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) — While NBA scouts do most of their traveling and evaluating throughout the college basketball season, March is a popular time for executives to make their rounds and get eyes on prospects.
But February was also a key month for a handful of players who made strong impressions and improved their stock. Two new underclassmen have jumped into our first-round projections, including one who’s making his debut on the 2023 board.
The big storyline toward the top of the draft is how NBA teams will feel about Alabama forward Brandon Miller being tied to a murder case. Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr.’s return from injury and quick production also have scouts buzzing entering March.
This mock draft order was based on NBA standings heading into Monday, February 27.
1. Houston Rockets: Victor Wembanyama (Metropolitans 92, PF/C, 2004)
A change of scenery for the World Cup Qualifiers didn’t throw off Wembanyama, who went for 22 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks in France’s win over Czech Republic. He’s just crossing off reasons to doubt him.
Fit won’t be an issue with whichever team wins the lottery. Wembanyama is being used in every possible way for a big—as a post player, pick-and-pop shooter and ball-handler.
The Houston Rockets would presumably just throw positions out the window with Wembanyama, Alperen Şengün and Jabari Smith Jr. Rockets head coach Stephen Silas has shown a willingness to bench Şengün for defensive reasons, so his future role with Wembanyama would become a storyline to watch.
While Smith is off to a slower start relative to the other top 2022 draft picks, Wembanyama is far more likely to impact games as a rookie with his outrageous defensive range, shooting skill, finishing and passing that should all translate to the NBA instantly.
2. San Antonio Spurs: Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite, PG, 2004)
The play of Brandon Miller, Nick Smith Jr.’s return and the Thompsons’ upside may at least make the Spurs think before taking Henderson. But whichever team lands the No. 2 pick will presumably circle back to the Ignite star.
While Henderson’s explosiveness, power and off-the-dribble burst separate Henderson from the rest of his draft classmates, a recent 20-point (2-of-4 3PT), 14-assist game against a Memphis Hustle team with multiple NBA-caliber players highlighted his skill improvement, playmaking and shot-making potential.
3. Detroit Pistons: Amen Thompson (Overtime Elite, Point wing, 2003)
With some of the top NCAA prospects building steam, Thompson answered in the City Reapers’ first game of Overtime’s playoff semis, finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists while shooting 2-of-4 from three. The performance was a reminder why he’s a likely outlier who doesn’t require the highest skill level to score or play-make.
Thompson is a dangerous advantage creator with his burst off the bounce and lightning-quick dribble moves to blow by and separate. Once he earns himself just a hint of space on the move, he capitalizes with bounce and flexibility or passing vision to set up teammates.
There are enough examples of limited-shooting stars who can generate offense off their face-up games and explosiveness. Thompson’s shot also hasn’t looked totally broken lately, while his 6’7″ size, foot/hand speed and leaping give him wild defensive potential as well.
4. Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Miller (Alabama, SF, Freshman)
NBA teams’ view of Miller has become a topic of conversation after it was alleged by detectives investigating the killing of Jamea Jonae Harris that Miller brought now-ex-teammate Darius Miles the gun used in the shooting. Miller has not been charged in the case and continues to play for Alabama.
Each front office will do its own due diligence by investigating and interviewing, making it difficult to assess how Miller’s involvement will affect his draft stock.
On the court, there are fewer question marks about him. Lately, he’s answered key ones that popped up earlier in the season, when he struggled to convert around the basket. Last Wednesday night, he put together his most convincing on-court pitch of the season, totaling 41 points against South Carolina, which included the game-tying drive in regulation and another to win in overtime.
Miller continues to shoot at a clip that once felt unsustainable: 42.4 percent on 7.2 three-point attempts per game. But he has strengthened his case as a potential top-three prospect by showcasing more ball-handling and shiftiness into self-created drives, plus much improved finishing with touch, adjustments and body control. The game has seemingly slowed down for him enough to make necessary adjustments/counters in traffic.
5. Orlando Magic: Jarace Walker (Houston, PF, Freshman)
The Orlando Magic would ignore their needs to draft the best player available in Walker. His popularity continues to grow in NBA circles despite some quiet games, as scouts rave about his skill versatility and the feedback they’ve received about his work ethic and coachability.
