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2023 NBA Draft: Incoming Players Preview
Now that it has been almost a week since the 2022 NBA Draft, the No Ceilings crew discusses some of their favorite incoming prospects for the 2023 NBA Draft class.
The 2022 NBA Draft was nearly a week ago, which is far enough in the rearview mirror for the No Ceilings crew to start getting excited about next season. The 2023 NBA Draft will have some fascinating prospects headlining the class, with some exceptional players becoming eligible and with some top-tier prospects returning to school to refine their games leading up to the next NBA Draft.
Tomorrow, we will focus on some of the top players who ended up keeping their names out of the 2022 NBA Draft (either due to withdrawing or due to not quite being eligible) and returning to play for another season. Today, however, it’s time to welcome some newcomers. The No Ceilings crew broke down some of their favorite prospects who are gearing up for their seasons and the 2023 NBA Draft somewhere off in the distance.
Albert: Amari Bailey (UCLA): Although I work in Westwood, I haven’t had the chance to go out to enough UCLA Bruins games. All of that is going to change now because I’m going to do everything in my power to watch a ton of Amari Bailey next season. Bailey is an extremely physical guard with great athleticism and a decent-looking jump shot, and he will be a ton of fun to watch next season. With Jaime Jaquez Jr. coming back, it’s going to be really interesting to watch the dynamic between the two. Jaquez played a ton with the ball in his hands last season, so it’ll be interesting to see how Bailey shares the ball-handling duties with him.
Bailey is extremely physical and has a tight handle to go with a developing lefty stroke. I hope he takes a bunch of 3’s off the catch this year and shows some of his on-ball and off-ball abilities. An area of growth that I’ll be watching closely for him is his playmaking. He definitely had flashes of playmaking for Sierra Canyon, but I’d like to see him do more of it. Hopefully, he builds a nice rapport with Jaquez and fellow incoming freshman Adem Bona as well. Now that he’s away from all the attention surrounding that Sierra Canyon team last year, it’s going to be really interesting to watch how Bailey blossoms in Westwood. I think he has all the tools to have an incredible freshman season as long as he’s given the opportunity to make some mistakes and play through them.
Nick: Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas): The Arkansas Razorbacks secured the second-best class of new recruits in 2022 per ESPN, just barely behind the new group for the Duke Blue Devils. That spectacular Arkansas class includes three five-star recruits, including Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black. The headliner for the class, however, is ESPN’s #3 recruit, Nick Smith Jr.
Smith Jr. is a combo guard with good size at 6’5” who is at his best with the ball in his hands. He is an elite athlete with great straight-line burst and serious leaping ability. He moves decently well without the ball in his hands as well, and he should be able to cut off-ball and spot up for three-point looks when he isn’t leading the charge. He didn’t play his best under the spotlight of the McDonald’s All-American Game, but he had plenty of big moments as he and Kel’el Ware led their high school squad to a second straight State Championship. He might be behind Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson in the pecking order for the 2023 NBA Draft, but Nick Smith Jr. has the athletic tools, shooting touch, and passing flair to prove himself as the best prospect in the NCAA next season.
Metcalf: Jarace Walker (Houston): Jarace Walker was a top recruit all season, but he really broke onto the scene for most people after his dominant performance in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Walker had an NBA-ready body as a high schooler, and he is the ideal build for a modern “power forward” type. Walker is a shockingly good ball-handler who can create off the dribble and get to the rim whenever he wants. His combination of skill and power is almost unfair. On top of that, he’s shown flashes of fascinating passing upside which will only make him more impactful.
Walker still needs to improve his shot, but he has plenty of offensive talent to make an impact elsewhere. What makes Walker even more exciting as a prospect is his defensive playmaking. His tenaciousness and athletic tools make him a menace jumping passing lanes and blocking shots. He needs to refine the more nuanced aspects of his game, like the timeliness of his rotations and consistency of his footwork, but there is more than enough to be excited about with him. When you take all those traits and then combine them with Kelvin Sampson’s schemes, Marcus Sasser’s offensive brilliance, and the experience of the rest of the team, Houston quickly emerges as one of the must-watch teams next season.
