2022 NBA Draft: 8 prospects and 2 sleepers the Portland Trail Blazers might take
The prevailing opinion on the Portland Trail Blazers' upcoming draft plans is that the team will trade their No. 7 overall pick, and potentially their two second rounders, for some veteran players either before or on draft night.
We're going to give you a draft preview anyway on who might convince Portland to keep the pick instead.
Blazers beat reporter Austin White and college basketball expert and Madras Pioneer sports editor Andy Dieckhoff team up to look at 10 prospects who might have their names called by the Blazers come June 23 in Chicago.
We'll start with eight players who could go at No. 7 by the Blazers, plus two "sleepers" who might fit the bill at No. 36 and No. 57 in the second round.
Keegan Murray, forward, Iowa
Andy: Keegan Murray had a fine freshman year in Iowa City, but the 6-foot-8 forward really broke out as a sophomore. In the past 20 seasons, only six players from the major conferences have put together a stat line like Murray did in 2021-22, with averages of at least 23 points, eight rebounds, one block and one steal per game. Four of the other five players — Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Glenn Robinson and Donyell Marshall — all went in the top four picks of the NBA Draft and combined to score over 58,000 points (and counting) in the Association.
As for how he plays, Murray has the size, athleticism and versatility to play both forward positions, and while defense is rarely a calling card at Iowa, he is not notably deficient on that end. He was fourth in the Big Ten in blocks and defensive rebounds, and ninth in steals. Offensively, Murray can score at all three levels, shooting over 70% at the rim and over 40% on mid-range and 3-point shots.
Austin: Portland's biggest need for the past several years has been a scoring forward who isn't a liability on defense. Murray is exactly that with plenty of offensive talent and the raw skills there to be a decent NBA defender.
The Blazers could easily use Murray as a kick out shooter for either Damian Lillard or Anfernee Simons to find, but Murray can also give it back as a playmaker for that scoring duo. While that sounds great, Murray isn't expected to fall down to No. 7, but Portland fans can dream as draft night can come with plenty of surprises.
AJ Griffin, forward, Duke
Andy: AJ Griffin enters the draft as one of the premier 3-and-D options after spending one season at Duke. Griffin certainly earned the "3" part of that moniker, hitting 44.7% of his long balls during his lone college campaign.
Defensively, Griffin still has something to prove from a statistical perspective. His block and steal rates in 2021-22 were nothing to write home about, and every other advanced metric points to a rather average season on D. Of course, the 6-foot-6 Griffin is also just 18 years old and was a top-20 recruit coming out of high school. He has time to develop.
While there may be room for improvement on defense, Griffin is an undeniably gifted shooter. He was one of only seven Division I players last year to shoot 70% at the rim and 40% on mid-range and 3-pointers. Joining him on that list were likely lottery picks Keegan Murray and Malaki Branham — an All-American and the Big Ten Rookie of the Year, respectively — as well as four mid-major conference Players of the Year who took their teams to the NCAA Tournament back in March.
Austin: Shooting in today's NBA is something teams never want to ignore, and Griffin certainly has shown to be a marksman. However, his stroke is slow for the NBA and will need to be sped up going against the best defenders in the world. His wide stance is a little out of the ordinary as well, but not as big of a deal as the speed.
As for his defense, Griffin has heard the critiques, as he said during his workout in Portland on June 9. While that might be the question mark needing to be answered for the Blazers to draft him, it certainly seems like he's ready to prove he can improve.
"I just want to prove everyone wrong. When they say you can't do something, it makes you more motivated to go show them you can do something," Griffin said. "I was talking to myself, I would literally say, 'You can't play defense,' as like, the people saying that to me. That makes me more fired up to prove everyone wrong, get that edge."
Bennedict Mathurin, guard, Arizona
Andy: One of the most polished offensive players in the NBA Draft, Bennedict Mathurin has blossomed over the past 12 months. After a promising showing in the FIBA World Cup for Team Canada, Mathurin had an outstanding sophomore season at Arizona. The Canadian star was an All-American thanks to his part in the Wildcats' 33-4 campaign, in which he led the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game. While a considerable uptick in usage led to a drop in his 3-point shooting as a sophomore, Mathurin hit nearly 42% of his triples as a freshman.
While Mathurin can also slash and score at the rim well, he struggles in the mid-range. He is also not the most imposing defender, either. Despite those holes in his game, Mathurin has the ability to take over on offense in a way that few other soon-to-be-draftees can claim. He had eight games with 25 or more points, including a 30-point outburst in the NCAA Tournament to help stave off a second-round upset against TCU. Mathurin should continue to be a scoring threat on the wing in the NBA.
