Smith, Holmgren, Banchero top list of forwards in NBA draft

The forwards are expected to dominate Thursday’s NBA draft, starting with the trio of Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s Paolo Banchero.

The forwards are expected to dominate Thursday’s NBA draft, starting with the trio of Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. They are the headliners at the position and have been widely ranked as the top prospects overall due to their size and open floor potential.

Here’s a look at the top forwards of the draft:


The nation’s No. 1 recruit lived up to expectations for the Zags as a second-team Associated Press All-American.

STRENGTHEN: The 7-foot, 195-pound Holmgren has an unusual mix of fluid perimeter capabilities with a wingspan of approximately 7-5. He averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 60.7% alongside a returning AP All-American in Drew Timme.

He made 39% of his 3-point attempts and had 14 games with at least two 3s made, showing the kind of consistency that less mobile bigs are sure to pull out of the basket. And he has the ball-handling skills to exploit – just look at his long behind-the-back drive for a dunk against UCLA for proof – for unique shot potential in such a long frame.

“I definitely see a lot of things in the NBA style of play that I feel like I can thrive in,” Holmgren said Monday, “with the distance, with the speed… You come up and down for 48 minutes. So I definitely think I have a lot of tools that are good for that.”

On the other end, Holmgren proved himself an elite rim guard, finishing fourth in Division I with 3.7 blocks per game.

CONCERNS: He needs to get stronger. He struggled with physical play at times and was also able to use the extra bulk to finish through contact.


The 6-10, 220-pound freshman was a second-team AP All-American who helped the Tigers achieve their first-ever No. 1 ranking.

STRENGTHEN: 19-year-old Smith is a delicate striker with the potential to hit both ends of the court. He averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists with the ability to play into the post or go outside where he shot 42% from 3-point range with a quality jumper. He also made 79.9% of his free throws to convert while drawing fouls. He also averaged 1.0 blocks and 1.1 steals with the versatility to pursue multiple positions, ranking him #2 overall on ESPN.

“I just see myself defending, influencing the win and just doing what a team asks of me,” Smith said. “Keeping the ground at a distance, putting down shots, letting the ground run and just showing all the benefits to my game.”

CONCERNS: Smith shot just 42% overall, relying heavily on his jump shot, so he could use some more development, hitting the tee shot and improving his ball handling (1.9 rallies per game) to improve looks.


The 6-10, 250-pound freshman was the focus of the Blue Devils in a Final Four run under now-retired Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

STRENGTHEN: The 19-year-old Banchero averaged 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds with the power to feud inside and the agility to roam the perimeter. The AP All-American third-team, ranked as ESPN’s No. 3 draft contender, comfortably grabbed a rebound and led the break. And his skills proved particularly effective at overpowering smaller defenders, maneuvering around less-mobile bigs and shining in midfield.

Banchero said Friday he feels “the best player in the draft, I feel like I’ve shown that all year.” Duke assistant head coach Chris Carrawell said he thinks Banchero should also be No. 1 overall.

“For a non-guard his size, he can take pictures inside and out,” Carrawell said. “That is rare.”

CONCERNS: Banchero shot just 33.8% on 3-pointers despite being better in the NCAA tournament. He also had stretches where he asserted himself and pushed his will even more, including the final 7 1/2 minutes of the Final Four loss to rivals North Carolina with no baskets and just two shot attempts. Banchero also needs to improve defensive consistency.


KEEGAN-MURRAY: While the Holmgren-Smith-Banchero trio could go 1-2-3, the Iowa forward and first-team AP All-American won’t be far behind. The 6-8, 225-pound Murray, who turns 22 in August, made a rapid rise from averaging 7.2 points as a freshman to 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 55.4% overall and 39 .8% on 3-pointer shot. This sweeping development has made him ESPN’s #5 overall prospect in a loaded position.

JEREMY SOCHAN: The 6-9, 230-pound freshman offers defensive versatility and toughness in a developing game. ESPN’s No. 15 draft contender averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds for Baylor and just turned 19 last month.

EJ LIDDELL: The Ohio State Junior has a strong build (6-7, 243 pounds) ready to take on physical play. The AP third-team All-American averaged 19.4 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 49% from the field and 37% from 3-point range. Liddell is ESPN’s No. 20 draft prospect.

JAKE LARAVIA: The 6-8, 227-pound junior made a quick impression at Wake Forest after making stints at Indiana State in the following two years. He displayed versatility, averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, and shooting 38% from behind the arc as a potential first-round prospect.

DOMINICK BARLOW: The 6-9, 221-pound Barlow played for the Overtime Elite development program for top prospects bypassing college basketball. He’s a potential second-round pick. Smith, Holmgren, Banchero top list of forwards in NBA draft

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