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 NCAA tournament bracket set, NBA scouts and executives will spread across the country to cover the dozens of draft picks competing.
This year’s field is loaded with lottery and first-round prospects, including some who’ll match up in early rounds.
By now, the majority of on-court scouting work is done, though every year we see players rise up boards for NBA teams who put some extra stock into the higher-stakes performances.
These rankings are based strictly on our evaluations of NBA potential. It is not a prediction for how the draft will shake out.
25. Jordan Walsh (Arkansas, SF, Freshman)
Defense will be Walsh’s money-maker and a reason NBA teams should stay patient with his offensive development. Enough flashes of spot-up shooting, drives past closeouts and floater touch do highlight promising complementary scoring potential. But he’ll presumably require a year in the G League strengthening his shot-making and body. Regardless, his long-term value to an NBA team will revolve around his defensive intensity, hustle and ability to guard both forward spots.
24. Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois, SG/SF, Senior)
Even a streaky-shooting Shannon could work at the next level, given the threat of his 6-foot-6 size and athleticism for slashing (6.6 FTA per game) and defense. Improved shot-making (50 3PTM) has put him back in the draft discussion. And though far from a playmaker, he’s still raised his assist percentage every season in college.
23. Jalen Wilson (Kansas, SF/PF, Junior)
Improved shot-making has sparked Wilson’s breakout and heightened NBA interest. The transition scoring, physical driving and finishing at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds have always popped. But Wilson has become a more well-rounded scorer with his catch-and-shoot and mid-range games. NBA teams will just require more three-point and defensive consistency.
22. Marcus Sasser (Houston, PG/SG, Senior)
Before a groin injury knocked Sasser out on Saturday, he’d been on a heater, averaging 21.8 points over Houston’s previous eight games. Regardless of his availability or effectiveness in the NCAA tournament, there will be NBA interest in his shooting versatility. He put together another convincing season of pull-up and spot-up shot-making, which teams will envision translating to a perimeter-scoring specialist role. The lack of playmaking and defensive size cap his upside.
21. Jordan Hawkins (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)
Hawkins’ shot-making has popped all season, particularly the off-screen shooting that gives him a needed edge for a non-creator. It’s difficult to picture a path to upside without Hawkins possessing useful ball-handling or playmaking. But NBA teams could see a plug-and-play guard/wing based on the combination of athleticism and shooting versatility for off-ball scoring.
20. Jaime Jaquez Jr. (UCLA, SF/PF, Senior)
Jaquez’s scoring versatility, defensive toughness, athletic limitations and three-point numbers have scouts split. There would be more confidence in his NBA projection if he showed any convincing shooting improvement from deep over the past few seasons. But he’s still capable and even solid in the mid-range while possessing an effective mix of craftiness and physicality for two-point scoring.
Skeptics have doubts about his potential to create separation, but Jaquez demonstrates enough versatility, IQ and toughness for NBA teams to picture a role player.
19. Tyrese Proctor (Duke, PG/SG, Freshman)
Regardless of what happens in the NCAA tournament, Proctor feels like a good candidate to return, strengthen his body and shot-making and max out his stock for a weaker 2024 draft.
The second half of the season should have served scouts with a reminder that he possesses plus-shooting potential. The shot-making paired with savvy passing and sound decision-making for a 6-foot-5, 18-year-old guard should prevent overthinking his 2022-23 season.
18. Ricky Council IV (Arkansas, SG/SF, Junior)
Council’s 6-foot-6 size, explosiveness, self-creation and play-finishing should allow for patience with his three-point shooting. Between his burst and handle, NBA teams can buy his advantage creation, while his athletic ability and tough shot-making should continue translating to easy baskets and scoring improvisation inside the arc.
Stiff mechanics do make it difficult to have confidence in his long-range shooting development, though.
17. Terquavion Smith (NC State, SG, Sophomore)
A 30-point eruption to start the ACC tournament followed by a 5-of-18 shooting, four-turnover game in a loss to Clemson summed up Smith’s pros and cons. In each of his first two seasons at NC State, he’s made at least 90 threes and shot below 40.0 percent from the floor. Smith’s value and weaknesses will be evident immediately, as teams can bank on the shot-making skill (60 pull-ups, 54 catch-and-shoot makes) and confidence for jolts of scoring and understand that’s he’s vulnerable to inefficiency because of his perimeter shot selection and 165-pound frame.
16. Julian Strawther (Gonzaga, SF, Junior)
With nine 20-plus-point games over Gonzaga’s last 14, Strawther has been strengthening his case to NBA teams with the type of shot-making they can picture translating to an off-ball scoring role. The 6-foot-7 wing is up to 42.6 percent on 5.1 three-point attempts, demonstrating impressive balance and rhythm rising off deep spot-ups and screens.
