Editor’s Note: Find more of Jonathan Wasserman’s coverage of the 2023 Draft on Bleacher Report or to read this article on BleacherReport.com, click here.
(B/R) — The NCAA Tournament is here, and Bleacher Report projects 35 participants to hear their name called during the 2023 NBA draft.
That number could rise over the next few weeks.
Scouting departments are dispursing across the county to cover different regions. Many will be focused on mid-major prospects who didn’t have opportunities during the season to play against quality competition.
There are also plenty of prospects in the lottery or first-round range with something to prove, including Duke’s Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively, Arkansas’ Nick Smith Jr. and North Carolina State’s Terquavion Smith.
1. Detroit Pistons: Victor Wembanyama (Metropolitans 92, PF/C, 2004)
Winning the lottery could mean the Pistons open with a lineup featuring either Jalen Duren or James Wiseman with Wembanyama. The projected No. 1 pick should offer the ball-handling and shooting skill and overall mobility to play the 4 alongside one of Detroit’s young 5 men.
Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey could obviously benefit from Wembanyama, who’d give them a special pick-and-roll/pop weapon and extra spacing.
It’s difficult to evaluate Detroit’s rebuild right now with Cunningham lost of the season, but his return, plus Ivey, Wembanyama and Duren (and possibly Wiseman) forms a core with a promising mix of creation, athleticism, shot-making and defense. Filling gaps with more passing and shooting would become obvious priorities.
2. Houston Rockets: Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite, PG, 2004)
The Houston Rockets landing the second pick should improve Henderson’s chances of holding onto the No. 2 spot. Their need for a point guard could give him an extra edge, and despite a recent shooting slump, star potential fueled by explosiveness, creativity, shot-making and confidence remains highly persuasive.
He’s now shut down until the draft after averaging 7.5 assists over Ignite’s last eight games.
Overall, his shot-making strengths and weaknesses haven’t changed since last season, as Henderson continues to look comfortable in the mid-range and weaker from deep. His ability to create advantages with speed, burst and change of direction, set up teammates, soar above the rim and separate into jumpers remain extremely promising.
But the gap between Henderson and No. 3 has shrunk, as his three-point mark has dipped to 32.4%while the Thompsons twins and Brandon Miller show more signs of growth.
3. San Antonio Spurs: Brandon Miller (Alabama, SF, Freshman)
The winning, consistency and rapid evolution of Miller’s game have changed the conversation at the top of the draft.
While the relentless shot-making remains the draw to the 6’9″ freshman, he’s answered early-season questions by improving his finishing. And now he’s putting pressure on Henderson and the No. 2 spot with a recent surge of live-dribble passing, rebounding and defensive flashes.
In three SEC tournament games, he averaged 11.0 boards and 4.7 assists, leading Alabama to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Henderson lost nine of his last 12 games (38.4% FG in that span), and scouts still sound uncertain about how to gauge the Thompson brothers’ competition in Overtime.
Regardless of what happens over the next two weeks, interviews will be critical for Miller. But from purely a basketball scouting standpoint, he’s on the verge of building a strong top-three case.
4. Charlotte Hornets: Amen Thompson (Overtime Elite, PG/SG, 2003)
Thompson finished the Overtime season with a championship after averaging 17.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 9.2 assists through five playoff games. He made six threes and 24-of-31 free throws, and any signs of shot-making and touch could sway teams to talk themselves into his potential to improve from outside.
Still, it’s the playmaking that popped most and will continue to be the differentiator skill that fuels his value. There aren’t many 6’7″, NBA ball-handlers with Thompson’s athletic gifts and passing ability. NBA teams can bank on the transition offense, slashing/cutting and defensive quickness/court coverage translating as well.
5. Orlando Magic: Jarace Walker (Houston, PF, Freshman)
Jonathan Isaac’s inability to stay healthy could sway the Magic to look at Walker. His inconsistent scoring production won’t bother NBA teams. Most will want to buy the flashes, given the eye test on his three-ball, high-IQ assists and drives into touch shots, and how dangerous they could make a 6’8″, 240-pound 19-year-old in a few seasons.
