2023 NBA Draft Big Board: Way-Too-Soon Look at Top Players

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 9, 2022

2023 NBA Draft Big Board: Way-Too-Soon Look at Top Players

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    With the McDonald's All-American Game (March 29) and Nike Hoop Summit (April 8) coming up, it's worth looking ahead to the 2023 NBA draft.

    We're also getting closer to current NCAA players making key decisions about entering the draft. And over the course of the season, a handful young players who aren't ready to go pro have flashed glimpses of pro potential.

    We went through the names you'll need to know once the 2022 class is drafted.

Early 2023 No. 1 Overall Candidate Predictions

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    1. Victor Wembanyama (France/ASVEL, PF/C, 2004)

    The 2023 draft has been starred for years in anticipation of Wembanyama's NBA eligibility. Viewed by international scouts as the top prospect outside the U.S. since 16 years old, the 7'2" French big is now playing in Euroleague and the Jeep Elite (France's top division) after averaging 14.0 points and 4.7 blocks in just 22.5 minutes at last summer's U19 World Cup.

    Wembanyama went for 22 points, eight boards and eight blocks in the finals against 2022 potential No. 1 pick Chet Holmgren. He's struggled from the floor this season as a member of ASVEL, playing up against some of the top competition outside the NBA. But Wembanyama possesses an unheard of combination of 7'9" wingspan, mobility and perimeter skill, including speciality shot-making around the post and three-point range.

    2. Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite, PG, 2004)

    Henderson quickly became Ignite's biggest draw, despite scouts visiting mainly for 2022-eligible prospects Jaden Hardy, Dyson Daniels and MarJon Beauchamp. Explosiveness, speed and strength immediately pop when watching the 18-year-old point guard who's put up 14.2 points and 4.2 assists per game against G League opponents.

    Flashes of speed and athleticism create visions of a Ja Morant- or De'Aaron Fox-type ball-handler. But Henderson has a signature mid-range scoring package with the pull-up to complement his blow-by burst and crafty finishing at the rim. With passing skill/IQ, strong defensive tools and touch to work with (76.9 percent FT) for his long-range shooting development (10-of-47), Henderson offers enough three-level scoring, passing and two-way potential to generate No. 1 buzz heading into 2023.

    3. Dariq Whitehead (Montverde Academy, SG, Duke commit)

    Once a role player alongside Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and Moses Moody, Whitehead has transformed into a No. 1 option for Montverde. An impressive athlete at 6'6", he's added more self-creation and shot-making skill for half-court scoring to average 16.8 points in the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. 

    Improving his shooting consistency remains a priority. In the meantime, he's still a threat to impact games with his transition offense and downhill slashing, passing and outstanding defensive tools. If he can stay away from too many hero jumpers and make an encouraging amount of threes at Duke, Whitehead will generate a ton of interest as a two-way, three-level scoring wing.

Potential Lottery Newcomers

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    1. Nick Smith (North Little Rock, SG, Arkansas commit)

    During a breakout summer and senior year, Smith showcased the most complete skill package among 2023 draft-eligible guards. Advanced self-creation, shooting versatility, floater touch and passing could help the 6'4" combo produce big numbers at Arkansas and fuel top-three projections. Limiting the forced shots and decisions will be key for Smith, whose positional tools, scoring confidence and playmaking flashes scream NBA.

    2. Keyonte George (IMG, SG, Baylor commit)

    Baylor could be losing multiple wings/forwards if freshmen Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan join Matthew Mayer in the draft. That would open up a major opportunity for George, a strong, athletic slasher who defenders have trouble containing or stopping at the rim. He's shown he can carry a team through stretches of a game with his aggressiveness attacking downhill and shot-making confidence.

    3. Kyle Filipowski (Wilbraham & Monson, PF/C, Duke commit)

    A 6'11" big with enough ball-handling, shooting and passing skill to play the 4, Filipowski will fill in for projected top-three pick Paolo Banchero. Scouts will be drawn to his ability to grab-and-go, stretch the floor, attack from the arc and dish over the top, though he'll still produce plenty around the basket with his strength to finish through contact and rebound.

    4. Dereck Lively (Westtown, C, Duke commit)

    Assuming Mark Williams heads for the draft, Lively will immediately replace his easy baskets and rim protection at Duke. At 7'1", he's a giant presence around the basket for lobs, finishing, offensive rebounding and shot-blocking. But he'll distinguish himself from Duke's current center with more shooting range and controlled post shots.

    5. Jarace Walker (IMG, PF, Houston commit)

    Walker immediately stands out for his chiseled 6'6", 220-pound frame. In nine NIBC games, he finished first in field-goal percentage and second in blocks, but it's flashes of face-up moves, improving touch and passing that elevate Walker into a lottery pick. He's added considerable skill to go with his power over the past year.

