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) — With the majority of first-round prospects eliminated from the NCAA tournament and only a handful still going strong into the Sweet 16, it’s time for an NBA draft stock report.
Certain players have helped themselves over the past two weeks, either by validating previous improvement or showcasing new skills against quality opponents.
Meanwhile, a few prospects’ flaws have been exposed lately. That’s causing scouts to second-guess how well their games will translate to an NBA floor.
Many of the top prospects’ stocks remain steady, as there has been too much evidence of their strengths and weaknesses for a few games to alter projections either way.
Stock Rising: Jarace Walker, Houston PF Freshman
B/R Rank: No. 6
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 4-10
On Saturday, scouts got to see what happens when Jarace Walker optimizes his physical tools on defense.
Performances like his six-block effort against Auburn have already helped scouts forget about his occasional lowlights showing poor fundamentals. Walker gets beat too easily at times, and the challenge from a scouting perspective is deciding how much stock to put into those plays when evaluating a 19-year-old with such overwhelming size, strength and length.
At 6’8″ and 240 pounds with a 7’2″ wingspan, Walker flashed switchability, recoveries and small-ball 5 potential in rim protection. NBA teams can start picturing him guarding the opponents’ biggest player, shadowing 4s or challenging guards in space.
Walker also shot 6-for-8 during his NCAA tournament debut against Northern Kentucky, showing off his finishing prowess and footwork off the dribble attacking closeouts.
Against Auburn, he hit his 33rd 3-pointer of the year and flashed the passing we saw more of at IMG, where he had more ball-handling reps.
Scouts acknowledge it may take time for Walker to put everything together, but they rave about his background intel. The idea of a potential 4 or 5 who can shoot, drive, counter with touch shots, create from the post, make plays, guard multiple positions and disrupt defensively will be worth waiting on.
Stock Falling: Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas SG Freshman
B/R Rank: No. 12
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 7-14
After finishing 2-for-10 against Illinois, Nick Smith Jr. went scoreless in 16 minutes against Kansas before watching most of the second half on the bench.
He’s struggled to balance shot-hunting with scoring within the offense. It’s worth noting that Arkansas shoots poorly as a team, which impacts spacing, particularly for Smith since Anthony Black doesn’t require defenders to stay attached off the ball.
Regardless, scouts have noticed that Smith’s shot selection includes a heavy dose of contested pull-ups and floaters. In 11 games since returning from injury, he’s totaled only 19 points at the rim, showing a tendency to avoid contact by taking early runners. And he’s only hit 32.3 percent of his shots off the catch.
Meanwhile, while the jumpers keep missing, Smith hasn’t been able to flash enough playmaking for scouts to picture him as a lead ball-handler at the NBA level.
He’s clearly a better shooter than what the numbers currently say, and he’s done an admirable job of playing with energy, looking for cutting opportunities and staying active on defense. But scouts may be shying away from thinking about the 185-pound combo guard — who’s now at 37.3 percent from the floor with 29 assists to 26 turnovers — as a top-5 or even top-10 option.
Stock Rising: Colby Jones, Xavier PG/SG Junior
B/R Rank: No. 17
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 15-30
Scouts are choosing to buy Colby Jones’ impact on winning instead of nitpicking his athletic questions or skill set for NBA scoring.
In the Big East tournament, he carried Xavier back from a double-digit deficit against DePaul, taking over late with physical drives and tough shot-making. He followed with a double-double in a rout over Creighton, opened the NCAA tournament by locking down Kennesaw State’s guards in the second half, and most recently, he went for 10 points, 14 boards and seven assists to lead Xavier past Pittsburgh into the Sweet 16.
Versatility, intangibles and wins have been behind a recent spike in interest in Jones, whose 6-foot-6 size, passing, floater game, improved shooting and tough defense point to an interchangeable guard/wing and easy fit for NBA rosters.
With Josh Hart trending for the New York Knicks, who’ve been 12-5 since trading for him, he’s become a popular comparison used for Jones. Scouts think he could go in the top 20, ahead of some younger prospects with perceived higher ceilings, with the idea that teams will value Jones’ floor, adaptability and likelihood of contributing early.
Stock Falling: Keyonte George, Baylor SG Freshman
B/R Rank: No. 13
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 7-14
The timing of Keyonte George’s final slump was rough, both for Baylor and the optics for NBA teams.
He shot 3-for-19 in two NCAA tournament games, finishing the season at 37.6 percent from the floor with more turnovers (95) than assists (91). Numbers are just a piece of the scouting equation, but that level of inefficiency has made it difficult for George to earn scouts’ trust or confidence.
His struggles finishing against Creighton (1-for-6 at rim) had been there all season, though they also reminded scouts about the pressure they put on his shooting. While George possesses outstanding shot-making skill, whether it’s off the dribble, screens or deep threes, he was super streaky all season.
Scouts have to decide whether he just went cold a handful of times during a small 33-game sample size, or if there should be a warning label on the shot selection and tendencies that can leave George vulnerable to inconsistency.