With an outstanding 6’8″, 240-pound frame, Walker’s flashes of shooting, touch shots, close-out drives and passes have been persuasive, even if he isn’t consistently executing yet. He figures to only make more fans during the predraft process with his measurements, workouts in front of executives and interviews.
6. Indiana Pacers: Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
After a nearly two-month layoff, it took Smith only four games to put up 26 points and deliver the creation and shot-making flashes that fueled top-five hype in the preseason. He’s also playing with noticeable energy and activity, which has made him a bigger off-ball scoring threat and disruptive defender. We haven’t seen as much playmaking with Anthony Black operating as Arkansas’ lead decision-maker, but between Smith’s crafty ball-handling, shooting confidence and cutting, the Pacers and other teams with point guards should still see an interchangeable fit.
7. Orlando Magic (via Bulls): Gradey Dick (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
Dick has already secured the “safe” label from scouts, given how easy it is to picture a plug-and-play fit in a 6’8″ sharpshooter, athletic finisher, smart/tough defender and sound decision-maker. Occasional flashes of self-creation, shot-making versatility and pick-and-roll scoring also hint at more paths to upside.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder: Cam Whitmore (Villanova, SF, Freshman)
Inconsistent shooting has affected Whitmore’s scoring, but between his functional ball-handling moves to break down defenses and his explosiveness and power in the lane, he’s still been able to create and finish opportunities in the half court. His 30 three-pointers in 22 games highlight enough shot-making ability for teams bet on improvement. The only potential red flag to keep an eye on is Whitmore’s 0.7 assists per game, which is an awfully low number for a wing. It may be worth thinking about the 6’7″, 232-pound forward more as a small-ball 4.
9. Washington Wizards: Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite, SG/SF, 2003)
Recently named the MVP of Overtime’s second season, Thompson had his best game during the City Reapers’ second playoff contest, finishing with 26 points, eight assists and five made three-pointers. He’s been too streaky to trust the shooting, and his decision-making remains shaky, but his special athletic ability, defensive court coverage and creation flashes deserve to buy him time when it comes to his shot-making development.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers): Anthony Black (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
Scouts remain high on Black’s archetype (6’7″ two-way playmaker), with many willing to look past his scoring limitations because of his translatable passing, defensive instincts, off-ball finishing and competitiveness. Despite concerns over his self-creation and shooting, scouts value Black’s versatility and unteachable “knows how to play” intangibles.
11. Portland Trail Blazers: Taylor Hendricks (UCF, PF, Freshman)
Shooting 41.2 percent from three, averaging 1.7 blocks and totaling 30 dunks in 28 games, Hendricks has yet to hit a freshman wall. He just scored a season-high 25 points against Tulsa on Sunday, showcasing more creation from the post and short corners. The shooting and athleticism/tools for finishing and defense alone put Hendricks in the lottery discussion, but it also feels like the 19-year-old has more skill to unlock future scoring potential.
12. Toronto Raptors: Keyonte George (Baylor, SG, Freshman)
George has been erratic, though the inconsistency is more so a product of his particular shot selection and style of play. Scouts will buy his makes and firepower, which highlight translatable self-creation and shot-making versatility/range for takeover scoring.
13. Los Angeles Lakers (via Pelicans): Cason Wallace (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
Averaging 7.6 assists over Kentucky’s last five games, Wallace is looking more confident with his playmaking. Despite questions about how well he’ll be able to create for himself in the half court, scouts still buy his passing IQ, three-level shot-making and defense all translating.
14. Utah Jazz (via Timberwolves): Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana, PG/SG, Freshman)
Interest in Hood-Schifino had been growing for weeks, long before Saturday’s 35-point eruption in Indiana’s win over Purdue. He’s taken on more scoring responsibility, which has highlighted an effective combination of 6’6″ positional size, pacing off the dribble and three-level shot-making. Though he isn’t the most explosive athlete, Hood-Schifino has showcased a convincing mix of creation feel by changing speeds, pull-up shooting and passing IQ for combo-guard offense.
15. Utah Jazz: Jett Howard (Michigan, SG/SF, Freshman)
Howard remains out with an ankle injury, though he’s already shown enough shot-making for a 6’8″ freshman to lock in top-20 interest. The lack of playmaking and defense do put more pressure on his development as a creator, but even a worst-case outcome for Howard should result in a team getting value tied to his translatable shooting versatility from either wing spot.
