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NBA Draft: Five prospects for Magic fans to watch in the NCAA Tournament

Ready to settle in to watch some college basketball? Here are some prospects Magic fans should be paying attention to...

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t have to be a college basketball fan to thoroughly enjoy the next three weeks. This Thursday kicks-off one of the best times of the year for sports fans around the country, the madness that is the NCAA Tournament. With parity in the college game as present as it has been in quite some time, this year’s tournament is expected to be full of surprises and high drama.

And for fans of the Orlando Magic, the NCAA Tournament also serves as an opportunity to get an extended look at some prospects that are likely to be written about, talked about, and debated through late June.

Holding the second-worst record in the entire NBA, Orlando currently holds the greatest odds of securing the top overall selection in the 2022 NBA Draft (along with Houston, Detroit, and Oklahoma City).

Let this piece be your introductory guide to who some of the top prospects in the ‘22 class are, and some of the things they’ve excelled at this past college season. Extended scouting reports for each of these prospects (and likely others) will be coming to Orlando Pinstriped Post as we get a little closer to the draft.

For now, leave your tournament observations, draft comments, and anything/everything else Orlando Magic Draft related in the comments section below.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Paolo Banchero, Forward
6-10, 250 (19 years-old)
17.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.4 turnovers

Banchero entered this college basketball season as one of the top prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft class, and he did nothing to change that outlook in his first year at Duke. Sure, some other elite prospects are now heavily involved in the conversation as well (namely Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith), but teams around the league still value everything Banchero brings to the table. The ACC Rookie of the Year finished top three in the ACC in total rebounds, free throws made (and attempted), and points produced.

A team can go to Banchero when they are desperately in need of a bucket, as the big forward possesses an NBA-ready body, with advanced footwork, post-moves, and touch around the rim. He needs to show more consistency from long range (30.6 percent), but scouts are confident that his shot will continue to develop (and stretch) at the next-level. The Seattle, WA native’s most underrated skill may be his passing ability (3.1 assists, 17.7 assist percentage). With more offensive spacing opportunities in the NBA, Banchero’s playmaking ability will likely shine and flourish even more than it has in Durham (an aspect of his game I will absolutely explore this summer during my NBA Draft scouting reports).

The All-American and All-ACC 1st Team member exploded on the college basketball scene, scoring 22 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in Duke’s opening game against Kentucky on November 9th. Two weeks later, the sturdy 6-10 big scored 21 points in a win over top-seeded Gonzaga. He scored 20 or more points in a game on 13 separate occasions this past season, adding ten double-doubles.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Chet Holmgren, Big
7-0, 195 (19 years-old)
14.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 1.8 assists

Holmgren just finished arguably the most impressive freshmen season of the top prospects in the ‘22 class. The Minneapolis, MN native was named the West Coast Conference’s Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. The First-Team All-WCC member shot 61 percent from the floor, and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc.

In 2021-22, Holmgren led the country in defensive rating, effective field goal percentage, two-point field goal percentage. He also paced the West Coast Conference in rebounding, defensive rebound percentage, blocks, block percentage, true shooting percentage, player efficiency rating, win shares, and box plus/minus. From the moment he stepped onto campus at Gonzaga, Holmgren has patrolled the back-line for the top team in the nation - helping the Bulldogs earn the top overall seed in the tournament.

The Naismith Award Semifinalist will not have to wait long to hear his name called on the night of the 2022 NBA Draft. So a strong showing the in the NCAA Tournament can’t help elevate his already elite draft stock. But, leading Gonzaga deep in the tournament will allow for many that don’t see the Bulldogs plays very often an opportunity to catch Holmgren on the floor in high-leverage situations.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Purdue vs Penn State Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jaden Ivey, Guard
6-4, 200 (20 years-old)
17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.5 turnovers

It’s extremely likely that Ivey will be the first guard taken off the board this June, and there’s probably not a lot he can (or can’t) do in the NCAA Tournament to jeopardize that. But perhaps a deep Purdue run to the Final Four - led by an impressive Ivey showing - could help the combo-guard close the gap between him and the other top tier prospects (Holmgren, Smith Jr., etc.). After serving as a part-time starter as a freshmen in the Big Ten last season, Ivey has exploded on the scene in 2021-22.