Austin: Mathurin is no doubt an NBA talent, but the fit in Portland doesn't seem like a great one. The Blazers are looking for some size for the forward positions first and foremost, so a 6-foot-6 guard like Mathurin doesn't hit on priority No. 1.
Add in that Portland has Lillard and Simons expected to start at guard with Josh Hart on the bench, the guard spot is the area the Blazers are looking the most stacked in. They could certainly use someone like Mathurin who can take over a game offensively for those nights where Lillard is off, but other needs should be addressed first.
Jeremy Sochan, forward, Baylor
Andy: There may not be a better defensive forward in the draft than Jeremy Sochan. After spending just one year at Baylor, Sochan has already built up a reputation as a versatile stopper who can defend on the perimeter and in the post. The question, then, becomes about his offensive game. The Bears' sixth man, Sochan was also the sixth-best scorer on the roster last season, shooting under 30% on 3-pointers and under 60% from the free throw line.
That being said, Sochan was a top-50 player nationally in defensive box plus/minus, an advanced statistic that captures a holistic view of a player's defense. His 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game may not jump off the page, Sochan moves well enough in his 6-foot-9, 230-pound frame that he can be deployed to guard anyone on the court. His IQ and level of effort on that end sets him apart from the rest of the draft class, but his offensive game will require a decent amount of work for the modern NBA.
Austin: Portland has needed to improve defensively for years, and Sochan could make that jump immediately for the Blazers. But the tough part of building a team is obviously the balance, so is the lack of offensive talent from Sochan too much to overlook?
I don't think so when the Blazers have some talented scoring guards in Lillard and Simons, plus Jusuf Nurkic coming off arguably the best season of his career. Sochan can be the guy to lockdown the opposing team's best player as he can guard all positions. Get him into pick and roll spots with some of the guards for some easy looks and I think Sochan would be just fine. This Bear is certainly an underrated rose who could blossom in Portland.
Tari Eason, forward, LSU
Andy: After transferring to LSU from Cincinnati, Tari Eason exploded onto the scene as one of the top two-way players in the country last year. Despite coming off the bench for the Tigers, Eason led the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game with promising shooting splits of 56.4% on 2-pointers, 35.9% on 3-pointers and 80.3% on free throws. The 6-foot-8 forward from Seattle also finished fourth in Division I in defensive efficiency while placing fifth in the SEC in steals per game and ninth in blocks.
While Eason doesn't dominate the glass, his rebounding numbers are solid on both ends of the floor. His combined rebounding and defensive stat line — 10.5% offensive rebound rate, 19.8% defensive rebound rate, 6.5% block rate and 4.6% steal rate — puts him in a class with only two other Division I players from last season. One was National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe from Kentucky; the other was Norchad Omier, who was part of Miami's lauded transfer class in the offseason. Eason, meanwhile, is the only one of the three who will test how his game translates to the next level.
Austin: This is my first year covering an NBA team, so keep that in mind when I say this. But I think Eason is the pick if Portland holds to that No. 7 spot. Eason is projected to be more in the middle of the first round, so targeting Eason might open a chance for Portland to trade back and get a veteran player, while also getting a strong talent from the draft.
Eason has proven he can be a great two-way player, and he did it all off the bench. If that trade back results in a veteran forward, drafting Eason could fill out a starting five. And even if Portland gets a free agent forward to start, Eason is more than familiar with coming off the bench and producing. This Tiger is the style of forward Portland has craved, plus it doesn't hurt that he learned the game from his high school coach Brandon Roy.
Jalen Duren, center, Memphis
Andy: During his lone season in Memphis, Jalen Duren was about as traditional a big man as you will find in the college game these days. The 6-foot-11 freshman bruiser dominated the paint for the Tigers, racking up a vicious combination of 70 dunks and 61 blocks. Only five players — including a trio of potential first-rounders in Mark Williams, Walker Kessler and Christian Koloko — put up similar numbers last year. Don't expect Duren to drift too far away from the hoop at any given time, though. He only attempted one 3-pointer at Memphis, and more than 70% of his shots came at the rim.
Duren gobbled up rebounds on both ends of the floor, finishing as just one of 24 college players with an offensive rebound rate over 14% and a defensive rebound rate over 21%. That said, there is room for improvement with respect to fouls on both ends. Duren's defensive foul rate of 4.3 per 40 minutes relays a need for discipline on that side of the ball, while a pedestrian rate of 44.1 free throws per 100 field goal attempts — not to mention his 62.5% conversion rate — indicates that he could be more aggressive in getting to the line.