A limited creator and defender, Strawther won’t have much margin for error as a shooter. But positional size, the eye test on his fluidity, his NCAA accuracy and one of the nation’s best floaters (58.7 percent) suggest he has the necessary tools, mechanics and touch.
15. Dereck Lively (Duke, C, Freshman)
Lively’s recognition and processing have improved at both ends, resulting in more easy baskets, good decisions and shot-blocking. With a high center of gravity, he’s still vulnerable defending the post. But NBA teams should feel they know what they’re getting with his wing span for finishing and rim protection. He’ll just require a specific suitor that’s in need of center depth and defense, given his lack of versatility and offensive skill.
14. Noah Clowney (Alabama, PF, Freshman)
With Clowney, you’re valuing the three-and-D archetype and betting on his shooting and driving flashes long-term. Teams should see value in a 6-foot-10 stretch 4 or 5 who blocks shots, defends pick-and-rolls and rebounds. His age (18), 27.8 three-point percentage and limitations off the dribble suggest he’ll need time in the G League in 2023-24.
13. Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana, PF/C, Senior)
Still a post-up heavy big, Jackson-Davis has countered skepticism around an outdated, signature skill by improving his passing and defense to create more versatility. Still, between his back-to-the-basket footwork, counters, creativity and ambidexterity, Jackson-Davis should continue to operate as a difficult cover inside 15 feet and space. Plus, his ability to draw double-teams and facilitate around the key will give NBA teams more reasons to feature him.
12. Kyle Filipowski (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
Filipowski looks a lot more attractive from an NBA standpoint when he’s knocking down threes like he did against Pittsburgh (4-of-6). His ability to attack bigs off the dribble is a big selling point, though there are questions about how well that will translate against NBA 4s.
Regardless, for a 7-footer, capable three-point range, face-up skill and post-scoring should warrant first-round consideration.
11. Kris Murray (Iowa, SF/PF, Junior)
With 63 three-point makes and the same type of transition, cutting and post-up production as his brother Keegan last year, Kris has an established and even proven skill set for off-ball scoring at the NBA level.
NBA teams may wind up preferring to gamble on younger prospects with more paths to upside. Murray will be a 23-year-old rookie without much creation or playmaking skill, but the right team figures to see value in adding an immediate shot-maker and play-finisher.
10. Dariq Whitehead (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
While scouts are closer to having set opinions on the majority of 2023 prospects, Whitehead still has a big opportunity to move the needle for himself.
High school tape suggests pre/mid-season injuries have limited him athletically this season. Regardless, Whitehead is shooting 41.1 percent from three, while a spot-up role has helped mask the advanced creation we saw last year at Montverde.
His weak finishing feel is concerning, but between the spot-up shooting, his dribble-jumper game and driving tools, his age (18) and potential to get some burst back warn against overthinking this season’s small sample size. Previous film shows a more creative scorer and willing passer.
9. Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana, PG/SG, Freshman)
Hood-Schifino entered the 2023 draft discussion midway through the season, when his three-level shot-making started to result in 20- and 30-point games. At 6-foot-6, he operates with ball control and changing speeds over explosiveness, getting to his spots and knocking down 41.7 percent of his 163 pull-up attempts.
He hasn’t been as efficient at the rim or behind the arc, but some acrobatic finishes and games with multiple made threes suggest scouts should detect capable improvement.
Teams might see more of a combo than a lead guard given his weak assist-to-turnover ratio and questionable defensive outlook against quicker primary ball-handlers.
8. Colby Jones (Xavier, PG/SG, Junior)
Jones seems to be earning fans by the month with efficient scoring and passing for a 6-foot-6 interchangeable guard/wing. On Thursday, he carried Xavier back from a 13-point, second-half deficit with timely shooting and consistent ball-screen execution using his strength, touch shots and improv on drives.
Jones isn’t the most creative scorer, and it’s worth wondering what his 67.0 free-throw percentage says about his three-point improvement on low volume. But the junior ultimately checks too many boxes with translatable physical tools for finishing and defense, skill for shot-making and IQ/toughness NBA teams want in supporting players.
7. Anthony Black (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
Despite valid questions about Black’s burst and skill set for NBA scoring, translatable playmaking and defense still create a valued archetype.
NBA coaches will see a ball-screen weapon with 6-foot-7 size, long strides, touch shots for driving and vision/IQ for playmaking. He also looks like a lock to cause problems on defense with his foot speed, quick hands and anticipation.
