2023 Draft Deeper Season Preview | The Morning Dunk
Gearing up for the college basketball season, our own Nathan Grubel is here to break down his year preview of top prospects before the first week's slate of games.
The college basketball season is just ONE WEEK AWAY!!
I’ve been waiting quite a while to type out those words to our audience here at No Ceilings.
While the offseason is some much-needed time away from the grind of watching film, debating prospects, and traveling to see the next potentially great NBA players, it’s bittersweet to take time away from the process that makes me who I am.
I’ve previously written my story about where I’ve come from when it comes to evaluating talent and my love for the game, but that’s what makes gearing up for another year even better. My passion is stronger on each pull that swings me back into action, and I’m beyond amped for the journey with my co-workers this season.
Last week, I took a deep dive into the Overtime Elite and its 2023 draft-eligible prospects from my trip down to Atlanta. This time around, I’m providing my full Draft Deeper 2023 NBA Draft preview, ripe with thoughts on my top prospects across multiple categories.
My top five freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors in college are at the forefront of this column given our proximity to tip-off across the country, but there’s no NBA Draft without my written thoughts on Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and the other prospects around the world contributing to one of the most hyped classes in recent memory.
So let’s dive in and discuss who the prospects are leading my preseason big board in the early going!
Top Five Freshmen Prospects
Dariq Whitehead, Duke
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 3
The second overall player in the ESPN Top 100, Dariq Whitehead has me incredibly fascinated heading into this year despite the injury that he suffered in the preseason. The good news for Duke is that he should return sooner rather than later, and boy do they need his scoring punch.
While the Blue Devils are armed with multiple table setters in Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor, as well as play finishers in Dereck Lively, Kyle Filipowski, and Mark Mitchell, no one has the potential to light it up from all three levels quite like Whitehead.
Standing at 6’6”, the Montverde product is a real shooting threat from range, both creating his own shot as well as coming off movement, squaring up, and knocking it down. Explosive in the lane, coordinated, and confident to rise and fire in the mid-range—by my evaluation to this point, he is the best pure scoring wing prospect in all of college basketball.
Should he fit seamlessly in this Duke lineup as I expect him to, he’s my leading contender for the third pick in the draft.
What I’m looking to see more of from Whitehead are the passing consistencies and quick decision making as well as his value defensively in playing within a team construct, as I think he has the court vision and instincts to impact both areas better than expected right out of the gate.
Cam Whitmore, Villanova
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 4
Before I started to dive deeper into the tape, Cam Whitmore was my lead contender to challenge Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson at the top of my board.
Coming out of Maryland, Whitmore had an excellent senior season that was capped off with a 2022 Gatorade Boys Basketball POY award in the state, as well as selections for the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.
And the hype is absolutely warranted.
Whitmore is a 6’7”, 232-pound BEAST of a basketball player. A power wing or small-ball four depending on the lineup construction, his ability to disrupt and dominate on both ends of the floor is what has my attention early on.
Yes, Whitmore will be recovering from an injury suffered preseason as well, but his debut shouldn’t be too far off from Villanova’s first game of the year. Upon his return, I would expect the Wildcats to involve him early off secondary actions, post-ups, and transition runouts to take advantage of his combination of craft, brutality, and open-court speed.
His defensive versatility is what I want to monitor, as he should be able to cover a lot of ground for Villanova. A better passer than given credit for, an excellent rebounder for his position on both ends, and a growing mid-range threat, I’ve seen plenty of touch and anticipation from Whitmore to suggest he’s a “five-tool prospect” as they’d say in the baseball world.
The outside shot is the major swing skill for Whitmore, but if he can knock those shots down as we’ve seen him in other overseas FIBA competitions, and later in his senior campaign, he could very well pass Whitehead on my board for that third spot.
Jarace Walker, Houston
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 6
I wasn’t expecting to have Jarace Walker as high as I do in my preseason rankings, but all I had to do was flip on the tape for five minutes to fall in love with what this 6’8” forward is capable of.