The lead guard starred this past summer on the Team USA U19 FIBA World Cup team that won gold in Latvia (teamed with Holmgren). Then, Ivey improved his scoring average, offensive rating, player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, free throw rate, assist percentage, and box plus/minus in Year 2 at Purdue. The South Bend, IN native was able to parlay his breakout season into an All-Big Ten 1st Team selection.

Ivey’s play-style has been compared by many to NBA All-Star guard Ja Morant, which I feel is somewhat unfair to both Ivey and Morant (I’m sure this will be a talking point that I’ll have an opportunity to expand upon when I put together my scouting reports this summer). Like Morant, Ivey is adept at beating opponents off the dribble, getting into the paint, and finishing at the rim. He’s also improved his outside shooting ability at Purdue (from 25.8 percent in 2020-21, to 35.6 percent this year), though that’s an area of his game where scouts will still be looking for a bit more consistency.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Purdue vs Iowa Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Keegan Murray, Forward
6-8, 225 (21 years-old)
23.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 steals

No one in this draft class has improved their stock this season as much as Iowa forward Keegan Murray has. The All-Big Ten First Team member improved his scoring average from 7.2 to 23.6 points per game in his second year at Iowa, which led the conference and ranked fourth nationally. In fact, Murray also led the Big Ten in player efficiency rating (led the nation), win shares (led the nation), box plus/minus (led the nation), offensive rating, and turnover percentage.

And there may not be another prospect in the ‘22 class hotter than Murray is heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Cedar Rapids, IA native led the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Tournament Championship last week, scoring 26 or more points in three of Iowa’s four consecutive wins (shot 14 for 26 from beyond the arc for the tournament). The 21-year old, who spent a season after high school at a prep school in Daytona Beach, FL (with his twin brother), scored 30 or more points in a single contest on five separate occasions this past season.

Murray has played his way into the lottery this year, that’s a foregone conclusion. But with a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament, he could feasibly threaten the pecking order of the perceived top-five in this class (Holmgren, Smith, Banchero, Ivey, Griffin). The First Team All-American is a three-level scorer that has an unassuming (yet, lethal) offensive game. Who he can settle-in to defend at the next-level will ultimately go a long way in determining his ceiling as an NBA player.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Jabari Smith, Forward
6-10, 220 (18 years old)
17.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals

Try and block Jabari Smith’s shot from the perimeter, I dare you. The young man has the length and positional size to be able to get his shot off from literally anywhere on the floor. And it’s an efficient shot at that, as the SEC Rookie of the Year shot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc on 5.4 attempts per game (.435 3PTAr) as a freshmen at Auburn.

The All-SEC First Team member finished top-five in his conference in points, defensive rebound percentage, effective field goal percentage, three-point field goals made, free throws made, player efficiency rating, win shares, and box plus/minus. The Fayetville, GA native has paired all season with Walker Kessler to form one of the most formidable frontcourts in the country. Smith is a lock to go in the top-four in this year’s draft, but if he were to lead Auburn on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it could be enough to feasibly vault the versatile forward into becoming the top selection this upcoming June.

While Smith’s handle and playmaking ability leaves a lot to be desired at this point in his development as a player, he still offers significant two-way potential to any team that would be lucky enough to snag him at the top of this draft. Interestingly enough, I’ve seen industry draft pundits compare Smith to two players the Orlando Magic are keenly familiar with - Rashard Lewis and Jonathan Isaac. Smith possesses the perimeter touch and spacing on the offensive end - like a Rashard Lewis - that all modern NBA teams covet from their bigs. And he also offers the opportunity for growth as a prospect, with positional size, length, and the defensive versatility that Isaac has also provided the Magic with in the past.

Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.