The NBA Draft isn’t all about the players who get picked. Sure, we’re all excited to see which franchises that consensus top-three prospects Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero get to call home, but there’s a lot more that will happen behind the scenes leading up to and during Thursday’s draft.
This year provides no shortage of potential trades, as there are several teams looking to shop their picks for the right price. We’ve seen in the past how draft-day deals can shift the landscape of the NBA, and with parity at an all-time high, there are plenty of opportunities to make a big move and shake things up.
Some franchises have more pressing needs than others, however, so we thought we’d rank the most intriguing teams heading into the 2022 NBA Draft.
1. Portland Trail Blazers (No. 7 pick)
The Blazers need to quickly reconstruct a contending roster around Damian Lillard if they want him to stick around long enough to eat Thanksgiving dinner in Portland, and the No. 7 pick in this draft probably isn’t going to add immediate help. The players in that range could certainly develop into quality starters or more, but Lillard has stated that he wants to win now, knowing that the twilight of his prime is rapidly approaching.
That leaves Portland as a prime trade candidate as it looks to dangle the pick for some win-now help, according to NBA Insider Marc Stein. Expect the talk around the Blazers to reach frenzied levels as the draft approaches, and if they’re unable to move the pick before Thursday, it could affect which player they select. While a prospect like Keegan Murray, if available, is perhaps more NBA-ready, Portland might consider taking a flier on someone like Shaedon Sharpe, simply because he could be more intriguing as a trade chip down the road. The Blazers have a lot of work to do to create a contender before the season, and it starts with how they handle the No. 7 pick.
2. Sacramento Kings (No. 4 pick)
Barring a shocking surprise, the first three players in the draft are going to be Smith, Holmgren and Banchero in some order. Most analysts have Purdue’s Jaden Ivey just a notch below that first tier, if not on par with the big men at the top. That poses an interesting conundrum at No. 4 for the Kings, who have gone all-in on the De’Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis pairing. Do they really want to bring in Ivey, another guard who needs the ball in his hands in order to capitalize on his potential, or would they consider filling their gaping holes on the wing with a player like Keegan Murray or Ben Mathurin?
It doesn’t take much creativity to pinpoint the obvious alternative: Sacramento could trade down with a team that covets Ivey (perhaps the Indiana Pacers at No. 6) in order to collect a second asset along with whichever player they land a couple picks down. The danger, of course, is that Ivey turns into a generational superstar — and some evaluators think he might. Could you imagine a franchise that passed on potentially one of the greatest players of all time for a prospect they thought was a better fit, then had to watch said player singlehandedly lead his team to the Western Conference finals as a 23-year-old while you miss the playoffs for the 16th straight season? No chance of that happening, right?
The Dallas Mavericks superstar who must not be named might be the exact reason why the Kings just take Ivey at No. 4. But there’s reason to think they might go in another direction, whether it’s selecting a different prospect or trading down, which makes them one of the most intriguing teams in the draft.
3. Orlando Magic (No. 1 pick)
Most reports indicate that the Magic are leaning towards taking Smith with the top pick in the draft on Thursday, but it’s certainly no guarantee. When the prospects at the top are this close in terms of talent and upside, you never know what’s going to happen when a team is on the clock. Even if the Magic want Smith, it would behoove them to at least feign interest in Holmgren and/or Banchero. Let’s say the Thunder are infatuated with Holmgren at No. 2 and get the indication that the Magic might snag him with the first pick, OKC might be willing to give up an asset to move up a spot and guarantee that they get their man, leaving Orlando to take Smith at No. 2.
There are a lot of smokescreens heading into the draft, so we’ll probably hear that Orlando is interested in all three of the top guys before Thursday, maybe even Ivey. We won’t know for sure who they’re taking, however, until they make their pick (or one of the news-breakers tweets it out).
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4. New York Knicks (No. 11 pick)
One such team in the mix to trade up for Ivey is the New York Knicks, who were named by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski as a team that has shown interest in making a deal with the Kings for the No. 4 pick. The Knicks have long coveted a point guard, particularly after the Kemba Walker acquisition fizzled out, and Ivey is considered a potential franchise-changer with his skill and athleticism.
Obviously, the Knicks would have to include their No. 11 pick in the deal, but they’d also likely have to give up some of their young talent like Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes or Cam Reddish. The Kings might also be interested in some win-now help since they’re trying desperately to make the playoffs. Julius Randle doesn’t seem to make sense, either financially or positionally, given the presence of Sabonis, but Alec Burks or Evan Fournier could interest a team devoid of wing depth.
The Knicks realized last season that their current roster probably isn’t enough to compete in the East, and trading for a player like Ivey would allow them to potentially get better now while still building toward the future. However, with plenty of competition from teams looking to move up, the price is going to be steep.
5. Detroit Pistons (No. 5 pick)
In terms of NBA-ready potential superstars, this is expected to be a four-player draft. The prospects below them are more considered future role players or projects that need a ton of development. Therefore the real intrigue of the draft begins at No. 5 with the Pistons, who already have a franchise cornerstone in last year’s No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. They really could go in any direction — I have them taking Mathurin in my mock draft, while our draft experts Gary Parrish and Kyle Boone have them selecting Murray and Dyson Daniels, respectively. Detroit is in the middle of a rebuild so it almost certainly won’t consider fit, instead taking the best available prospect on its board.
Because there’s no consensus at No. 5, this is another team that might consider trading down. Let’s say the Pistons love AJ Griffin but know they can get him further down in the draft. They could potentially find a team that’s infatuated with a prospect like Shaedon Sharpe, one of the more tantalizing players in the draft, and are worried they won’t be able to get them at their position. That would be a good time for general manager Troy Weaver to swoop in, collect an asset in order to move down, and still get the guy they want. Draft wizardry 101.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (No. 22, 29 picks)
Stein reports that the Grizzlies are “trying hard to move up in the draft,” which is an intriguing development for a team that finished with the second-best record in the NBA last season. They have their own pick at No. 29, as well as the No. 22 pick from Utah, which could be a nice combination for a team in the low-lottery or the teens that just isn’t enamored of any prospects in that range.
Last year the Grizzlies traded up from No. 17 to No. 10 and made a relatively surprising pick with Ziaire Williams, who went on to start 31 games as a rookie and play crucial playoff minutes. With the young core that they already have, adding another lottery-level talent would make the Grizzlies even scarier — not only next season, but into the future.
7. Charlotte Hornets (No. 13, 15 picks)
Charlotte has the 13th and 15th picks, but they’re not expected to keep both of them. This team wants to contend now, as evidenced by their impending coaching change, and is facing a massive financial commitment to Miles Bridges this summer and eventually to LaMelo Ball. That means they likely don’t want to pay two first-round picks who might not help immediately, so one of them is likely up for sale to the highest bidder. Pacers center Myles Turner could be a target with No. 15, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, but whether it’s Indiana or another team that gets involved, the Hornets will be a team to watch as the draft approaches.
8. Washington Wizards (No. 10 pick)
If the Wizards keep their pick, it will be fascinating to see who they draft. If they go for a more NBA-ready player like Ochai Agbaji or Mark Williams, it could be a hint that they’re committed to the Bradley Beal-Kristaps Porzingis foundation. If they go for a younger player or a project like Ousmane Dieng, it could be an indication that they have one eye toward the future.
The Wizards are also intriguing because, like so many other teams, they’ve reportedly been shopping their pick. They’re looking for a point guard to put next to Beal and Porzingis, according to Stein, and they’re not afraid to part with No. 10 to do it. Any team with a point guard to spare who’s interested in moving up would be wise to contact the Washington front office.