BY MATTY D.
NCAA Observer Weighs in on NBA Draft Night Steals
If you watch college basketball religiously, you saw a lot of sleeper picks in the 2022 NBA Draft. Here are 5 players to keep an eye on during their NBA career.
5. Blake Wesley, #25 Overall Pick for the San Antonio Spurs
If you’re an NBA fan, you might be curious why San Antonio is shedding so much young talent. They traded Derrick White mid-season. He proved to be a pivotal piece for the Eastern Conference Champion Celtics. Then, the Spurs traded Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks. Murray had become a prime example of how the San Antonio organization continues to draft and develop young talent to reach their potential. They were patient with the thin, raw Murray early in his career and it paid off. Now, the national consensus might be how the Spurs are throwing in the towel. One SB Nation article says the Spurs are setting their “relevancy back years.”
However, if you look at the three first round picks in 2022, you’ll realize that the silver spurs are just re-loading their firearms down in the Alamo.
Blake Wesley is a supremely athletic wing who can contribute minutes immediately to an NBA club. He led Notre Dame to an NCAA Tournament berth last season, taking possessions coast to coast and leading the Fighting Irish to a first round victory over Rutgers. He is listed at 6-4, but easily slices down to lane getting to where he wants. He should develop his three-point-jumper, as every NBA ball player needs to. However, he is a great value as the #25 overall pick.
In fact, the Spurs can benefit from some in-house competition at the swingman position right away. At the 20th pick, the Spurs picked up 6-5 shooting guard Malaki Branham from Ohio State. He showed great flashes of scoring ability late in his short tenure with the Buckeyes. In the top 10, San Antonio also looked to re-kindle the spirit of their former funky Spur, Dennis Rodman, by picking Baylor’s slippery defender/rebounder Jeremy Sochan. NCAA obversers have to give the Spurs draft an A+.
4. Kennedy Chandler, #38 Overall Pick for the Memphis Grizzlies
Ironically, this pick was made by the San Antonio Spurs as well…
Kennedy Chandler was regarded as one of the best incoming freshman for last year’s college basketball season, but he got off to a slow start in SEC conference play. The SEC is tough. And he had a few 5 and 6 turnover games. His backcourt mate Zakai Zeigler out-shined him at teams in the rotation. Still, the point guard progressed to finish by averaging nearly 14 points and 4.7 assists per game in his freshman campaign. Now the Grizzlies get a potential perfect counterpart to Ja Morant in the backcourt. Mike Conley spent years swirling around defenses with his dizzying speed in Memphis. Chandler’s low-to-the ground, solid handle can have the same type of impact. He is not a high-flyer like Morant is (nobody is), but his speed and handles could balance out the offense.
The Memphis Grizzlies also nabbed another high quality value pick late in the second half of the draft. They added VCU’s Vince Williams Jr. Injuries nagged his last season as a Ram, but Williams Jr. is an all-around mature player. He is a 6-7 forward who can handle, assist, and defend.
3. EJ Liddell, #41 Overall Pick for the New Orleans Pelicans
This could actually be the steal of the draft. If the Pelicans actually see Zion Williamson play in the 2022-2023 campaign, New Orleans could have the all-linebacker squad for the NBA. There’d be some serious muscle inside. Liddell is built similarly to Williamson, listed at 6-7 and 243 lbs. However Liddell is probably actually a more skilled basketball player at this juncture. He can operate in the post and around the perimeter. His strong base gives him great positioning around taller players in the post. He has been an impact player for Ohio State since he stepped on campus. The Pelicans keep piecing together a winning roster with winning players. Liddell fits the mold of someone who could thrive in the Bayou.
2. Isaiah Mobley, #49 Overall Pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers
This was a no-brainer for the Cavs, re-uniting Isaiah with his younger brother Evan Mobley in Cleveland. The two played together for a year at USC when they lead the Trojans to the Elite 8. There could be a Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol type of tandem here. Isaiah Mobley would be the more burley of the two. Evan Mobley nearly won the NBA Rookie of the Year with his great touch around the rim and quick spring to the glass. Isaiah Mobley is a super skilled big man. Both brothers have exceptional hands. At 6-10, Isaiah Mobley is one of the best perimeter shooters for his size in the draft. After Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr.’s three point efficiency of 39 and 42 percent respectively, Mobley registered a 36% 3PT percentage in his USC days. Oddly enough, he shot 44% from 3PT during his second year at USC.
The Mobley brothers could be a handful as a high-low option with the Cavs. I am surprised every other NBA franchise let this happen. It’s like when your buddy has a second tier running back that you know he loves in fantasy football. He’s firmly on the record loving that RB. But you let him pick that dude up in your snake draft on his quick second turnaround pick in the 7th round. This could be both marketing and basketball gold for the Cavaliers.
1. Ben Mathurin, #6 Overall Pick for the Indiana Pacers
This honor comes straight out of the college basketball eye test playbook. Bennedict Mathurin was a man amongst boys in so many of the clutch games that Arizona played last year. He chewed up the talented Illinois backcourt for 30 points in a high profile, early season non-conference showdown. In March Madness, he served up a serious facial against TCU to rescue his Wildcats from a hard-fought upset loss. He dropped 30 again in this thrilling overtime win. Mathurin has a little Russell Westbrook in his game. He is simply relentless. However, he has a smooth stroke around the perimeter. Watch the dunk below and pay close attention to the killer instinct demeanor. Mathurin is of Haitian decent and grew up in Montreal. He attended the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City, Mexico. His diverse skills and killer instinct will win him international appeal.
Honorable Mention: Trevor Keels, #42 Overall Pick for the New York Knicks
Keels seeks out contact as he rushes to the rim. He doesn’t have the same ups that Derrick Rose had at his age, but it could be interesting to watch these guys play together. They both have the running back mentality. They share the mentality launching over the goal-line in order to score. Keels got lost at times at Duke with what his role is, whether a facilitator, off-ball shooter, or Alpha male scorer. The Knicks would be wise to assign Keels a role and see it blossom.
Agree or disagree with my list? Join the debate and follow me on Twitter. Thanks for reading!