Stock Rising: Dariq Whitehead, SG/SF Freshman
B/R Rank: No. 18
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 14-30
Dariq Whitehead’s shot-making credibility is up. Scouts questioned its legitimacy before the season, but after the freshman made 5-for-8 3s in two NCAA tournament games to finish at 42.9 percent for the season, there is a new level of confidence in his shooting projection.
Whitehead needed that, especially given the driving and finishing issues that were exposed throughout the year.
Those weaknesses will affect his stock and lower his draft ceiling to the late lottery after he started the season viewed as a potential top-five pick. But Whitehead’s jumper should help prevent any major fall. He shot 44.3 percent off the catch and 45.5 percent off the dribble.
Still only 18 years old, scouts can at least picture Whitehead as a shot-making specialist or a 3-and-D wing. But there is also some hope that lower-leg injuries — he suffered one before the season and one in the middle — affected his explosiveness this season.
There’s still some optimism about Whitehead’s potential to eventually start getting downhill more often.
Stock Rising: Dereck Lively II, Duke C Freshman
B/R Rank: No. 21
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 15-30
Dereck Lively II quickly won back support that he lost early in the season by showing dramatic improvement reading and reacting defensively.
Opponents scored only two points against him at the rim over Duke’s final six games. He got himself in position to block shots more frequently. And Lively started to shut down pick and rolls, doing a better job of anticipating and using his length to reduce space for opposing ballhandlers and finishers to make plays.
Having seen the value of centers like Robert Williams III, Mitchell Robinson and rookies Walker Kessler and Mark Williams, scouts won’t dock Lively much for offering one-dimensional finishing on offense. Improved processing has also shown up on some of his passes, as he’s finding teammates more quickly on kickouts from the post.
Regardless, between the eye test on his mobility and his elite 12.7 block percentage, Lively suddenly looks like a lock to improve an NBA team’s defense.
Stock Falling: Kris Murray, Iowa SF/PF Junior
B/R Rank: No. 27
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 15-30
Kris Murray couldn’t get off many clean looks against Auburn, with its defense neutralizing the high-scoring forward and forcing him into jump shots for most of the second half.
He struggled turning the corner on wings or finishing against Auburn’s length, which are potential red flags when projecting his 2-point offense to the NBA. Similar issues popped up against Duke (3-for-9 shooting) earlier in the season.
Murray still shows excellent instincts, whether it’s knowing which way to wiggle free in the post, when/where to cut or anticipating putback opportunities. However, the improved shot-making has been the biggest factor in his rise into the first-round conversation this year.
But the Auburn game exposed his athletic question marks and the problems he’ll encounter trying to face up and create or earn easy baskets and free-throw attempts.
The fact that he’ll be a 23-year-old rookie won’t help his cause in a draft overflowing with freshmen and some international teenagers.
Stock Rising: Tyrese Proctor, Duke PG/SG Freshman
B/R Rank: No. 36
Updated projected draft range: Nos. 20-40
Late-season flashes of shot-creation and shot-making have helped scouts forget Tyrese Proctor’s early struggles.
In Duke’s loss to Tennessee, Proctor helped himself by showing off his shiftiness, footwork and handles to separate and make plays against one of the nation’s top defenses. He went to work with change-of-direction and hesitations to escape into dribble jumpers and paint finishes. His athletic limitations didn’t hold him back, which scouts had wanted to see.
Proctor also wound up shooting 40.0 percent from three over Duke’s last 15 games. Rising confidence couldn’t have been more evident when witnessing the decisiveness of his shot-making and dribbles moves.
Considering how he started at Duke, watching Proctor figure out offense through trial and error only raises scouts’ confidence in his trajectory and potential to adapt/develop. Otherwise, the passing and defensive IQ were always there and were reasons why scouts were willing to stay patient with the 18-year-old.
Proctor will have one of the most interesting decisions to make of any freshman. His draft stock is suddenly up entering the predraft process after months of scouts picturing him as a 2024 prospect. He’s considered more a fringe-first rounder for 2023, though that could change with a strong NBA combine and workouts.
A full sophomore season’s worth of what we just saw in February and March could ultimately lead to Proctor cracking next year’s lottery.
Steady: Brandon Miller (Alabama, SF, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 4
Miller hasn’t shot well through two NCAA tournament rounds, but he’s still impacted games with passing and defense that highlight versatility and create a cushion for cold shooting. At this point, only poor interviews or disappointing findings during investigative background checks will knock Miller out of the top four of the draft.
With Alabama surging into the Sweet 16, he still has more opportunities to build a case at No. 2 overall by shot-making, playmaking and defending while reducing concern over his finishing.
Steady: Gradey Dick (Kansas, SF, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 7
Held in check by Anthony Black in Kansas’ loss to Arkansas, Dick still has support as one of the draft’s safest picks. There is plenty of NBA confidence in his shooting accuracy, shot-making versatility, off-ball scoring, IQ and competitiveness. The main question is whether he has a path to star-caliber upside. Regardless, Dick remains a near lock to wind up going anywhere in the Nos. 7-14 range.
