Kansas Star Ochai Agbaji Could Be first Senior Taken in NBA Draft

Kansas Star Ochai Agbaji Could Be first Senior Taken in NBA Draft
By Josh Markowitz
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

The NBA Draft is rapidly approaching and University of Kansas star wing Ochai Agbaji looks poised to be the first senior off the board come June 23.

While sportsbooks and analysts alike forecast a trio of the nation’s elite freshmen — Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero — as the likely top three picks in some order, Agbaji’s draft odds reflect a range that begins somewhere in the back half of the lottery. Reports say Agbaji is one of 20 players invited to attend this year's Draft, further confirming his expected draft position.

Although BetMGM only offers wagering on the No. 1 pick, his positioning in this market is indicative of the 11th overall player in the class. Agbaji is one of five players listed at +25000, but so far BetMGM has taken more money on every other member of that group. Even so, his journey from sub top-100 recruit to national champion and potential lottery selection has been remarkable.

Kansas sports betting is legal, but it isn’t yet available in the state. It should be, however, by the time the Jayhawks start the defense of their NCAA basketball title this fall.

The state’s sports betting bill was signed into law May 12, and there is hope fans in the state can start placing wagers by the start of the NFL season.

2022 NBA Draft No. 1 Pick Odds

🏀 Jabari Smith Jr.Auburn-250
🏀 Chet HolmgrenGonzaga+170
🏀 Paolo BancheroDuke+1600
🏀 Jaden IveyPurdue+10000
🏀 Keegan MurrayIowa+10000
🏀 Shaedon SharpeKentucky+10000
🏀 AJ GriffinDuke+25000
🏀 Johnny DavisWisconsin+25000
🏀 Jalen DurenMemphis+25000
🏀 Bennedict Mathurin Arizona+25000
🏀 Ochai AgbajiKansas+25000

Agbaji’s Draft Scouting Report

Originally planning on redshirting in 2018-19 given he did not take off as a high-major level player until his senior season at Kansas City’s Oak Park High School, Agbaji was thrust into the Jayhawks’ rotation midway through his first year due to roster issues within the program.

After just six games, he earned a place in the starting lineup that he would never relinquish. Originally an inconsistent shooting ancillary piece valued for his athleticism, Agbaji’s role and production increased every year. By his junior season, he was the Jayhawks’ leading scorer and even flirted with leaving for the NBA.

But his decision to stay for his senior year proved fruitful. Agbaji took another leap and led the Big 12 in scoring on his way to being named the Conference Player of the Year and a Consensus First Team All-American as Kansas won its fourth NCAA Tournament.

He averaged 18.8 points per game, and along with Liberty’s Darius McGhee, was one of just two Division I players to make at least 100 shots at the rim and 100 3-pointers in 2021-22 per barttorvik.com.

Agbaji's best game came in a 94-91 double overtime victory over Texas Tech on Jan. 24, where he recorded career highs with 37 points and seven made 3s. It was an extraordinary demonstration of his growth as a shooter.

As a freshman, Agbjai made just 30.7% of his shots beyond the arc, but he grew more comfortable from the outside annually, increasing both his percentage and total number of attempts each season. Now, after making 40.7% of his 3s as a senior, Agbaji’s shooting ability is one of his primary carrying tools as a draft prospect.

While Agbaji was tasked with more primary scoring responsibilities this year during Kansas’s title run, his role in the pros will likely be a simplified, lower usage one. Ball-handling deficiencies combined with a lack of mid-range success (30.5% on non-rim 2s for his career, 28.6% on non-rim 2s in 21-22) constrain Agbaji to a two-level scoring threat who will need to utilize his talents off-ball to consistently get open.

But Agbaji’s performance during the NCAA Tournament showcased how impactful he can still be without his best shooting. Despite making six of his 11 total tournament 3s in the National Semifinals against Villanova, Agbaji was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player thanks to his all-around contributions. His defense was particularly noticeable and should remain one of his calling cards in the NBA.

At 6 foot, 5.75 inches in shoes with a 6-10.25 wingspan, he possesses the requisite size and length to hang with most pro guards and wings, while his quick feet help him contain drivers and recover to close gaps. Overall, these defensive tools and his blend of shooting and athleticism give Agbaji a clear place in the modern NBA.

Expect him to be drafted somewhere in the middle third of the first round given he has already worked out for Washington, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago and is scheduled to work out for the New York Knicks as well. Collectively, these teams hold every pick from 10 to 18, except for the 17th pick, which is owned by Houston.

A Look at the Draft’s Top Prospects

  • Jabari Smith:  An elite level shooter/shotmaker for his size and age, Smith also possesses excellent defensive traits and displays capable passing. He needs to improve his ability to get to and finish at the rim, but his development track suggests he has high upside to go along with the high floor his current skills create. 
  • Chet Holmgren: Advanced stats credit Holmgren with one of the best freshmen seasons of the one and done era. While he must add strength, he has few other deficiencies and his combination of efficiency, rim protection and shooting is rare and tantalizing.
  • Paolo Banchero: A smooth, natural shot creator who can score from all three levels, Banchero is the most conventional No. 1 option of the top three prospects. He was not as efficient as Smith or Holmgren and does not project as quite the same level of defender either, but his playmaking development throughout the year offers hope of a future 6’10” dribble/pass/shoot terror.
  • Jaden Ivey: The top guard in the class, Ivey looks to be one of the most athletic ball-handlers to enter the NBA over the past decade. It remains to be seen whether he ends up as a primary initiator or combo guard considering his mediocre assist numbers, but his shooting improvements and ability to get to the rim at will make him a potential gamebreaker. 
  • Keegan Murray: The nation’s fourth leading scorer, Murray’s ability to let the game come to him and convert efficiently from multiple levels within the confines of an offense has rocketed him up draft boards. There are some questions about his overall upside though due to how old he is for his class (Agbaji is only 121 days older than Murray despite being two classes ahead).
  • Shaedon Sharpe: After enrolling midseason at Kentucky, Sharpe never appeared in a game for the Wildcats, electing to let his high school accolades carry him through the draft process. Though he needs refinement, the former EYBL leading scorer’s projectable frame and mix of shot creation and elite explosiveness indicate a high ceiling.

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Contributors

Josh Markowitz is a freelance writer for BetKansas.com. He is a lifelong sports fan with an emphasis on basketball, football, baseball and the scouting/evaluation process. A graduate of Elon University's School of Communications, Josh also has experience in television production.

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