We have made the transition from college basketball season to NBA Draft season and with that comes the first of (hopefully) many draft articles by yours truly. I wanted to start out by releasing my lottery rankings with somewhat brief scouting reports on each player and some highlights to contextualize them and some stabs at player comps.
Hopefully, if you're already familiar with these prospects I can offer some kind of insight you haven't already seen and if you're not hopefully this can serve as a primer of sorts as we get closer to the draft.
Also, shoutout to Dennis Janßen (@ _Gatheringintel) who compiled a bunch of advanced shooting statistics into a chart which I utilized heavily in this article!
Tier 1 - Potential Generational Superstar
1. Victor Wembenyama | Center | 19 | 7'4 | 220 | Metropolitans 92
Wembenyama will have lofty expectations coming into the league considering the hype surrounding him. The general consensus from NBA scouts is that Wembanyama is easily the best prospect since LeBron James and some think he would be taken ahead of the 18-year-old version of King James that entered the NBA in 2003. Certainly high praise for the young Frenchman.
Wemby has a combination of size and skill that makes him quite literally a unicorn in the basketball world. His 7'4 frame and 8'0 wingspan give him the potential to be a game-changer on the defensive end as both a rim protector and someone who should be a menace in passing lanes.
What truly has people raving over Victor though, is his offensive potential.
Never before has the NBA seen a 7'4 player that has his fluidity with the ball on the floor and who can score at all three levels.
While his three-point shot isn't quite a reliable threat yet (30.1 % this season) the improvement he's shown over the past couple of years coupled with his free throw shooting improvement (83.5% this season) is a good indicator that he has the potential to be an average shooter from deep at the very least.
Although Wembenyama has contributed at a high level in the Jeep Elite League this season (21.4 ppg, 9.9 rebs, 3.1 blk) it wouldn't surprise me if the transition to NBA Basketball is a little bit slower than most people would think given his lofty expectations. Wembenyama is still very slight and growing into his frame, so while he should be a contributor from day one it may take a year or two for his potential as a franchise-changing player to emerge but when/if it does he could be the most unguardable player in the NBA.
NBA: Modern Day Hakeem Olajuwon
Tier 2 - Potential Borderline Superstar/Perennial All-Star
2. Scoot Henderson | Guard | 19 | 6'2 | 195 | G-League Ignite
Henderson is an explosive guard who can use his creative bag of finishes to go over/under/around defenders but has a strong enough frame to finish through contact on a consistent basis.
His first step is as explosive as you'll see but he also understands pacing well and uses his ability to start/stop on a dime to get his defender off balance and create space both getting to the rim and for his dribble pull-up.
Despite looking lost at times on the defensive end in the G-League because of his experience, or lack thereof, Henderson projects as a plus to an elite defender due to his elite combination of length and athleticism which should wreak havoc in the passing lanes. With a 6'9 wingspan and broad shoulders to match, Henderson's frame gives him the versatility to potentially guard 1-3 at a high level.
When it comes to his outside shooting, the raw three-point numbers (34.8%) aren't super impressive but aren't really a concern either. When you dig a little deeper into his shooting numbers though you can see that his main flaw as a shooter is which shots he's choosing to take. He shot 15-48 (31.2%) on three-point attempts off the dribble whereas he shot 9-21 (42.8%) on his catch and shoot three-point attempts. Despite the small sample size, his catch-and-shoot numbers indicate he's a guy who could significantly improve his percentage from deep if he cleans up his shot selection.
NBA Comp: Derrick Rose/John Wall but a better shooter
3. Brandon Miller | Wing | 20 | 6'9 | 200 | Alabama
Miller was unquestionably the breakout star of the college hoops season and should be the first player selected out of the NCAA ranks. He doesn't possess flashy athleticism but is deceptively quick with the ball in his hands and manages to glide past defenders with unexpected ease. He is going to be a matchup problem for most forwards because of his ability to create off the bounce and his size and shooting ability make him nearly impossible for guards to handle.
The biggest strength in Miller's game is his ability to shoot the ball from deep in every way imaginable. Miller can pull up off the dribble, come off screens, and spot up with pretty much equal lethality and has shown no issue stepping out to NBA range.
This brings us to the one concern in Miller's game: his ability to finish at the rim. Miller's overall shooting percentage on shots at the rim was 53.3% which in and of itself isn't concerning. However, when you take out fastbreak dunks and layups and strictly look at his numbers at the rim in the halfcourt, his fg% drops to 39.3%. Miller did show improvement in that area over the course of the season and I would expect those numbers to continue to get better as he adds more muscle to his frame.