What really impresses me out of the gate is the touch he has on his mid-range shots and on post fades. A high arc on his jumper with that soft touch allows him to make a variety of tough looks no matter who is guarding him. And his size and strength allow him to seal off defenders and establish himself quickly in possessions where he’s most comfortable.
A very intriguing pick-and-roll threat, Walker is the ideal power forward in today’s NBA. A short-roll passer, strong finisher around the basket, solid footwork, and great leaper off two, Walker has all of the tools in his bag to score inside the arc against any defense.
And when he guards on the other end, he plays with a ferociousness that’s difficult to contain. He gets back in transition, protects the rim, can switch on the perimeter, and hunts for rebounds like few others at his position in the class.
The same concern applies to Walker as it does to Cam Whitmore. His three-point shot isn’t at an above-average level by the numbers, but given what he can do from the elbow-extended areas on the floor, I have full confidence that shot will eventually be there for him. And when defenses have to close out on Walker, good luck containing him. It would not shock me if he passed either of the previously discussed wings on my board.
Nick Smith, Arkansas
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 7
There’s a ton of positive buzz emanating from Arkansas regarding the 6’5” freshman guard Nick Smith.
Coming into this draft cycle, there have been plenty of draft outlets and scouts to dub him as the top guard prospect in the country not named Scoot Henderson. And after some back-and-forth and deeper film study, I would tend to agree depending on how Amen Thompson is positionally classified.
Smith’s shot profile would tend to push an evaluator to consider him a combo guard, someone who can find gaps in the defense to set up his teammates but is really at his best creating one-on-one and looking for mismatches to dominate from the perimeter or get downhill to finish at the cup.
When I went back and reviewed some refresher tape, I was much more enthused with his playmaking out of pick-and-roll than I was upon my first study of his game. Smith can play with poise, change gears, and make the right reads to sling passes where they need to go off the screen up top.
I still think there’s room for improvement as far as multiple progressions off those plays, but he can make the requisite passes needed to command the ball within the offense. And there isn’t another back-court shot maker as dynamic as Smith in the country.
Defensively I do have some questions, but he has the size and length to play the point of attack at the next level and hold his own. Evaluating his team defense, seeing the evolution of his playmaking, and most importantly how he holds up on jumpers from an efficiency standpoint are some of the things I’ll be watching closely for Smith this season.
But there’s no doubt, he’ll get his opportunities to drill step-back jumpers and sky high for some impressive dunks in transition as well as in traffic. The bouncy Smith will put on a show for the Razorbacks this year.
Brandon Miller, Alabama
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 8
I’ll give credit where credit is due when it comes to my swing on Brandon Miller.
I was encouraged by No Ceilings’s own Corey Tulaba, Tyler Metcalf, and Tyler Rucker to take another dive into the Miller tape, as I didn’t quite understand what his immediate appeal was without further development of his game.
A tough shot-maker in the midrange, not to mention his growing arsenal from three and his ability to finish at the basket with his length and 6’9” frame, and it’s easy to put together the picture of potential three-level scorer at the NBA level. His behind-the-arc shooting is still a question mark, but given how he thrives on long two’s, I’m confident he’ll continue to put in the work necessary to extend his range similarly to some of the league’s other top wing and forward scorers who also had to make that same transition.
But man, the DEFENSIVE UPSIDE with Miller was undersold by me when we talked about him on the Draft Deeper podcast a few weeks ago.
We did discuss his defensive role in high school at length, which was playing center and having to quarterback his team on that end. But Corey did a great job of contextualizing what that means for his development moving forward on the latest Draftdaq episode below.
The way he’s had to adjust styles and positions covered between AAU, high school, and any other competition he’s played in is something that I have admittedly underestimated heading into this season.
I’m not in love with Miller as the small-ball five in the NBA even though he did excel as a shot blocker from the middle of the floor in high school. But the lessons he’s learned covering in the pick-and-roll, defending in space, and then guarding one-on-one on the perimeter in other roles will help him emerge as one of the most versatile defenders in college basketball.
