Draft night in the NBA is one of the flagship events of the offseason calendar and there is added interest this year for UK hoops fans with Jeremy Sochan being involved.
The 19-year-old, out of Baylor, is expected to be a lottery pick and may well go in the top 10. He plays for Poland internationally, a nation for whom his mother was also a celebrated basketball player, but Sochan – who was born in Oklahoma in the United States – feels very much English.
« I am English, » he told The Times. « I lived in England most of my life through primary and secondary school, living in Southampton and Milton Keynes. That’s where my family live, it’s where my home is, in Milton Keynes. »
It is highly unlikely he follows in the footsteps of 1998 No 1 pick Michael Oluwokandi, who grew up in Sussex, but Sochan could squeeze higher up the draft order than the all-time greatest British NBA player Luol Deng, who was taken at No 7 in 2004.
This is the one night even the most fervent basketball fans are inclined to turn off the notifications from Woj and Shams on their phones to avoid spoilers but other than the saturation of coverage about the top three projected picks – Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paulo Banchero – you might not know very much about the 2022 class.
To address that, we fired some questions at Tyler Rucker and Corey Tulaba in the United States as well as UK experts James Plowright and Huw Hopkins to give us a better idea of what to expect ahead of the names being called on Thursday night.
Here is what they had to say – read in full, or scroll through the key questions below…
There’s been a big focus on the top three of this draft – in which order would you pick them and which prospect suits which team?
James Plowright: I have Smith ranked first in my player rankings due to him projecting as one of the best shooting forwards to ever come out of college at the age of just 19. Smith is well known for his defensive competitiveness and versatility, I also believe in him developing into a better playmaker as he gains reps at the NBA level. Orlando is a great fit for Smith as he will have several other capable ball handlers to help him play to his strengths early in his career.
Oklahoma takes Chet Holmgren – and underrate Holmgren due to his skinny, awkward looking frame at your own risk! He is tough, physical and won’t back down to anyone. Holmgren is an elite rim protector, as well as being a capable shooter and good passer for someone standing 7ft with a 7ft 6in wingspan.
That leaves Houston getting Paolo Banchero. A traditional top lottery prospect, Banchero flashes fantastic scoring, ball handling and passing upside to make you buy in. Squint hard enough and you can see some Jayson Tatum, squint a little harder and there’s some Marvin Bagley. For Banchero, it all depends if his poor efficiency shooting can improve as a pro, otherwise teams will sit off him and not give him the room to operate in his beloved mid-range. There’s a big drop off in talent after the top three picks in my opinion, so Houston takes whoever is left which projects to be Banchero.
Huw Hopkins: The Orlando Magic love drafting bigs, but they’ve ruined the potential of many young, lengthy prospects in recent years. Smith, Banchero and Holmgren all fit the 6ft 10in or above mould they tend to look for, and it would not be surprising to see them take the skinnier, longer, 7ft Holmgren but they might be better off taking Smith or Banchero to offer better offensive versatility.
Corey Tulaba: I believe the top two players in the draft are Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero, in that order. We throw the word around a little too freely nowadays, but Chet may actually be a unicorn. Don’t let the thin frame fool you, basketball’s Mr Fantastic has a unique blend of physical tools, feel for the game, and the skillset to become a dominant two-way impact player in the league. Holmgren looks poised to land in Oklahoma City and that is the best fit for him in the top three. With Banchero, you’re looking at the kind of jumbo wing that every franchise covets. Banchero is a mid-range killer that can handle the ball like a guard, initiate offense, and has some of the slickest footwork in the post that you’ll find from a 19-year-old prospect.
Tyler Rucker: The big three of this class have been receiving hype throughout the entire year for good reason. Jabari Smith arguably has the potential to be the best at transitioning to the league of any of the three. He’s a lethal outside shooter with the ability to stretch the floor from well beyond NBA range. Smith also has the two-way upside to become a dynamic weapon at the next level.
Chet Holmgren has been one of the most impressive defensive prospects that I’ve had the chance to evaluate over the years. His basketball IQ and awareness on both sides of the floor has been remarkable. He’s got more upside offensively than he was able to show this year, and he should pair beautifully with any team in the top three.
