NBA Draft 2022: Five fascinating boom-or-bust prospects

By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer

The topic discussed the most surrounding this year’s NBA Draft is clear: Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren?

While the Magic, Thunder and Rockets will determine the immediate answer to that question on draft night, the 2023 class is filled with a variety of storylines. One of the more intriguing items to figure out with any draft class is who on the board carries the most variance heading into their NBA career.

With COVID-19 creating extra eligibility for veteran college players and still altering a portion of college basketball’s schedule, there are some prospects who don’t have much of a sample size to evaluate.

These are the future pros who teams could take a chance on, the ones who carry the label of “boom-or-bust.” Let’s take a look at five such prospects who could take off in The Association, or could go in the opposite direction.

Shaedon Sharpe, Kentucky: Shooting Guard, 6-foot-6, 19 years old 

There’s not a more polarizing prospect in this draft class. Sharpe fits the modern-day NBA with the potential to be a primary, multidimensional scorer from the wing position. The Ontario native is quick and agile, and his finishing ability around the rim is impressive. His perimeter shot checks a box as well. There’s reason to believe that Sharpe could be one of the five most talented players in the class. So, what’s the risk involved with selecting Sharpe?

There’s very little sample size of Sharpe in actual competitive basketball action. In fact, since 2019, he has only participated in 42 games. Sharpe obviously didn’t help himself this past year at Kentucky, where John Calipari kept him on the sidelines after he reclassified and was available for the Wildcats in the second semester. On the other hand, the year without any game speed basketball for Sharpe raises the intrigue surrounding him because it’s unclear just what he could do in the NBA. 

Sharpe held workouts for teams to observe in Chicago at the draft combine, but one of the tough factors with evaluating any player in that setting is that it’s difficult to evaluate full game speed. 

What scouts are saying:

— “Sharpe has the frame, athleticism, and shot-making ability that every NBA team is looking for, which is why he is pegged as a lock top-10 pick. However, the reality is many GMs considering taking him would likely draft him without having seen him play live 5-on-5 in a competitive setting at any point during the draft process. That is a huge risk for any decision-maker, especially one without strong job security.”

— “The body of work concern is forever looming; Sharpe’s situation is being compared to Dante Exum’s in 2014 as the last perimeter player to not play in such a long time and is expected to be a lottery pick (was picked fifth). Plenty with coaching backgrounds in NBA circles wonder if Sharpe is a byproduct of one good AAU Session and there could be some snake oil salesmanship; I think that is a touch unfair to the kid, but the question is out there because NBA personnel have not been able to see him live in games since last July.”

Jaden Hardy, G League Ignite: Shooting Guard, 6-foot-4, 19 years old 

A year ago, there were some draft experts who thought Hardy could be the top pick in the NBA Draft. At the very least, there was a large consensus that the McDonald’s All-American was on track to be one of the five most talented players in this year’s class. Fast-forward to now, and there’s a rich debate surrounding Hardy, who forewent college in favor of the G League Ignite route. Coming off a junior season in 2019-20 at Coronado High School in which he averaged 30.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists, the buzz was through the roof for Hardy.

All the physical tools are present in the Detroit native. He has a scoring ability that you cannot teach, which is why he led Ignite in scoring, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 3.9 assists. So, why the questions after he pulled off those numbers against grown men in the G League?

Hardy shot 35% from the field and 27% from 3-point range. He had issues at times with picking his spots and ended up trying to do too much in a moment. There was no question that Hardy could create his own shots and utilize his handle to do so, but the next step is being able to consistently set himself up for high-percentage looks. 

There is no question that Hardy could be a go-to bucket-getter guard in the NBA. A team looking to pick him in the back end of the first round is betting on the 19-year-old continuing to mature both physically and mentally. 

What scouts are saying:

— “Jaden is a professional scorer who was able to create his own shot against grown men this year. He is small and is a straight 2 — can make basic pick-and-roll reads to a roller or a strong side wing for a 3-point look, but I do not trust him to get a team into their offense. That said, I think the best role for him will be an off-the-bench bucket getter. The year in the G League was definitely helpful, but because of the lack of other hungry scorers on his team, I worry he does not know what a good shot looks like.”

— “I’m bullish on Hardy being a steal in this draft. Most of my colleagues have him falling in the 20s, but could he end up being more valuable than a pick in that area? Sure. Because he fits the modern-day NBA in that Jaden can score in so many ways. There’s no one way to stop his offensive game. This is a pick on potential, but it could be a worthwhile one.”

Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee: Power Forward, 6-foot-10, 19 years old

If Patrick Baldwin Jr. never went to college, he would be a projected lottery pick in this draft. One of the most highly touted members of the 2021 recruiting class, Baldwin was recruited by a list of big-time programs. After narrowing his list to Duke, Georgetown and … Milwaukee, Baldwin committed to play for his father, Patrick Baldwin Sr.

Baldwin’s name was making waves of headlines in his junior year at Hamilton High School in Sussex, Wisconsin. He averaged 24.3 points and 10.8 boards, and earned Gatorade State Player of the Year. His postseason was derailed by COVID. His senior season, though, was destroyed after a 43-point performance in the opener. Baldwin suffered a nasty dislocated left ankle in Game 2, missing the rest of the year.

His decision to play college basketball after that injury backfired. Baldwin only appeared in 11 games, averaging 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds and re-aggravating his ankle injury before being shut down in February. 

So, the last two years for Baldwin have been quite a 180 from what they could have been. That said, he carries so much intrigue because he is one of the purest shooters in this draft class and stands at 6-foot-10. His skill set of possessing range while also playing long is a great fit for today’s NBA in theory. At the draft combine, he stood 6-foot-10.25 in shoes with a 7-foot, 1.75-inch wingspan and a 9-foot, 2.5-inch standing reach, impressive numbers to say the least. However, Baldwin was near the bottom of the standings in agility testing and sprints. 