Steady: Cason Wallace (Kentucky, PG/SG, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 8
Wallace followed a poor NCAA tournament debut with one of his best showings of the season against Kansas State. There are still concerns about his NBA creation ability, but they aren’t setting off major alarms given the confidence scouts have in his shot-making, passing IQ and defense.
Steady: Anthony Black (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 9
While Black’s weaknesses will keep him climbing too high on draft boards, his passing, defense and two-way activity will prevent him from falling. Finishing 1-for-6 against Kansas won’t cause scouts to slide him down the board. He still made a positive impact without scoring, staying attached to Gradey Dick, closing out on shooters and forcing turnovers.
Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels entered their drafts with similar questions about scoring as Black, yet both went in the lottery due to the NBA’s love for jumbo playmakers. Black can only improve his stock from here on out with bonus shooting and driving buckets. In all likelihood, he’ll wind up going somewhere in the late lottery to a team that values his versatility and connective skills.
Steady: Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana, PG, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 19
Hood-Schifino’s draft range sounds wide following Indiana’s loss to Miami, as scouts remain divided by his positional size, shot-making, flashy passes, love for the mid-range, fading 3-point percentage, turnovers and inconsistent defense. Having shot poorly over the past month, he hasn’t done enough to lock in lottery interest, but the smoothness to his ball-handling, pull-up game and playmaking remains highly enticing for a 6’6″ combo guard.
Steady: Kyle Filipowski (Duke, C, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 24
ACC tournament games like the one Filipowski played against Pittsburgh, when he hit four 3s, or against Virginia, when he took bigs off the dribble, are going to earn him workouts with lottery teams. However, they’ll likely wind up passing on him due to games like the Oral Roberts and Tennessee ones in the NCAA tournament, where his shot wasn’t falling and athletic issues led to contested looks.
Weighing the good versus the bad will leave scouts picturing a capable shooter, a threat to attack closeouts and a skilled, low-block scorer who’s still years away from consistently making threes or executing off self-creation.
Steady: Noah Clowney (Alabama, PF, Freshman)
B/R Rank: No. 32
Clowney is the type of prospect who can help himself in workouts and get teams to ignore the percentages and buy the shooting stroke. For an 18-year-old with his physical tools and movement for defense and rebounding, the brief streaks of hot shot-making will outweigh the misses.
Stretch bigs who can play inside have the potential to entice, just like Jalen Smith did before going No. 10 in the 2020 NBA draft. All it takes is one team to bite, though Clowney’s lack of offensive polish could turn off teams looking for more immediate results.
Steady: Terquavion Smith (North Carolina State, SG, Sophomore)
B/R Rank: No. 33
A pair of 30-point games over North Carolina State’s last three game won’t negate Smith’s inefficiency in back-to-back seasons. They did highlight his microwave scoring and ability to catch fire, though scouts already knew about his shot-making prowess. We just saw the Denver Nuggets come to the realization that a similar player, Bones Hyland, wasn’t for them anymore, so Smith will need the right fit and team willing to value the pros and accept the cons tied to his shot selection and style.
Steady: Marcus Sasser (Houston, PG/SG, Senior)
B/R Rank: No. 34
Shot-making skill and shooting versatility remain the biggest draws to Sasser, who hit five 3s in Houston’s win over Auburn. The lack of playmaking for a 6’2″ ball-handler continues to prevent scouts from picturing much upside, though. Lighting up bigger and more athletic backcourts on a Final Four run will be Sasser’s best bet to convince scouts that he can thrive as an undersized NBA scorer.
Steady: Jaime Jaquez (UCLA, SF/PF, Junior)
B/R Rank: No. 37
Not much has changed with Jaquez over the past few weeks or even the past year. Scouts acknowledge his scoring versatility and admire his toughness, but they also have questions about the lack of shooting improvement and his potential to separate against NBA defenders.
Jaquez’s best bet to raise his stock is by selling his intangibles on a UCLA Final Four run. The leadership, competitiveness and consistency he demonstrates could convince a first-round team to put extra stock into his professionalism.
Steady: Jordan Hawkins (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
B/R Rank: No. 41
Hawkins shot the Huskies past Saint Mary’s in the second half last weekend, though the barrage of 3s only underscored what scouts already knew about his shooting. Climbing draft boards into the top-20 range will call for more creation and off-the-dribble scoring over the next few weeks. One-dimensional shooters in the 6’5″ and under range haven’t fared exceptionally well in the NBA, but there is still a decent chance that a team deems his off-ball shot-making worth drafting in the first round.
Steady: Keyontae Johnson (Kansas State, SF/PF, Senior)
B/R Rank: No. 48
Scouts started to take Johnson seriously (again) midway through the year, though he hasn’t flashed anything new lately to change his draft projection. He’s most likely an option in the Nos. 31-45 range for his shooting, physical tools and passing flashes.
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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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