uncertainty for the first choice, the giant Holmgren intrigues

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New York (AFP) – The 76th NBA draft, Thursday, looks uncertain, the lanky giant Chet Holmgren threatening to blow to the strong winger Jabari Smith the first place, property of the Orlando Magic, which is looking for a savior.

According to all forecasts, this new cuvée will be marked by the greats, with three interiors expected on the podium.

As it stands, Jabari Smith (2.08m) is tipped as number one, with the former Auburn college player having his formidable outside shot and defense on his side. During a press briefing, this son of a former NBA player himself boasted of his « ability to weigh on both sides of the field ».

He would come to reinforce an Orlando team which decided to rebuild in the summer of 2021 and presented, last season, the second worst record in the League.

But some wonder about his dribbling or his propensity to score close, and in recent days, the environment has been more excited for Chet Holmgren, whose potential is fantasizing.

This pole of 2.13 m, but only 88 kg, which comes out of a season with the University of Gonzaga, displays a very rare versatility for a player of his size.

« I’ve never had someone like him, » enthuses Jamie Dixon (Texas Christian University), who trained him with the American U19s, world champions last summer. « Never had someone with his size play like that off the racket. »

Swiss knife

« In terms of technical qualities, he is a kind of Kevin Durant, even if he is not Kevin Durant », dares James Jones (Yale), who was Jamie Dixon’s assistant with the U19s. « The NBA has become an outdoor-oriented league, so I think he’s going to be able to go around the perimeter and shoot three-pointers. »

Former NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway, now a Memphis university coach, compares him to Kevin Garnett, another « seven-footer » (players 2.13 m and over) with Swiss army knife skills.

Jabari Smith during a tour of the Empire State Building on June 21, 2022 in New York City
Jabari Smith during a tour of the Empire State Building on June 21, 2022 in New York City Michael loccisano GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives

His physique questions, however, Jamie Dixon anticipating that he will not « gain masses of weight », even after his entry into the NBA, which could be done under the jersey of the Oklahoma City Thunder (second choice) or the Houston Rockets ( third), if Orlando misses his turn.

The last two MVPs, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, are also great ultra-versatile interiors, but with a much more substantial physique, just like the reference Dirk Nowitzki.

From Kristaps Porzingis to Ralph Sampson, there are plenty of examples of slender giants whose careers were cut short by repeated injuries and Chet Holmgren’s aggressive style of play poses an additional risk.

Divination exercise

« Even if he is not powerful, he plays physical, he likes contact, » observes Jamie Dixon. « He never backs down. »

For the NBA franchises, the draft becomes an increasingly tricky exercise in divination each year, because most young American players spend only one season in the university championship, or even do not go there at all.

More and more basketball players prefer to go through the NBA training system, which for two years has brought together several high potentials in a specific G League team, its reserve championship.

Others also choose a detour to a professional league outside the United States, at a level that is sometimes difficult to assess.

In this context, the profile of the third musketeer of this draft, Paolo Banchero (2.08 m), could benefit the former interior of Duke, announced third choice but sometimes ranked higher in the forecasts.

Paolo Banchero with Duke against North Carolina in the NCAA College Tournament Semifinals in New Orleans on April 2, 2022
Paolo Banchero with Duke against North Carolina in the NCAA College Tournament Semifinals in New Orleans on April 2, 2022 TOM PENNINGTON GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives

Physically dense, endowed with very successful fundamentals, a good passer, the one who was also a quarterback in high school is often presented as the player most likely to have an immediate impact on his team.

Among the other possible surprises, the young Frenchman Ousmane Dieng (2.08m), announced in the top 20, who comes out of a season in the Australian league NBL, where he finished strong after a difficult start.

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