The 2023 NBA Draft is Thursday, at Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, New York. The league's Draft Lottery was held last month, and the San Antonio Spurs walked away as the big winner, with the rights to draft French phenom, Victor Wembanyama, number 1. But there's still much doubt about how the rest of the picks will go for the other 13 lottery slots. Certainly, there will be many trades on Draft Day, which will wreak havoc with many Mock Draft predictions. But I will still give it a go with my forecast of how the first 14 picks will turn out, and what I believe are the "Best Bets" for those who want to entertain themselves with some action on Thursday night.
1. San Antonio Spurs - Victor Wembanyama
, Metropolitans 92, France
There's not much left to be said about Wemby, who ranks as (possibly) the best prospect ever in any professional sport. Yes, he's that good. For the uninitiated, just watch this highlights video
... He's a 7'5" center with an 8' wingspan, and can play both inside, and on the perimeter. Because of his size, he can shoot over anyone, and has the ability to hit fade-away 3-point shots. What is immediately apparent is how great his coordination is for a 7-footer. He has the mobility and ball-handling skills of players a foot shorter. And the bonus is that he has the demeanor of Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant. He takes the game ultra-seriously, and is competitive. His mother, Elodie de Fautereau, was a former basketball player who competed in several French basketball leagues, and is currently a basketball coach. No doubt she was a major influence. His frame does need to be filled out (think, Kevin Durant), and injuries will always be a concern. But if he can stay healthy, he should become an all-time great.
2. Charlotte Hornets - Scoot Henderson
, Ignite, G-League
The first huge decision belongs to the Charlotte Hornets, who will need to choose between the "Best Available Player" (Henderson), or their "Best Positional Need" (Brandon Miller). I've always been a guy who believes you draft the best player, and figure the rest out later, so I'll lean to Scoot Henderson, here. The conflict, of course, for Charlotte, is that it already has a ball-dominant player in LaMelo Ball. So, it might be reluctant to draft a point guard prospect in Henderson -- even though he might be the best lead guard prospect in years. Henderson is an explosive athlete, with size, quickness and strength. He's 6'2", 190 and has a wingspan of 6'9". He's an aggressive attacker, and can absorb contact and will be deadly in the transition game, or in pick-and-roll offenses. He is a willing and effective passer, and had a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Think Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook as what his ceiling could be. His weakness -- if there is one -- is that he only hit 27% from 3-point range, so he'll need to work on his long-range shot. But he's just 19 years old, so he will surely improve. Watch Scoot finish with a reverse lay-up against Victor Wembanyama at the 6-second mark of this highlights video
... And then, in that same highlights reel, also look at his move against Wemby at the 2 minute, 35 second mark. Henderson is too good to pass up at #2 in my opinion. Look for Charlotte to take him, or to trade the pick to another team if it doesn't want to draft a point guard.
3. Portland Trail Blazers - Brandon Miller
Brandon Miller is the best wing player available in the draft. He's 6'9", and led all freshmen with 18.8 ppg (which was #50 among all classes, combined). Miller shot 45% from the field, including 44% from long-distance. And he's also very good in transition, and can rebound (8.2 rpg). Importantly, he's an unselfish player, and competes hard on the defensive end, and makes hustle plays. And even though he's mostly viewed as a pull-up shooter, he's not afraid to take it hard to the rim. Look at his drive at the 11:50 mark of this video
... Still, he needs to improve on finishing through contact. And he will need to add some muscle to his frame. But the NBA always loves scorers, and he can do that in spades. Portland may very well trade this draft pick for a veteran star to pair with Damian Lillard. Regardless of which team owns this pick, Miller will not slip past #3.
4. Houston Rockets - Amen Thompson
, City Reapers, Overtime Elite
The Houston Rockets were the biggest loser on Draft Lottery night. Yes, it's true that the Detroit Pistons (who, along with Houston and San Antonio, had the best odds) fell one spot further, to #5. But I would submit that there's scant difference between Picks 4-6 in this draft. The reason Houston had a worse Lottery was that its Texas rival (with which Houston competes for fans) won the right to draft Victor Wembanyama. To understand just how much this hurt Houston, watch this video
of Rockets fans as the top four picks were revealed. Houston now is confronted with looking up to the Spurs and Wemby for the next 20 years. With respect to this pick, Houston could go in a number of directions. It could pick the hometown hero, Jarace Walker, or go with Cam Whitmore. But I'll go with Amen Thompson. For the last few weeks, it was rumored that former Rocket, James Harden, would return to Houston. But the winds have shifted, and Harden is now expected to stay with Philadelphia. Given that development, Thompson makes the most sense at #4. He's a 6'7", 210 pound point guard (but could play any of the 1-3 positions), with exceptional speed, quickness and explosive ability. However, there are flaws in his game. He shot just 25% from long distance, and needs to improve his decision-making, as he had a 1.74 assist to turnover ratio. He also played against relatively-weak competition in the Overtime Elite league. But there's no denying his athleticism. Watch 80 seconds of this video
from the 11:40 to the 13:00 mark to see his talents. The cross-court pass at the 13 minute mark was pretty special.