While he still has a good chance to improve his stock with a deep NCAA Tournament run, scouts expect Walker to also help himself during predraft using workouts and interviews.
6. Indiana Pacers: Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite, SG/SF, 2003)
Overtime champion and MVP, Thompson put together his most convincing stretch of the year through five playoff games, looking comfortable creating while making 15 threes (38.5%). Runs like that last one, when he averaged 21.0 points, got to his spots off quick dribble moves and drilled jumpers with confidence, will help convince NBA teams to look past the bad misses and turnovers that signaled project throughout the season.
7. Washington Wizards: Cam Whitmore (Villanova, SF, Freshman)
Whitmore will skip the NIT tournament, though there isn’t much left for scouts to discover. His strengths and weaknesses remain well defined at this point. NBA teams can bank on his transition offense, spot-up driving, physical finishing and streaky shot-making. They’ll have to wait for any passing development and a consistent defensive motor.
8. Portland Trail Blazers: Gradey Dick (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
Locked into the late-lottery discussion, Dick could strengthen his case to teams in the No. 6-8 range with more impact shooting and play-finishing in the NCAA Tournament. The only real question asks about paths to upside because of creation limitations, but Dick still offers as promising off-ball scoring skills, tools and intangibles that teams can ask for.
9. Orlando Magic (via Bulls): Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
From a draft-stock standpoint, Smith has something to gain in the NCAA Tournament, with some scouts still unsure about his playmaking or shot selection/body for scoring efficiency. Regardless, he’ll remain in the No. 6-10 range on draft boards, thanks to 6’5″ size, shifty ball-handling for creation, high-level shot-making and the skill set to play either backcourt position.
10. Toronto Raptors: Taylor Hendricks (Central Florida, PF, Freshman)
Hendricks’ combination of 6’9″ size and athleticism, a 39.9 3-point percentage and 1.8 blocks per game creates a coveted package for NBA teams. Consistent throughout the season, he’s effectively sold himself as a safe, three-and-D forward, but also one who’s flashed more paths to upside with the occasional face-up drive, pull-up and touch shots around the key.
11. Utah Jazz: Anthony Black (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
While scouts have questions about Black’s self-creation skill and shooting for NBA scoring, they value the archetype of 6’7″ playmaker who can finish off the ball and defend both guard spots. More shot-making in the NCAA Tournament — and out-playing the athletic, 6’6″ senior Terrence Shannon Jr. in the Arkansas-Illinois game– could push him into top 10s around the league.
12. Los Angeles Lakers (via Pelicans): Keyonte George (Baylor, SG, Freshman)
The inconsistency has hurt George’s stock, mainly because it worries scouts about whether his shot selection and style are suited for efficient NBA scoring. Carrying an older Baylor team on a postseason run will help the freshman. Regardless, he’ll sell one lottery team on his self-creation, dangerous shot-making, shooting versatility and underrated passing flashes.
13. New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers): Cason Wallace (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
The lack of scoring will keep Wallace in the late-lottery tier, but there will be certain teams hoping he falls to them given the specific boxes he checks. The Pelicans would seem like an obvious suitor for his shooting, passing and defense.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kobe Bufkin (Michigan, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Despite Michigan missing the NCAA Tournament, Bufkin’s crafty scoring off creativity, shot-making and tough finishes has already made a strong impression on scouts. Throw in the high-IQ passes and quick hands on defense, and the 19-year-old sophomore has delivered an enticing pitch to first-round teams during his 2023 breakout. He’s a candidate to trend during the pre-draft process if he chooses to enter.
15. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Jett Howard (Michigan, SF, Freshman)
The limited playmaking numbers and suspect defense hurt Howard’s outlook, but there will still be plenty of interest in his shot-making and shooting versatility
16. Atlanta Hawks: Kris Murray (Iowa, PF, Junior)
Turning 23 years old in August, Murray will have to convince teams that his off-ball scoring will translate as seamlessly and quickly as Keegan’s did. The 6’8″ forward blossomed into a dangerous shot-maker this season with enough transition game, cutting, closeout driving and quick post moves to provide efficient play-finishing.
