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The stoppage in play and delayed NBA draft have created more time for evaluators to scout prospects. We’ve already dug into the projected 2021 class. It’s worth starting even earlier and getting to know high school juniors, as well as other teenagers around the world who’ll be ready to declare by 2022.
There is plenty of film available from FIBA, AAU and prep tournaments. It should reveal an exciting group of 16- and 17-year-olds who are two years away from NBA eligibility.
These are the most interesting names to monitor.
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For Duke commit AJ Griffin, there is a path toward the No. 1 overall spot on the 2022 NBA draft board.
At Archbishop Stepinac, the ball belongs to R.J. Davis, who’ll give North Carolina microwave offense next season. But under the NBA scouting lens, eyes immediately shift toward the powerful 6’6″ forward with toned arms, wide shoulders, a 7-foot wingspan and plus athletic abilities.
He supports eye-popping physical tools with a unique perimeter skill level to create mismatches and scoring upside.
In four games with USA basketball at the U16 Americas Championship, Griffin registered per-40 minute numbers of 29.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.1 steals and 6.0 assists on 4-of-11 shooting from three.
With an NBA combo-forward body at 16 years old, he’s also already flashed high-level ball-handling moves for shot creation away from the basket—whether it’s east-west as a dribble jump-shooter or north-south while attacking the rim.
The ease with which he can get shots off leads to some low-percentage attempts, but he’s capable from all over the floor with predetermined pull-ups and fallaways and improvised one-handers off counter footwork.
Though his high-arching three-ball needs fine-tuning, he made 13 threes in the 12 high school games he played this season (per MaxPreps.com) while demonstrating enough shot-making skill and confidence for scouts to project him as a regular threat during his 20s.
Defensively, it’s tough to top his combination of mobility, strength and length for a non-center. His steals and blocks appear effortless against teenagers. If Griffin’s effort and IQ develop in the right direction, they could unlock major defensive upside in terms of contesting shots and versatility.
He’s our way-too-early No. 1 for a draft that’s two years away.
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Chet Holmgren should stir plenty of debate within NBA scouting departments until draft night 2022. He’s polarizing—a 7-footer, lighter than some guards at 183 pounds, but uniquely skilled and coordinated with special defensive instincts.
Regardless, even skeptics who question his spaghetti-like frame still figure to slot the versatile big man high on their boards.
An easy lob target capable of elevating high above the rim using his springs and 7’4″ wingspan, Holmgren separates himself with his comfort level around the perimeter. The eye test buys his shooting stroke and fluidity for spot-up threes and pick-and-pops. And between his handle, footwork and body control, he’s on track to give defenses problems with his ability to put the ball down, attack closeouts and score off the dribble.
Defensively, Holmgren covers a considerable amount of ground around the paint, showing quickness and anticipation to contest, plus the athleticism, length and timing to make plays on the ball. He blocked 12 shots in a nationally broadcast game against Sierra Canyon in January.
The conversation about Holmgren will presumably be similar to the one that took place around Kristaps Porzingis before the 2015 draft. Will he be able to consistently execute from the perimeter against quicker athletes? And will his body hold up in the NBA paint?
NBA teams will be eager to see how Holmgren’s body develops from the start of his senior year in high school to the end of his freshman college season. They’ll want more clarity on his potential to finish through contact or anchor a defense in rim protection.
Until then, Holmgren could be deemed the most interesting prospect to scout for the 2022 draft.
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Jabari Smith II’s breakout this year led to a jump up recruiting ranks and more college offers. Assuming the improvement he made in 2019-20 was just the beginning, it’s poised to eventually result in NBA love, given how his physical profile and skill set jump out as fits for the pro game.
The 6’9″ Smith played both forward spots and center during USA’s gold-medal run last summer at the U16 Americas Championship. Through six games, he averaged 13.8 points in 18.0 minutes on 36.8 percent shooting from three.
The initial draw to Smith stems from his shooting stroke for a projected NBA power forward who has the quickness to guard wings. He hit 77 threes (37.6 percent) in 30 games this season for Sandy Creek in Georgia, according to MaxPreps. Smith has a compact release and the ability to make jumpers off the catch or dribble.
