The SN Draft Lab takes a look at the top collegiate, G-League and international players as we work toward the 2022 NBA draft. NBA scouts face a daunting task of evaluating talent not only by what players can do now, but also by how they perform in the future of the NBA game. Throughout the 2021-22 season, Sporting News will be breaking down the biggest prospects, projects and matchups to bring you the latest on names rising and falling on the draft boards.
College basketball fans can rejoice as No. 1 Gonzaga takes on UCLA No. 2 on Tuesday, November 23 at 10:00 p.m. ET.
The top two teams in the country will battle it out at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, marking only the 43rd duel between the teams ranked first and second in the AP college basketball poll, dating back to 1949.
We’re just seven months away from the last meeting between these two teams that delivered an instant classic in the 2021 Final Four Jalen Suggs buried a buzzer-hitting halfcourt shot in overtime to keep Gonzaga’s undefeated season alive and advance to the National Championship game.
Since then, Gonzaga and UCLA have each brought back the majority of their rotations from last year’s March Madness run and added a few big prospects, increasing the importance of this must-see competition.
MORE: Patience key for Peyton Watson at loaded UCLA
If you’re more of an NBA fan than a college basketball junkie, there’s something in this game for you too.
Keep a close eye on Gonzaga rookie Chet Holmgren and UCLA rookie Peyton Watson, two potential lottery picks in the 2022 NBA draft. If you’re new to them, get to know two of the top prospects below.
2022 NBA Draft Prospect: Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
2022 NBA Mock Draft Projection: #2 overall
Height and weight: 7-foot-1, 190 lbs.
Age: 19, freshman
The sequence: According to ESPN, Holmgren was the No. 1 prospect for the class of 2020. When he signed Gonzaga, he became the first-ever No. 1 prospect in program history. With stars like Suggs and Corey Kispert making the move to the NBA after last year’s successful season, Holmgren pushed his way into the starting XI right away and emerged as one of Gonzaga’s regulars on offense while anchoring their defense.
Profile: Holmgren is a 7-footer who handles the ball like a keeper and protects the rim like a center. Uncharacteristically coordinated for his size, his agility makes him a real threat from inside and outside on either side of the ball. On offense he can create his own shot from dribbling and has a cunning that puts him at odds with taller defenders. Because of his ridiculous 7ft 6 wingspan, he only needs a dribble or two to get all the way to the rim.
He shoots it comfortably from 3-point and midrange as a floor spacer, but can also score with solid footwork and skillful touch in the paint or just catch lobs on the edge.
On defense, he’s about as elite as a shot blocker you’d find in a college contender.
He’s a central defense anchor, but is also more than capable of stepping into the perimeter on switches and holding his own against faster guards.
Holmgren’s slim 190-pound stature is obviously a problem, but he comes in with an attitude and doesn’t shy away from physical play – at least not against kids his age. This will be one of the most difficult adjustments to make when playing adult males in the NBA, but at his size his skills are far too advanced to let his physique hold him back as a prospect. He still needs to improve his arsenal of post moves, decision making and shot selection and could develop as a passer, but Holmgren has all the makings of a future star.
2022 NBA Draft Prospect: Peyton Watson, UCLA
2022 NBA Mock Draft Projection: No. 7 overall
Height and weight: 6-foot-8, 200 lbs.
Age: 18, freshman
The sequence: According to ESPN, Watson was No. 12 in the class of 2020. Los Angeles native Watson was the top prospect in the state of California and committed to UCLA to join a full roster that returned four of its five leading scorers from their Finals Four-run a season earlier.
As a result, the highly acclaimed freshman hasn’t seen much consistent playing time behind a group of senior level players so far. He has only averaged 3.3 points in 14.3 minutes per game so far and is used more as a defensive specialist than a goalscorer, but the 18-year-old has plenty of time to feel comfortable on the pitch and play a more settled role in the rotation.
Profile: Watson is a long and athletic wing whose game projects well to NBA levels. He’s a fluid scorer who can create for himself on all three levels of the floor, and while his jump shot consistency isn’t quite there yet, his mechanics are smooth.
With a low-key offensive role at UCLA, he’ll thrive as a cutter and slasher, using his speed and jumping ability to score on the edge.
In high school, he showed himself to be a capable playmaker, and if that skill develops, it will be a huge asset in becoming more than a 3-and-D player at the next level. While he wasn’t particularly well known as a defender before college, his efforts on that side of the ball under head coach Mick Cronin will see him earn more playing time. With all the tools to be a versatile, wiry defender, don’t be surprised if Watson makes great strides in his first season.
Watson needs to learn how to make an impact without a starring role – something that will likely be an adjustment for a five-star recruit – but he has plenty of potential to become one of the top NBA players in his class.