5. Detroit Pistons - Jarace Walker
The Detroit Pistons had the league's worst record last season, primarily because their best player, Cade Cunningham, was lost to injury early in the season. Detroit recently hired Monty Williams as its head coach, and signed Williams to $12 million annual contract (2nd highest, behind Gregg Popovich). Williams and GM Troy Weaver will get a great player here to play alongside Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. I think Jarace Walker would be a great fit. Walker is a 6'8", 235 pound, power forward, with a 7'2" wing span. He has a great mid-range game, and can guard multiple positions, given his lateral quickness and size. He's also an adept passer. He'll need to improve his ball-handling, and his shooting from both the free throw and 3-point lines. Look at his highlights in this video
(check out the 12:43 through 14-minute mark).
6. Orlando Magic - Cam Whitmore
The Orlando Magic landed last year's top rookie in Paolo Banchero (drafted #1), and own Picks #6 and #11 this season. Besides Banchero, the Magic have a lot of young talent on their roster, like Franz Wagner, Caleb Houstan, Markelle Fultz, etc. Orlando's biggest need is shooting, and better guard play, so Anthony Black might be a better fit. But Whitmore may be too talented to pass up. The Magic could go with Whitmore, and then address their shooting/playmaking needs with Pick #11, and/or choose to trade this pick, if the right offer comes along. Whitmore is a 6'6", 234-pound wing, who plays above-the-rim (watch a collection of dunks in the first 60 seconds of this video
). He is a powerful, high-energy player who has blow-by speed, as well as a solid mid-range game. He also shot 34% from 3-point territory and averaged 5.3 rebounds per game. His primary weaknesses are his ball-handling ability and his willingness to pass (he averaged 0.7 assists per game).
7. Indiana Pacers - Taylor Hendricks
Taylor Hendricks is a 6'9", 215-pound power forward from Central Florida. He averaged 15 ppg, on 48% FG shooting (and 39% from 3-point territory). He runs the floor well, so he will thrive in a transition offense, and he's also a very good defender, with strong lateral movement. Watch his highlights at this video
from the 3:43 mark to 4:50. He does lack shot-creation skills, and will need to put on some muscle. Indiana could use a power forward to pair with Myles Turner, so it will be happy to grab whoever remains among Walker, Whitmore and Hendricks.
8. Washington Wizards - Anthony Black
The Washington Wizards hit the reset button with their trade of Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns, and enter this draft with the #8, #42 and #57 picks. Needless to say, it would behoove GM Will Dawkins to swing for the fences with this first-round pick. One option would be to take a shot with fast-risers Kobe Bufkin or Bilal Coulibaly. But Anthony Black has been linked with Washington for a while, and I think he's the player headed to DC. Black had a great freshman season at Arkansas. He's a 6'7", 210 pound PG/SG, who has great playmaking skills (he averaged 4 assists per game). He shot 50.3% inside the arc (though he struggled with his 3-point shooting, at 30%). Ideally, he would be on a team with better outside shooters, so he can do what he's best at, and just run the offense. The first 90 seconds of this highlights video
will give you a great sense of what Black can do.
9. Utah Jazz - Kobe Bufkin
Along with Bilal Coulibaly, Kobe Bufkin has been the fastest riser up the draft board. I believe at least one of those two will crack the Top 10 (and go as high as #8). I prefer Bufkin over Coulibaly, so I'll slot the Michigan guard here at #9. Bufkin is likely to be the highest collegiate non-freshman to be drafted (though he's 8.5 months younger than the Thompson brothers, who bypassed college to play in the Overtime Elite league). He did not play much as a freshman (3 ppg in 10 minutes per game), but blossomed in his second season, teaming with coach Juwan Howard's freshman son, Jett (also considered to be a first-round pick). Bufkin is a 6'4", 190 pound, southpaw shooting guard. He averaged almost 14 ppg on 48% FG shooting, and increased his 3-point FG percentage from 22% to 35%. He can get downhill, and convert at the rim, and has a solid handle and burst. He's also a good defender, though he sometimes gambles too much for steals, and also fouls a little unnecessarily. But those weaknesses will be improved with good coaching at the NBA level. Bufkin declined to participate for teams in workouts this month, which has led many to speculate that he's been made a promise by an NBA franchise, which asked him to "shut it down" so another team wouldn't acquire interest. If true, perhaps Orlando is targeting Bufkin at #11. Unfortunately, I think the league has realized just how good he is, and I don't think he'll survive that long. Check out Bufkin's highlights in the first 70 seconds of this video
10. Dallas Mavericks - Ausar Thompson
, City Reapers, Overtime Elite
If someone like Kobe Bufkin (or even Bilal Coulibaly) is going to rise up the draft rankings, then that means another has to fall. Many are looking at Cam Whitmore to be that player to drop. And he may. But I think Ausar Thompson is another candidate to fall. But this #10 pick would be Thompson's floor. And Dallas -- which tanked over its last couple of games to try to lock in a Top 10 pick -- could very well be the beneficiary if a player plummeted out of the Top 5 to #10. Thompson played against soft competition in the Overtime Elite league, which is one reason why some teams might discount his statistics (16.3 ppg; 7.1 rpg; 6.1 apg). And he's also (along with his twin brother, Amen) the oldest player among those considered to be lottery (top 14) picks. Still, there's much to like about his skill-set. He's a 6'7", 215 pound wing, with dynamic speed. He can jump out of the gym, makes an impact on defense, and is a solid rebounder. But he also needs to improve his jump shot and turnover rate (3.3 TO per game). Watch this video
to see why Thompson will be a Top 10 pick.