17. Utah Jazz (via Timberwolves): Kyle Filipowski (Duke, PF, Freshman)
Between the shooting flashes and Filipowski’s face-up effectiveness shaking defenders and finishing off the dribble, his mismatch scoring versatility at 7’0″ should have suitors in the draft’s top 20. Carrying his ACC tournament dominance into March Madness could push him closer toward the lottery range.
18. Golden State Warriors: Colby Jones (Xavier, PG/SG, Junior)
Jones’ playmaking has taken a backseat to his scoring lately, but scouts still value his versatility and defense over any one skill. Teams picture an easy fit and interchangable guard/wing they can use in pick-and-roll situations, off the ball and to guard multiple positions.
19. Houston Rockets (via Clippers): Rayan Rupert (New Zealand Breakers, SG/SF, 2004)
A lack of full-time minutes lately has made it difficult for Rupert to make one final push up NBA boards. But scouts are still well aware of his shot-making potential and outstanding defensive tools, a combination teams all value for a three-and-D wing role.
20. Miami Heat: Brice Sensabaugh (Ohio State, SG, Freshman)
A knee injury shut Sensabaugh down in the NCAA Tournament, and now NBA teams will wait to see whether it will limit him pre-draft. Assuming he does declare, he should have produced enough to warrant top-20 interest in his self-creation and three-level shot-making accuracy for a 6’6″, 235-pound wing.
21. Brooklyn Nets (via Suns): GG Jackson (South Carolina, PF, Freshman)
Jackson’s age (18) and highlight package of ball-handling and creation, three-point shooting and shot-making versatility hint at the type of scoring potential certain teams will be willing to wait on. The inefficiency, turnovers, lack of passing and limited defense also make Jackson vulnerable if mid-first-round teams want quicker results.
22. Portland Trail Blazers (via Knicks): Dariq Whitehead (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
While scouts remain uncertain about how to assess Whitehead’s season of injuries and inconsistent production, all it takes is one team to put more stock into his impressive high-school scoring evolution, this year’s 41.1 3-point percentage and the fact he’s still 18 years old.
23. Brooklyn Nets: Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana, PG/SG, Freshman)
Hood-Schifino entered the first-round discussion with scoring outbursts, translatable off-the-dribble shooting, acrobatic finishes and command in pick-and-roll situations. The athletic limitations, assist-to-turnover ratio and lack of three-point attempts are what could keep teams from reaching too high.
24. Sacramento Kings: Dereck Lively (Duke, C, Freshman)
After a slow start, Lively has won back support by showing improved reactions and processing in rim protection and easy-basket finishing situations. He’ll draw interest from non-lottery teams that could use center depth and defense.
25. Memphis Grizzlies: Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Despite questionable physical tools, athletic ability and Santa Clara’s schedule, Podziemski has scouts buying the production and efficiency with convincing creation, shot-making, touch and passes. The NIT isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but it’s still an opportunity for the sophomore to showcase his ability to carry an offense with his crafty off-the-dribble scoring and deep shooting range.
26. Indiana Pacers (via Cavaliers): Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana, PF/C, Senior)
Jackson-Davis’ effectiveness as a post scorer, passer, finisher and shot-blocker will help convince a first-round team to look past the questions about whether there’s any path to upside for a non-shooting, 6’9″ big.
27. Utah Jazz (via 76ers): Maxwell Lewis (Pepperdine, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Pepperdine’s 9-22 record and Lewis’ three-point regression have kept his stock from blowing up, but the sophomore should still have a first-round case around his 6’7″ size, improved creation, three-level shot-making and overall fluid, convincing delivery.
28. Charlotte Hornets (via Nuggets): Noah Clowney (Alabama, PF, Freshman)
Clowney has already positioned himself to draw first-round looks based on his age (18), shooting range, driving flashes and rebounding/defensive activity. He’ll have a good opportunity over the next two weeks to continue strengthening his stock with Alabama in position to make a Final Four run.
29. Indiana Pacers (via Celtics): Bilal Coulibaly (Metropolitans 92, SF, 2004)
Scouts watching Wembanyama in France have come away impressed by Coulibaly, who’s age (19), 6’6″ size, explosiveness for finishing, projectable shooting and defensive flashes create enough upside to entice a late-first-round team.