Paolo Banchero has the offensive versatility and firepower to become a dangerous asset at the next level. His fit with the Houston Rockets is still one of my personal favourites. Houston is in a position in which adding another dynamic weapon on the offensive side of the ball alongside Jalen Green would do wonders for their rising star. Banchero would be just the boost the team needs to keep the needle moving forward.
Okay, that’s the obvious question out of the way…
How strong do you think this draft class is overall and what are your main takeaways having studied it?
Corey Tulaba: With four potential franchise guys in the top five, the 2021 Draft class is a tough act to follow. However, I’m a believer in the strength of the 2022 class. Each of the top three projected prospects have an argument to one day becoming All-NBA calibre players, there are impact players that fit the direction of the modern NBA throughout the rest of the lottery, and I think smart teams are likely to make value plays throughout the rest of the first round. The 2022 NBA Draft may not stack up historically to its predecessor, but we should see a lot of long time NBA players come out of this class.
James Plowright: This projects to be one of the weaker drafts of the past decade both in terms of star talent level at the top of the draft and weak depth into the second round. I’m not sold there will be any primary options in the Durant, LeBron or Steph Curry mould, but several good All-Star calibre supporting cast players like Draymond Green, Jaylen Brown and Bam Adebayo. However, even in the infamous 2013 draft, a young Greek player named Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th and went on to become a back-to-back MVP. There are always hidden gems in the draft.
What is your opinion on Jeremy Sochan?
Corey Tulaba: Before I mention how I feel about Sochan’s game on the court, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that he has by far the coolest hair in the draft. We may see the first ever matching hair-and-suit combo in the green room. As a player, there’s almost too much to like with Sochan. All you have to do is watch Baylor’s game vs North Carolina to see the full Jeremy Sochan experience as he guarded everyone from quick twitchy guards like RJ Davis to traditional bigs like Armando Bacot. Sochan processes the game at a high level and has exceptional passing feel. The shooting is the swing skill and will ultimately dictate how valuable he becomes in the league, but it wouldn’t shock me if he had an OG Anunoby-like impact.
Extra marks for the reference to another British baller, Corey.
Huw Hopkins: Jeremy Sochan’s a smart basketball player who makes the right play much more often than making an egregious mistake. He’s a good shooter, and has good size for a guard-forward that will translate well to the NBA. This is needed by every team. Looking at recent playoffs, the teams that didn’t have depth on the wing didn’t last very long, so he will likely get decent playing time in the regular season on most teams. If he goes to a bad team, he might get a bit lost in the shuffle, but a team that will put him in position to show off his existing ability while giving him time to grow – think San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets or Memphis Grizzlies if he slips that far down.
Should we expect any trades within the lottery?
Huw Hopkins: Always. Whether it’s a shuffle on the night to get a specific player that was drafted ahead of where a certain team hoped to pick them, or another team looking to shift a big existing contract, such as John Wall, Bradley Beal or Russell Westbrook – there will be trades, oh yes, there will be trades.
James Plowright: I’d keep my eye on OKC moving up from No 12 to acquire another top-10 pick, Portland trading No 7 for some veteran help for Damian Lillard – although the Jerami Grant deal may affect their thinking on that – and Sacramento at No 4 doing something which, following their track record, probably will baffle everybody.
Corey Tulaba: Where there’s smoke there’s often fire and the rumour mill has been red hot over the past week. Whether it’s Sacramento moving off of the fourth pick or teams like San Antonio or Memphis combining their picks later in the draft to move up, I’d expect it to be a busy night for Woj and Shams.
Who are the other standout lottery picks in this draft for you and which teams might they suit?
Tyler Rucker: Guys such as Keegan Murray, Bennedict Mathurin and Dyson Daniels are the ones that I’ll be fascinated to see where they end up. These players have all been some of the most impressive individuals throughout the pre-draft process, and they could all hear their names called in the top seven of the draft.
Huw Hopkins: The most intriguing for me is Dyson Daniels. The 6ft 8in guard hails from Australia but has just spent the year with G League Ignite – a system specifically designed to build NBA players. There will undoubtedly be a difference in talent between who he’s been competing against and who he will face next year, but Daniels and his Ignite colleagues will have been trained by NBA coaches, faced NBA-style defenses, taught about NBA schemes and learned from NBA nutritionists. He will be NBA-ready.
