AUBURN — The 2022 NBA Draft could be historic for Auburn athletics.
Jabari Smith has a chance to become Auburn basketball’s first No. 1 overall pick. If the Orlando Magic select him, Auburn will also become just the third school to produce a No. 1 pick in the NBA, NFL and MLB drafts, joining LSU and UCLA.
For the basketball program specifically, Thursday (7 pm CT, ESPN) will be another important step. Smith and Walker Kessler could become the fourth and fifth first-round picks of the Bruce Pearl era. They would join Chuma Okeke, Isaac Okoro and Davion Mitchell, who transferred to Baylor before being drafted.
Including Mitchell, there will be seven former Auburn players drafted in the last four years.
Here’s where Smith and Kessler are projected.
Jabari Smith, 6-10 F
Mock draft high: No. 1 overall to Orlando Magic (ESPN, The Ringer, The Athletic, Yahoo!, Sporting News)
Mock draft low: No. 2 overall to Oklahoma City Thunder (CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, USA TODAY)
The buzz: It’s looking more like Smith is going to Disney World. A six-hour drive from his hometown, Orlando is the potential reward for his outstanding one-and-done Auburn career. Smith averaged 16.9 points in 28.8 minutes per game, shooting the 3-pointer at 42%. Wherever he ends up, his career will be forever tied to Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren, the other contenders in what was once thought to be a complete toss-up year for the top pick. Smith has emerged as the most popular of the trio because of his shooting and defensive versatility.
Our take: Where does he fit best? The Oklahoma City Thunder. Not as glamorous as the No. 1 overall pick, which to be clear, Smith fully deserves. But the Thunder is a savvy organization that has been rebuilding for a few years, and the pieces already in place complement Smith’s strengths and weaknesses as a prospect. Dribbling is the most important attribute that he’s lacking. Surround Smith with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, and the Auburn forward can help make Oklahoma City an immediate playoff contender.
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Walker Kessler, 7-1 C
Mock draft high: Round 1 (No. 18 overall) to Chicago Bulls (CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish)
Mock draft low: Round 2 (No. 48 overall) to Minnesota Timberwolves (USA TODAY)
Other mocks: No. 19 to Timberwolves (ESPN), No. 20 to San Antonio Spurs (The Athletic), No. 22 to Memphis Grizzlies (Bleacher Report), No. 24 to Milwaukee Bucks (Yahoo!), No. 25 to San Antonio Spurs (The Ringer), No. 37 to Sacramento Kings (CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone)
The buzz: After a freshman season spent mostly on North Carolina’s bench, Kessler’s stock soared at Auburn. He’s coveted as a rim protector, having won National Defensive Player of the Year with a historic 19.1% block rate.
On the offensive end, Kessler is an effective face-up center. He was a reliable pick-and-roll finisher at Auburn, 70.2% on 2-pointers. What he needs to add is the pick-and-pop layer. Kessler was touted out of high school for his 3-point shooting, but he lost his touch in college (20% last season). His usage in Auburn’s system also didn’t lend itself to developing a tool box of post moves.
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Our take: Where does he fit best? Milwaukee. Brook Lopez won’t be around forever. If Kessler can redevelop his 3-pointer during the waning years of Lopez’s career, the Auburn star could be a solid heir to the 34-year-old. An elite rim protector and rebounder allows star player Giannis Antetokounmpo to wander from the paint and guard more aggressively.