he’s clearly better-equipped for immediate success than Holmgren or Smith or Jaden Ivey. Nobody doubts that Banchero is an exceptional scorer and rebounder; the question is whether he can be exceptional enough

Whereas Holmgren’s defense and Smith’s shooting provide both of them with a high floor, Banchero doesn’t have those same auxiliary skills to be a role-player if he can’t reach his ceiling. As a spot-up shooter, he’s fine; his defense is whatever. Instead, his appeal lies in his potential to be the guy for his team, which is a tremendously high bar to clear. Every player in the NBA is so good that true eliteness is exists within tiny, fungible margins. The difference between Julius Randle making 2nd team All-NBA as the leader of a playoff team and Julius Randle getting booed as the scapegoat for a bad one is about three extra missed three-pointers every two weeks. If Banchero can maintain the efficiency to command primary initiator status, he’ll be the kind of omnipotent jumbo creator that racks up fistfuls of All-NBA berths. If he can’t, his value becomes considerably murkier.

But this is a risk worth taking. More than shooting, more than defense, more than having that dawg in you, advantage creation—the ability to force defenses to react to what you do— is what greases NBA offenses. This is why the Luka Doncic-led Mavs proved to have a more resilient offense in the playoffs than Chris Paul’s Suns or why the Warriors offense remains so deadly even with Steph Curry as the only functional dribbler in their starting lineup. Before you create an open corner three, you need to force a rotation; to force a rotation, you need to make defenses afraid of you; to spook defenses, you need to be very good in very specific ways. In this sense, Paolo Banchero looks like a future star because he’s good at the primary, star-making skill.

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Sports

Who Is Jabari Smith?

Trying to project the career of a 19 year old kid is impossible, but each year the 30 NBA teams attempt to do just that by making the ‘right’ pick in the draft. The simple fact is no one can predict the future. In recent years however teams and scouts have gotten exceedingly better at avoiding ‘busts’. That’s why it should be no surprise that Jabri Smith from the University of Auburn has shot up pre-draft big boards. Here is Jabari Smith’s story and why he is touted as one of the highest prospects this upcoming NBA draft.

High School Days
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The name Jabari Smith Jr. isn’t new to scouts and fans of high school basketball. The 6’10” forward from Georgia was playing varsity as a sophomore in high school. By his senior year he was not only a starter, but the best player on the floor. Averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals his senior season, Smith solidified himself as a top 10 recruit in the country. He was awarded the Georgia Gatorade player of the year award as well as McDonald All-American honors. Sitting as the 6th ranked player in his class Smith had a litany of D1 offers and decided to suit up for the Auburn Tigers.

University of Auburn

There were high expectations for Auburn when Jabari Smith entered the scene. After completing a ban in 2021 Auburn was allowed to vie for a NCAA tournament spot once again. In his one year at Auburn Smith put up averages of 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals, helping Auburn reach a #1 ranking during the regular season. Smith earned SEC Rookie of the Year honors as well as a First-team All-SEC nomination. Auburn would meet their demise in the second round of the NCAA tournament however with a 61-79 loss to Miami of Florida.

Pros and Cons

A key aspect of Jabari Smith’s game that is highly touted is his build. Smith stands at 6’10”, 220 pounds with a 7’1” wingspan. Because Smith doesn’t have the same type of explosive first step as other recruits, he relies heavily on this physicality. Smith’s high-iq on the defensive end allows him to position himself to make big plays where his athleticism would hold him back. A more surprising revelation from Smith this season was his efficiency behind the line. He led Auburn in three-point shooting, knocking down 42% of his threes. His big frame and long wing-span makes him an excellent mid-range threat. Smith has mastered the one-dribble pull-up jumper which should translate to the NBA floor.

Projection?
(Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

The NBA has put together a master big-board by compiling a number of mock-drafts to give us some idea of where each prospect might go. Although Chet Holmgren was the consensus #1 pick, the Orlando Magic are already stacked with young big-men like Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba. Jabari Smith fits the Orlando Magic’s needs the most out of any top prospect. That’s why it should come as no surprise that Jabari Smith Jr. has -425 odds to go #1 in this year’s NBA draft.

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Sports Strength

Blake Wesley Is the Biggest Sleeper in This Year’s Draft

Blake Wesley demands your attention. A freshman guard from South Bend, Indiana, Wesley has emerged as the unlikely engine for a surprisingly good Notre Dame team. For years, the Fighting Irish have boasted an aesthetically pretty yet ultimately gormless offense; Wesley has supplied gorm in spades. Over the course of Notre Dame’s 12-4 ACC campaign, Wesley has risen from an unheralded high school recruit to a Draft Twitter curio to, now, a legitimate potential lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

In perhaps the simplest and most distilled expression of his goodness, Wesley has the highest usage rate on Notre Dame’s roster and has come by it fairly.  Despite being an unpedigreed freshman who’s sharing a backcourt with an All-ACC point guard, Wesley has been entrusted as the big cheese of the Fighting Irish’s offense, leading the team in points per game and assist rate. More broadly, Wesley has been one of the most prolific freshman guards in the entire country; he’s the only high-major freshman guard in the whole country to average more than 14 points and 2.5 assists per game. Parse his game from a geekier, advanced stats perspective and his special combo of self-creation and passing skill is still apparent: Wesley is one of only two high-major freshmen (the other is Kerr Kriisa) to hoist more than 10 threes per hundred possessions while still maintaining an assist rate over 20 percent. 