Alabama has the shooting and length to put around Miller to help him grow in every facet of his game. As he continues to work on his outside shot, I’ll be fascinated to see more of the playmaking flashes we saw in previous levels. The more the Crimson Tide puts the ball in Miller’s hands, the better the outcome may be for one of our top prospects across the board.
Top Five Sophomore Prospects
Arthur Kaluma, Creighton
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 17
I’m incredibly intrigued by Arthur Kaluma and the steps forward he could take in his second year.
The 6’7” small forward reminds me a lot of OG Anunoby when he was coming out of college. Big, physical, good footwork and balance, and improving shooting touch from the outside.
Kaluma is difficult to contain when he goes downhill. He has a solid first step with the spins, drops, counters, and setup to take advantage of an off-balance defender or mismatch in the post. He’s also very comfortable stepping into trailer threes or sprinting to the corners for an open look as well as coming down the lane like a freight train for a slam finish.
The questions around his game for me are more so with how much of a load he can handle offensively. I don’t love his handle, and the passing is coming along but I wouldn’t call him the quickest decision-maker when it comes to options after trying to beat the defense one-on-one. If more of those parts of his game come around, he could become a fast riser up draft boards.
Defensively, he’ll be able to guard multiple positions in the NBA thanks to his lateral mobility, strength, and competitiveness at his size. I’m buying Kaluma stock early as someone who will prove to scouts he’s deserving of at least consideration in the lottery.
Terquavion Smith, NC State
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 20
Terquavion Smith burst onto the scene last year as one of the most electrifying guards in the country.
Not too many backcourt threats possess his combination of speed and outside shooting. Smith can drill tough threes off the bounce, and if defenders come out too far on him he can get around anyone and get to his spots to operate inside the arc.
A true scoring guard, Smith made strides toward the end of the year as a passer but still has a ways to go as a pick-and-roll operator. There were games I saw where Smith looked like a deer in headlights, so I want to see growth from him as a playmaker, not just a scorer.
As far as the points department is concerned, Smith HAS to improve his finishing at the rim. Effective shooting percentages sub-40% inside the arc, particularly around the basket, aren’t going to cut it if he wants to put himself into lottery territory in the 2023 draft. Taking better angles to the rim and better recognizing the help defense should help him uptick those numbers, but efficiency as a whole needs to improve.
Microwave scoring guards have a place in the league, but without the positive impact defensively and high-level playmaking, Smith really has to clean some things up before teams raise him on their boards ahead of plenty of other names in the class.
DaRon Holmes, Dayton
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 24
I’m a big fan of what Holmes could become this year at Dayton.
No matter what, big men like him just seem to find homes in the league. Athletic rim runners who are pros at slipping to the basket, can catch and finish above the defense, and can potentially come out and defend away from the basket are exactly the types of centers NBA teams still want to invest draft capital in.
Holmes can do the majority of those things now, but given how quick he is for his size and how well he moves his feet, I suspect there are more ways to utilize him defensively than just drop coverage in pick-and-roll.
Surrounded by a group of seasoned guards and wings, there should be plenty of creators who can get him the ball where he needs it for easy finishes all year long. The jump shot is still quite a ways away, but I did like his confidence in stepping into shots outside of the paint last season and I expect more of those attempts during his sophomore campaign.
At 6’10”, Holmes is a nightly double-double candidate who is also arguably one of the best shot blockers in college basketball. The protection he can provide at the rim, in the post, and from the weak side should help Dayton keep a tight lid on the rim. If his production continues to trend upwards as I think it will, he should hear his name called in the first round come June.
Maxwell Lewis, Pepperdine
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 37
The Maxwell Lewis train left the station last year as far as him being a “deep sleeper” is concerned.
I still don’t hear his name a ton in mainstream draft circles outside of a few sharp evaluators who continuously have him in the mix on their boards.
But I’m buying plenty of stock in Lewis to have a fairly sizable uptick in production during his sophomore season.
While his numbers weren’t gaudy for Pepperdine by any means last year, Lewis’ tape was some of the most fun I got to review over the last month.
