2022 NBA Draft: 6 First Round Pairings That Just Make Sense

I’ll be using the post-regular season but pre-lottery draft order for these selections, and they’re essentially just my favorite player/team pairings with the player going to the best fit in their reasonable draft range.


3. Detroit Pistons – Jabari Smith Jr., 6-foot-10 forward, Auburn freshman

The rumblings have been out there since January that Smith Jr. is Detroit’s favorite prospect at the top of this draft, even if they win the lottery and end up with the top pick. 

As Auburn’s top scoring option this season, he had a tough time finding open looks, and he still produced at a high clip, shooting 42.0% on 5.5 three-point attempts per game and 55.6% on spot-up, no-dribble jumpers.

Pairing Smith Jr. with an elite pick-and-roll playmaker like Cade Cunningham would do wonders for each guy’s spacing issues, as illustrated here:

8. New Orleans Pelicans – TyTy Washington, 6-foot-3 guard, Kentucky freshman

Anyone who follows my coverage of this draft class knows how strongly I feel about Washington. Here are my thoughts from him before he started his Kentucky career:

TyTy Washington NBA Scouting Report

Washington plays a very heady game from the lead guard spot in a way that might remind head coach Willie Green of Chris Paul at times, not that Washington sees and processes the game as well as Paul, because he certainly does not. No one does. It’s just a similar type of play style, illustrated by his school-record 17 assist game:

 

14. Cleveland Cavaliers – Malaki Branham, 6-foot-5 wing, Ohio State freshman

Injuries took a toll in Cleveland this season, whether it was to bigs like Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley or key offensive cogs like Ricky Rubio (traded following his injury) and Collin Sexton. Even so, they were in a position to compete in the play-in tournament but didn’t have enough bucket getters when it mattered.

Branham would provide that bucket getting in the short term as a secondary / tertiary bench option with flashes of star upside. Similar growth trajectory to Jaden Ivey, in that if he returned for his sophomore season, he’s likely a top 8 pick in the 2023 draft, so Cleveland would be getting themselves into a low-risk, high-reward investment.

 

18. Chicago Bulls – Mark Williams, 7-foot center, Duke sophomore

Rim protection was one of the Bulls’ bigger Achilles’ heels in the 2021-22 season, largely due to defensive liability Nikola Vucevic “Vooch” playing 33-plus minutes per game. 

I believe Williams and Vooch can share the floor at times since Vooch is more of a perimeter-oriented big offensively anyway, so Williams can be that traditional roll man while Vooch acts as a pseudo-stretch 4.

As one of the best rim protectors in the NCAA this season with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, Williams would give quite the boost to the Bulls on that end, and he’s capable of stepping out and guarding on the perimeter at times, so it wouldn’t limit the Bulls to, for example, only playing drop coverages.

 

24. Milwaukee Bucks – Patrick Baldwin Jr., 6-foot-9 wing, Milwaukee-Wisconsin freshman

If something like this pairing happens, it’s almost like accidental 4-D chess with PBJ tanking his draft stock to end up with an excellent team where his only job is to hit spot-up looks. 

Baldwin Jr. has an unreal release and shooting touch for a player at his size and has shown enough flashes on drives to believe he’ll contribute at least a little bit on that front. 

29. Memphis Grizzlies – Christian Koloko, 7-foot-1 center, Arizona junior

Steven Adams is entering the final year of his deal with the Grizz, making nearly $18 million in 2022-23. This would provide a year of adjustment for Koloko to learn behind an established big in the league before taking over the full-time job later down the road. 

As for the on-court fit, Koloko would provide Ja Morant an elite rim running threat and an elite defender without also being a foul magnet; just 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes (Jaren Jackson Jr. was at 5.9 coming out of college).



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