Divorced from any numbers, it’s still obvious that Wesley is, in the most scientific possible terms, nice with it. Whereas lots of young guards have had specific dribble sequences and moves so thoroughly grooved into their brains that it breeds a kind of over-trained rigidity, Wesley attacks the rim as if his movements are informed by micro-moments of inspiration.  There’s a presentness and conscientiousness to the way that he reads defenders, tailoring his attacks in response to the way that he’s being guarded. With the ball in his hands, Wesley has a tremendous understanding of the one-on-one mini-duel with his opponent during each possession. He gets into the torso of big men, deleveraging them and preventing them from rising up to block his shot; he strides past prying on-ball defenders and shoots over sagging ones. 

While the high-scoring combo guard is an exceedingly familiar archetype, Wesley imbues it with a sense of irregularity. He plays very two-dimensionally in the most graphical sense. Without the vertical pop to play above the rim and ascend along the z-axis, Wesley possesses a slippery, ground-bound dominance. Dribbling with a halting elasticity and manipulating the tempo and length of his steps, he’s uncontainable off the bounce against college defenders. 

Even as the college season reaches its end, this year’s crop of potential NBA players remains uncertain; outside of the obvious top five prospects, there aren’t many—if any—players who profile as obviously good NBAers. In this sense, Wesley stands out not because of an exceptionally high floor, but because he’s one of the rare players who has genuine star upside. Although his three-point shooting may be mostly theoretical at this point and his passing consigns him to combo guard purgatory, no other guard in the draft presents such an intriguing combination of skills in such a quirky physical package. Outside of the inner sanctum of mega-elite freshmen prospects, you couldn’t ask for anything more.

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Sports Strength

What And Who Stood Out Most At The 2021 Jimmy V Classic

On Tuesday night, men’s college basketball was center stage at Madison Square Garden at the 26th annual Jimmy V Classic. The ESPN-organized event, named after late head coach and former ESPN analyst Jim Valvano, has become an early-season staple for primetime college basketball while also serving as an excellent way to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

The 2021 Jimmy V Classic witnessed sixth-ranked Villanova and thirteen-ranked Tennessee go against a pair of unranked yet tough teams in Syracuse and Texas Tech. Down below are our three biggest takeaways from Tuesday night!

There’s nothing like an energized crowd at the Garden

As arenas and stadiums across the country continue their return of having crowds at total capacity, there will be moments where the energy in those buildings is reminiscent of the past. During the two games that occurred at this year’s Jimmy V Classic, the MSG crowd was loud and supportive the entire night.

In particular, the introductions for Villanova’s and Syracuse’s starting lineups provoked goosebumps. The crowd was on its feet and showered each player with thunderous applause, especially Collin Gillespie and Jimmy Boheim.

Terrance Shannon Jr is an intriguing NBA Draft prospect

On a night filled with top-level talent, no player made a bigger impression than Terrence Shannon Jr., Texas Tech’s talismanic junior guard. The Texas Tech guard, who returned to school after withdrawing his name from last year’s Draft, put up 18 points and 12 rebounds in a 57-52 overtime victory against No. 13 Tennessee.

Whenever the Red Raiders needed a basket, Shannon Jr provided one, showcasing the combination of athleticism and touch at the basket that makes him such an intriguing NBA prospect.

Villanova’s patience pays off towards the end

Any team that has competed against Syracuse head coach Jim Boheim and his stifling 2-3 zone defense knows how difficult it is to gain a rhythm on offense. Sixth-ranked Villanova, though, was able to put together an effective—albeit ugly—offensive performance against their former Big East rival, pulling away from the Orange in the second half en route to a 67-53 win.

Despite attempting 50 three-pointers, and only making 13, the sixth-ranked Wildcats outscored their opponent in second-chance points (25-7) and won the battle on the glass (57-36).

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Sports Strength

Chet Or Paolo? Comparing The Two Best 2022 NBA Draft Prospects

In any given year, there’s usually one prospect who towers over his peers in the NBA Draft. This year, though, the conversation about who should be the #1 pick is more muddled. As we navigate through this men’s college basketball season, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are considered to be the headliners of next year’s NBA Draft. But is it possible for either of them to become the draft’s leading man?

The pair of five-star prospects from the Class of 2021 represents what basketball is about these days: A game where positions are simply a label for which role you fulfill on paper but not on the court because of massive transformation of skills, play calls, and body types. Whether you prefer Banchero or Holmgren is one thing, but how do you feel about their collective impact and ability to transition between now and the NBA in possibly less than a year?

When looking at Banchero’s game at the next level, he will likely operate as a versatile combo forward with the ball-skills to be a go-to scorer on the perimeter and the size (6-foot-10 250 pounds) to operate inside. During Duke’s 84-81 win over Holmgren and Gonzaga a week ago, Banchero displayed his scoring prowess, putting up 20 points in the first half of that game.

But for everything to like— and honestly love—about the Duke product’s game, there’s an equal amount of things to enjoy about Holmgren, if not more. Even though Holmgren doesn’t have the same ceiling as Banchero as a scorer, he has a higher ceiling because of his potential as an ultra-competitive rim-protecting and playmaking center with the height (seven-foot) and wingspan (seven-foot-six) that NBA teams are drooling over right now. And by the way? Last year’s National High School Player of the Year can score, as proven by his 71% field goal percentage and 36% mark from downtown this season.

Even if both players have only had a handful of chances to showcase their talents to a national audience, both players have demonstrated their respective strengths and weaknesses. Banchero is not having a problem scoring at this level and being a leader, but he’s struggling with his conditioning and is limited defensively by his relatively short wingspan. On the other hand, with Holmgren, we have to see how he holds up against bigger opponents given his thin frame and whether or not he’s able to take over a game for Gonzaga when necessary.

With four-plus months remaining in this men’s college basketball season, there will be enough time to elevate, discuss, and support these tremendous young players.