NBA Draft Preview: Deep Field Can Produce Surprise Stars

When the Orlando Magic hand over their draft cards to NBA commissioner Adam Silver at Barclays Center on Thursday night, they will address the debate that has raged in the draft circle for most of the year: Who should be the No. 1 pick bit?

The frontrunner is Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, a thin but very tough 7-footer who can shoot, dribble, pass and defend with ease. But there are equally good reasons for Auburn big man Jabari Smith, who made seemingly impossible shots last season, and for Duke’s Paul Banchero. A creative shooter who is as good in the paint as he is on the perimeter.

“These three guys are all very talented,” said Jonathan Givony, ESPN’s NBA draft analyst, founder of the scouting service DraftExpress. “The top players in this draft are very good and have very good depth.”

Here are five more prospects to know about.

6-foot-11, 223 pounds, forward, Mega Mozzart (Serbia)

People keep asking Nikola Jokic about Nikola Jokic. This makes sense. Jovic and the Denver Nuggets star have a lot in common: They’re both Serbian big men who play for the same club, Mega Mozzart, and have only one letter between their last names. But the comparison doesn’t bother Jovic, who is expected to be the first international player to be drafted on Thursday.

“People keep bringing this up,” he said. “I’m really cool. I think it’s also funny because the odds of that happening are very low. At the same time, I feel good because people compare me to a two-time league MVP.”

As a boy, Jovic wanted to be a professional water polo player. He and his mother spend summers in Montenegro and enjoy swimming in the Adriatic Sea. When he was 13, his father introduced him to basketball. What started out as a backyard hobby quickly turned into an obsession and a career. “I’m getting bigger and bigger,” Jovic said, “and it’s easy to see that basketball is better than water polo.”

While many NBA teams have focused on European stars since their teenage years, Jovic didn’t become a big name on the draft board until March 2021 when he exploded at the Adidas Next Generation Championship in Belgrade. 4 guys who can shoot 3s, lead fast breaks and pass smartly. He said he would be open to staying in Europe after being drafted, but would like to land with a team that wants him to play right away.

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

6-foot-9, 221 pounds, forward, elite overtime

When NBA evaluators visited Overtime Elite this year, they looked to the future. The Startup League has potential top 10 players in both the 2023 and 2024 drafts. But one player from the 2022 draft class took advantage of all that extra scouting attention and went from an obscure three-star high school rookie to a potential first-round pick: Dominic Barlow.

“The fact that this is OTE’s first year has drawn scouts’ interest,” said Barlow, 19. “Once the scouts are in the building, they can see what I can do.”

Barlow played for Dumont High School, a small public high school in Dumont, N.J., until the summer before his senior year in a strong amateur sports league program, when a coach of the New York Renaissance found him. Play the park in a public area. He surprised most in basketball circles in September when he left his prep program and turned down several big offers to sign with Overtime Elite. It provides six-figure salaries to boys and men’s basketball players who are at least their junior year in high school.

Barlow hopes his story will inspire other overlooked players to keep going. “I came in as a 3-star kid and I’m leaving as an NBA draft pick. Some 5-star kids have a hard time getting into the NBA after a year of high school,” he said.

6-foot-8, 225 pounds, forward, Iowa State

As Keegan and Chris Murray were going through the college basketball recruiting process, the twins told every coach they weren’t a package deal. Their father, Kenyon, who played college basketball at Iowa State in the early 1990s, encouraged each of them to find their own path.

Their father’s faith and knowledge helped the brothers stay alive, even though they ended their high school careers with only one scholarship to travel to Western Illinois, a Summit League school that had never played in the NCAA Division I.

“Having a DI player as your coach, teaching you everything, guiding you through the recruiting process, it’s really helpful,” Keegan, 21, said of his father, who was in Iowa. Assistant to the Washington State high school team. “He told us we were going to be pros and we believed in him.”

After rejecting an offer from Western Illinois and heading to a preparatory school in Florida for a year, Keegan and Chris signed with their father’s alma mater, Iowa. Keegan showed remarkable efficiency as a freshman and began earning attention in the NBA draft, but he wasn’t considered a top talent until last season. As a sophomore, Murray was the top scorer among the Power 5 players, second in the Big Ten in rebounding, and he shot 55.4 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s been the most efficient player in college basketball this year,” Givony said, adding that he’s great in transition and defense. “Everyone is looking for a player like him.”

Keegan is expected to be a top-five pick, and Chriss has decided to return to Iowa to play another season. “It’s surreal to think about who I was three years ago and who I am today,” Keegan said. “I don’t always know where and when all this hard work will pay off, but I know it will pay off eventually.”

6’3″, 179 lbs, G, Toledo

Ryan Rollins has heard people say he should return to the University of Toledo for his junior season. Add in a year of experience and he could be a first-round pick in 2023. But Rollins rejected the idea. He saw no reason to wait.

“I feel like I’m one of the better players in the draft,” Rollins said. “If I’m not drafted in the first round, that’s fine. I’m going to be very good in this league for a long time in the long run. Whenever and wherever I end up going, I’m going to be there for the Proud.”

A Detroit native, Rollins worked for the well-known AAU program “Family.” But the piled-up roster, along with some annoying injuries and his decision to go to college early, has kept him under the recruiting radar. “I’ve always had this mentality that there is a reason for where I am,” he said. “I’ve been working, always trying to perfect my craft. I don’t worry about the politics of basketball. I know if I’m good enough, the NBA will find me.”

In his two seasons at Toledo, he became a standout in midfield with his fluid touch, fluid footwork and deadly mid-range play. Now he’s likely to be a second-round pick with a sneak peek into the first round. But he’s more worried about what he’ll do once he’s in the NBA. He hopes he can be the next mid-sized player to become a superstar.

He was inspired by former NBA mid-level players such as Ja Morant (Murray State), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and CJ McCollum (Lehigh).

“They went to elementary school but have been able to make a name for themselves,” Rollins said. “I think I’m next.”

6-foot-5, 198 pounds, guard, Kentucky

There’s no more mysterious player in the 2022 draft than Shaedon Sharpe. Although he was listed as a rookie for Kentucky, Sharp never fit in with the Wildcats. In fact, he hasn’t played competitive basketball in almost a year.

The Ontario, Canada native moved to Kansas to play for Sunrise Christian Academy during his sophomore year of high school, before transferring to Arizona Dream City Christian in 2020, and during his junior season he will be in 2022. is not ranked in the class. The performance in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League with UPlay Canada last summer caught everyone’s attention. Often a proving ground for future NBA stars, Sharpe averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 28.3 minutes per game over 12 games.

Sharp graduated high school a year early and is attending Kentucky this spring. He entered the NBA draft instead, despite rumors that he would join the team on the court or return for the 2022-23 season. And for good reason: He’ll almost certainly be in the top 10.

“In terms of physical ability and sheer talent, it’s all there,” Givony said. “He’s a dynamic shooter, an aggressive defender, and a smart passer.”

NBA teams don’t see much out of him, but his 6-foot-11 wingspan, explosive athleticism and excellent shooting percentage could make most NBA teams outside the top five ready to take risks.

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