NBA Comp: Diet Jayson Tatum
Tier 3 - Potential All-Star
4. Jarace Walker | Forward | 20 | 6'8 | 235 | Houston
Jarace Walker could've been built in a laboratory for the modern NBA. A lot of people throw around the accolade that a guy can "guard 1-5" but Walker is the real deal in that regard AND most importantly, he can guard all five positions WELL. His lateral quickness and length give him the ability to close space quickly enough to bother guards and he is strong enough to bang with the big boys down in the paint.
On the offensive end, Walker's shot is still a work in progress but I like his mechanics and he's flashed enough to at least force the defense to respect his ability from deep both off the catch and the dribble. His ability to attack closeouts and score with impressive touch in close/mid-range adds to his surprisingly diverse scoring game.
One of the more impressive aspects of Jarace's game is his connective ability. While he doesn't ever project as a primary ball-handler, he has no problem creating for himself and others off the dribble and shows good passing anticipation from the post. At the very least his playmaking ability should fit well alongside a more ball-dominant star.
NBA Comp: Julius Randle but an elite defender
5. Cam Whitmore | Wing | 18 | 6'7 | 232 | Villanova
Cam Whitmore is one of the most physically imposing players in this draft class and has a combination of strength and quickness on the wing that is matched by maybe only Anthony Edwards in recent memory.
Whitmore uses his explosive first step to blow by all but the most elite wing defenders with ease. He powers through contact at the rim pretty easily as evidenced by his converting on 57.8% of his layup attempts in the half-court.
That explosiveness coupled with the reliability of his step-back jumper gives him a signature move he can rely on that translates easily to the next level.
Most of Whitmore's three-point attempts came off the dribble this past season (58.7%) but he shot well in catch-and-shoot situations, albeit in a small sample size (18-45, 40%), from deep.
On the defensive end, given his physical tools, you would expect to see more out of Whitmore. He is by no means a bad defender and can hold his own on-ball but doesn't show particularly good anticipation in the passing lanes and seems to struggle in knowing where to be in terms of team defensive concepts but that is something that typically improves with age and isn't a huge concern at this point.
NBA Comp: Great Value Anthony Edwards/Jaylen Brown Hybrid
6. Amen Thompson | Guard | 20 | 6'7 | 200 | Overtime Elite
Amen is, in my opinion, by far the most polarizing prospect in this class. The term "elite" gets used far too often when it comes to athleticism but in the case of Amen, he is truly in the 99th percentile. His burst is as good as anyone I've ever personally scouted and he possesses the ability to rise and then seemingly hang in the air that only the legitimately upper-echelon athletes have.
Despite his outside shot being a complete non-factor at this point (which I will double back on later) Thompson's quickness and surprising craftiness for a player his age still allows him to get into the paint basically at will where he uses an assortment of acrobatic finishes to score at a decent clip (50% on halfcourt layup attempts).
Those elite physical tools translate to the defensive end, where Thompson successfully uses his length and quick hands to be an extremely pesky on-ball defender.
As previously mentioned with Whitmore (and basically every young player ever), Thompson can get a little bit lost in terms of playing team defense and tends to try to snake around screens instead of fighting through contact like you would want. Overall he shows pretty good instincts when reading the passing lanes. However, he can occasionally get caught taking a gamble with an eye towards getting out into transition where his ability to finish makes him absolutely deadly.
The only thing holding Thompson back from being in the Potential Perennial All-Star tier is the aforementioned jump shot which is absolutely broken as things stand. First of all, it doesn't take an expert on shooting mechanics (I'm not one) to see that Thompson's are a total mess. There is no consistency from a footwork or release standpoint which gives him a lot of problems, particularly in catch-and-shoot situations. If Thompson can get his jumper to the point that it is even serviceable at the NBA level he could be a superstar but that is a huge IF at this point.
Because of his limitations as a shooter currently, it is going to take a situation where a team is willing to build around Amen and his skillset for him to be successful.
NBA Comp: Best Case - Peak Russell Westbrook, Worst Case - 6'7 Ben Simmons
7. Brice Sensabaugh | Guard/Wing | 20 | 6'6 | 235 | Ohio State
Simply put, Sensabaugh is a bucket. Brandon Miller may be the best pure shooter in the draft but Sensabaugh isn't far behind. His contested shot-making ability is something that can't be taught and probably gives him an edge over Miller when it comes to being the most polished scorer in the 2023 class in my opinion.
Sensabaugh is both a threat to create for himself and can find ways to score without the ball as evidenced by his impressive 44.4 shooting percentage on catch-and-shoot threes. Because he is such a threat in catch-and-shoot situations Sensabaugh is able to take advantage of defenders closing out hard and get passed them with ease to get to the rim.
