2022 NBA Draft

Ten Underrated Prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft

Jalen Williams, Malaki Branham and Dalen Terry are among the potential hidden gems in this year's draft class

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Ten underrated prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero dominating headlines as three of the top prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft, they aren’t the only players to monitor. 

There are several lesser-known players after the top 10 who could very well end up making waves in the NBA, even if they’re not popping up on many radars.

So which underrated prospects should you be looking out for? Here are 10 names in the 2022 NBA Draft who could become hidden gems:

Ousmane Dieng, F, New Zealand Breakers

If you haven’t heard of Ousmane Dieng yet, that’s fair. He turned 19 on May 21 after finishing his first season with the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League in Australia. A quick glance at his averages in 23 games with New Zealand won’t look appealing: 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 39.8% field goal percentage, 27% 3-point percentage. 

But he could potentially sneak into the lottery due to his high upside. At 6-foot-10 and 200 pounds with a reported 7-foot-1 wingspan, he has the tools to play the 3 and 4 in the NBA while possessing guard-like ball-handling abilities and being able to create space for jumpers. He also projects to be a versatile defender with his speed and lateral quickness. The keys for him are improving his efficiency from the field, adding more muscle and honing in on defense off the ball. In the right system with the patience to develop him, his upside is something special (think Giannis Antetokounmpo-like impact, who was 196 pounds on draft day). 

Jalen Williams, G/F, Santa Clara

Usually there’s a big riser every year in the NBA Draft Combine. Last year saw Joshua Primo (San Antonio Spurs) and Trey Murphy (New Orleans Pelicans) jump because of their performances in the combine, and this year could belong to Williams out of Santa Clara. The 21-year-old wing/forward measured 6-foot-5 with a 7-2 wingspan and stood out in all the events he participated in. He increased his college production every year until declaring for the draft as a junior, finishing his third season with a 51-40-81 shooting split on averages of 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. 

His stock prior to the combine was an early-to-mid second-round pick, but he has leaped into first-round status now because of his 3-and-D potential at a marquee position. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he left the draft as a lottery pick, too. 

Malaki Branham, G, Ohio State

Branham was not a prospect to watch before the college basketball season started, but after outplaying expectations as a freshman, he’s now seen as a lock to go in the first round. How high he goes, though, is the real question. Like Dieng, he turned 19 in May, but that youth does not always show up in his play. Branham, who averaged 13.7 points on a 50-42-83 shooting split, is a methodical ball-handler and scorer in the half court who can also knock down shots off the ball. He’s a 2 guard with a 6-foot-5 frame and a 6-foot-10 wingspan, so there’s potential for him to guard some taller wings. 

The next steps for him are to increase the volume of 3-point shooting to prove it is sustainable and improve his passing. He often seeks to shoot as soon as he touches the ball, so revamping his vision will unlock his potential further. Don’t be surprised if he jumps into the lottery.

Nikola Jovic, F, Mega Basket

Not to be confused with Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, Nikola Jovic is another sneaky-good prospect who could rise as a first-round pick. Jovic, who turned 19 on June 9, is a 6-foot-10 forward with a 7-foot wingspan. He grew up playing guard, which he now leverages as a lengthy playmaker who can hit open teammates or pull up into his own jumper. In 25 games last season in the ABA Adriatic league, Jovic averaged 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 42.8% overall and 35.6% from deep. 

He has a smooth jumper but could definitely benefit from a higher point of release. At 209 pounds, he needs to add more muscle to his frame to optimize his unique skillset at the NBA level. In general, he’s not the most athletic player, which could limit his defensive potential, but he compensates for it with high-IQ reads. There’s no telling what proper time could do to his development. 

Jaylin Williams, F/C, Arkansas

Williams increased his draft stock after impressing throughout the 2022 NCAA Tournament, which included a 15-point, 12-rebound game in an upset win over No. 1 Gonzaga. He’s widely viewed as a second-round pick but could creep into the back end of the first round. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan, Williams is a high-IQ two-way player who just has a great feel for the game, not counting his prowess at drawing charges. He turns 20 six days after the draft, but even though big men take longer to develop at the NBA level, he could become an impact player sooner rather than later because he doesn’t need the ball to make winning plays.

The swing skill for Williams is extending his range beyond the 3-point line. He upped his volume his sophomore season from 0.9 attempts to 1.9 but the percentage went down to 23.9% from 30.4%. His 73.1% free throw percentage in two seasons with Arkansas is a good indicator the shot will come around with more attempts, so it’ll be interesting to see if he makes a jump.

Keon Ellis, G, Alabama

Alabama produced a hidden gem last year when Herbert Jones went No. 35 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans and showed out in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Jones is also a possible candidate to make an NBA All-Defensive Team despite being a rookie. And the Crimson Tide could have another gem this year: Keon Ellis. Ellis is a 6-foot-6 wing who can initiate on offense and defend multiple positions at a high level. His stock is a second-rounder with age – he’ll be 23 in January – being a main reason. 