He’ll presumably struggle as a shooter for the foreseeable future, and it’s tough to picture many 20-point games earlier in his pro career. It wouldn’t be surprising if his NBA production/numbers mirrored his current ones at Arkansas: 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 steals.
6. Keyonte George (Baylor, SG, Freshman)
A 38.7 field-goal percentage has cast a light cloud over George’s production. But there should still be strong confidence in his shooting versatility/range for NBA scoring.
He’s knocked down jump shots all season with convincing fluidity and rhythm, whether it’s been off spot-ups (21 makes), off screens (17 makes) or pull-ups (49 makes). The ability to separate, rise up or step back into dribble-jumpers creates isolation and takeover scoring potential, while the catch-and-shoot success highlights his ability to play off the ball.
The eye test also sees more playmaking potential tied to some of George’s advanced passes this season, despite the poor assist-to-turnover ratio. Otherwise, heat checks, over-confidence, settling and turnovers have resulted in freshman inefficiency, and those habits could lead to teams picturing more of a bench microwave than a starter/star.
5. Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas, PG/SG, Freshman)
While Smith hasn’t been able to showcase the playmaking for scouts to picture a point guard, his shot-making and cutting appear translatable to NBA scoring.
Teams won’t overthink the percentages. On the ball, Smith possesses convincing shiftiness to self-create with the pull-up and floater games to convert. Off the ball, he’s comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations and an active mover, often looking to get behind the defense for an easy basket.
That activity level also shows on defense, where he’s frequently bouncing around and pressuring with energy.
Smith’s lack of strength, explosion and physicality have swayed him to opt for floaters or rim finishes and avoid going after rebounds. And even with Anthony Black running the show, it’s more realistic to either project a low-assist lead guard or a combo.
4. Cason Wallace (Kentucky, PG/SG, Freshman)
The occasional single digit in Wallace’s scoring column has sparked conversation about his potential to create at the NBA level. We’re calling it an overblown worry, particularly given the surefire value he’ll add with his shooting, passing and defense.
There may be some validity to the fears over Wallace’s 12 games under 10 points, 2.6 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes and lack of standout physical traits. But he shows enough craftiness and command with his handle to get to spots, and he makes up for athletic limitations with a 42.5 percent pull-up, excellent finishing feel (64.3 percent at rim) and playmaking IQ off ball screens and penetration.
Wallace may not be the same level scorer of previously undervalued Kentucky guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devin Booker, Tyrese Maxey or Tyler Herro. But his scoring should come efficiently, and he’ll add versatility and value in other areas with his IQ/processing, facilitation skills and defense.
3. Gradey Dick (Kansas, SG/SF, Freshman)
The 6-foot-8 size, 39.9 percent three-point shooting, finishes at the rim and IQ plays paint Dick as a high-floor prospect and easy fit. NBA teams can bank on his shot-making given his accuracy dating back to high school, the quick, high release and his footwork, balance and fluidity connecting off movement.
But he’s been an effective driver past closeouts or ball screens with an ability to take contact, avoid it or use his left hand around the basket.
He’ll play to those off-ball strengths earlier in his career, when he’s likely to have trouble separating one-on-one and guarding NBA wings. Sporadic flashes of self-creation hint at more on-ball scoring potential down the road, while strong legs and competitiveness should help Dick compensate on defense.
2. Jarace Walker (Houston, PF, Freshman)
For a 6-foot-8, 240-pound 19-year-old, the potential to shoot, self-create, use touch shots and pass should have NBA teams willing to look past Walker’s percentages and defensive miscues.
We’re buying the 30 made three-pointers, ball-handling moves into runners, shot-making from the post and savvy assists becoming regular and effective skills/weapons for his offense. And despite instances of being beat back door or off the dribble, improved awareness and NBA coaching could still unlock impact defense from his ridiculous physical tools.
Walker won’t be a Rookie of the Year favorite for 2023-24. Still, the value tied to his longer-term versatility should be worth chasing and waiting for.
1. Brandon Miller (Alabama, SG/SF, Freshman)
Staying above the 40.0 percent three-point mark on high volume has made Miller’s shooting feel more believable. With 35 spot-up makes, 13 made jumpers off screens and 30 pull-ups, he’s also demonstrated rare shooting versatility and accuracy for a 6-foot-9 wing.
However, he’s climbed our board by making key adjustments as a finisher, as the game has seemingly slowed down for Miller on drives when it comes time to read rim protection.
Creating for himself and converting off that self-creation remain a work in progress, but he’s flashed signs of more wiggle and scoring improvisation lately. And he’s delivered enough advanced passes and defensive plays on the ball to convince scouts there will be more to his game than shot-making.
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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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