    6. Cason Wallace (Richardson, PG/SG, Kentucky commit)

    With TyTy Washington Jr. expected to go pro, Kentucky gets to re-up with another scoring guard in Wallace. Coming off an outstanding season for Richardson, the 6'4" combo puts pressure on opponents with his dribble creativity and defensive motor. He's not super impressive physically or athletically, but he manages to compensate with crafty paint finishes and confident shot-making.

    7. Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite, SG/SF, 2003)

    Positional 6'7" size, shot-making flashes, off-ball athletic plays and defensive playmaking have helped Thompson look like Overtime's top prospect. He has a funky release on his jumper, and it's tough to call him a shooter at 27.3 percent from three. But he's promising enough from outside for a two-way scoring wing with his physical profile.

    8. Amari Bailey (Sierra Canyon, SG, UCLA commit)

    Currently leading Sierra Canyon in the state championships, Bailey has stood out over the years for his strong physical profile and athleticism, scoring instincts, playmaking versatility and feel for the game. It seems to come so easy that he may have a tendency to be casual with his handle. And he still has room to improve his shooting. Bailey could be walking into a high-usage role at UCLA if Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. leave for the draft. 

    9. Dillon Mitchell (Montverde, PF, Texas commit)

    Though not as skilled as the other projected one-and-done forwards, Mitchell consistently finds ways to make plays with his mix of bounce, quickness and motor. Showing he can hit open threes would be huge for his draft stock. Regardless, scouts may still have a tough time resisting the way he earns easy baskets, defends wings or bigs, blocks shots, crashes the glass and impacts games without needing plays run for him. 

    10. Amen Thompson (Overtime Elite, SG/SF, 2003)

    Thompson's identity revolves around explosiveness, playmaking and defensive versatility. His shooting and touch are worrisome, as he's only shot 8-of-41 from three and 47.1 percent from the line with Team OTE. From an NBA perspective, there is still enough to like about his ball-handling, passing, athleticism and defensive projection for a 6'7" guard or wing.

Other Potential One-and-Dones

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    1. Yohan Traore (Dream City Christian, PF, LSU commit)

    Traore's perimeter-skill development has been noteworthy from an NBA scouting standpoint. He's evolved into a 6'10" power forward with comfortable three-point range and the ability to attack bigs off the dribble. Traore could be in good position to produce next year, assuming Tari Eason leaves LSU for the 2022 draft.

    2. Anthony Black (Duncanville SG/SF, Undecided)

    Black intrigues with ball-handling and passing skills for a 6'6" wing, plus a crafty finishing package in the paint. How far away he looks as a shooter and decision-maker could determine whether he'll enter the one-and-done discussion. 

    3. Brandon Miller (Cane Ridge, SF, Alabama commit)

    Miller, 19, will be old for a freshman, but with 6'8" size and explosive athleticism for finishing and defending, he'll crack the NBA radar by flashing enough scoring and shot-making touch.

    4. Chris Livingston (Oak Hill, SG/SF, Kentucky commit)

    And athletic, interchangeable wing, Livingston possesses a solid 6'6" frame for attacking and defending. He'll make standstill threes at Kentucky, though he's best when he's not forcing jumpers and instead using his tools and force attacking and finishing.

    5. Gradey Dick (Sunrise Christian, SG/SF, Kansas commit)

    The NIBC leader in scoring and three-pointers made, Dick should be an impact freshman at Kansas with 6'7" size, reliable shooting touch, shot-making versatility and IQ. Even if he shows limited creation or scoring at the rim, NBA teams could see the right off-ball skill set and intangibles for a role player.

    6. JJ Starling (La Lumiere, SG, Notre Dame commit)

    Starling combines exciting open-floor athleticism and the shot-making versatility to drill jumpers in a variety of ways. He could wind up replacing Blake Wesley in the lineup, with the freshman projected to draw 2022 first-round interest.

    7. Adem Bona (Prolific Prep, C, UCLA commit)

    Bona should be a highlight machine at UCLA, just by tapping into his active mix of size, length, athleticism and motor. Offense won't run through him, but he'll fill the role of energizer and play-finisher, a job he likely has the physical tools, mobility and mentality to play at the highest level.

    8. Jordan Walsh (Link Academy, SF, Arkansas commit)

    Walsh regularly stands out for his defense as a 6'7" forward who can get low and slide with guards. Offensively, he possesses a three-level scoring skill set, though he'll need to show improvement as a three-point shooter to make up for his lack of explosion.

On the 2022 Draft Fence

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    Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)

    History says prospects who are projected top 10 don't return to school. But coach John Calipari has at least hinted about the idea of Sharpe coming back to lead the Wildcats. We'd project him in the mid-lottery range for 2023 if he did choose to play next year at Kentucky. A 6'6" guard/wing, Sharpe possesses the type of athletic bounce, self-creation and shot-making suited for NBA scoring.   