The 6’7” wing has all of the shot-making tools in his bag to take a massive leap in the scoring department—step-back jumpers, post fades, spot-up shooting, and above-the-rim finishes in transition or off cuts. Lewis has a great package off the ball as an offensive threat. My questions are about how much more he can show as an on-ball creator.
If more of the passing comes around, and he becomes a go-to option on a team that should be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth, I think Lewis is a real candidate to go in the first round. Two-way wings with his offensive upside generally rise up boards, especially during the pre-draft process. Expect to hear plenty more about Lewis as the season rolls on.
Tyrese Hunter, Texas
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 40
Admittedly, I was a tad too early to jump onto the Tyrese Hunter Express after a solid start to his freshman season.
While he does possess a fun package of speed, verticality, and defensive tenacity for a 6’0” guard, he wasn’t efficient offensively last year as a scoring threat.
All of his percentages across the board didn’t strike fear into opposing defenses in the way that I expected. So while Hunter’s command over the pick-and-roll offense stood out when he looked to set up others, there were a ton of shots he stepped into that just didn’t go down, leading to empty possessions.
Hunter has the quickness and burst to set up open pull-up jumpers or rim-finishing opportunities at the drop of a hat. But he was held back last year by his incredibly inconsistent shooting and lack of strength to finish through contact. Taking better driving angles could also help Hunter avoid some of the traffic and get a better look at the basket.
His case is really simple to me. If Hunter can become a 45-46% scorer from the field, an average or close enough to it shooter from three, and cut down on his turnovers, there’s a real case to be made for Hunter to trend upward even past just the back end of the first round.
Few guards compete and force turnovers on defense as often as he does, and he has the type of body that can really fill out well despite not being the tallest on the floor. Hunter has a chance to emerge at Texas, but he will have to do so quickly as Marcus Carr and Arterio Morris will command touches and sets of their own.
Top Five Junior Prospects
Kris Murray, Iowa
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 25
While he isn’t the two-way force that his brother Keegan Murray proved to be last year for Iowa en route to a top pick in the draft, Kris has enough game in his own right to make a splash this season.
Murray chose to come back for his junior year and should have plenty of opportunity to put the ball in the basket the best way he knows how: from distance.
Be it off the catch or movement, Murray can knock down jumpers from a variety of spots and angles on the floor. A quick, fluid release gives him an edge at 6’8” to get shots off before defenders can properly contest, and even then he gets it high enough to where it’s very difficult to block his shot.
Close out too hard on him, and Murray can get downhill and finish with the left around the basket. Not the most ambidextrous finisher or adept ball handler, Murray is sound enough on line drives to get to where he needs to go and get the deuce.
A more efficient scorer than people realize, Murray has the skills of a role player in the NBA who can step in and make an impact. While he does need to improve defensively on and off the ball and keep using his size to box out and affect the game on the boards, I can foresee Murray having an efficient season to where it’s hard for teams to leave him out of the first round, especially given the pedigree of his brother who is already off to a great start in the league.
Colby Jones, Xavier
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 33
Not the sexiest prospect in the field, Colby Jones is starting the year just outside my first-round grades but could easily wiggle his way up a few spots.
The 6’6” wing is a connector prospect who thrives off secondary actions, offensive rebounding opportunities, cuts, and open spot-ups. An intelligent and crafty passer who can get to his spots on the floor, Jones is always looking at how he can make the game easier for everyone else around him.
Throw in his defensive capabilities on the perimeter, and it becomes easy to make a case for Jones as a riser during the year.
His outside shot does need to continue to come around to bring the package together, however. Jones doesn’t have the same size and stride as someone like a Dyson Daniels to manipulate and take advantage of certain defensive coverages despite not being a knockdown threat from the outside. Even though he’s an effective player inside the arc, 29% from three at the NBA level won’t cut it.
If he can keep making improvements this year, his junior season could have him in a position to hear his name called sooner than later on draft night.