James Plowright: Shaedon Sharpe (6ft 5in shooting guard) is my fourth-ranked prospect, he was the No 1-ranked high school recruit in the class of 2023 before reclassifying to enter the 2022 draft. The difficult thing with Sharpe is he’s not played competitive basketball for over a year after sitting out this season at Kentucky to focus on getting ready for the draft. Sharpe is an enigmatic character but is an elite athlete and was the best pull-up jump shooter in the entire Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL). I like to use Anthony Edwards and Terrance Ross as comparable players currently in the NBA. There’s a wide range of quality between those two, if we had seen him play recently, scouts would have a firmer grasp on how he projects as a prospect.
Do you expect any big surprises in the draft?
Tyler Rucker: Absolutely. The Draft is the closest thing basketball fans have to reality TV. There have been plenty of rumblings around the league when it comes to some players and where their range might be on draft night. If the rumours are correct… buckle up folks!
James Plowright: The draft never goes as planned and there will always be surprises. One name to watch is Ousmane Dieng who has long been projected between 14-20 but in recent days there’s been some buzz he has a promise in the lottery and could even go in the top 10.
Corey Tulaba: The best part of draft night is the unpredictability! Last year the NBA world was shocked when the Raptors selected Scottie Barnes over Jalen Suggs. Josh Giddey went two picks later. You may not get anything as unexpected as Anthony Bennett going first overall to the Cavaliers this year, but I think we’ll see some fireworks on Thursday night.
Are there any other players with a European background who have stood out to you as strong prospects?
James Plowright: This is a weak European draft, but an interesting prospect is Nikola Jovic out of Serbia who I have ranked 23rd. He has a similar name to two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, but I can assure you he’s a very different player. Jovic is a tall, high-volume three-point shooter, he projects to play a similar role as Danilo Gallinari as someone who stretches the floor and is a good passer for his size. Unfortunately, his lack of speed and athleticism limit his ability to score in any other ways other than jump shots, he has good size but other than that he looks to be a weak defender who might struggle to stay on the court in the playoffs.
Corey Tulaba: Gabriele Procida from Italy is one of my favourite prospects in this class. Procida is equipped with one of the smoothest jumps in the draft, but the best part about him is the vendetta he has against the rim. Whether on a tip dunk or in transition, Procida is one of the most fun dunkers in the class. He has the size to play multiple positions out on the wing. He’s one of my favourite sleepers in the draft.
Tyler Rucker: Matteo Spagnolo is another name that deserves some recognition. Spagnolo was on loan at Vanoli Cremona from Real Madrid, but showed some intriguing tools and should be a popular draft-and-stash candidate in this class.
Are there any potential wildcards lurking in this draft?
Corey Tulaba: I think the second round is rich with prospects that could end up really helping a team down the line. Guys like Ryan Rollins from Toledo, Bryce McGowens from Nebraska, and Peyton Watson from UCLA are upside plays that could really reward a team with a strong developmental program.
Tyler Rucker: As Corey said, there’s some fascinating wildcards that offer sensational upside. UCLA freshman Peyton Waston is the name to keep an eye on. Once a preseason candidate to go in the Top-10, the UCLA freshman struggled to generate consistent playing time but still has serious tools to develop. Justin Lewis and Moussa Diabate would be two other players to keep a close eye on.
Make three random predictions for the draft..
Huw Hopkins: My main prediction in this draft is that nothing will be predictable! One key thing that stands out is I think we will see one big trade that has a bunch of stars in it – I’m thinking Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Ayton might be involved. Whoever it is, I’ll have my popcorn ready!
Okay, we’ll have no more rebelling, thank you! Three predictions from each of you, please…
- Jaden Ivey will end up with the Pistons.
- Caleb Houstan has a promise from the OKC Thunder in the second round.
- Jeremy Sochan will be a top 10 pick.
- Ousmane Dieng goes in the top 10.
- Duke has four players go in the first round.
- A future MVP gets drafted during Johnny Davis’ Taco Bell commercial!
That last one is a reference to Nikola Jokic, for the uninitiated.
- Keegan Murray goes to Sacramento.
- AJ Griffin slips out of the Top 10.
- Jeremy Sochan goes in the Top 10.
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