Sports · June 23, 2022

NBA Draft Preview: A Deep Field Could Produce Surprise Stars

When the Orlando Magic deliver their draft card to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, they will resolve a debate raging in draft circles for most of the year: who should be the No. 1 choice?

The favorite is Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a lean but sturdy seven-footer who can shoot, dribble, pass and defend with ease. But there are equally strong cases to be made for big man Auburn Jabari Smith, who spent last season sinking seemingly impossible shots, and for Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a creative shooter who is as shiny in the paint as he is on the perimeter.

“All three guys are incredibly talented,” said Jonathan Givony, founder of scouting service DraftExpress, an NBA draft analyst at ESPN. “This draft has really great players at the top and good depth too.”

Here are five more potential customers to get to know.

6 feet-11, 223 lbs, forward, Mega Mozzart (Serbia)

People constantly ask Nikola Jovic about Nikola Jokic. And it makes sense. Jovic and the Denver Nuggets star have quite a bit in common: they are both great Serbian men who have played for the same club, Mega Mozzart, and only a single letter separates their surnames. But the comparison does not bother Jovic, who should be the first international team on Thursday.

“People talk about it all the time,” he said. “I really agree with that. I think it’s pretty funny too because the chances of something like this happening are really low. At the same time, I feel good because people are comparing me to a two-time championship MVP. “

As a boy, Jovic wanted to become a professional water polo player. He spent his summers with his mother in Montenegro and loved swimming in the Adriatic Sea. When he was 13, his father introduced him to basketball. What began as a backyard hobby soon became an obsession and a profession. “I was getting bigger and bigger,” said Jovic, “and it was pretty easy to see that basketball was going to be a better choice than water polo.”

Though many NBA teams followed European stars from early teens, Jovic didn’t become a big name in draft boards until he exploded at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade in March 2021. Up front, he could turn into a distance from 4 floor who can shoot 3 seconds, lead fast break and make smart passes. He said he is willing to stay in Europe after being drafted, but he hopes to land with a team that wants to play him right away.

“Even if I need to play in the G League, that’s okay,” he said, referring to the NBA’s development league. “But right now, I think the perfect fit for me is the NBA.”

6 feet-9, 221 pounds, striker, elite standout

When the NBA evaluators visited Overtime Elite this year, it was with an eye to the future. The starting league has potential top 10 players in the 2023 and 2024 draft. But a player of the 2022 draft class took advantage of all that extra scouting attention and worked his way from being an unknown potential 3-star high schooler to a Potential First Round Pick: Dominick Barlow.

“The fact that this was OTE’s first year intrigued the scouts,” said Barlow, 19. “And once the scouts were in the building, they were able to see what I could do.”

Barlow played for Dumont High School, a small public high school in Dumont, NJ. He didn’t land with a powerful Amateur Athletic Union program until the summer before his senior year, when a New York Renaissance coach saw him play in a public park. He surprised most basketball insiders in September when he quit a prep program and turned down several major offers to sign with Overtime Elite. He offers a six-figure salary to male and male basketball players who are at least the last year of high school.

Barlow hopes his story will inspire other neglected players to keep working. “I came in as a 3-star kid and I’m leaving as an NBA draft pick. Some 5-star kids struggled to make it to the NBA a year after high school, “he said.

6 feet-8,225 lbs., Forward, Iowa

When Keegan and Kris Murray were going through the recruiting process for college basketball, the twin brothers told all the coaches they weren’t a pack. Their father, Kenyon, had played college basketball in Iowa in the early 1990s and encouraged them to each find their own way.

Their father’s faith and knowledge helped the brothers remain optimistic even as they ended their high school careers with a single scholarship offer, for Western Illinois, a Summit League school that has never been to the tournament. of the NCAA Division I.

“Having a DI player as a coach and teaching you everything and walking you through the recruiting process is really helpful,” said Keegan, 21, of his father, who was an assistant on his high school team in Iowa. “He told us we were going to become professionals and we believed him.”

After turning down the western Illinois offer and moving to Florida for a year in prep school, Keegan and Kris signed with their father’s alma mater, Iowa. Keegan showed remarkable efficiency as a freshman and began to garner buzz in the NBA draft, but was not considered a top-tier talent until last season. In his second year, Murray was the top scorer among Power 5 conference players, had the second-most rebounds in the Big Ten and shot 55.4% from the field and a solid 39.8% from 3.

“He was the most productive player in college basketball this year,” Givony said, adding that he was good in transition and defense. “Everyone is looking for a player like him”.

Keegan is expected to be one of the top five picks, while Kris has decided to return to Iowa for another season. “Thinking about where I was three years ago and where I am today is surreal,” said Keegan. “I didn’t always know where or when all this hard work would pay off, but I knew it would pay off in the end.”

6 feet-3, 179 lbs., Guard, Toledo

Ryan Rollins heard that he was due to return to the University of Toledo for his junior season. With another year of experience, he would project himself as a probable first-round pick in 2023. But Rollins rejects that idea. He sees no reason to wait.

“I feel like I’m one of the best players in the draft,” Rollins said. “If I don’t get picked in the first round, that’s fine. In the long run, I will be very good for a long time in this league. Whenever and wherever I go, I will be proud to be there. “

Born in Detroit, Rollins played for a major AAU program, The Family. But the stacked list, combined with some nagging injuries and his decision to commit to college early, kept him under the recruiting radar. “I’ve always had the mindset of being where I was for a reason,” he said. “I kept working, I kept trying to perfect my craft. I didn’t care about basketball politics. I knew if I got good enough, the NBA would find me. “

Over the course of two seasons in Toledo, he emerged as a medium to large showstopper, with a smooth handle, fluid footwork, and deadly mid-range play. Now he’s likely to be a round two pick with the potential to sneak into round one. But he is more concerned about what he will do when he arrives in the NBA, hoping he can become the next midsize player to become a superstar.

It is inspired by former mid-sized players who are in the NBA, such as Ja Morant (Murray State), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh University).

“They went to small schools but they were able to make a name for themselves,” Rollins said. “I feel like I’m next”.

6 feet-5, 198 lbs., Guard, Kentucky

There is no more mysterious player in Shaedon Sharpe’s 2022 draft. Although he is listed as a potential Kentucky client, Sharpe has never dressed up for the Wildcats. In fact, he hasn’t played in a competitive basketball game in nearly a year.

The Ontario, Canada native moved to Kansas to play for Sunrise Christian Academy in his sophomore year of high school, then moved to Arizona’s Dream City Christian in 2020 for his junior season, when not was ranked in the class of 2022. So a dominant performance with the UPlay Canada team in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League last summer got everyone noticed. The tournament is often a testing ground for future NBA stars, and Sharpe averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 28.3 minutes per game over 12 games.

Sharpe graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in Kentucky this spring. Despite rumors that he would join the team on the pitch, or that he would return for the 2022-23 season, he has instead entered the NBA draft. And there is a good reason: he will almost certainly be placed in the top 10.

“In terms of physical abilities and talent, there is everything,” said Givony. “He is a dynamic shooter, an aggressive defender, an intelligent passer-by”.

NBA teams haven’t been able to see much from him, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan, explosive athleticism, and fine shot shot could have most NBA teams outside the top five ready. to take the risk.