NBA Draft 2022: Why more big men are returning for another year in college rather than turning pro

In conversations with front office members over the past couple of months, I’ve asked a lot of questions about Chet Holmgren because he is the most fascinating and polarizing player in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Some would take him with the No. 1 overall pick. Others wouldn’t use a top-three pick on him. One executive told me he sees Holmgren as a future Defensive Player of the Year. Another told me he’s the type of player who will get played off the floor by teams that commit to a five-out small-ball attack.

They might both be right.

Which is among the reasons evaluating prospects who are centers and only centers has become the most challenging task executives face heading into each NBA Draft. Great centers are still great — evidence being that the current MVP (Nikola Jokic) and current runner-up for MVP (Joel Embiid) are indeed both centers. But for every center who exceeds reasonable expectations relative to where he was picked, there are three or four guys labeled misses largely because they can’t do things modern centers are asked to do.

Like guard in space.

“Getting cooked on defense is the biggest thing,” said one former front office executive. “They put you in spread pick-and-roll and obliterate you.”

This, by the way, is among the reasons why so many great bigs — guys like Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, North Carolina’s Armando Bacot, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Purdue’s Zach Edey — are returning to college next season when all of them might’ve been first-round picks as recently as 10 years ago. Sure, their ability to make notable amounts of money legally via name, image and likeness opportunities has proved to be a campus-magnet. But the truth is that those players were never picking between definitely playing in the NBA next season or definitely playing in college. They were mostly picking between maybe playing in the NBA next season or definitely playing in college, where they…


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