Otherwise, he uses transition and slashing fluidity for scoring. Smith isn’t an advanced shot-creator or playmaker, but he still managed 24.5 points per game in 2019-20 and has plenty of room to expand his one-on-one skills.
Textbook defensive tools also point to versatility for guarding multiple positions, most notably 3s and 4s around the perimeter.
Adding muscle and creativity would help Smith rise closer toward the top of his class’ elite. Regardless, his trajectory appears to be taking him toward the 2022 lottery, with Smith already checking the three-and-D boxes that NBA teams value.
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In a class loaded with wings and forwards, Jaden Hardy could be the first guard NBA teams target in the 2022 draft.
Nevada’s Gatorade Player of the Year just averaged 30.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game as a junior, lighting up defenses with a combination of athleticism, ball-handling for creation and shot-making that points to explosive offensive potential.
Along with quick, tight dribble moves, he also uses advanced footwork to separate into jumpers or elude defenders off drives. He has exciting bounce around the basket for finishing. He doesn’t elevate as high on his jump shots, but he’s dangerous out to NBA range—both pulling up and spotting up. Last April and May, he buried 48 threes in 16 AAU games with the Las Vegas Prospects.
Hardy went for 62 points during a comeback win for Coronado High School in January. He can get carried away with his flash and risky shot selection around the perimeter, but his scoring skills are unmatched by others in his class. And between the flashes of high-level passes and creativity, there should be enough playmaking potential to unlock for a lead-guard role at the highest level.
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Jean Montero has made himself unusually visible for a 16-year-old guard from the Dominican Republic. And the more we’ve seen, the easier it’s been to buy him as an NBA prospect.
Montero spent last summer averaging 30.3 points per game during June’s U16 Americas Championship in Brazil, earning MVP honors at Columbia’s Basketball Without Borders and playing EYBL in South Carolina, where he averaged 25.0 points through four Peach Jam games. After that, he went to Valencia, Spain, and won MVP of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament before traveling to Chicago for a standout performance at another BWB camp.
This past season, he averaged 15.3 points and 3.0 assists per game on 43.5 percent shooting from three for CB Gran Canaria’s junior team in the LEB Silver League, the same division projected 2020 first-round pick Leandro Bolmaro averaged 14.9 points per game in.
He’s a scoring point guard with exciting open-floor speed, plus creation and tough shot-making skills for the half court. Though he lacks strength and bounce for finishing, he’s shown enough ability to convert tough layups and runners in crowds. And he’s flashed off-the-dribble footwork for separating and deep pull-up range on his three-ball.
His role seems to always demands he focus on creating his own shot and scoring, so Montero’s assist numbers never stand out. He clearly has plenty of playmaking potential tied to his elusiveness, creativity and passing skills.
There are bound to be skeptics with concerns about his skinny frame and limited explosion. But Montero has dominated or produced in every setting, and his skill level and the pressure he applies have just been too convincing.
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Kennedy Chandler moved the needle last summer when he helped pace Mokan Elite to a Peach Jam title after going for 21 points and nine assists in the championship game over Team WhyNot, led by projected top-three pick in the 2021 draft Jalen Green, Kentucky commit Devin Askew and Texas Tech commit Nimari Burnett.
Chandler had just finished his sophomore year at Briarcrest Christian. He’s headed to Sunrise Christian for his senior season, when he’ll have the chance to establish himself as the No. 1 point guard from his class.
Limited size (6’1″, 160 lbs) may lead scouts to initially look past his pro potential, but Chandler figures to eventually win them over with results and impact at both ends.
Mixing speed with well-rounded skills and IQ, he’s a full-package lead guard—minus the measurements. Kennedy puts pressure on defenses in transition and with penetration, scoring with crafty finishing below the rim and showing enough bounce to elevate above it in space. He’s a threat using the runner and pull-up and is seemingly on track to continue extending his range and entering/leaving college with NBA teams feeling good about his shooting.