So, it begs the question: Is Baldwin’s high school sample size worth betting on or do the health issues and conditioning concerns override the potential? This question is the very reason why Baldwin is going to be waiting much longer than one would have expected even a year ago on draft night. 

What scouts are saying: 

— “It was admirable what Patrick tried to do this past year, playing for his dad at Milwaukee, but it completely backfired in the worst possible way. His combine testing was egregious. His case is that of a guy who has to land in the right spot in the back of the first round.  I still think there is “big forward who can shoot” potential and the hope is that he develops into a player like Ryan Anderson.”

— “Baldwin is a project, but it’s very interesting to think about the idea of him panning out in the NBA because at 6-foot-10, he fits the pick-and-pop role for a team. When watching him at his best, I can’t help but be intrigued because he has the skills of a lottery pick. The health concerns are real, and his combine was not encouraging. He’s a risk, but the reward could be great. It’ll be interesting to see who takes him, but I can understand why he lands around the 20s.”

Dalen Terry, Arizona: Combo Guard, 6-foot-7, 19 years old

Jimmy Butler was the 30th pick of the 2011 draft. Khris Middleton was the 39th pick of the 2012 draft. There are diamonds in the rough in draft classes, and one player who could prove to be much more valuable than where he is selected is Arizona’s Terry.

There are many who believe Terry could have stayed in Tucson and built his stock up to being a lottery selection in 2023, but that’s why the former Wildcats standout could end up being a sleeper pick in this year’s class. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, Terry impressed at the NBA Draft combine with a level of unselfishness and a team-first mentality. There’s a reason why he finished second in the Pac-12 with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.84. He posted four dishes per contest, serving as a primary ball-handler for Tommy Lloyd’s team, which advanced to the Sweet 16. Not only can Terry initiate offense for a team, but at his size, he is interchangeable defensively. 

The reason why Terry isn’t a lottery pick already? His scoring ability. Terry only averaged eight points per game this past season. His perimeter shot was up-and-down, as he went 36% on 77 attempted 3-pointers. Part of the reason why Terry wasn’t a great scorer in college may have been that he was surrounded by high-level talent in Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko & Co. There were only so many shots to go around.

Terry fits the mold of the NBA wing, a need for so many teams across the league. He is not just simply a 3-and-D player because of his passing ability. If he can put on weight and find confidence in his offense, Terry could be someone who turns into a major piece for a team down the road. The length and understanding of his role alone are two big pros that could lead to him rising into the first round on draft night and being that next sleeper pick. 

What scouts are saying: 

— “Dalen is a solid cutter and his basketball IQ is very high. He’s one of the best 1-3 defenders in the draft. His body and shooting are the biggest question marks, but he’s a great kid who wants to be in the gym. Terry would “fail” if shooting takes too long to come around and he’s not allowed to do what he does best by being a playmaker, but I think teams will let him do that. He could do what the Nets did with Theo Pinson in his first year and go to the G League a lot early to be more accustomed to shooting 3s in games.”

— “Dalen defends like his life depends on it, and I love that about him. He’s unique because he has a great understanding of who he is as a player, and that’s not something you see every day anymore. While there’s no question the jump shot needs some work, his ability to make plays for others and get stops weigh more than a perimeter game that just needs some developing. He really has the right mentality, and I think Dalen’s stock is rising heading into draft night.” 

Caleb Houstan, Michigan: Forward, 6-foot-8, 19 years old

After a mixed bag of a freshman season in Ann Arbor, Houstan is heading to the NBA as a project for an organization but a player who really fits the mold of 3-and-D. The former Michigan Wolverine averaged 10 points on 38% shooting, proving to be durable at more than 30 minutes per game and starting every contest.

While Houstan’s offense needs to come along, and he’s not really a player who creates his own shot, his versatile frame could prove to be beneficial on defense. Rebounding in his lone college season was curious, as Houstan only averaged four per game. An organization drafting him is betting on all the tools that Houstan possessed as a top-10 recruit in the Class of 2021 out of Montverde Academy.

The Canadian prospect elected to skip the draft combine, which could mean he was promised that he will be selected late in the first round on draft night. The Oklahoma City Thunder were rumored to have interest in Houston at No. 30, but they’ve since traded that pick. Houstan is another one of those prospects who will take some time to develop but could be a reliable weapon for a team that is willing to groom him. 

What scouts are saying:

— “Caleb Houstan is young and needs some time to progress. He looks the part of a wing shooter but shooting inconsistencies lead to a lot of questions about how well he will translate. He has good size but isn’t a great athlete. Houstan only had two dunks all year with both coming in transition against Iowa. He has good IQ and size, but his confidence is up-and-down. I think he is someone who should go to a veteran team and know he does not have to be “The Guy” — especially early — to have the best chance of success for a long-term career.”

— “The biggest thing I love about Caleb is his energy. He has an unlimited motor and the fact that you know that about him coming into the draft is a big positive for a 19-year-old prospect. He could end up being a legitimate 3-and-D player for a team, but could potentially use a year in the G League to restore confidence in a jumper that was really steady in high school. His athleticism and length are steady enough. What Houstan ends up being in the league is determined by his shot technique and his ability to defend. He lacks explosiveness, but there’s a route for a player his size to pan out. He’s an experiment for a team, but I can see why someone may have promised that they will pick him because he fits a need as a stretch forward.”

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

NBA Draft 2022: Five fascinating boom-or-bust prospects Source link NBA Draft 2022: Five fascinating boom-or-bust prospects

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