BROOKLYN, N.Y. — What if they held an NBA Draft and it was mainly that — an actual draft instead of a chaotic trade carnival? Well, Thursday’s 2022 edition fit the description when, with a few exceptions later in the first round, the players who placed a team cap on their heads before shaking hands with commissioner Adam Silver still belonged to that team after walking off the stage.
The majority of NBA teams, therefore, had spoken: We like the guy we took better than the offers we heard.
And so: The Draft came and went without any major surprises, and the only drama among the lottery picks was mild and settled quickly once the Orlando Magic made their choice at No. 1.
The Magic chose Paolo Banchero from Duke, one of three players largely considered to be top-pick-worthy. Unlike previous seasons, there wasn’t a consensus No. 1 among league talent scouts, and the Magic never tipped their hand leading into the draft; Banchero said he learned he was Orlando-bound about a minute before his name was called.
With a stable of young guards — Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz — in the rotation, Orlando put a premium on securing the front line. Wendell Carter is signed long-term at center and the Magic received positive results at one forward position from Franz Wagner, one of their two first-round picks last year and a first team All-Rookie selection. So the Magic’s decision was essentially between Banchero and Jabari Smith, who went to Houston at No. 3.
“Adding myself, I think that’s going to give a lot of teams problems,” Banchero said. “There’s three 6-9, 6-10, 6-11 guys who can dribble, shoot, have high IQs. I think that’s going to be a huge advantage for us.”
The Magic are rebuilding with assets through the draft; their top four scorers last year were age 23 or younger. That doesn’t include forward Jonathan Issac, who essentially hasn’t played the last two seasons while recovering from a knee injury; he’s 24 and signed a rookie extension shortly after starting rehab on his leg.
This plan to lean primarily on the draft for help historically comes with mixed results. It has worked for the Memphis Grizzlies, who tied a franchise record with 56 wins and have a bright future. Not so much for the Sacramento Kings, a habitual lottery participant still chasing their first playoff appearance since 2006. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City’s fate is still to be determined by a surplus of picks and projects.
Banchero comes with impressive skills and a mature game, showcasing sharp instincts on offense. He helped Duke reach the Final Four last season and confirmed the promise he carried from high school, where he was considered one fo the top few players in the nation.
“He was the best player in college basketball,” said Jeff Weltman, Orlando’s president of basketball operations.
The top three projected picks eventually filled those slots in this draft; after Banchero and before Smith, Chet Holmgren, the gangly center from Gonzaga, went second to Oklahoma City. Then the draft suspense began. While there were eight trades in the first round, only two were among the top 18 picks, and none in the top 10.
The Pistons were expected to be one of the busiest teams in the offseason — they teased that by trading Jerami Grant to Portland earlier in the week, mainly to create cap space. Well: Free agency doesn’t begin until July 1, and in the meantime, the Pistons seized the chance to capitalize on the draft by adding a second first-rounder in a three-team trade.
The Pistons took guard Jaden Ivey of Purdue at No. 5 with their own pick, and then center Jalen Duren of Memphis with the Hornets’ pick (via the Knicks, more on them later) at 13. Which means, next season, the Pistons will feature those two, plus Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey, all 23 and under, alongside whomever else they might add in free agency.
Charlotte also owned No. 15, and since that pick was only two spots below, GM Mitch Kupchak believed his man would still be there with the latter. And such it was; the Hornets had targeted Mark Williams, the defensive-minded center from Duke, who arrives and fills a need for a team desperate for muscle and rim toughness.
Given that the Hornets are well represented by youth in their rotation, “we didn’t feel using both picks was prudent,” said Kupchak.
The Knicks surrendered the No. 11 pick — Ousmane Dieng, who played in New Zealand — to OKC. The Thunder sent back three conditional first-round picks from their treasure chest of future picks.
But that wasn’t the main move of the night for the Knicks, who packaged one of the OKC first-rounders (23rd overall) with four second-rounders for the No. 13 (Duren) from Charlotte, which they then packaged with a Kemba Walker salary dump to the Pistons. Once hailed as a point guard savior for the Knicks, Walker lost his starting job and was subsequently benched permanently.
There’s a method to the madness: New York wants to free up as much money to make a free agent run, presumably for Jalen Brunson of the Mavericks. To recap: The Knicks traded 11 (and technically 13), Walker and multiple seconds for cap space (targeted for Brunson) and three future first-rounders.
The Kings used the fourth pick on forward Keegan Murray of Iowa and hope he’s a keeper in more ways than one. Two of the Kings’ last five picks — all in the lottery — are no longer with the club (Marvin Bagley III, Tyrese Haliburton).
There was a common thread with the Blazers’ choice of Shaedon Sharpe at No. 7 and Portland’s Anfernee Simons, taken 24th in 2018. Neither guard played college ball. Sharpe is the mystery of this Draft; the consensus No. 1-ranked high school player in the nation for 2022 graduated a semester early and enrolled at Kentucky in January to prepare for the 2022-23 college season. But Sharpe, a practice player during his one semester on campus, declared for the Draft instead. His last official basketball game took place during the spring of 2021 — as a high school senior.
The Timberwolves landed three late first-rounders, helped by trades with the Grizzlies and Mavericks. They wound up with Walker Kessler, the shot-blocking center from Auburn, Kentucky guard TyTy Washington (later traded to Houston), and wingman Wendell Moore Jr. from Duke. Memphis added a late pair through trades, with Jake LaRavia of Wake Forest (Timberwolves) and David Roddy of Colorado State (Sixers) going to the Grizzlies.
The traditionally eventful second round — teams without first-rounders are usually active here — saw plenty of movement after the first five selections. The Pistons, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Hornets and Warriors all added players in the mid- to late-second round through trades.
Second-round selections who had a first-round feel — some were projected to go late in the first — were Andrew Nembhard of Gonzaga to the Pacers at 31, Christian Koloko of Arizona to the Raptors at 33, and G League Ignite’s Jaden Hardy to the Mavericks via the Kings at 37.
When the night was over and all names were called, the Draft served its purpose. Teams got younger, and maybe better. But the deep suspense? That’ll have to wait until free agency in a week.
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