Austin: I liked Duren being Portland's pick early on, but the forward need is one that looms much larger. Still, the other area the Blazers have missed in the past several years is a backup center to Nurkic. Duren being a rookie could be in a perfect situation of learning and improving behind Nurkic while also bringing his strong rebounding talents to the second team.
Improving that second unit is a must for Portland as well this offseason as trades have left this team with not much actual talent on the roster. Creating a deeper team with a future, potential starting center in Duren seems like a great way to develop and stay competitive at the same time.
Shaedon Sharpe, guard/forward, Kentucky
Austin: The mystery box option in this draft class is certainly Sharpe, who sat out his freshman year at Kentucky last season after he graduated early from high school and reclassified.
The biggest knock then is Sharpe has only played meaningful games against high schoolers at the best, but there's a reason he was a five-star recruit. Sharpe is an above-average athlete with plenty of defensive and offensive skills that make him such an intriguing choice.
At 6-foot-6 though, he doesn't really give Portland the size it needs. But if the Blazers think the talent outweighs the need, don't be surprised if Cronin takes the gamble.
Dyson Daniels, forward, G League Ignite
Austin: The Aussie went the route of the NBA G League and despite a slow start, which Daniels admits to, he ended up with 11.6 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2 steals and 0.7 blocks in 29 games, all of which he started. He shot 45.3% from the field, 30% from deep and 53.3% from the line.
Defensively, you can't teach size, and sitting at 6-foot-6, Daniels would be another smaller forward that Portland already has with guys like Winslow, Little and Hart in some situations. However, Daniels believe defense is his biggest upside.
"Especially on the defensive end, I think that's where my main strengths are," Daniels said following his May 31 workout in Portland . "I think I can step on the floor and play right away in that area. The offense is coming along."
If that's the case, Portland could certainly use help on defense behind Lillard and Simons, and Daniels could be the answer.
David Roddy, guard/forward, Colorado State
Andy: One of the true Swiss Army knives in college basketball, David Roddy is a unique player. The Colorado State product is built like a football player at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, but he can play just about any position on the basketball court. Roddy has always been able to slash to the basket and overpower opponents at the rim, but he added a 3-point shot to his arsenal last season that made him truly deadly. As a junior, he shot 43.7% on over 100 attempts from beyond the arc — after shooting just 24.3% over his first two seasons. He also improved his inside scoring game, bringing his 2-point shooting percentage up to well over 60%.
Roddy plays with high effort on defense and can guard just as well in the post as he can on the perimeter. He likely won't make any All-Defense teams at the next level, but he should be good for a quick steal and a help-side block or two on most nights. Roddy excelled in college, but it remains to be seen how his awkward frame will fit into the NBA landscape.
Austin: Roddy was my sleeper pick for this exercise and in full disclosure, I'm an alum of Colorado State so this pick might be a little biased. But having watched Roddy at CSU, he could easily be a big energy guy off the bench in NBA who can do really anything you ask of him.
As Andy noted, defense is an area needing improvement, but this is a player who has seen every big situation and always seems to come up clutch. He improved his shooting, is a force down low for anyone to guard and can get you a bucket whenever you call his name. Having some dependability in that second unit at either guard or forward would be a big help for Portland trying to improve its depth.
Jabari Walker, forward, Colorado
Andy: The son of former NBA journeyman Samaki Walker, Jabari Walker has always had NBA pedigree — and now he is developing the skillset to go along with it. After a promising freshman season at Colorado, Walker had a breakout season as a sophomore. He led the Buffaloes in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.4), and he tied for the team lead in blocks with 22. As to how the 6-foot-9 forward fits into the modern game, Walker hit 40% on 148 3-point attempts over two college seasons.
Walker may not be a superstar in the making, but his size and versatility make him an attractive option for a team looking to add some bulk to the rotation. He rebounds well and is a long, fluid defender who can step out and guard on the perimeter when needed. While Walker is not much of a maestro in terms of creating offense, he could develop into a very solid all-around frontcourt piece as a second-rounder.
Austin: It's been addressed that Portland needs some starting forwards, which also means they need some backups there as well. Nassir Little and Justise Winslow are the current options, but adding someone like Walker could make this a true competition for minutes within the team.
Walker has shown he can be an all-around talent as Andy described, something that is still a question mark for Little and Winslow. If anything else, Walker can provide that daily motivation for all three to get better and ultimately improve this roster's depth.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.