Mike Miles, TCU
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 39
There were plenty of scouts and evaluators who wanted to argue for Mike Miles as one of the best point guard prospects in the 2022 draft, so it was considered a surprise when he decided to come back to TCU.
Now in his junior season, Miles has a chance to put up one hell of a year by the numbers as he’ll have the greenest of lights in the entire country.
A shifty shot maker, slick pick-and-roll passer, and one of the most confident studs to lace up in all of college basketball, there just aren’t a large number of guards who put on the show that he can.
An adept handle of the basketball with dribble combinations for days and the speed and quickness to ROAST on-ball defenders, Miles can take and make shots from anywhere on the floor. While not the biggest guard, he is tough and competitive defensively.
What Miles needs to prove is that he’s more than an inefficient gunner. I’ve watched enough of the tape to have a different opinion of Miles, as I think he sets the table pretty well for his team given the circumstances. But he does have to drive up his true shooting percentage to a more respectable level to get a stronger contingent of NBA teams looking his way come draft night.
Ricky Council IV, Arkansas
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 42
A transfer in from Wichita State, Ricky Council is coming into Arkansas to break out nationally in a big way. And boy, will he have the opportunity to do so.
The Razorbacks are one of the most talented squads in the nation, but the collection as a whole has a glaring weakness: perimeter shooting.
Filled with athletes up and down the roster, outside of Nick Smith there aren’t too many proven threats from the outside capable of spacing the floor in a way that creators like Smith and Anthony Black need to operate at their best.
Therefore, it’s up to Council as much as any of the other guards and wings in the lineup to prove they can knock down corner shots and provide some offensive relief off movement to get defenses moving and force them out of the free throw and painted areas.
Considering Council shot almost 85% from the line last year, I do think he’s more than capable of being a 35-36% shooter from beyond the arc, which would help his draft stock in a big way.
I buy all of the other pieces to his game. He’s a lob threat off cuts and in transition, a multi-positional defender, a good rebounder compared to his peers on the wing, and overall a competitive force who can impact his team in a variety of ways.
NBA teams still need glue guys who can come off the bench and provide a spark. That’s Council’s chance at a roster spot, so long as he can knock down enough shots to prove he’s worthy of a draft pick and minutes in a rotation at the next level.
Caleb Love, North Carolina
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 49
One of the most polarizing guards in the entire country, Love was out of draft consideration for me in the middle of last season.
After wanting to buy a considerable amount of stock in the 6’4” guard during his freshman year, Love couldn’t live up to the first-round expectations placed on him the second he set foot on Chapel Hill.
His stock certainly didn’t drop because of his three-point shooting. Love is among some of my favorite guards to watch gun it from deep. Self-created looks, shots off the catch, off screens, it doesn’t matter. Love is always ready to fire away because of his consistent mechanics, elevation on his shot, and footwork and balance to set himself up for success.
Where more of his game falls apart is in his sub-par rim finishing and passing. Love isn’t your prototypical point guard prospect by any means, so even though he’s gotten better in two years as a passer, he fails at times to read through multiple layers of the defense and make a more advanced play out of certain sets. Yes, he can make the basic bounce pass out of pick-and-roll, but he doesn’t manipulate the defense in a more sophisticated way as a playmaker.
Those weaknesses on top of inconsistent defensive impact leave him as a second-round target on the majority of boards, mine included. But teams love to buy into big-time shot makers, and there were few guards who put their team on their back like Love did to carry North Carolina to the NCAA National Championship. That’s why he can’t fall off my board completely, but Love still has plenty of work to do to further win me back in his favor.
BONUS: Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 50
Speaking of thrilling tape to watch and review on prospects, Azuolas Tubelis is just a damn good time.
The 6’11” Arizona forward plays as hard as anyone I’ve seen in the country, and he isn’t afraid to let you know when he does something on the court.
Diving for loose balls, selling out on blocks and steal opportunities, boxing out, and literally fighting on the glass on both ends—Tubelis does ALL of the little things to help a team win, and is for my money one of the best competitors we have in college basketball.
