The three-best players in the 2022 NBA Draft have found their new homes.
The Orlando Magic selected versatile Duke forward Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren second, and the Houston Rockets rounded out their young Big 3 with the third pick, drafting Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr.
All three players were in play to go No. 1 overall, a testament to the talent at the top of the draft class. There were no losers in the top-three picks. Here’s why ping-pong balls provided perfect picks for three rebuilding franchises.
ORLANDO SELECTS BANCHERO
The Magic have been stockpiling young players for nearly a decade, and drafting Banchero signals a change of direction for a long-struggling franchise.
Banchero, a forward ESPN likened to both Ben Simmons and Michael Beasley, joins Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. with Jonathan Isaac expected to return from a knee injury. The Duke forward averaged 17 points, 8 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block per game under Mike Krzyzewski last season and projects to start immediately on a Magic team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade.
THUNDER STRIKE HOLMGREN
Holmgren, the 7-foot perimeter scorer who’s drawn comparisons to both NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, joins another young team in Oklahoma City hoping to build a nucleus it can develop into a playoff contender.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the franchise cornerstone, and Josh Giddey was a breath of fresh air in his breakout rookie season, but Holmgren gives the Thunder a player who has legitimate star potential. He can score at all three levels, is a capable rim protector who averaged close to four blocks at Gonzaga, and is much tougher than his slim frame might suggest.
ROCKETS ROUND OUT BIG 3
The Rockets didn’t have a successful season in the win-loss column, but head coach Stephen Silas developed both rookie Jalen Green and the embattled-but-talented Kevin Porter Jr.
Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. is a versatile wing player who rounds out Houston’s Big 3 as the player many considered the most talented in the draft. While averaging a steal and a block per game as a more-than-capable defender, Smith averaged 17 points per game and shot 42% from three-point range.
The Rockets now have a legitimate young nucleus to build on in the post-James Harden era, not to mention they have six first-round picks in the next five draft classes.