Sensabaugh shot an absurd 52.6% on dribble jumpers from mid-range (for context Brandon Miller shot 29.1% albeit on 1/4 of the attempts). Despite not being great off the dribble from three-point range (25.8% on 31 attempts) Sensabaugh flashed the ability and his lack of attempts points to a certain maturity with his shot selection. If everything comes together for him it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Sensabaugh win a scoring title at some point in his career.
The knock on Sensabaugh at this point is that he doesn't contribute in many ways other than scoring the ball and that scoring ability clearly didn't translate to success at Ohio State. This begs the question, can Sensabaugh contribute to a winning brand of basketball?
His catch-and-shoot ability suggests that even in a non-featured role Sensabaugh would thrive offensively in a supporting role and he has the frame to be an at least serviceable point-of-attack defender so I think the answer is yes but it's certainly a valid criticism given what we've seen so far.
NBA Comp: 1999-2002 Jerry Stackhouse
** 8. GG Jackson | Wing/Forward | 18 | 6'9 | 210 | South Carolina
GG Jackson is the youngest player in the 2023 class and would likely be the favorite to be the #1 pick in the 2024 draft had he not skipped his senior year of high school and reclassified before the season. His combination of a 6'9 frame with a guard-like skill set is highly sought after in the current age of positionless basketball.
There were major concerns throughout the season over Jackson's attitude, selfishness, and lack of effort and Jackson often looked disinterested in doing anything other than playing iso-ball in his lone college season. Part of me wonders, however, how much of that was a function of his character and how much was a function of the lack of structure and talent surrounding him but the flashes of talent he showed were just so alluring it's hard to overlook.
Jackson is the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect and could make or break the career of whatever GM chooses to take a chance on him but on the upside alone, he belongs in this tier.
NBA Comp: Best Case Pascal Siakam, Worst Case Anthony Bennett.
**Note: GG Jackson was 11th on my most recent Big Board. After further consideration and when taking into account his upside, I felt like he belonged in the 3rd tier and opted to move him up in my rankings to represent that.
Tier 4 - Potential High End Starters
9. Taylor Hendricks | Wing/Forward | 19 | 6'9 | 210 | UCF
The general consensus in the draft community is that Hendricks should be ranked ahead of Jackson and that is a completely fair conclusion given their respective Freshman seasons. And while I would agree with those people that Hendricks is a much safer pick, I just don't see his upside as anything more than a very effective/solid starter.
At 6'9 and with room still, to grow into his frame I do think he will have quite a bit of positional versatility in the NBA on the defensive end. I don't think he's a true 1-5 defender but he has quick enough feet to briefly switch on to guards and can protect the rim both at the point of attack and coming from the weak side.
Hendricks projects as the proto-typical "three and D" forward and showed flashes of being able to shoot off the catch as well as the dribble.
Hendricks can create for himself off of the dribble, however, his struggles to finish at the rim (40.1% on halfcourt layups) and lack of feel as a passer leave me skeptical about his upside as a primary or even secondary scoring option. His combination of athleticism and shooting ability would still make him a huge asset for a team with its core stars in place.
NBA Comp: OG Anunoby
10. Ausar Thompson | Guard/Wing | 20 | 6'7 | 205 | Overtime Elite
Ausar's game is very similar to his twin brother's in a lot of ways. They both rely on their high-level athleticism and transition ability to overwhelm less physically gifted opponents although Ausar isn't quite the athlete that Amen is and doesn't possess the same other-worldly burst or elite ability to change pace(few do) his ability to blow by guys when he gets going downhill or in transition is still a site to behold.
Because he can't rely on his athleticism 100% of the time the way his brother can, he has developed a good understanding of pacing and uses more of that herky-jerky driving style we've become accustomed to seeing from guys like SGA.
His jump shot, while a little further along than Amen's, still can't be accurately described as reliable, though his catch-and-shoot numbers from three-point range (31.3%) indicate there is probably a little bit more upside in that regard. His mid-range dribble pull-up isn't quite as consistent as you'd like to see but is at least a threat at this point (35.7%).
On the defensive end, Ausar's feel is better than his brother's and you see this translate the most in his overall team defensive ability. While he shares many of the same tendencies to gamble (that is to be expected given his athleticism) that Amen has, Ausar is a better help defender and doesn't find himself caught out of position as often as Amen. His length and quickness both lend themselves to being a solid on-ball defender and as he gets stronger he should have no problem guarding 1-3.
While I don't think Ausar has quite as high of a ceiling as his twin I think his floor is higher when you consider his skillset how and how much easier it will be to find a context where he fits. While I can see him as a primary playmaker under the right circumstances, I think his most likely role will turn out to be as a connective wing/defensive stopper.
