Along with the NBA season tipping off recently, so has college basketball.
There have been some marquee matchups early on in the season with big-name prospects squaring off.
This includes a 1 vs. 2 matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA, and a blue blood showdown to tip-off the year between Duke and Kentucky.
Those four teams featured 14 projected draft picks from Sports Illustrated’s recent 2022 NBA Mock Draft.
While everybody can get excited about NBA draft prospects joining their team, it is the top guys that really get people excited.
They could be the future star of a team that is currently wallowing in the basement of the NBA standings.
The franchise cornerstone that could turn a lottery team into a dynasty.
Here we will focus on those guys – the tantalizing young men who could potentially go No. 1 overall.
Two of which play for teams mentioned earlier.
3. Jabari Smith
At the moment, it is really only a two-man race for the No. 1 overall pick – two guys we will discuss below.
But as with all professional drafts, things change in the time leading up to draft day.
Players can flash skills in games that they have never shown before or their Combine measurables come back better than expected.
Jabari Smith is a player who could do just that in the eight months leading up to draft day.
The 6-foot-10, 210-pound forward from Auburn has impressed early in the year.
Joined the broadcast during Auburn-Loyola Chicago to talk Jabari Smith, who has made a strong argument that he deserves to at least be in the conversation for the No. 1 pick. Through 5 games: 15.2 PTS, 7.2 REBS, 1.6 AST, 1.8 STL, 1.0 BLK in 29.1 MIN on 50% from 2 and 41% from 3. pic.twitter.com/85UymrgBdR
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 26, 2021
Still just 18 years of age, the No. 6 player in his class coming out of high school has had some impressive performances to start the year.
In a double-overtime loss to Connecticut, Smith had 22 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
He only shot 4-13 from the field, but connected on two of his six three-point attempts and sank all 12 of his free throws.
Smith followed that performance in a 62-53 win over Loyola-Chicago where he scored 14 points on an efficient 7-9 from the field.
On the season, he is averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game.
All while slashing .462/.409/.826 in 29 minutes per game for the No. 19 team in the country.
Smith’s size, athleticism, and shooting stroke offer strong upside for him at the next level.
Don’t be surprised if he creeps into the discussion for first overall by draft season.
2. Paolo Banchero
Duke’s Paolo Banchero is runner one in the current two-man race for first overall in the draft.
He is measured at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds and has a tight handle for his size to go along with advanced shooting and playmaking abilities.
While not the most athletic player in the class, he makes up for it with sheer size and strength.
All of the skills that make him such an enticing prospect have been on full display to start the year.
Banchero has averaged 17.8 points and eight rebounds per game so far while shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from three.
In the opening season win against Kentucky, Paolo impressed with 22 points and seven rebounds on a tidy 7-11 from the field and 8-9 from the free-throw line.
Of the three prospects discussed in this article, Banchero is seen as the most polished and is viewed as a safe bet to transition to the NBA smoothly.
His frame and skills should easily translate over.
He will be a matchup nightmare all year for opposing teams – overpowering small, faster wings and driving around bigger, slower forwards.
Banchero had maybe his best all-around game of the season this past Tuesday, albeit against The Citadel.
He had 28 points, eight rebounds, and six assists on 10-19 shooting, including 2-5 from three and 6-6 from the line.
Some high-level stuff from potential No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero last night: 28 PTS, 8 REBS, 6 AST vs Citadel. Handles the ball like a guard @ 6-10, 250. Really showed his court vision. Made decisive reads. Already so polished creating for himself. Will be a problem with NBA space. pic.twitter.com/bH7OO7u1d1
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 23, 2021
If Banchero can continue to improve his shooting stroke and process the game quicker, he should remain a top option for the top spot.
1. Chet Holmgren
Finally, we have 7-foot, 215-pound unicorn at Gonzaga, Chet Holmgren.
The No. 1 recruit coming out of high school has shown the two-way potential he possesses.
Outside of the dud he laid against Texas where he scored two points on 1-3 shooting, Holmgren has been as advertised.
He’s scoring 13.2 points per game while grabbing 6.7 rebounds and dishing out three assists.
Not to mention the 3.5 blocks per game he is chipping in.
Chet is shooting 71.4 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three on just over two attempts per game.
He will need to prove he can score without having the ball in his hands.
Gonzaga and Duke are squaring off Friday night and this will allow Chet to put on an encore to his performance against UCLA.
He scored 15 points, grabbed sox boards, and blocked four shots against the No. 2 team in the country.
And had this sensational play where he blocked UCLA on one end before going coast-to-coast to score on the other end.
Chet Holmgren is the player you create in 2K pic.twitter.com/3XCj5LGkzT
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 24, 2021
This Friday’s matchup will give scouts and NBA executives the chance to see both potential No. 1 picks square off head-to-head.
Holmgren’s main knock is his slight frame, but Giannis was also a skinny forward when he came into the league.