Front-court draft propsects the Spurs should have on their radar

Duke's Paolo Banchero defends Chet Holmgreen. (Photo courtesy Gonzaga University).

By Benjamin Bornstein and Evan Townsend

A quarter of the regular season is under wraps. After an expected slow start to the season, currently toting a 9-15 record, Spurs fans have made it clear they have their eyes on the #1 draft pick.

Our writers Ben Bornstein and Evan Townsend are here to break down some of the top prospects that will more than likely declare for the 2022 NBA Draft.

Let’s look at the top four prospects our guys feel would be the perfect fit for the silver & black

Paolo Banchero

Ben: Paolo Banchero is the other likely top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward does everything. His floor is looking much higher than Holmgren’s, but his ceiling may also be a bit more limited. However, that isn’t to say the ceiling is a 10-foot roof. It’s certainly the height of a basketball arena if not an outright skyscraper.

The Duke freshman has played incredibly well to start the season and was a huge reason the Blue Devils beat Gonzaga in their matchup over Thanksgiving week. He plays good defense across multiple positions and has an NBA-ready body right now outside of some cramping issues that have plagued him early this season.

He is a great shooter inside the arc, but could show some more consistency beyond it on some more volume as well down the line.

Evan: Some say he’s the only generational talent that will more than likely declare for the 2022 NBA draft. Some say he’ll be the safest 1st overall pick since Anthony Davis.  Having an NBA body and stature before graduating high school isn’t something you see every day.

Standing at 6’10 and weighing no less than a solid 250 pounds, Paolo Banchero is truly something we haven’t seen before. There’s a lot of names you can suggest Banchero’s game resembles. A combination of what Jabari Parker and Michael Beasley were predicting to be in my opinion matches the early Blake Griffin mixed with a modern-day Julius Randle comparisons I’ve read online thus far.

Having a fluid handle to create space for a pull-up jumper at his height is something you see only from Kevin Durant or Jayson Tatum.  His explosiveness and speed in the open floor for someone who weighs as much as him can only be compared to the liking of guys like LeBron James and Zion Williamson. He has the quick feet to switch and guard multiple positions, the confidence you need to me help lead a rebuilding team and would fit right in with any lineup in the league.

Yes, he’s been in the news as of late for the wrong reason, but look for Banchero to prove as the season progresses that he is indeed, the solidified #1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Chet Holmgren

Ben: Chet Holmgren is a legitimate unicorn at 7 feet and 195 pounds, who has not quite lived up to the billing yet this season, but has shown flashes of his brilliance. He has had stretches where he looks downright dominant, but there hasn’t been enough of that for entire games yet. Part of that is by design as Gonzaga’s offense runs through Drew Timme and there’s nothing Holmgren can do about that. However, he has shown why his defense is valued so highly and why he could be the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

He can guard every position comfortably and despite his skinny frame, he is an excellent rim protector and takes contact fairly well. He’s averaged over three blocks a game this year thanks to his plus wingspan and the tenacity with which he chases down anyone trying to score on his basket.  He’s more than held his own in games against Duke (three blocks), Texas (two blocks), and UCLA (three blocks). He’s special and there’s no way he drops lower than the third pick in 2022.

Evan: One of the more polarizing prospects that many have been keeping an eye on since his early high school days. In a sense the only “Unicorn” that will more than likely declare for this year’s NBA draft. Standing at 7’1, many believe Holmgren has a good chance of becoming the next #1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft.

While I believe a mix between Evan Mobley and Chris Bosh is the best comparison I’ve seen thus far, his speed, length, and potential on both ends of the court could put him in a category when it’s all said and done. While some look at his slim frame and write him off as a weak, nimble prospect, Holmgren has the offensive bag of a guard, often utilizing his size to the best of his ability by skating through the lane showcasing true elusiveness and awareness to either finish at the rim or a find an open teammate for an easy bucket.

