Dribble Handoff: Paolo Banchero, Ochai Agbaji, Jabari Smith among the most pro-ready prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft


The 2022 NBA Draft is quickly approaching, and with it comes a dilemma for some teams that are anxious to compete next season. While franchises like the Magic, Thunder and Rockets at the top of the draft seem OK with the realities of protracted rebuilds, others with top 10 picks such as the Kings and Pelicans appear more keen on being in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

For teams with a sense of urgency, the appetite to take on a raw 19-year-old rookie with years of development ahead can be diminished, no matter how high their long-term upside may be. Instead, there can be significant short-term appeal for some teams with plucking an NBA-ready talent in the draft who can be a plug and play rotation piece out of the gate.

For most franchises, the decision won’t be so cut and dry, and the wise choice is arguably to lean heavily toward the players with the most long-term potential. But in a draft class that features a handful quality players with multiple seasons of collegiate experience, most franchises will be faced with the NBA readiness vs. long-term promise question at some point in the draft.

So who are the most NBA-ready prospects in this draft class? Our writers make their predictions for this week’s edition of the dribble handoff as we continue preparing for the June 23 NBA Draft.

Paolo Banchero (Duke)

I’m taking this Dribble Handoff question to mean “Who is most likely to win the Rookie of the Year?” If you’re NBA-ready, you’re going to step in and be an immediate contributor. Banchero has been building toward this for the better part of three years at this point. At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, his body is already where it needs to be to play with the pros. His offensive skillset is also there. Banchero has a variety of ways to score, pass and work through an offense. He can shoot from distance, work the post, put the ball on the floor and create off the dribble.

His rebounding skill and effort is consistent. He’s not a perfect player (we’ll see what he grows into on defense), but among the three guys in the mix to go No. 1, Banchero has the highest floor and is the most developed at this point. I think that’s a fair statement – and one that a lot of NBA evaluators would back up. When you combine everything he’s already established, the Duke pedigree and add to that how he could wind up as the best player in this draft, he’s a pragmatic pick to be the most NBA-ready guy by the time we get to November. No matter where he’s drafted, he’ll be my pick to be the top rookie in the NBA in 2022-23. – Matt Norlander

Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)

Banchero is probably best-equipped to flourish in an NBA game tonight for a lot of the reasons Norlander noted. He’d be my pick too. But with the former Duke star off the board, I’ll go with Agbaji, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 Final Four who led Bill Self’s Jayhawks to the national championship. As I explained on a recent episode of the Eye On College Basketball Podcast, I’m a big believer in Agbaji because he’s a 6-5 switchable wing who can comfortably guard multiple positions and reliably make 3-pointers. Guys like that are super-valuable in the modern NBA. Is Agbaji’s ceiling as high as some of the one-and-done’s ceilings? Perhaps not. But this 22-year-old four-year player will be ready to contribute on opening night and could reasonably develop into a top-three player for a contender in time. – Gary Parrish


Jabari Smith Jr. (Auburn)

Here’s a hot take for ya: Smith, who right now is the betting favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, is who I think is the most pro-ready prospect in the class.

Often times someone with the highest long-term ceiling (but possibly not the most pro-ready) go first off the board, but in Smith Jr. it could be a blend of both. He’s an elite shooter who will instantly be ready to sprinkle shots from all over the court. At Auburn he made 42% of his 3-pointers. And the way in which he made them – off the catch or off one-dribble pull-ups – suggests that he should instantly be ready to do the same in the NBA. His best skill is also his most easily and early translatable.

Smith Jr.’s defense, centered around his versatility and mobility, is sound enough to make him and his polish be the most NBA-ready too. He played next to the sport’s leading shot-blocker next season but has real anticipation and timing in that area he’s not yet fully realized. He can also slide between multiple positions, potentially playing on the perimeter defensively or gear-shifting down to play the five in small-ball lineups. His ceiling as a future star will undoubtedly earn Smith Jr. some shine as a clear top-five pick, but his immediate floor as a rookie next season makes him one of the leading candidates to be the most impactful newbie in the NBA right away. Kyle Boone

Keegan Murray (Iowa)

Murray was just a three-star prospect and only started for one of his two college seasons, but he nonetheless stands out as the most NBA ready prospect in the 2022 draft class. At 6-8 and with wiry strength, he’s already capable of guarding every spot on the floor, and his offensive strengths should translate immediately. If he were going to be 19 on the opening night of the 2022-23 season instead of 22, I believe he would be receiving serious contention to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Murray is an excellent shot blocker for his size – he averaged 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes in college – and a potent 3-point shooter who hit 39.8% of his 4.7 attempts per game as a sophomore. Even if he never develops whatsoever as an on-ball playmaker, he’ll still be a productive and versatile role player. But considering the quantum leap Murray took between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it’s tantalizing to consider what else in his game could be unlocked by an NBA coaching staff. Without even knowing where he’s going to play, Murray is my early pick for the NBA Rookie of the Year, and if he does develop as a primary creator he could be the first player from this class to become an All-Star. – David Cobb




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