So when he really took some decent turns last year from a skills perspective, ears perked up in the draft community. Why isn’t Tubelis climbing more boards? A mobile big man with his improving touch, passing fair, and effort level not in consideration to be drafted?
Yet some smart evaluators sang his praises last year and talked about him with the Benn Mathurins, Christian Kolokos, and Dalen Terrys of the world. I myself have both Tubelis and Pelle Larsson as Wildcats who could make real jumps on my board this season.
If Tubelis shoots it better from deep and provides significant value as a center should he get more opportunities to do so, I can’t see NBA teams passing on him too deep in the draft. Too much value to ignore at his size.
Top Five Senior Prospects
Marcus Sasser, Houston
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 30
We are big fans of Marcus Sasser at No Ceilings, and there’s reason to believe where I have him on my board preseason isn’t high enough.
What Sasser lacks in height, he makes up for double in heart and scoring talent. There are few guards I trust more off the dribble in college than Sasser, and I expect his tough shot-making and deep range to translate in the NBA.
One of the best point-of-attack defenders in the country, Sasser’s two-way impact should help Houston compete for a national title and propel his draft stock forward after a junior year that was cut short due to injury.
A craftier playmaker in the pick-and-roll than given credit for, Sasser can bend defenses and get the ball back for his team on the other end. NBA teams want proven guard talent to come off the bench and control a lead or provide a spark to get one back, and Sasser fits that bill perfectly with starter upside if his passing continues to make a leap.
Kevin McCullar, Kansas
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 38
Kevin McCullar was very close to entering the draft last year, but he decided to come back to collegiate play and transfer to Kansas in hopes of helping the Jayhawks repeat as national champions.
With his defensive impact, that’s a definite possibility. McCullar can cover multiple spots in pick-and-roll defense, hedge or trap guards, switch onto bigs in the post, and recover and close out with the best wings in the country.
There’s little that he can’t do on defense, not to mention his willingness to fight for rebounds and get his team going in transition. A capable cutter and line-drive scorer, McCullar’s main weakness is from deep.
If he can live up to the potential he has as an average three-point shooter who is effective from the corners, McCullar should find a home in the league in some capacity. Versatile defensive-minded wings like McCullar always have a chance to make it, and I expect his name to continue to pop up in draft circles.
Jaime Jaquez, UCLA
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 41
I have to be perfectly honest: I just don’t know what it is about Jaime Jaquez to where he’s garnered cult followings in the draft community.
Some scouts don’t buy that he’s going to be able to do half of what he’s done at UCLA in the NBA. Meanwhile, my guys at No Ceilings Corey Tulaba and Albert Ghim swear by his basketball IQ, moxie, and two-way capability not letting him drop out of first round consideration on their boards.
I’ve seen more opinions trend in that direction outside of just Corey and Albert, and it really makes me scratch my head and wonder if I’m missing a bigger picture.
I see the cutting, shooting ability, live-dribble passing, and toughness. I get that he’s just one of those guys who finds himself in the right place at the right time and that he fits the bill of an NBA wing at 6’6” with a strong build.
But then I just wonder how he’s going to get those same looks given what I perceive as a lack of burst, he regressed from deep last year, and to me, the jury is still out on how many positions he can guard at the next level.
His production though is too much to ignore, so I expect Jaquez to hear his name called in the draft. I just have a difficult time gauging where he should fall on my board, so he starts the year at 41 for me.
Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 60
Last but not least on the senior totem pole, is Mr. NIL himself Oscar Tshiebwe.
I love the opportunities he’s gotten for himself and his family since he transferred to Kentucky, and fully understand why he didn’t enter his name into the draft last year.
While I still don’t quite know how high an NBA team would take him, Tshiebwe has to have a spot on my board because no other big man produced like he did in his junior season.
Tshiebwe AVERAGED 17.4 PPG and 15.2 RPG… I’m not quite sure what else to say.
I get that rebounding specialists aren’t exactly trending in an upward direction in terms of draft capital, but a big who is a high-level finisher, double-double machine, and an active defender has to be worth a second-round pick. Even if he goes undrafted, some smart team is going to scoop him up in a hurry and he’ll be happy to oblige and offer his services.