However, on the defensive side of the floor is where he really shines. Being able to guard 1-5 and fly across the paint as a 7 footer is one of the rarest things in today’s game. His Giannis-like strides and his 7’6 wingspan in sense shuts down the paint as he’s leading the NCAA with 3.7 blocks a game. Look for Holmgren to continue to prove he should be considered as a #1 pick as will help lead Gonzaga to another deep March Madness run and a probable John Wooden – Player Of The Year nomination.

Jabari Smith

Ben: The 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward out of Auburn has been great to start this season. There was limited talk of him getting into the top 10 of the draft, but it looks like he has solidified himself as a top 5 guy. He can shoot it, handle it a bit in the open court, and has a motor that never stops. His three-point shooting has been a rollercoaster in early games, but his mechanics are encouraging in how repeatable they are at this stage in his career.

The big man just makes winning plays and makes it nearly impossible not to root for him when he’s on the floor. He has been the best player on the floor at times, although certainly not in every game he’s played. All of this is to say that Smith is legitimate and could be a dark horse for the top pick overall in 2022.

Evan: In my opinion, Jabari Smith is, without doubt, the most skilled dual forward that will more than likely declare for the 2022 NBA Draft. At only 18 years old, Smith is currently the only player in the NCAA averaging 16 points, 7 rebounds on top of one steal and block per game.

Coming into this season as a consensus five-star recruit many expected Smith to contribute to an already older and well-balanced Auburn Tiger squad in hopes to make some noise in the SEC and compete for a deep run in March. While Smith was never a player to ignore and didn’t necessarily go under the radar, the media world is finally starting to wake up and notice the impressive tear he has been on, having scouts claim he has been the best player on the court in every match up his team has faced thus far.

While many have said he has the skill set of a Joe Johnson mixed with the flair of Jayson Tatum, look for Smith to continue to add more to his offensive bag, adjust to the double teams he’s facing, and prove he is a legitimate three-level scorer. While much of the current spotlight is on the other previously mentioned top freshman in the country, look for Smith to continue to separate himself from the rest of the field and make a case to be a dark horse candidate for the #1 pick

Patrick Baldwin Jr.

Ben: Patrick Baldwin Jr was getting tons of hype as a potential top-5 pick after this season. However, there might have been too much of it too quickly as he has struggled out of the gate for Milwaukee. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward has not shot the ball well and seems to be struggling to play with teammates who are not at a Power-5 level.

There are times when he tries to do too much and is taking bad shots (leading to his poor shooting performance so far) and then there are times when he is incredibly passive. It feels like he wants nothing to do with that team at times and that is troubling.

Baldwin turned heads when he decided to go play for his dad at Milwaukee. While there should be a built-in advantage to playing for his dad, it seems it has also come with its fair share of complications. Baldwin will have limited opportunities to showcase his skills against top-tier competition playing in the Horizon League, which makes it difficult to evaluate him. He’s already been held to 13 points on 6-15 shooting against Florida and will have the chance to play Colorado as the only other P5 school on the schedule.

Evan: Standing at 6’10, Patrick Baldwin Jr, is one of the bigger and strongest wings that will more than likely declare for the 2022 NBA draft. Having a guard-like handle with his length and speed has led seemingly every scout to state he’s the next Michael Porter Jr. After shocking some by committing to play for his father at the University of Milwaukee, Baldwin has shown that he can lead and be the heart and soul for the team.

Coming to the program as a 5-star recruit, every opponent he’s faced thus far has had a game plan to try and slow Baldwin down. While the level of tough competition he’s faced thus far has led to a few below-average box numbers, Baldwin is virtually unstoppable when attacking downhill and in the open court. While he’s a more offensive-oriented shot creator who likes to live outside of the lane, PBJ will be on a mission throughout this season to prove that he can be an established three-level scorer as well as a problem on the defensive side of the floor.

Yes, he’s been caught not rotating, mentally tapping out of games when on defense, but when the game is on the line Baldwin knows how to flip the switch and be effective when it counts the most.

Next week Ben and Evan take a look at a few other NCAA prospects as well as some international prospects you should keep an eye on.



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