    Max Christie (Michigan State, SG/SF, Freshman)

    Christie will have a tough call after the season with scouts unsure what to think about his 30.6 three-point percentage and frustrating inconsistency. The eye test says he's a better shooter than the numbers suggest. And between his 6'6" size and fundamentally sound shot prep and shot-making, it's not hard to see a pro. Christie will just have a better chance at maximizing his draft stock in 2022-23, assuming his offense is more reliable as a sophomore.

    Harrison Ingram (Stanford, SG/SF, Freshman)

    Though Ingram looked like a one-and-done prospect earlier in the year, he hit a wall over the past month, and scouts still need more convincing. At 6'8", 230 pounds, he offers a unique mix of size, strength, shooting potential and passing IQ. Raising his three-point percentage (30.6) will be important for scouts to get past his lack of explosion.

    Terquavion Smith (North Carolina State, SG, Freshman)

    Smith may be trending toward the 2022 draft after his latest play, with the 6'4" freshman averaging 23.8 points over his last five games. Though only 160 pounds, his athletic ability and shooting confidence are starting to look enticing for an instant-offense microwave role. 

    Jalen Williams (Santa Clara, PG/SG, Junior)

    A breakout junior year led to scouts visiting Williams, who averaged 18.0 points and 4.2 assists on 51.8 percent shooting and 40.6 percent from three. At 6'6", he possesses the tools and skill versatility to play either guard spot in the pros after grading in the 87th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and 96th percentile out of spot-ups, per Synergy Sports. He may have a better chance at going first round in 2023, though it could also be tough to top the season he just had in terms of efficiency.

More Potential Breakout Returners

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    Note: Potential breakout returners only includes players who were not included in our latest mock draft.

    Emoni Bates (Memphis, SG/SF, Freshman)

    Bates' image took a hit this year, with questions arising over his athleticism around the basket and decision-making. It wouldn't be shocking if he wound up leaving Memphis after such an inefficient year (38.6 percent FG, 42 turnovers, 23 assists) and Jalen Duren's (presumed) final one in school. However, we'd likely be pointing out the 18-year-old's positives more than the negatives if he didn't arrive with so much hype. Bates has still showcased high-level shot-making for a 6'9" wing. Scouts will be focused on how much he strengthens his frame and cuts down on low-percentage shots and passes.    

    John Butler (Florida State, PF, Freshman)

    The appeal to Butler and his NBA fit was on full display last Wednesday against Notre Dame, when the 7'1" freshman totaled four three-point makes and four blocks. He needs to work on his body, but at his size, he possesses unusual shooting and movement fluidity. 

    Matthew Cleveland (Florida State, SF, Freshman)

    Looking more comfortable the second half of the season, Cleveland still needs to show he can make an open three. But he is a prospect worth monitoring for his scoring instincts and defensive tools as a 6'7' wing.

    Alex Fudge (LSU, SF/PF, Freshman)

    Fudge doesn't offer enough creation or shooting to draw 2022 draft looks. But he's so athletic and quick defensively that he won't need to be a dangerous scoring threat to eventually earn NBA interest.

    Jordan Hawkins (Connecticut, SG, Freshman)

    Hawkins would need to make a major sophomore jump to draw 2023 NBA interest, but the flash plays of athletic finishes and shot-making still point to enticing long-term potential. 

    Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State, PG, Freshman)

    Averaging 5.0 assists as a freshman, Hunter brings speed and playmaking to Iowa State's offense. Returning a more threatening pull-up shooter could help scouts picture a lead ball-handling spark.

    Josh Minott (Memphis, SF/PF, Freshman)

    At 6'8", Minott has stood out with his transition and off-ball scoring and defensive instincts. Scouts will want to see him make a jump as a three-point shooter next year, but he's developed a knack for making athletic and instinct plays at both ends.

    Aminu Mohammed (Georgetown, SG/SF, Freshman)

    Though Mohammed's shooting remains a question mark, NBA teams may like his defensive tools and toughness, as well as his physical two-point scoring.

    Ryan Rollins (Toledo, SG, Sophomore)

    Improved shooting and fewer defensive lapses could help Rollins generate legitimate NBA interest. He's a smooth, 6'4" shot-creator and scorer (19.2 points) with playmaking potential (3.7 assists) and enough shot-making range (1.4 3PT) and touch (80.7 percent FT) to buy his three-point development. 

    Dalen Terry (Arizona, PG, Sophomore)

    Adding a jumper would be huge for Terry's potential to play in the NBA, given the versatility and intangibles he offers as a 6'7" Swiss Army knife. Box scores don't reflect his impact for the Wildcats, a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

    Peyton Watson (UCLA, SF, Freshman)

    Limited offensively in a veteran lineup with forwards Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr., Watson hasn't had a chance to build any confidence. With more minutes in 2022-23, there will be breakout expectations for the 6'8" wing whose positional/defensive tools, face-up flashes and passing remain interesting.