NEW YORK — After months of speculation, Duke’s Paolo Banchero was a surprise roster by the Orlando Magic with the best overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren was second to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. was third overall for the Houston Rockets.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Smith was widely expected to land the top roster. But the Magic turned things upside down when Banchero, who wore a bright purple sequin suit, along with even brighter shoes, took the stage and shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
“I had a feeling, based on the information I was told, that it was kind of up in the air,” Banchero told ESPN he went first. “Orlando wasn’t really sure yet, and just to be ready for whatever.
“However, I only found out that I was actually singled out until about 20 seconds before the commissioner took the stage. I didn’t even have time to really think about it or anything. It just happened. I can’t believe it, but I I’m ready. I’m ready.”
Duke’s 6-foot-10 forward averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 39 games for the Blue Devils, who reached the Final Four before losing to their perennial rivals in North Carolina . Banchero, who is arguably the most NBA-ready prospect in this draft, will now be seen as the anchor of Orlando’s burgeoning rebuilding, which includes guards Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony, forwards Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac, and center Wendell Carter Jr.
While Banchero was a surprise at No. 1, Holmgren was always expected to go to Oklahoma City with the second pick. Holmgren, a 7-footer from Gonzaga, flashed a wide range of skills in his only season in college, averaging 14.1 points on 60 percent shooting overall and 39 percent off a 3-point range, while he 9.9 rebounds grabbed and 3.7 shots blocked in 26.9 minutes over 32 games.
Oklahoma City, which kicked off the evening with a second raffle selection (12th overall) and multiple firsts in each of the following dams, now has an interior anchor to match its promising young backcourt of rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Australian Josh Giddey, the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft and a first-team All-Rookie roster.
Smith, a striking six-foot striker, averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds as he shot 42 percent from behind the three-point arc.
After drafting Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba in the first round of last year’s draft, the Rockets – who also went into the evening with the 17th roster – are continuing their rebuilding in the wake of the move from franchise icon James Verhard at the start of the 2021-22 season by selecting Smith.
The top five of the draft was completed by Iowa forward Keegan Murray, who went to the Sacramento Kings with fourth pick, and Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who was drafted fifth overall by the Detroit Pistons.
Murray had a breakthrough season two in Iowa, averaging 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds, shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from a 3-point range. He will now join a Kings team trying to end a 16-year playoff drought and rearrange around guard De’Aaron Fox and big man Domantas Sabonis under new coach Mike Brown.
Ivey, who had publicly said going to Sacramento wouldn’t be the “worst” thing to happen to him, will put him in the Pistons backcourt alongside Cade Cunningham, last year’s top pick. Like Murray, Ivey had a breakthrough sophomore season, averaging 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists at Purdue, while showing off breathtaking athleticism and straight-line speed.
Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin was sixth to the Indiana Pacers, the Portland Trail Blazers took Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe at number 7 and Dyson Daniels of the G League Ignite was number 8 for the New Orleans Pelicans.