With the NBA Draft order set following Tuesday night’s lottery, discussions over who will be taken at the top of the draft next month will be ramping up considerably. Per usual, that conversation centers on some of the youngest players in the class, such as freshmen phenoms Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren after each of them shined in their lone season of college basketball.
But teams outside the early range of the draft won’t have the luxury of taking players regarded as surefire generational talents. Instead, franchise general managers with picks outside the top 10 are tasked with finding value. In some cases, that means taking older players.
Two college seniors were taken in the first round of last year’s draft: Chris Duarte (No. 13 to the Pacers) and Corey Kispert (No. 15 to the Wizards). However, several more seniors wound up contributing as rookies, including second-round pick Herb Jones of the Pelicans and undrafted players such as Austin Reaves of the Lakers and Jose Alvarado of the Pelicans.
So who are the seniors in this year’s class most likely to stick in the NBA long term? Our team of college basketball writers give their takes for this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff.
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
The obvious answer to this question is Ochai Agbaji, largely because he’s the only senior projected by most to go in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. In my latest mock draft, I have the Agbaji Four slotted seventh to Portland, where he should be able to help Damian Lillard get the Trail Blazers back to the Western Conference Playoffs next season after they finished a disappointing 27-55 this season. The Most Outstanding Player of the 2022 Final Four is a 6-foot-5 athlete who can reliably make 3-pointers and effectively guard multiple positions — and guys like that are super valuable in the NBA these days, so I’m a believer. A scan of other people’s mock drafts suggests I’m a little higher than Agbaji than most; I’m comfortable with that. Regardless of where he gets picked, I’d bet on him being a top-10 rookie next season while playing meaningful minutes right from the jump. — Gary Parrish
Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga
Take a scan at many a mock draft and you’ll see this year’s projection is especially young. A lot of freshmen, a lot of players 18 and 19 years old expected to be taken in the first 30-or-so picks. I’d set the over/under of college seniors being drafted this year at 3.5. A lean one for the vets. Parrish took Agbaji, who is objectively the safest and most realistic pick. Agbaji is basically on a tier by himself, and from there is where it gets challenging and interesting to try to peg a graduating college player who will stick for the long term in the league. Nembhard is a 6-foot-5 point guard with good length and modern-NBA instincts. The ball doesn’t stick, he distributes willingly, he’s a good rebounder, and he can grow into a capable defender. Nembhard averaged 10.0 points, 5.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and he was a 34.3% 3-point shooter. If he goes undrafted, there will be a crunch to sign him by many teams. He’s an ideal take-a-flier-on-him guy for Summer League. At worst, he has a fruitful overseas career awaiting him, but other than Agbaji, I think he’s my favorite senior in this draft class. — Matt Norlander
Keon Ellis, Alabama
Ellis only spent two years at the Power Five level at Alabama following two seasons at the junior college level, so I feel like I’m using a loophole here to shoehorn him in on technicality. But he is a senior, after all, and he’s the senior prospect outside of Ochai Agbaji whom I most believe can sustain a long NBA career. He has great positional size at 6-foot-6, and he’s a killer spot-up shooter and a reliable 3-point threat. He has the full package of size, skill and scoring that should help him stick in the league as a role player for a long time. — Kyle Boone
Tevin Brown, Murray State
A rangy guard with a big-time 3-point shot and some distribution prowess, Tevin Brown has the offensive game to stick in the NBA as a true combo guard. He’s not the quickest or most explosive athlete and therefore may get pegged as a player with limited defensive upside. Still, he collected over a steal per game in each of his four seasons playing for a consistently good Murray State program. Brown’s career 38.6% 3-point mark is especially impressive when you consider he attempted 7.3 triples per game and often got into his shot off the dribble, off of screens, in transition and in every way you can think of beyond just normal catch-and-shoot looks.
Brown is more than just a specialist whom you tell to go stand in the corner. He’s a facilitator who can create offense himself or a weapon for whom you can draw up a play. Given the winning pedigree of his college program and his competency in every facet of the game, it stands to reason that Brown can latch on with an NBA franchise and stick in the league for longer than you might expect of someone who may be a late second-round pick or undrafted free agent. — David Cobb