One of the nicest players in the country, Tshiebwe has leader written all over him. While I still need to see more defensively in the communication department, I could tell just by watching the film that his teammates loved playing with him last year and I don’t expect that to change.
If he was a few inches taller and a better shot blocker, Tshiebwe would’ve been a lottery pick in 2022. Still fighting an uphill battle, I’m frightened at the type of numbers Tshiebwe could pile up this time out.
Jalen Wilson, Kansas
Preseason Big Board Ranking: Top 80
Jalen Wilson’s play at Kansas has certainly been a roller coaster at times given other circumstances besides what’s happened on the court.
But when Wilson is at his best, he could be the key ingredient to the Jayhawks repeating as champions.
At the 2022 NBA Draft Combine, Wilson tested and scrimmaged well showing off a lot of why he should still be on NBA team’s radars as a potential second-round pick. At 6’8” with his shooting upside, transition finishing, and switchable defensive capabilities, there’s a world where he could crack the first round given how well his game could translate to the modern NBA.
Inconsistency is really what holds Wilson back and why he hasn’t made it to the league yet. Despite the jumper mechanics, Wilson hasn’t shot better than 34% from three in his collegiate career. The motor can run hot and cold, and he hasn’t always been engaged off the ball defensively.
When Wilson is locked in though, he’s a tough shot maker, good rebounder for his position, and a high-level finisher inside the arc. Teams are always looking to make bets on talented wings, which is why Wilson remains in the conversation for us at No Ceilings.
Top Five Prospects Outside of College
Victor Wembanyama, Metropolitans 92
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 1
Nate, how could you NOT start your column with “The Alien” as we’ve dubbed him at No Ceilings???
Well, to put it simply, everything I could say about Victor Wembanyama as well as the next prospect in this section has already been said by better evaluators than I.
I had my skepticism about Wembanyama as a slam-dunk top overall pick before the few overseas matchups and the dominance in Las Vegas that took place a few weeks ago. After watching him toy with the G-League Ignite team in more ways than one, that was all I needed to be sold as much as everyone else that Wemby is a generational prospect.
That word is thrown around WAY TOO MUCH in the draft community as we’ve discussed behind the scenes in our group chat, but there’s no other way to put it with Victor. He’s that special. He’s 7’4”, shoots over EVERYONE, runs the floor as well as people who are almost a foot shorter than him, and covers more ground defensively than any other prospect I can remember. The shots Wembanyama hit in those exhibition games in Vegas were absolutely silly. I couldn’t help but laugh for the majority of the second game, as I’m sure most of my peers did.
Our own Tyler Metcalf just did a phenomenal breakdown of how he just destroys opposing matchups defensively, so I highly encourage everyone to turn their attention there for more on Victor.
Outside of that, yes we all know how good he is. Tank For Victor is in full effect.
Scoot Henderson, G-League Ignite
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 2
As for the other prospect who has cemented himself above everyone else in the country, Scoot Henderson had himself one hell of an outing in his own right in the Vegas exhibition against Metropolitans 92.
I use the singular wording of exhibition because he really only played in that first game. Leaving early in the second matchup with an injury, Henderson got one chance to leave it all on the floor and prove he’s the second-best player in the draft (I’m fully aware there are others who would argue he’s worthy of the first pick).
And boy, did he take that opportunity and run with it.
Henderson put up 28 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and two steals in Ignite’s win over The Alien and Co.
Talk about an impressive performance from start to finish from the 6’2” guard. The way he manipulated angles, played with pace and poise out of the pick-and-roll, and challenged Wembanyama and everyone else on the team when it came to scoring and shooting. Scoot was deep in his bag of tricks, as he possesses the best handle amongst all guards in the ‘23 draft class. His acceleration, ability to change speeds, and keep that ball on a string confused defenses and threw off his opponents all night.