But if a team wants someone who could quickly become an impact player likely going in the second round, Ellis looks to be that guy (Memphis Grizzlies wing Desmond Bane was old for draft standards in 2020 but jumped to the No. 30 overall pick). He had a 44-37-88 shooting split last year and has exhibited pure shotmaking potential that could translate to the NBA, especially if he gets reps off the bench since he should already stick on defense. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8:1.6 this season is definitely a question mark, but he’s shown flashes of making smart reads. It won’t be shocking if he draws comparisons to Jones – due to impact, not playstyle –  at the end of the 2022-23 season.

Dalen Terry, G, Arizona

Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko are Arizona’s two strongest first-round candidates this year, but keep an eye on Terry. He’s a 6-foot-7 shooting guard who was the definition of an elite role player. Despite having a low usage rate of 14.1%, Terry averaged 8.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 27.8 minutes per game. He shot 50.2% from the field on 6.2 attempts per game while having a net rating differential of +28.2 when on the court, which is just insane given the amount of minutes he logged. He’s disruptive on defense, makes winning reads on offense and converts his shots inside the arc.

His biggest flaw is shooting from 3. He improved his percentage to 36.4% as a sophomore but just on 2.1 attempts. He doesn’t seek to shoot it often, but that’ll need to change with NBA offenses heavily relying on spacing and shooting nowadays. There are indicators he can keep developing his shot to become more versatile, and his showing at the combine might boost him into the back end of the first round after initially being considered a second-round candidate.

Jabari Walker, F, Colorado

After his freshman year was primarily spent in a limited bench role, Walker became the focal point for Colorado as a sophomore. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged a team-high 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in 28.1 minutes per game while shooting 46.1% overall, 34.6% from deep and 78.4% from the charity stripe. He looks like a legit 3-and-D candidate, and he turns 20 a month after the draft. In a truncated role, he could stand out as a glue guy who can defend multiple positions, knock down catch-and-shoot 3s and attack the basket if there’s an open lane, which he’s shown flashes of due to his role in college.

On the flip side, his passing metrics don’t look appealing. But he won’t have to do too much of that if he cracks an NBA rotation, though there’s certainly potential to improve in that regard because Colorado didn’t have any true playmakers. He’s projected to go before the middle of the second round, but he’s someone who could eventually make some noise with time to grow.

Jordan Hall, G, St. Joseph’s

Pure point guards are pretty barren this year, but Hall stands out as a point forward who has intriguing intangibles at 6-foot-7, 215 pounds. His advanced metrics aren’t glamorous, but St. Joseph’s overall did not have a great year. Still, Hall averaged 14.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals on a 39-36-74 shooting split. The overall percentage is subpar, but he shot 36.2% from deep on 6.3 attempts. There’s promise there for someone who showed off-the-dribble potential with his looks. He’s also not the most athletic player, but he doesn’t need to be if he gets reps as a 1. Adding more muscle will be pivotal for his growth because if he pans out, he could be a theoretical mismatch nightmare with his skillset.

He will turn 21 in January, so there’s time for him to develop. G League reps could help him assimilate at the next level, too. Playmaking guards with that size don’t come around often and are worth the flier. The Los Angeles Clippers took Terance Mann with the No. 48 overall pick in 2019 and he became a pivotal rotational player for them a few seasons later, with his breakout happening in the 2021 playoffs. Mann wasn’t racking up assists at Florida State, but Hall has done just that. 

Orlando Robinson, C, Fresno State

As spacing becomes more and more vital, having centers who can shoot from distance can bolster an offense. Multiple candidates fit this bill in the second round, but Orlando Robinson, a 7-foot junior out of Fresno State, stands out from the pack. The Bulldogs ran their offense through Robinson (33.7% usage rate) and he responded by averaging 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals in 33.2 minutes on a 48-35-72 shooting split. 

The field goal percentage was solid given he attempted 14.4 shots per game. He often went to work in empty sets and displayed a variety of moves whether functioning back to the basket or going face-up. He also showcased an ability to drive to the rim off the bounce or pull up into jumpers, even behind the 3-point line where he attempted just short of three shots per game. He’ll be 22 his entire rookie season so there’s not too much leeway for his development, but if a team can hone in on his role to become a 3-and-D center (think Naz Reid of the Minnesota Timberwolves who went undrafted in 2019), gambling on him in the second round could pay off.

Honorable mentions:

Vince Williams Jr., G/F, VCU: turns 22 in August, great-IQ 3-and-D candidate with a good shooting profile; shoots 3s at a high volume and hit 38.7% of them as a senior

Gabe Brown, F, Michigan State: turns 23 in March, improved as a 6-foot-8, 3-and-D prospect every year under Tom Izzo (38.2% from 3 on 5.2 attempts his senior year, 89.6% average from the foul line all four seasons)

Marcus Bingham Jr., C, Michigan State: turns 22 in July, bouncy 7-foot center who blocked 2.2 shots a game and showed floor-spacing potential (41.5% on 1.2 attempts his senior year); got more efficient every season inside the arc and from the foul line 

Hyunjung Lee, G/F, Davidson: turns 22 in October, pure shooting wing out of Davidson (39.7% on 5.2 attempts average through three seasons); shooting and help defense should translate but needs significant improvements to strength

Isaiah Mobley, F/C, USC: turns 23 in September, brother of Cleveland Cavaliers young star Evan Mobley; not as elite as Evan but a floor-spacing big at 6-foot-10 who can make plays off the bounce

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