16. Golden State Warriors: Kris Murray (Iowa, PF, Junior)
While scouts remain hesitant to buy Murray’s volume scoring fully translating to the NBA, they do see the off-ball offense (shooting, cutting, transition finishing) carrying over. He’ll be deemed an easy fit and safe pick in the mid-to-late first round once the flashier creators and teenagers are off the board.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Brice Sensabaugh (Ohio State, SG/SF, Freshman)
Teams interested in just adding a scoring weapon will want Sensabaugh. He’s a strong, efficient self-creator and shot-maker who won’t offer much playmaking value or defensive upside.
18. New York Knicks (via Mavericks): Dariq Whitehead (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
Some scouts sound convinced that injuries have affected Whitehead’s play. His effectiveness continues to fluctuate in a spot-up role for Duke, though he is shooting an impressive 40.7 percent from three. There will ultimately be NBA teams who put extra stock into predraft scouting, when Whitehead flashed more self-creation for three-level scoring and athleticism in transition at Montverde. His draft range will be wide if he does enter in 2023.
19. Houston Rockets (via Clippers): Rayan Rupert (New Zealand Breakers, SG/SF, 2004)
Age (18) and a valued archetype will keep NBA teams patient with Rupert, a 6’6″ wing who has a projectable shooting stroke and 7’3″ wingspan for defense. He just doesn’t have consistent production in the NBL.
20. Miami Heat: Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Podziemski’s name is trending in scouting circles as he continues to put up monster stat lines with enticing creativity and shot-making skill. Hesitation due to athletic limitations and Santa Clara’s schedule is fading by the week. Scouts are now talking about Podziemski as a legitimate first-round pick who can seemingly keep climbing with his consistent shooting, touch shots, craftiness off the dribble, playmaking and unique positional rebounding (8.8 per game).
21. Brooklyn Nets (via Suns): GG Jackson II (South Carolina, PF, Freshman)
With a highlight reel that features enticing shooting flashes, step-backs and explosive finishes, and stats that include a 37.9 field-goal percentage, 64.5 free-throw percentage, 76 turnovers to 24 assists and 41 fouls to 23 blocks, Jackson has become one of the most divisive prospects in this draft class. He’s likely land somewhere in the teens or 20s on a team that’s willing to have patience and bet on the development of a 6’9″ 18-year-old with ball-handling and shot-making skill.
22. Portland Trail Blazers (via Knicks): Kobe Bufkin (Michigan, SG, Sophomore)
Grabbing scouts’ attention with a mix of three-level shot-making, ball-screen playmaking, finishing craft (72.0 percent at rim) and defense, Bufkin has entered the draft discussion. Whether we’re talking 2023 or 2024 remains to be seen, but he’s generating NBA buzz with his versatility and efficiency, particularly after scoring a season-high 28 points in a win over Wisconsin on Sunday.
23. Brooklyn Nets: Jordan Hawkins (Connecticut, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Averaging 19.9 points over Connecticut’s last 11 games, Hawkins continues to look like one of the draft’s most convincing shot-makers. His off-the-dribble game and pull-up still need work, but at 6’5″ with 80 made threes, including 21 off screens, his athleticism and off-ball shooting should help make him an easy fit in the NBA.
24. Sacramento Kings: Bilal Coulibaly (Metropoliitans 92, SF, 2004)
Coulibaly could pass on this draft and wait for a bigger role (and weaker 2024 class) after Victor Wembanyama heads to the NBA. But it’s also becoming more likely that a team would use a first-round pick this year and reach early on an explosive, 6’6″ 18-year-old with believable shooting potential, highlight finishing ability, defensive upside and passing flashes.
25. Indiana Pacers (via Cavaliers): Maxwell Lewis (Pepperdine, SG/SF, Sophomore)
Lewis’ lottery case is fading as he struggles to make shots and Pepperdine keeps losing. He’s still a first-round prospect, though. At 6’7″, he has plenty of shot-making skill and improved creation ability for one-on-one scoring and secondary playmaking.
26. Memphis Grizzlies: Julian Strawther (Gonzaga, SF, Junior)
There are scouts who see first-round value in the likelihood that Strawther’s catch-and-shoot game and touch quickly translate to NBA shot-making and off-ball scoring.