When he has the jumper falling both on the mid-range pull-up as well as from distance, it’s game over for his man, especially if he’s scoring at the rim as well as he did on Wembanyama.
Sure, Victor got a few blocks on Henderson but I’d expect nothing less from a man who’s over a foot taller.
Scoot is the real deal not just offensively, but defensively. When it comes to controlling a game and leading a team, there’s no one better at it in this draft than him. If Wembanyama wasn’t a part of this class, Henderson would be the top pick without question.
Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 5
I got to see Amen Thompson up close, as I wrote about last week. But he deserves mention here as one of the top prospects on my preseason board.
Thompson’s passing flair, creativity, and athleticism at 6’7” give him an edge over a number of other players I’ve discussed in this column up to this point.
Throw in his top-notch defensive playmaking and it’s hard to drop him too far down a board even if there are legitimate questions to be had with his offensive role at the next level.
Is he a true primary initiator without an overhauled jump shot? The best lead creators in the NBA have a pull-up jumper they can go to when the offense breaks down and the ball is stuck in their hands.
And if he doesn’t have the rock, does he have a role away from it? Can he better utilize cutting, movement, and spot-up shooting to blend in with other top options offensively?
The threat of an elite first step is sometimes as much of a weapon as an open spot-up look depending on the matchup. I’m giving Thompson the benefit of the doubt for everything else he does besides shooting, but I do want to see growth in those areas this year with Overtime Elite.
Ausar Thompson, Overtime Elite
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 13
The twin brother of Amen Thompson, Ausar has game in his own right and should challenge for a lottery selection.
Possessing the same game-breaking athleticism as his brother, Ausar can warp defenses in ways off the bounce that few wings can when attacking the rim.
I don’t always love the finishing packages and angles taken of either wing, but Ausar is more of a threat to score because he has a (slightly) better jump shot off the bounce.
I’ve seen Thompson take and make some tough jumpers to suggest he has some upside in that area of his game. If he can become more efficient as a scorer, he has the bones in his arsenal to make his way as a producer of points at the next level.
Where Ausar falls short of Amen though, is he’s not nearly the same passer and also falls short on defense. Without the same vision and processing ability as Amen, Ausar’s game becomes much more one-dimensional at times and can look even scarier if the shot isn’t falling.
That being said, I can’t foresee a scenario where Ausar isn’t a lottery pick. Some team is going to take a bet on his scoring package and improvements on defense in relation to his brother to warrant a two-way role on the wing. If the full package comes together of what he’s proven he CAN do, Ausar could be one heck of a heat check scorer in the NBA.
Nikola Djurisic, KK Mega Bemax
Preseason Big Board Ranking: 21
There are a few international prospects who will dazzle on draft boards throughout the season such as Rayan Rupert, James Nnaji, Roko Prkacin, Malcolm Cazalon, and Tristan Vukcevic among plenty of other contenders.
My top overseas prospect outside of Victor Wembanyama though is Nikola Djurisic, who I have slotted at 21 currently on my preseason board.
Djurisic is one heck of a crafty playmaker for his size at 6’8”. Djurisic has turned the heads of evaluators in a good way early on as someone who is capable of skipping the ball where it needs to go given his unselfish nature, not to mention his heady pick-and-roll creation.
A lot of eyes were on Mega’s exhibition against Overtime Elite to monitor how well the Thompson twins would fare against international competition. They both had plenty of bright spots, but so did Djurisic.
He hit tough jumpers, displayed his range, got to the basket, and made a number of impressive reads to get his teammates open looks. Yes, he suffered from the turnover bug in trying to do a little too much at times, but I’d rather a prospect have to dial it back a tad when it comes to confidence than have to find it from the jump. Djurisic finished that game with 24 points, six assists, and six turnovers on 4-4 shooting from deep.
That’s the type of jumbo creator NBA teams want to take swings on, and I have zero doubt Djurisic will have performances like that at different points throughout the season. Maybe not quite the same in the box score department, but on the film, watch closely and he’s bound to continue to develop this year.
I’d be shocked if he wasn’t a first round pick on draft night.
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