30. Los Angeles Clippers (via Bucks): Julian Strawther (Gonzaga, SF, Junior)
Strawther’s scoring production off dangerous shot-making and touch shots has led to first-round buzz. Despite his creation and defensive limitations, scouts have started to picture a plug-and-play shooter with one of the draft’s best floaters.
31. Detroit Pistons: Leonard Miller (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2004)
Averaging 23.0 points and 13.0 rebounds over Ignite’s last five games, Miller is trending upward, producing with more shot-making and motor plays for easy baskets. Teams will still have to buy into the bizarre shooting mechanics, but one figures to show patience, given his 6’10” size, age (19), face-up wing skills and energy.
32. Indiana Pacers (via Rockets): Jordan Hawkins (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
With limited size, creation and playmaking skill, Hawkins’ selling point revolves strictly around shot-making. The optics will ultimately look better for the sophomore if he’s able to shoot Connecticut to wins and an NCAA Tournament run.
33. San Antonio Spurs: James Nnaji (Barcelona, C, 2004)
Quiet lately overseas, Nnaji will draw late-first-round consideration for his outstanding physical profile, experience in Euroleague/Spanish ACB and the likelihood of his tools and athleticism translating to finishing and defense.
34. Charlotte Hornets: Ricky Council IV (Arkansas, SG/SF, Junior)
Council’s shooting and playmaking have fallen off, but scouts were mostly drawn to his 6’6″ size, ball-handling/burst for creation, explosion at the rim and touch inside the arc.
35. Orlando Magic: Terquavion Smith (North Carolina State, SG, Sophomore)
Smith didn’t make the improvements scouts wanted after his freshman year, but there will still be interest in his confident shot-making skill and range for an instant-offense role.
36. Sacramento Kings (via Pacers): Jalen Wilson (Kansas, SF/PF, Junior)
A deep run in the NCAA Tournament could give Wilson a chance to continue selling his three-level scoring potential with physical drives, contact finishes and enough shot-making to highlight this season’s shooting improvement.
37. Boston Celtics (via Blazers): Marcus Sasser (Houston, PG/SG, Senior)
Coaches and bracket-fillers are waiting to hear about updates on Sasser’s groin injury. Regardless of whether he’s able to carry Houston on a run, there is enough evidence of his pick-and-roll play and shooting versatility for teams to picture an NBA bench scorer.
38. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Wizards): Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite, SF/PF, 2004)
Cissoko has cooled off after five consecutive 20-point games from February to March. He doesn’t have one signature skill, but a team figures to value his versatility as a 6’8″, ball-handling wing who’s shooting is improving.
39. Washington Wizards (via Bulls): Kel’el Ware (Oregon, C, Freshman)
Ware will need a strong draft process to showcase his shooting and measurements/mobility and convince teams his lack of production and motor can be overlooked.
40. San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors): Jaime Jaquez (UCLA, SF/PF, Senior)
Any NCAA Tournament run for UCLA will go through Jaquez, who’s led the Bruins to a No. 2 seed and earned NBA fans with his versatile scoring, physicality and defensive toughness. He still needs to convince scouts that his shooting is improvable and his athletic limitations aren’t too restrictive.
41. Charlotte Hornets (via Jazz): Judah Mintz (Syracuse, PG/SG, Freshman)
Between Syracuse’s underwhelming season, Jim Boeheim’s retirement and JJ Starling transferring from Notre Dame, there is a lot for Mintz to consider before declaring. He’s most likely a second-round pick if he does come out, as he earned fans for his playmaking, mid-range scoring and defense, while skeptics question his three-ball and frame.
42. Denver Nuggets (via Thunder): Tristan Vukčević (KK Partizan, C, 2003)
Tristan Vukčević has received limited time in Euroleague, but it’s been mostly the 40.5% 3-point shooting, face-up flashes and efficiency in the Adriatic League that should lead to NBA interest if he keeps his name in the draft.
43. New Orleans Pelicans: Keyontae Johnson (Kansas State, SF, Senior)
Consistent three-point shooting has helped Johnson reappear on NBA radars and look interesting for his off-ball scoring skill set and previously-ackownedlged defensive tools.