11. Orlando Magic - Bilal Coulibaly
, Metropolitans 92, France
Just a month ago, Bilal Coulibaly was projected to go late in the first round. But he's risen sharply up the charts, and now could go as high as #8, while likely not falling below #13. I believe Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti is targeting Coulibaly at #12. Presti flew to France to watch him play earlier this month, and Coulibaly is the typical high upside player Presti is known to favor. But it's very possible Coulibaly doesn't get to #12. Orlando needs better guard play, so it could address that need with its #6 pick, and take Anthony Black, or it could grab a guy like Cason Wallace, here, at #11. Or, it could just take a guy like Coulibaly, with monstrous upside, and figure out its guard situation later. I'm a big believer in always taking players with great upside at this stage in the draft, so I'll tab the Frenchman with this #11 pick. Coulibaly played alongside Victor Wembanyama for Mets 92 this season, and blossomed late in the year. He's 6'7", 200 pounds, with a wingspan measured at 7'3". He's unbelievably athletic, and plays above the rim. Admittedly, he's still a bit raw, and will need to improve his shot creation, decision-making (his assist-to-turnover ratio is 1:1), and will have to put on weight. But the tools are there for Coulibaly to be a special player. Here's his highlight video
12. Oklahoma City Thunder - Dereck Lively
If Bilal Coulibaly is available, I would expect Oklahoma City to snag him. But if Coulibaly is off the board, then look for GM Sam Presti to go with Duke's 7'1", 230 pound center, Dereck Lively. A weakness for the Thunder last season was its defense against opposing centers. Last year's (injured) #1 pick, Chet Holmgren, will hopefully return healthy this next season, and offer rim protection. But Holmgren is a toothpick, so OKC could definitely use some additional size in the paint. Lively would be a solid interior presence with his size, length and athleticism. Lively has a 7'4" wingspan, and is a game-changer on the defensive end with his ability to alter and block shots. He had 82 blocks last season, which led all freshmen in that category. This video
shows off his defensive skills (and dunking ability). Not surprisingly, his highlight video doesn't show much beyond blocks and dunks, since he's a limited offensive player. He will need to improve upon his 60% FT shooting and his tendency to foul (2.7 fouls in 20 mins per game). He also will need to add strength, as he can get displaced under the basket, and only averaged 5.2 rebounds per game.
13. Toronto Raptors - Cason Wallace
Cason Wallace had a tremendous freshman season for John Calipari's Wildcats. Wallace is one of the best point guard prospects in the draft, and could go as high as #8 to Washington. If he's still on the board at #13, don't be surprised if Toronto GM Bobby Webster pulls the trigger on Wallace. Other possibilities include Indiana's Jalen Hood-Schifino or Baylor's Keyonte George. Wallace averaged 11.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, and 2.0 steals. He's 6'4", 195 pounds, and is an extremely physical defender and exceptional in transition defense. He only shot 34.6% from 3-point territory at Kentucky, but was better in high school, so he should be able to improve his numbers at the NBA level. He could develop into an elite defensive player like Marcus Smart. Watch his impressive blocks at the 16:38 and 17:32 marks of this video
14. New Orleans Pelicans - Jalen Hood-Schifino
The New Orleans Pelicans own the final "Lottery" pick, at #14, but have been in active trade negotiations, and may use this pick in an effort to trade up in the draft. There will be many talented players still on the board here, and one I love is Indiana's freshman combo guard, Jalen Hood-Schifino. He's 6'5", 215 pounds, with a 6'10" wingspan. This past season, he averaged 13.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, and shot 41.7% from the floor for the Hoosiers. It's true that he's not overly-athletic. But he is very physical on offense and defense, excels in the pick and roll game, and has excellent court vision (watch this video
for 45 seconds, starting at the 10 minute mark). He'll be a guy who will excel in a half-court offense, but won't be as strong in transition. He will also need to improve his long-range shooting, as he shot just 33% from 3-point territory.Best Bets
Kobe Bufkin Draft Position Under 13.5, -260 (Bet365)
Ausar Thompson Draft Position Over 5.5, -400 (Bovada)
Jarace Walker Draft Position Under 6.5, -105 (Bovada)
Anthony Black Draft Position Under 8.5, -225 (Bovada)
Good luck, as always...Al McMordie