BROOKLYN — The 2023 NBA Draft supplied hope, promise, tears, a few trades and a dozen or so sharp-dressed men, but suspense? There was none of that Thursday, at least at the very start.
This was always going to be the Victor Wembanyama Draft, much as 2003 was the LeBron James Draft, 1992 the Shaquille O’Neal Draft, and so on. In other words, a generational Draft, with a first overall selection being a simple and automatic decision. Therefore: Wembanyama to the Spurs, and yet another era of projected greatness, following previous No. 1 picks David Robinson and Tim Duncan, officially begins in San Antonio.
The second and third selections were always projected to be Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson in some order, which was the case. After twins Amen and Ausar Thompson made history with the next two selections, the real fun and suspense began.
The Wizards, the most active team in the trade market — and that’s just over a few days — made another swap. Five of the top seven selections didn’t play college basketball. Two guys named Kobe were taken in the first round (Bufkin, Brown).
Oh, and the most fitting outfit was the sequined red jacket worn by Gradey Dick. He’s from Kansas, played at Kansas, so he wore it to honor the magical slippers worn by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” … who, of course, was also from Kansas. And just by coincidence, he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, who aren’t based in Kansas but do wear red.
Draft day drip 💧 pic.twitter.com/s2c6HLZNbZ
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 23, 2023
Another NBA Draft came and went and the summary of the night was spoken by the player with the highest Draft position and expectations.
“I waited so long for this day,” Wembanyama said. “And now I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Here are five takeaways from the Draft, including the surprises, the oddities, and a projection of how it might change the fortunes of a few teams.
1. Brandon Miller over Scoot Henderson
One day in the near future, historians will have to power of hindsight and be able to say, with certainty, whether the Hornets made the right decision with the No. 2 pick.
From a positional standpoint, this choice — the first big one of the night — made sense. The Hornets are already set, perhaps for many years, at point guard with former All-Star LaMelo Ball. That’s Henderson’s preferred spot, although Ball seems capable of playing off the ball.
Besides, at 6-foot-8, Miller provides frontcourt balance for the Hornets and brings an obvious variety of skills and shot-making at the forward spot.
The Hornets, from all indications, didn’t sweat this much. Miller made a strong impression on the club during workouts and convinced Michael Jordan, who had sway in the decision-making even though he recently agreed to sell the majority of his stake in the franchise.
“Brandon was our favorite all along,” Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak said.
Maybe it’s a win-win for both the Hornets and Blazers. Henderson might be the eventual replacement for Damian Lillard in Portland, or perhaps the young talent Dame needs to one day win that elusive championship.
The Hornets were in this similar No. 2 position before back in ’92 and they made the right call then. They took Alonzo Mourning over Christian Laettner, who went third to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Laettner was the premier player in college basketball and a national champion who played on the Dream Team, but that (wisely) didn’t move the Hornets.
In the LeBron Draft, the Detroit Pistons held the second pick, but weren’t so lucky. They took Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony (and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) and, well, everyone knows how that turned out.
2. Brothers go back to back
The bragging rights in the Thompson family once again belong to Amen. He was born first, by one minute, over his twin brother Ausar — which Amen never hesitates to tell anyone who asks, with a smile.
And now, he was taken first in the Draft, by the Houston Rockets — five minutes ahead of his brother, by the Pistons.
The neatest development was the historical back-to-back selection of brothers, never done before at the Draft. This time, Amen Thompson didn’t hold that against his brother.
“Man, this was cool, just the greatest thing for us to be able to do that,” Amen said. “This means a lot to our family. One brother right after the other.”
He added: “We didn’t talk about that happening before the Draft. It just happened that way and I really can’t put it into words how special it is, to be the first to do that.”
Ausar said: “It’s crazy to go back-to-back and make history with him.”
Now comes the hard part for the two products from Overtime Elite. For the first time in their lives, the brothers won’t be teammates. And, as guards, they’ll probably match up against each other on the court. Thankfully, that uncomfortable situation will only happen twice next season. Both landed in good situations, as the Rockets and Pistons are under construction and are parsing through the young talent on their rosters. If the Thompson twins prove worthy, they’ll see ample playing time as rookies and position themselves for solid NBA careers.
3. Orlando is on guard
The conversation in Orlando isn’t the two guards they drafted in the first round, but the guard(s) they’ll likely ship out as a result. Like, someone’s obviously getting traded, right?
Anthony Black (No. 6 overall) and Jett Howard (No. 11) were somewhat surprising choices for a team that had a surplus at that position even before the Draft.
That makes it six guards, most of them young and still reaching for their prime, on the roster and good enough to be in the rotation. That’s an obvious overload. Unless the Magic went into this Draft with the idea of taking the best available player regardless of position, they’ll be in trade discussions regarding one or more of them.
Last season, Markelle Fultz started 60 games and Gary Harris 42 of the 48 he played. Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs, the team’s last two first-round picks, both came off the bench. And now there’s a pair of incoming first-rounders at guard?
Of the four holdovers, Fultz and Anthony are the most likely to be moved. Harris doesn’t hold much trade value and the Magic are too invested in Suggs, who has yet to play a full season because of injuries. Fultz is a former No. 1 overall pick who is experiencing a rebirth after enduring shooting problems his first few seasons in the league, and Anthony averaged 13 ppg last season in 25.9 mpg.
It’s a nice problem to have — assuming there’s a decent trade market for those guards.
4. Rising, falling
So, who fluctuated the most in this Draft? The prime riser, especially over the last month, was UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., who was, fittingly, taken at No. 18 by the Heat.
He played four seasons at UCLA (where he had good success) because scouts weren’t high on him, mainly citing his lack of athletic ability. So each time, Jaquez returned to campus.
Back in March, during the height of visibility for college basketball, Jaquez was slotted as a second-round pick. But that was before the Draft Combine and individual workouts. Jaquez was especially impressive in the latter (same for Ben Sheppard of Belmont, who went to the Pacers at No. 26), with teams raving about his court savvy, improved skills and all-around ability. He’s the type of player Miami often finds, and while Jaquez wasn’t undrafted like a handful of players who saw rotational minutes for the Heat last season, he was unheralded, until lately.
On the flip side, Cam Whitmore of Villanova lasted until pick No. 20, where the Rockets took him. He was once projected as high as fourth and was considered consensus top-10 pick. And Nick Smith Jr. of Arkansas was the last of players invited to the Draft to be selected — always a lonely place to be — by the Hornets at No. 27.
5. Oh yes, about Wembanyama
It was a whirlwind week for him. He finished up his season in France, flew to New York City, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, rode the subway (passengers were shocked) and then walked … to the stage to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand.
Ever since his plane landed in the states, Wembanyama has had a TV camera in his face. But the French sensation is wiser beyond his years after playing professionally in his home country, being schooled by former Spurs stars (and fellow countrymen) Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. Plus, at 7-foot-5, you can’t even if you wanted to.
Therefore, he knows where he’s been and what lies ahead.
“The road for me is going to be very long to reach the top,” Wembanyama said, “but I’m ready for it.”
What an amazing time for the 19-year-old. And what an equally amazing opportunity that awaits him in San Antonio with a young nucleus, the winningest coach in NBA history and a franchise considered one of the best models in professional team sports.
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