NBA Comp: Andre Iguodala/Andrew Wiggins
11. Cason Wallace | Guard | 19 | 6'4 | 195 | Kentucky
Wallace may have the highest floor of any player in this draft due to his ferocious play on both ends of the floor.
My good friend, and new colleague here at House Enterprise, Trevor Everette refers to his defensive upside as "Jrue Holiday like" which is about as high of praise as it gets if you're a guard. Wallace's hard play and nose for the ball led to 2.0 steals per game this past season at Kentucky and even if none of his offensive skills translate to the NBA level that alone will give him a path to finding minutes in the league. At 6'4, 193 lbs with a 6'6 wingspan he will be a nightmare for smaller guards and is big enough to guard either guard spot comfortably.
On the offensive end, Wallace is an old-school, bulldog-style of point guard who finishes at the rim with ease (56.1% on halfcourt layup attempts) going to both his right and left but shows surprisingly impressive touch in both the mid-range (44.8 % on mid-range dribble pull-ups) and from deep (34.6% overall from three, 40.0% on catch and shoot threes) as well.
At worst, Wallace projects as the first guard off the bench and the type of high-energy defender that is sought after by contending teams, and at best he could be a pretty consistent 12-18 point scorer and the primary playmaker for a team that is built around a straight-line wing scorer (Miami Heat).
NBA Comp: Kyle Lowry/Marcus Smart hybrid
12. Keyonte George | Guard | 19 | 6'5 | 170 | Baylor
George has taken a bit of a tumble down some draft boards (including my own) after a tough finish to the season that saw his scoring efficiency drop-off sharply over the final month and a half. Part of that is possibly attributed to the ankle injury he suffered on 02/25 against Texas (shot just 9-39 in the following 4 games) but quite honestly his struggles started slightly before the injury.
Players with George's craftiness and knack for putting the ball in the bucket almost always find a way to stick in the league and Keyonte should be no different.
George shot a respectable 33.8% overall on three-point attempts, a number that somewhat shockingly, was brought down by his 32.5% shooting in catch-and-shoot three-point situations. George was significantly better on open catch and shoot attempts (18-39, 46.2%) than on guarded ones (23-87, 26.4%) which is to be expected but the difference in the number of attempts in those situations tells me George's shot selection is playing a big factor in the drop-off in shooting percentage. I do really like his ability to pull-up off the dribble and knock down threes at a consistent rate (35.4%).
George has some upside as a playmaker (example below) but too often looks to make the spectacular pass instead of the correct one which lead to an atrocious assist-to-turnover ratio this past season (91 assists, 95 turnovers).
At 6'5, 170 lbs, George finds himself as kind of a tweener guard in the modern NBA who doesn't possess the high-end playmaking to be a lead guard and could end up being a target on the defensive end.
NBA Comp: Eric Gordon (shoutout to Michael Scotto at hoopshype.com who was given this spot on comp by an anonymous NBA executive back in January)
13. Rayan Rupert | Wing | 19 | 6'7 | 185 | New Zealand Breakers
Rupert, one of my favorite prospects in this draft, impressed me a ton this season with his defensive upside. As I've referred to multiple times throughout this article, it's pretty common to see guys in the draft-eligible age range (18-22 mostly) that don't have a great understanding of team defense or how to defend off the ball. Rupert on other hand is not only advanced for his age in this regard but is just straight-up impressive in general. With a 6'7, 185-pound frame and a 7'3 wingspan, Rupert projects as the type of versatile wing defender with switchability that NBA executives dream about.
While he wasn't really relied on or given many opportunities offensively (the nature of playing for a contending team as a prospect) Rupert made enough of an impact on the defensive end to find his way onto the floor in the playoffs for the Breakers.
Offensively Rupert hasn't had the chance to show much in the half-court as previously mentioned but uses his athleticism well to score effectively in transition.
Despite his low three-point percentage (23.4%), between his mechanics, which I actually think look pretty solid as is, and his free throw percentage (70%) being around average, I have a good amount of optimism that his shot will continue to improve.
NBA Comp: Nic Batum
14. Jett Howard | Wing | 19 | 6'8 | 215 | Michigan
Howard is as smooth of a scorer, particularly from the mid-range, as I've seen in this draft class. His contested shot-making ability is second to probably only Sensabaugh and serves him well as he isn't elite in terms of athleticism.
Howard can and does shoot off of every platform imaginable and is just as dangerous off the dribble from deep as he is coming off of screens and spotting up.
However, there are very similar questions surrounding Howard's game as Brice Sensabaugh who I previously discussed when it comes to affecting the game in areas other than scoring. Howard shows very little interest in rebounding (2.6 per game). Although there are flashes of playmaking ability his 2 assists a game would seem to indicate there isn't much of an interest in creating for his teammates.
NBA Comp: Poor man's Carmelo Anthony