The 2022 NBA rookies class features plenty of big names that were selected early such as Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and others. Of course, there are high expectations for these players. There are a number of players who got drafted later, however, who can start to shine early on in their careers and surprise their own teams and fans.
2022 NBA Rookies Who Can Surprise Teams
Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jalen Williams boosted his draft stock in a major way during the draft combine. At one point, many didn’t even know his name. By draft night, he was selected 12th overall by the Thunder. Last season for Santa Clara, Williams averaged about 18 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game. He can shoot at will, attack the basket, and is an overall outstanding athlete. The sky can very well be the limit for Williams.
It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Williams go through some growing pains early, especially coming from a non-powerhouse college basketball program. That isn’t always an issue for guards, however, with Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard being examples.
The only downside for Williams being a part of the Thunder is their logjam at the guard position. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, and others will be ahead of Williams on the depth chart (for now). With that being said, the Thunder aren’t in a rush to win now. Williams will still see plenty of minutes and the Thunder will allow him to grow. They may even transition Williams to more of a wing player as well. Either way, Williams will certainly show his flashes and prove his worth as a lottery pick.
Christian Braun, Denver Nuggets
Christian Braun was drafted in the first round, although expectations may not be very high for him on a loaded Denver squad. With that being said, he brings the perfect tools.
First off, Braun doesn’t particularly excel greatly in any certain department. He is, however, very good at pretty much everything. He can drain threes, slash at the basket, hit pull-up jumpers, play tough defense, and fly high to block shots. Braun translates into a “glue guy” type of player, but that’s what most championship-contending teams need.
Braun averaged close to 14 points, seven boards, three assists, and a block per game last season. He can play both the two and three, excelling as a wing. He also did this for the March Madness champions Kansas Jayhawks.
Denver made a move for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’s likely to start. They also signed Bruce Brown who will also provide wing support off the bench. Braun is already set to be the second wing to come off the bench. His statistics won’t shock the world, but he’ll quickly become a valuable piece to the Nuggets.
Jaden Hardy, Dallas Mavericks
Jaden Hardy was widely expected to be a first-round pick, although he slid. Hardy was a stud coming out of high school and decided to play in the G-League over college. He struggled out of the gates, but fixed up his game and improved. At the end of the day, to the advantage of the Mavericks, other teams seemingly had doubts on Hardy.
Hardy is a flat-out offensive weapon. He’s a stellar shooter and his ball-handling skills are incredible to watch. If he hits his open shots and creates his own shots here and there then Hardy will already be worth the two second-round picks Dallas traded for him. He does, however, benefit from the departure of Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks. This creates a scoring void in Dallas. It’s unlikely that Dallas relies on Hardy early, as he’s a rookie drafted by a team who just played in the Western Conference Finals, but he can gain Jason Kidd‘s confidence early.
Dallas will be one of the league’s top offenses for as long as Luka Doncic is around. Opposing defenses need to put all their focus onto Doncic, which opens up space for other players. In addition, Doncic is one of the best passers in the game. The Mavericks also upgraded their frontcourt with the acquisition of Christian Wood, which will also help the guard play.
Hardy can’t be expected to compete for Rookie of the Year accolades, but he can hold an important role in the Mavericks’ rotation.