After months of speculation, Duke’s Paolo Banchero was a surprise selection by the Orlando Magic with the top overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
The Oklahoma City Thunder started a busy first round by taking Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren with the second pick, then got 11th pick Ousmane Dieng of France in a trade with the New York Knicks and took Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams at No. 12.
Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. went No. 3 overall to the Houston Rockets.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Smith had been widely expected to be the top selection. But the Magic turned things upside down by taking Banchero, who sported a bright purple suit with sequins, along with even brighter shoes, as he took to the stage and shook hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“I had a feeling, from the information I was being told, that it was just kind of up in the air,” Banchero told ESPN of going first. “Orlando wasn’t really sure yet, and just to be ready for whatever.
“I didn’t find out, though, that I was actually getting picked until about 20 seconds before the commissioner got on the stage. I didn’t even have time to really think about it or anything. It just kind of happened. I can’t believe it, but I’m ready. I’m ready.”
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Banchero, a 6-foot-10 forward from Duke, averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists across 39 games for the Blue Devils, who reached the Final Four before losing to their forever rival in North Carolina.
Banchero, who might be the most NBA-ready prospect in this draft, will now be looked to as the anchor of Orlando’s nascent rebuild, 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. A 7-footer from Gonzaga, Holmgren flashed a wide array of skills in his lone season in college, averaging 14.1 points on 60% shooting overall and 39% from 3-point range while grabbing 9.9 rebounds and blocking 3.7 shots in 26.9 minutes across 32 games.
Oklahoma City now has an interior anchor to go with 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 selection.
The Thunder also got Dieng, the 11th pick, by sending three conditional first-round picks to the Knicks. Dieng, who turned 19 last month, averaged 8.8 points for the New Zealand Breakers in Australia’s National Basketball League this past campaign.
Oklahoma City then took Williams with the 12th pick, making him the first player drafted from Santa Clara since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 1996. And the Thunder rounded out their first-round selections by taking UCLA’s Peyton Watson with pick No. 30.
Smith, a sweet-shooting 6-foot-10 forward from Auburn, averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 42% from behind the 3-point arc. After drafting Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba in the first round of last year’s draft, the Rockets kept their rebuild in the wake of moving on from franchise icon James Harden at the start of the 2021-22 season by selecting Smith. Houston also took LSU forward Tari Eason with the 17th pick.
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