44. Los Angeles Lakers: Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois, SG/SF, Senior)
Improved shot-making and more passing have helped Shannon re-gain NBA interest, though he still has more opportunities to keeping raising his stock, including in the Round of 64 against projected lottery pick and tough defender Anthony Black.
45. Portland Trail Blazers (via Hawks): Coleman Hawkins (Illinois, PF, Junior)
The inconsistency has made Hawkins’ shooting less convincing, but in the second round, teams will still find it’s worth betting on the potential combination of three-point range, passing skills and defensive versatility.
46. Charlotte Hornets (via Mavericks): Julian Phillips (Tennessee, SG/SF, Freshman)
Young prospects haven’t had much success maxing out their draft stocks at Tennessee, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Phillips leave early and build up his shot-making confidence and slashing reps in the G League.
47. Memphis Grizzlies (via Timberwolves): DaRon Holmes II (Dayton, C, Sophomore)
Coming off a 28-point, 16-rebound, five-block line in a season-ending loss to VCU, Holmes will presumably move on to the draft process and try to sell teams with measurements, athletic testing and improved skill during workouts.
48. Los Angeles Clippers: Amari Bailey (UCLA, SG/SF, Freshman)
Jaylen Clark’s injury has opened a door for Bailey to make one last pitch around his shot-making, live-dribble passing and athletic finishing. His arrow is pointing up after a few eye-opening offensive games with more freedom during the Pac-12 tournament.
49. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Warriors): Ąžuolas Tubelis (Arizona, PF/C, Junior)
Though there usually isn’t upside tied to Tubelis’ archetype, some team will buy the production and tools, mobility, motor and short-range skill he used to deliver on rim runs, finishes, rebounds and touch shots.
50. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Heat): Jaylen Clark (UCLA, SF, Senior)
Clark’s season-ending Achilles injury hurts UCLA, but it shouldn’t affect NBA teams’ evaluations on his outstanding defensive instincts or potential versatility with continued creation and shot-making development.
51. Phoenix Suns: Emoni Bates (Eastern Michigan, SF, Sophomore)
At some point, some team will have trouble resisting the urge to draft Bates, whose production and shot-making remain enticing, while his record (8-23), inefficiency, defense and intangibles have raised red flags.
52. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Knicks): Dillon Mitchell (Texas, PF, Freshman)
No signs of creation or shooting will limit Mitchell’s suitors, but in the second round, a team could buy his quickness, bounce and motor for easy baskets and defensive playmaking.
53. Brooklyn Nets: Mouhammed Gueye (Washington State, PF, Sophomore)
Gueye’s year will end in the NIT tournament after a season showing enough face-up scoring and mid-range flashes to warrant an NBA combine invitation.
54. Sacramento Kings: Baylor Scheierman (Creighton, SG/SF, Senior)
With scouts on the fence about how well Scheierman’s shot-making versatility and passing will translate, an effective showing against North Carolina State’s athleticism could push him into more top 60s.
55. Memphis Grizzlies: Drew Peterson (USC, SF, Senior)
At 6’9″, Peterson’s creation flashes, playmaking and shooting improvement have become interesting enough to ignore age (23) with a late second-round pick.
56. Indiana Pacers (via Cavaliers): Zach Edey (Purdue, C, Junior)
Teams understand Edey’s limitations at the NBA level, but one might believe he possesses enough grace and skill to add value as an insider scorer, putback threat and shot-blocker.
57. Philadelphia 76ers: Forfeited
58. Chicago Bulls (via Nuggets): Forfeited
59. Washington Wizards (via Celtics): Jalen Pickett (Penn State, PG, Senior)
A 23-year-old limited athlete, Pickett could earn more believers by giving Texas A&M trouble with his shot-making skill and passing.
60. Milwaukee Bucks: Ben Sheppard (Belmont, SG/SF, Senior)
A 6-foot-6, 40.6% 3-point shooter, off-ball weapon and pick-and-roll threat, Sheppard is a likely Portsmouth Invitational attendee who’ll have the chance to rise up boards competing against other second-round prospects during the predraft process.
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Jonathan Wasserman is the lead scout and NBA Draft analyst for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter.
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