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NBA Draft betting preview: Odds and predictions for the top five picks

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The top of the NBA Draft always garners the most discourse and anticipation in the lead-up to the event, and rightfully so. The young men expected to hear their names called first, in this case Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey, are the ones who have proven through amateur ball to be the most likely franchise-changing players in the years to come. The debate over which player of that quartet goes first to Orlando is an ongoing one, and in the spirit of mock draft season, let's play along.

In this little miniature mock of sorts, I've got Smith Jr. at No. 1 and Holmgren at No. 2. It's hard to get a feel for which of the two Orlando holds in higher regard, but most experts are mocking Smith to the Magic, so perhaps, there's the answer. There seems to be growing confidence in Smith going first. On BetMGM, his odds to go first overall were -135 at one point on Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, they're -250. I certainly wouldn't argue the fit, with Smith Jr.'s skill set (specifically, on offense) giving the Magic a boost going forward.

First overall pick odds

PlayerOdds

Jabari Smith Jr.

-250

Paolo Banchero

+240

Chet Holmgren

+400

Shaedon Sharpe

+10000

Jaden Ivey

+20000

At No. 2, Oklahoma City and Chet Holmgren are a perfect pairing for one another. OKC adds some rim protection to its defense, which is already decent, while also getting a versatile offensive threat that fulfills many roles. Those roles include being a play-finisher at the rim, a floor-spacer, and a pick-and-roll partner for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.

Second overall pick odds

PlayerOdds

Chet Holmgren

-220

Jabari Smith Jr.

+200

Paolo Banchero

+350

Jaden Ivey

+2000

Shaedon Sharpe

+6000

Such a scenario would leave Banchero for Houston at No. 3, which feels like a no-brainer. His gift for playmaking, scoring and overall strength and athleticism at his size is easy to visualize alongside the likes of Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Kevin Porter Jr.

Third overall pick odds

PlayerOdds

Paolo Banchero

-350

Chet Holmgren

+600

Jabari Smith Jr.

+650

Jaden Ivey

+900

Keegan Murray

+1800

Shaedon Sharpe

+2000

Sacramento has the fourth pick, and I've suggested they should trade it. But if they keep the pick, the fit is Keegan Murray, isn't it? I know Jaden Ivey would probably be the most talented of the remaining players, but fit matters. Wings who are 6-foot-8 and can score from all over the court don't exactly grow on trees. Also, Murray's services wouldn't interfere with what De'Aaron Fox or Davion Mitchell have going on in the backcourt. Perhaps the Kings' brain trust has other plans with their existing roster that would make Ivey the better fit, but that's just me guessing. As it stands, I like Murray for them.

Fourth overall pick odds

PlayerOdds

Jaden Ivey

-155

Keegan Murray

+115

Dyson Daniels

+1000

Shaedon Sharpe

+1300

Paolo Banchero

+1500

Bennedict Mathurin

+1500

And the No. 5 pick would then be Ivey to play alongside Cade Cunningham to make for one potentially historic backcourt down the line in Detroit.

Fifth overall pick odds

PlayerOdds

Keegan Murray

+130

Jaden Ivey

+175

Bennedict Mathurin

+175

Shaedon Sharpe

+600

Dyson Daniels

+800

But the beginning of the draft is hardly the only entertaining part of the night. The others include the post-lottery picks, unexpected sliding players, and everything else that's relatively unknown. While it may be stressful for draft hopefuls, it's exactly what makes the evening fun for spectators.

Some of the easier and more fun prospects to track during the pre-draft process are the ones who shoot up the draft boards. Often, it's the players who turn heads at the combine (whether that's through testing, measurements or 5-on-5 scrimmages) that see their stock climb the most rapidly. Guys like Kyle Kuzma (2017) and Bones Hyland (2021) have done so in the past and have since proven to be valuable and productive pieces on winning NBA teams thus far in their careers. A prospect that has completed Step 1 of that process is Jalen Williams of Santa Clara.

If you've landed on this article, there's a good chance you're aware of Williams' ascension up experts' boards. But for those unaware, Williams is one of this draft's best passers and playmakers out of the pick-and-roll, and his 6-foot-6 stature and 7-foot-2 wingspan give him the ability to finish well at the rim and be quite disruptive on the defensive end. He's a good self-creator off the bounce for himself and others, which was on full display during May's combine.

In not so many words — he's good. I'll spare any further assessment to avoid turning this into a player profile piece. But the point is that there should be some great gets for teams around the middle of the first round. On the betting side his stock is rising as well. On Tuesday you could find his draft position over/under at 18.5. It has shifted to 15.5, with the under (selected before the 16th pick) being favored.

I haven't gotten to the second Combine game yet from today, but if my text messages from scouts are any indication, Jalen Williams from Santa Clara is this NBA Draft Combine's big winner.

— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) May 20, 2022

But as there are risers, there are also guys whose stocks dropped within the past year. College basketball isn't always the greatest experience for everyone, and that's okay. Plenty of players have thrived more in an NBA setting than in a collegiate one. The more recent ones include guys like Jaden McDaniels and Brandon Boston Jr., who entered college as top-10 high school players and projected high draft picks before having underwhelming seasons at their respective universities. In Boston's case, subpar is an understatement. Yet, those two guys in particular are already playing above their draft positions, which is an encouraging sign for the upcoming handful of draftees who go lower than what was expected around this time a year ago.

Who are some players who could be in similar situations come Thursday? All signs point to both Peyton Watson and Caleb Houstan — a couple of former high school All-Americans who Zach Harper is projecting to be second-round picks.

In Watson's case, he joined an established UCLA team who'd returned every starter from its Final Four team the previous season. His leash was short, and he didn't take advantage of his chances to leave his mark in Westwood (12.7 minutes per game over 32 appearances). And that's not an excuse for his incredibly low shooting splits (32.2/ 22.6/ 68.8) and apparent lack of confidence on the offensive end, which cratered most of what was supposed to be a strong freshman season. But I don't think all of that talent suddenly evaporated in one season. Maybe his ceiling has lowered a bit, but there's enough upside there to be a steal in the latter part of the draft.

Houstan's lone year in college wasn't as disappointing as Watson's, but it surely didn't meet the expectations of a top-10 high school prospect. He underwhelmed as an off-the-bounce threat and struggled mightily to finish around the rim — not showing the ability to do much on the offensive end besides be a solid spot up-shooter. However, if he gets to the right organization, I'd find it hard not to believe that Houstan won't develop the other areas of his game. That's a good upside swing should he be drafted in the second round, as Sam Vecenie suggests in his latest mock.

The harsh reality for some is that the slide could be too steep to overcome on draft night. There are only so many players who will actually be selected and the ratio of good prospects to draft-night selections is drastically uneven — more than a handful of deserving guys won't get picked.

Still, every season we see a few undrafted players make their way onto rosters and carve out some kind of useful role. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made that more possible this most recent season as the extension of 10-day hardship contracts and COVID replacement players led to increased NBA opportunities for more and more players. We also aren't too far removed from an NBA postseason that showcased guys like Jose Alvarado, Max Strus, Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet, just to name a few, all playing important roles on their respective teams.

We won't know for a while which undrafted guy will make noise as an NBA player but we will find out in a matter of days who might have a chance.

(Photo of Jabari Smith Jr.: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

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