With the NBA offseason now in full swing, the first stop is the 2022 NBA draft. This year’s draft class is stacked—from dynamic scorers to defensive aces, this year’s future rookie squad has it all.With the draft taking place tonight, we’re giving you a preview of the players you need to know.
Here are the players who made the most of the NBA Combine and offseason workouts. Let’s get it.
Kenneth Lofton Jr.
If you didn’t know Kenneth Lofton Jr.’s name before the NBA Draft Combine, you certainly knew it after.
A 6-7, 275 lb. big man with the strength to dominate down low and the agility to score off the bounce, Lofton Jr. is among the most unique and intriguing players of the 2022 class.
He put out a show at the G League Elite Camp, finishing the scrimmages averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in front of NBA scouts and team personnel May. The big man showcases the ability to run in transition and bully his way to a bucket in the paint. But for those who watched Lofton Jr. play at Louisiana Tech, his performance at the Combine was no surprise.
The 2022 first-team All-Conference USA selection averaged 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game last season on 53.9 percent shooting from the field, making him one of college basketball’s top mid-major players and one of the best-kept secrets in the country.
Lofton Jr. played well enough to earn an invitation to the Chicago combine. He tends to play well when the lights are brightest, performing just as well while representing the United States in the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup. The Texas native averaged 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 64.0% shooting from the field in seven games, helping the U.S. win Gold in Latvia.
He scored 16 points—15 of which came in the second half—in an 83-81 victory over France in the final. As a freshman, Lofton Jr. dropped 27 points and 13 rebounds and made the game-winning shot in a 76-74 win over Colorado State in the NIT third-place game.
Lofton Jr.’s a baller; he’s proved it throughout his career. At one second, he’ll look like an old-school big, battling his way through contact for a tough and one. At the next, he’ll be the first one down the court in transition to score an easy two points. While some worry about Lofton Jr.’s ceiling as a defender, he brings tenacity and a skillset more than capable of making the transition to the NBA.
“My mentality was coming out here, competing with new guys, coming from the G League Elite Camp to the NBA Combine, [it’s] just a great experience. Happy to have the opportunity to come out and play. It was just great playing with other guys,” Lofton Jr. told the ESPN NBA draft Combine broadcast after his first scrimmage.
Scotty Pippen Jr.
Growing up with the same name as a Hall-of-Famer (who was a part of the most iconic dynasty in NBA history) meant huge expectations and pressure to perform for Scotty Pippen Jr.
Pippen Jr., son of six-time NBA Champ and seven-time All-Star Scottie Pippen, has created his own identity on the basketball court, and NBA teams are taking notice.
After competing against some of the nation’s top talent at Sierra Canyon High School, Pippen Jr. played college ball at Vanderbilt and averaged 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game in three seasons with the Commodores. Most recently, Pippen Jr. led the SEC in scoring 22.2 points per game while also tacking on 4.5 assists per contest during his junior season.
A 6-1 guard who was a career 41.6 percent shooter at Vanderbilt, Pippen Jr. made a splash and improved his draft stock by averaging 16.0 points, and 4.5 assists in two scrimmages at the NBA Draft Combine in May. The first of his Combine scrimmages was a solid 11-point, six-assist performance, and Pippen Jr. built upon it when he led all scorers with 21 points to go along with three assists and two steals in his second scrimmage.
“Just showing that I can do it on both ends of the floor,” Pippen Jr. said when asked about his goals for the Combine by the ESPN NBA draft Combine broadcast. “Defending, showing that I can do things I wasn’t able to show in college. I was picking up the ball full-court, showing my conditioning, and then being able to show that I can distribute the ball and be a playmaker and what I can do for these teams.”
Pippen Jr. is a strong ball-handler with a knack for getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 76.3 percent for his career. He’s an intelligent defender who provides pressure on the perimeter and can generate turnovers while in college (he averaged 1.6 steals per game for his career). Pippen Jr. was lightly recruited despite being the son of an NBA legend and showcased his skills at college and the Combine.
“I contribute to winning,” Pippen Jr. said after his second and final combine outing. “That’s scoring the ball, making my teammates better, being a playmaker, defending the ball, whatever they need me to do, I can do it.”