Though his scoring numbers have outshined his assists, Kennedy can play setup man, creating for teammates off the dribble. His elusiveness and feel for the game bode well for his playmaking and development as a facilitator.
We’ll see how much his lack of height, strength and standout athleticism hold him back when he eventually gets to college. Because questions about his physical tools may be the only concerns scouts have by draft night.
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Ousmane Dieng earned a spot on more watch lists last summer at the U16 European Championships, where most eyes on France were initially focused on 2004-born Victor Wembanyama.
Flashes of potential have and will continue to outweigh the inefficient percentages during his teenage years. Currently training with INSEP, Dieng stands out for his positional size and guard’s skill set that includes advanced shooting and playmaking ability. It seems possible the 17-year-old grows more and maxes out as a 6’9″ ball-handler with a versatile jumper who can create for teammates.
In 35 games this past year between FIBA, Adidas Next Generation Tournament and French NM1 (France’s third division), Dieng hit 71 three-pointers while converting 81.0 percent of his free throws.
While it’s too early to project a sure-thing 2022 lottery pick, he’ll become super interesting to NBA teams if he can prove to be an effective lead initiator at his height while running pick-and-rolls and offenses in general.
Dieng has started to generate interest from NCAA colleges, including Arizona, Cincinnati, Oregon State and Washington State, per 247Sports’ Evan Daniels. He figures to become a more recognizable name over his final two seasons before the 2022 draft.
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Patrick Baldwin Jr. had already registered on NBA scouts’ radars during his sophomore season in high school. Since age 15, his size (now 6’9″) and perimeter skill level have screamed “pro,” and he’s close to getting there.
We’ve seen Baldwin operate as both a No. 1 option for Hamilton (24.2 points, 4.2 assists per game) and a supporting scorer with Phenom University while playing off projected 2021 lottery pick Jalen Johnson (Duke), another incoming freshman at Duke in Jaemyn Brakefield and Reece Beekman, who’ll play point guard next season at Virginia.
Suited for either role, Baldwin can create his own shot into drives and jumpers, demonstrating comfortable ball-handling and plenty of shot-making ability on runners, pull-ups and fallaways from the post. It’s also easy to buy his three-ball for spot-up shooting because of his convincing form and range.
He figures to draw Jayson Tatum comparisons (especially if he picks Duke), stemming from similar tools, sharp footwork for creation, three-level scoring and a smoothness to his delivery.
Baldwin lacks a degree of explosiveness, but he’s too polished for it to raise alarms. The son of Milwaukee Panthers coach Patrick Baldwin Sr., Jr. comes off as mature and intelligent—more reasons to buy his development.
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Playing in AAU, competing at USA minicamps, attending the Nike Skills Academy and putting up dominant numbers at O’Dea High School, Paolo Banchero has spent the last few years building a complete scouting profile while developing the versatility the NBA covets.
The 6’9″, 230-pound power forward is as well-rounded as they come for 17-year-old bigs—physically, fundamentally and mentally.
His strength, quickness and agility immediately stand out under the NBA scouting scope. But it’s his expanding skill set that hints at a player who’s capable of flying toward the top of draft boards.
Banchero has developed into a threat to go coast to coast off defensive rebounds, thanks to his ball-handling and body control while scoring on the move. In the half court, he demonstrates advanced footwork on face-up rip-through moves, spins in traffic and post-ups. Though not a flashy one-on-one shot-creator, he still manages to get himself high-percentage, balanced looks.
And his touch away from the basket is easy to buy. His three-ball is still a work in progress, but he’s capable and has encouraging form. He also shows impressive ability to stop and pop with balance on pull-ups inside the arc.
A high-IQ passer as well, Banchero can check the valued stretch-4 playmaker box if he continues to make strides with his shooting and off-the-dribble game.
A terrific defensive outlook is another compelling selling point for Washington’s 2019-20 Gatorade Player of the Year, who guards every frontcourt position.
He just averaged 22.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game, leading O’Dea to the Class 3A state championship game. Banchero just may be the safest bet among juniors to pencil into the top five for the 2022 NBA draft.
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