27. Utah Jazz (via 76ers): Ricky Council IV (Arkansas, SG/SF, Junior)
Council’s shooting (27.6 percent 3PT, 78.6 percent FT) shouldn’t cause teams to write off his scoring potential. Everything else about it feels easy to buy, given his ball-handling and burst for creation, athletic finishing and speciality shot-making inside the arc.
28. Charlotte Hornets (via Nuggets): Kyle Filipowski (Duke, PF, Freshman)
It’s been tougher to picture the upside lately with Filipowski, a non shot-blocker making 28.6 percent of his threes with 77 turnovers to 44 assists, but his inside-out scoring versatility for a 7-footer is still bound to create first-round interest. A team will buy his offensive potential based on his flashes of three-point range, face-up skill and post-ups.
29. Los Angeles Clippers (via Bucks): Dereck Lively II (Duke, C, Freshman)
Patrolling Duke’s paint with improved awareness and reactions, Lively has begun to re-sell teams on his rim-protection tools. The shot-blocking and finishing alone could be worth a first-round pick to the right team with scoring and a need for more easy baskets and interior defense.
30. Indiana Pacers (via Celtics): Terquavion Smith (North Carolina State, PG/SG, Sophomore)
Smith hasn’t made the jump efficiency-wise that NBA scouts were hoping for, but a team in 20s or 30s will still see value in his confident shot-making for an instant-offense role.
31. Indiana Pacers (via Rockets): Noah Clowney (Alabama, PF, Freshman)
Clowney may be too far away for teams to confidently use a first-round pick on him, but he does have the potential shooting-shot-blocking-rebounding combo that some may be willing to reach on.
32. San Antonio Spurs: James Nnaji (Barcelona, C, 2004)
Teams will bet on Nnaji’s 6’11”, 250-pound frame for finishing, rebounding and rim protection, especially given his comfort level playing in the Spanish ACB at 18 years old.
33. Detroit Pistons: Judah Mintz (Syracuse, SG, Freshman)
Mintz continues to stand out during Syracuse’s down year, earning fans with his creativity, mid-range shot-making, aggressiveness at the rim, playmaking and defensive energy. Questions about his 6’3″, 172-pound frame and long-range shooting have kept interest from blowing up, but scouts are monitoring his recent three-point streak (he’s 8-of-10 from deep over his last four games).
34. Charlotte Hornets: Marcus Sasser (Houston, PG/SG, Senior)
Though Sasser has done little to improve his image as a point guard, NBA teams will still be after his shooting versatility and ability to generate his own perimeter offense.
35. Orlando Magic: Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana, PF/C, Senior)
Jackson-Davis has made it harder to nitpick his perceived outdated post scoring by making serious improvements to his passing and defense.
36. Sacramento Kings (via Pacers): Colby Jones (Xavier, PG/SG, Junior)
Jones’ game doesn’t scream upside, but his passing, shooting and defense does point to an easy-fit role player who can be used on or off the ball.
37. Washington Wizards (via Bulls): Tristan Vukčević (KK Partizan, C, 2003)
Vukčević has looked like a more believable prospect this year, shooting 37.7 percent from three and delivering more frequent flashes of face-up offense and passing.
38. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Wizards): Leonard Miller (G League Ignite, SF, 2003)
Miller has been productive in the G League by tapping into his mobility, face-up agility and rim running. The only clear path to upside calls for significant improvement to his shooting/mechanics, though there will be teams willing to bet on it given his age (19) and what a jumper could do for a 6’10” wing.
39. Denver Nuggets (via Thunder): Keyontae Johnson (Kansas State, SF, Senior)
Shooting 41.9 percent from three, Johnson has emerged as a three-level shot-maker and passing threat. He now has the type of off-ball offense and defensive tools NBA teams can picture translating.
40. Los Angeles Lakers: Kel’el Ware (Oregon, C, Freshman)
Completely out of Oregon’s rotation, Ware will now have to sell himself strictly on potential and the brief flashes of shooting, post scoring, finishing and shot-blocking that he showed. Teams will just see more of a gamble without much production to back up the highlights.
41. Boston Celtics (via Blazers): Jaime Jaquez Jr. (UCLA, SF/PF, Senior)
Scouts sound split on Jacquez, whose versatility and toughness have earned first-round grades from believers, and whose athletic limitations have caused some to fear his ability to separate or defend wings.