His productivity speaks for itself. While Pippen Jr. will need to improve his offensive efficiency and 32.5 percent clip from three-point range last season, he’s a prospect whose stock is on the rise. Considering his NBA bloodline and college experience, Pippen Jr. could be a popular target in the upcoming draft.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have become an NBA talent factory over the last several years producing names such as Domantas Sabonis, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert, and Jalen Suggs. Soon to be added to such a list will be Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard.
Nembhard was quite low on draft boards coming into the combine but his performance in the Combine scrimmages has since put him onto the radars of NBA teams looking to add guard depth. Nembhard put up 26 points and 11 assists, the most dimes dropped at a Draft Combine scrimmage in the last four years.
The game stood out the most for Nembhard’s floor game, he ran the offense seamlessly and put his teammates in a position to get buckets.
Andrew Nembhard had the single-most impressive performance of the NBA Combine thus far with 26 points, 11 assists. Made all the right reads out of PNR and had his floater and pullup game working all game long. pic.twitter.com/3qdBlQnZUh— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 20, 2022
Though he is not a freak athlete, Nembhard is crafty and provides the traditional leadership required of a point guard. He was Gonzaga’s top distributor last year averaging 5.8 dimes against 1.9 turnovers per contest. His improved shooting will also serve him well. Each season Nembhard improved his three-point percentage to help space things out.
Two Western Conference scouts made comments on Nembhard’s performance per SlipperStillFits:
Executive #1: “Gets drafted for sure. He’s a good player and would be surprised if he didn’t end up as a winning NBA player.”
Executive #2: “He played well in the second game in Chicago. Does what he does. Crafty guy. If you want the crafty guy who can make some shots, you probably take Nembhard.”
If teams are looking for a stable point guard for a few years, while also cost-effective rookie deals found deep in the draft, Nembhard can provide all that and more.
The ying to Zach Edey’s yang this past year at Purdue, Trevion Williams once again made an all Big-10 team and won Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year honors in his final season with the Boilermakers.
Though not a shot blocker in any sense, Williams still affects the game defensively with positioning, contesting, and strength against opposing big men. His 6’10 height will help him matchup against NBA centers regularly, and weighing 260 lbs will make him challenging to move around in the post.
Gobbling 7.4 rebounds per game as the first big off the bench makes him a quality candidate for teams that need guys to attack the glass. Williams is also exceptional on the offensive glass, grabbing 3.4, 3.7, and 2.3 offensive boards per game over his last three years at Purdue. His passing has also shown signs of life, gradually increasing his assist averages over his four years all while remaining an efficient shooter with a career 53 percent from the field.
Williams spoke about being able to fit onto an NBA roster as a lower end pick:
“It’s all about knowing how to fit in,” Williams said per Rivals, “and those little things — picking guys up when they fall, being loud on the bench, having energy. Those little things matter.”
The West Coast Conference, mostly dominated by Gonzaga, is starting to pick up steam as a rather competitive conference outside of the power five conferences. Outside of the Gonzaga names, Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams stands out as this year’s WCC gem prospect as someone who can make immediate impacts anywhere he goes.
His potential showed this year when he finished second in the conference in scoring (18.0), sixth in assists (4.2), and ninth in steals (1.2) which all accounted for a first-team all-WCC selection this previous year.
What makes Williams so fascinating is his height as a guard. He stands 6’6 with a smooth handle and is a thrilling playmaker, proven by his 10 assists against Saint Mary’s in February. Williams also showcased a rapidly improving three-point shot this past year when he was knocking down tres at a 39.6 clip, a career-high.
Nathan Marzion of Fansided described Williams’ other strengths as such:
“Not only is Williams a dynamic threat to score with the ball in his hands, but he can play off the ball and hit spot-up threes as well. He shot an absurd 46.3 percent on spot up catch-and-shoot threes last season and 48.4 percent on all catch-and-shoot jumpers in the half court, both ranking among the best in the nation. On his contested catch-and-shoot jumpers, he shot 61.5 percent, the best of any player in college basketball last season.”
Only coming into college as the 242nd ranked player in his class, Williams’ improvement is something NBA teams will continue to push forward as he transitions into the League with some of the best players in the world.