NEW YORK – After months of speculation, Duke’s Paolo Banchero was a surprise selection by the Orlando Magic with the top overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren was taken second by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. went No. 3 overall to the Houston Rockets.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Smith had been widely expected to land the top selection. But the Magic turned things upside down by taking Banchero, who sported a bright purple suit with sequins, along with even brighter shoes, as he took to the stage and shook hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“I had a feeling, from the information I was being told, that it was just kind of up in the air,” Banchero told ESPN of going first. “Orlando wasn’t really sure yet, and just to be ready for whatever.
“I didn’t find out, though, that I was actually getting picked until about 20 seconds before the commissioner got on the stage. I didn’t even have time to really think about it or anything. It just kind of happened. I can’t believe it, but I’m ready. I’m ready. “
The 6-foot-10 forward from Duke averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game across 39 games for the Blue Devils, who reached the Final Four before losing to their forever rivals in North Carolina. Banchero, who might be the most NBA-ready prospect in this draft, will now be looked at as the anchor of Orlando’s nascent rebuild, which includes guards Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony, forwards Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac and center Wendell Carter Jr.
While Banchero was a surprise at No. 1, Holmgren was always expected to go to Oklahoma City with the second pick. A 7-footer from Gonzaga, Holmgren flashed a wide array of skills in his lone season in college, averaging 14.1 points on 60 percent shooting overall and 39 percent from 3-point range while grabbing 9.9 rebounds and blocking 3.7 shots in 26.9 minutes across 32 games.
Oklahoma City, which entered the night with a second lottery selection (12th overall) and with multiple firsts in each of the next several drafts, now has an interior anchor to go with its promising young backcourt of rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Australian Josh Giddey, the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft and a first team All-Rookie selection.
Smith, a sweet-shooting 6-foot-10 forward, averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
After drafting Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba in the first round of last year’s draft, the Rockets – who also entered the evening with the 17th selection – continued their rebuild in the wake of moving on from franchise icon James Harden at the start of the 2021-22 season by selecting Smith.
Rounding out the draft’s top five were Iowa forward Keegan Murray, who went to the Sacramento Kings with the fourth pick, and Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, whom the Detroit Pistons drafted fifth overall.
Murray had a sophomore season breakout at Iowa, averaging 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range. He will now join a Kings team that is trying to end a 16-year playoff drought and retool itself around guard De’Aaron Fox and big man Domantas Sabonis under new coach Mike Brown.
Ivey, who had publicly said going to Sacramento wouldn’t be the “worst” thing to happen to him, will team him with last year’s top overall pick, Cade Cunningham, in the Pistons backcourt. Like Murray, Ivey had a breakout sophomore season, averaging 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists at Purdue while showing off breathtaking athleticism and straight-line speed.
Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin went sixth to the Indiana Pacers, the Portland Trail Blazers took Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe at No. 7 and Dyson Daniels of the G League Ignite went No. 8 to the New Orleans Pelicans.