42. San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors): Jalen Wilson (Kansas, SF/PF, Junior)
At 6’8″ and 225 pounds, Wilson has the physicality and tools to continue attacking, finishing and rebounding in the NBA. Although his jumper hasn’t been falling lately, his 2.0 made threes per game and mid-range shot-making suggest it’s worth betting on enough adequate shooting to complement his slashing and transition offense.
43. New Orleans Pelicans: Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite, SG/SF, 2004)
There has been interest in Cissoko’s potential versatility as a two-way playmaker and improved shot-maker, but there are also questions about whether he checks any one box with enough certainty.
44. Memphis Grizzles (via Timberwolves): Jalen Pickett (Penn State, PG/SG, Senior)
With 41- and 32-point games in mid-February, Pickett has seemingly become too effective with his shot-making and passing for teams to worry about his age or athleticism in the second round.
45. Charlotte Hornets (via Jazz): DaRon Holmes II (Dayton, C, Sophomore)
Coming off a season-high 34 points against George Mason, Holmes continues to strengthen his NBA case around physical tools and athleticism for finishing, inside scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking.
46. Atlanta Hawks: Jordan Walsh (Arkansas, SF/PF, Freshman)
Walsh’s quickness to lock up, guard multiple positions and defend with intensity should sway NBA teams to remain patient with his shooting consistency and off-the-dribble development.
47. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Warriors): Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois, SF, Senior)
Shooting remains a swing skill for Shannon, a 6’6″ slasher and defender who has demonstrated improved shot-making and the ability to catch fire.
48. Denver Nuggets (via Lakers): Emoni Bates (Eastern Michigan, SF, Sophomore)
Scouts remain hesitant about Bates’ athleticism, decision-making, defense and professionalism. But at some point, one team is bound to bite on his shot-making.
49. Los Angeles Clippers: Coleman Hawkins (Illinois, PF, Junior)
Despite Hawkins’ inconsistent offense and scoring limitations, some NBA team will bet on his shooting development, given the potential fit and value tied to a switchable, stretch big who can really pass.
50. Boston Celtics (via Heat): Baylor Scheierman (Creighton, SG/SF, Senior)
Scheierman possesses the proven shooting, passing IQ and enough defensive mobility for teams to picture a connector who won’t need athleticism to be effective.
51. Phoenix Suns: Ąžuolas Tubelis (Arizona, PF/C, Junior)
At some point, Tubelis’ production becomes a selling point that suggests his rim running, finishing, rebounding and short-range touch can work in an energizer role.
52. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Knicks): Jaylen Clark (UCLA, SG/SF, Senior)
Teams will give thought to the idea of Clark carving out a defensive specialist role while still offering enough driving, play-finishing and passing for a fourth or fifth option.
53. Brooklyn Nets: Drew Peterson (USC, SG/SF, Senior)
Despite having already turned 23 years old, Peterson is becoming interesting with his ball-handling and creation flashes, shot-making versatility and passing (4.7 assists) at 6’9″.
54. Sacramento Kings: Zach Edey (Purdue, C, Senior)
Averaging 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, Edey figures to convince some team it’s worth gambling a 7’4″, 305-pound rim protector whose finishing and post game will be difficult to challenge.
55. Milwaukee Bucks (via Cavaliers): Arthur Kaluma (Creighton, SF, Sophomore)
Inconsistency has made Kaluma tougher to buy, but at 6’7″ and 225 pounds with agile slashing and streaky shot-making, he’s a project whom teams could deem worth taking on in the second round.
56. Memphis Grizzlies: Malcolm Cazalon (Mega MIS, SG, 2001)
On NBA radars for the past few years, Cazalon has put together his strongest draft case this season with enough shot-making and two-way playmaking to complement his athleticism for finishing at 6’6″.
57. Philadelphia 76ers: Forfeited
58. Chicago Bulls (via Nuggets): Forfeited
59. Milwaukee Bucks: Mouhammed Gueye (Washington State, PF, Sophomore)
Racking up double-doubles lately, Gueye has drawn attention with his 6’11” size, production around the basket and flashes of mid-range shooting and hard drives in space.
60. Boston Celtics: Ben Sheppard (Belmont, SG, Senior)
A 6’6″, 40.6 percent three-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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