After weeks of intrigue, rumors and hype, the 2022 NBA Draft is almost here.
While the first three picks are virtual givens, with Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero expected locks to be drafted by the Magic, Thunder and Rockets (in that order), the NBA Draft figures to be fascinating.
Before it gets here, The Post offers up five bold predictions for Thursday night at Barclays Center:
The Kings … keep the No. 4 pick
After all the talk of Sacramento moving down, the Kings end up staying at No. 4, passing on a myriad of trade offers. But this being such a mismanaged franchise, they don’t make the right move. They pass on the clear-cut best player there — Purdue guard Jaden Ivey — instead selecting Iowa wing Keegan Murray. This allows the Pistons to speed up their rebuild. Detroit takes Ivey at No. 5, pairing the blur of a guard with Cade Cunningham, the top pick in last year’s draft. Years later, when Ivey outperforms everyone ahead of him outside of Smith at No. 1, experts wonder how he ever fell to fifth. The Kings — that’s how.
While the Kings don’t make a move, it’s still a busy night of transactions. One of the bigger moves has the Hawks trading up from No. 16 to No. 6. Atlanta sends forward John Collins to the Pacers and uses the selection on G League Ignite prospect Dyson Daniels, a long, defensively-minded guard that fits well with Trae Young. Oklahoma City makes multiple moves, stockpiling future draft picks as Sam Presti once again punts his forever rebuild further down the road. The Trail Blazers, wanting to bolster its roster to keep Damian Lillard happy, trade the No. 7 overall pick to the Pistons for forward Jerami Grant. Detroit becomes the big winner of the night, using the pick on stout two-way Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin.
Santa Clara’s star’s rise
Jalen Williams, a former three-star recruit who wasn’t even ranked in the top 200 of his class, completes his magical rise by getting drafted in the lottery, No. 14 to the Cavaliers. It’s a remarkable story for a player who wasn’t even supposed to stay in the draft until a breakout performance at the combine, and now finds himself as part of the young core of one the most intriguing young rosters in the league. He becomes Santa Clara’s first draft pick since Steve Nash way back in 1996.
A draft for traditional big men
The NBA is now a 3-point shooting, stretch-forward league. Teams don’t value old school big men. This draft, though, will be different. Two traditional centers — Memphis’ Jalen Duren (No. 10 to the Wizards) and Duke’s Mark Williams (No. 13 to the Hornets). Arizona center Christian Koloko is picked by the Warriors at No. 28. The three have one thing in common: They are all elite rim-protectors, a skill that is needed, and in this draft, rewarded.
A big night for Duke
Mike Krzyzewski isn’t in attendance, but his fingerprints are all over this draft, with his final team producing five first-round picks, a school record that equals the most ever for one school, tying Kentucky in 2010. The big surprise is Trevor Keels finding his way into the backend of the first round, at No. 29 to the Grizzlies, following teammates Banchero (No. 3, Rockets), AJ Griffin (No. 11 Knicks), Williams (No. 13, Hornets) and Wendell Moore (No. 30, Nuggets). Coach K can take one last bow, this time from a distance.