Rucker: Keyonte George (Baylor): Keyonte George continued to generate some buzz throughout the high school basketball ranks, finding himself as the #6 ranked prospect in the ESPN100. The 2023 class is already trending as one that is going to have plenty of firepower near the top of the Draft. While some might think George could find himself near the middle-to-late Lottery, he’s a player I believe could really start to blossom. The 6’4” wing will be heading to Baylor this year, and there are plenty of impressive tools that should only continue to develop.
George has the size and strength to become a dynamic weapon on the perimeter. He’s got a smooth shooting stroke from outside and impresses with his feel for the game and composure on the court. While there are plenty of players in this class that offer some flashiness or potential jaw-dropping athleticism, George continues to impress as a player who can make the opposition play to his speed. If Keyontae can take strides forward when it comes to his defensive ability, there’s a chance that he could start to really get the attention of NBA scouts throughout the year. George was one player who really stood out to me while watching the Nike Hoop Summit, and I’ll be fascinated to see what he can do with a year of development under Scott Drew and company.
Corey: Cam Whitmore (Villanova): After a dominant spring run at the Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA u18 Americas Championship, there’s not a hotter college-bound name in the 2023 class than Cam Whitmore. Just 17 years old and already listed at 6’7” 225 lbs, Whitmore is a physically imposing swing-wing that embodies modern NBA versatility. Whitmore is a nightmare to guard downhill in transition, where he displays the rare combination of finesse and power.
Whitmore’s highlight-reel dunks are the main attraction, but the way he uses his handle, body control, and footwork to get to his spots has me intrigued about his long-term upside as a creator. I’m curious to see how he shoots it this upcoming season because I think that ultimately the stroke will decide just how high he gets selected. Whitmore shot the leather off the ball at the U18s, but I still think there’s work to be done with his upright shooting base. Defensively Whitmore should have no trouble guarding multiple positions. He has the footwork and lateral quickness to guard on the perimeter and the strength to body up and guard up positionally. Whitmore has all the tools to be a two-way destroyer and the very rare Villanova one-and-done.
Maxwell: Kel’el Ware (Oregon): Kel’el Ware wasn’t under the radar in a traditional sense, but as a teammate of the highly regarded Nick Smith Jr., he was never the center of attention. After seeing him in person at the McDonald’s All-American Game, he solidified himself as one of “my guys.” Matched up against fellow big man prospect Dereck Lively II, Ware approached the game with a competitive mentality. He cleaned up on the glass and wouldn’t let Lively get one over on him. At the Nike Hoop Summit, he scored 11 points on five shots and knocked down a three.
In his Team USA U18 games, Ware has been dominant, scoring 15.7 PPG in a little over 19 MPG, paired with 7.8 RPG, 2.2 BPG, and 1.5 SPG. He hasn’t gotten a three to go, but his 80% mark from the free-throw line gives room for encouragement. His stroke is smooth. My favorite thing about Ware is that despite his growing touch as a shooter, he isn’t a big man who has deluded himself into thinking he’s a guard. Instead, he plays within himself and understands that, for now, his duty is primarily to clean up around the basket. When a three is there, he’ll take it, but he’s not going to force them. Given his mobility and leaping ability, there is a chance that Ware could grow into a high-motor center who guards on the perimeter, stretches the floor, and protects the rim. Those are the ingredients for an excellent modern center. Expanding his range, gaining quality weight, and working more on his vision as a passer will be the biggest swing areas for him.
Evan: Jordan Walsh (Arkansas): As Nick already alluded to earlier, the recruiting class Eric Musselman is bringing into Fayetteville this upcoming season is loaded with future NBA talent. Jordan Walsh is the name of the bunch that I’m most excited to see this fall, though, and I believe he also may end up being the best pro to come from the group. The Link Academy product has tantalizing two-way potential and plays with a fire that is replicated by few. This Razorbacks team is going to be a nightmare to deal with in transition for opposing teams, and Walsh should be at the forefront of that transition attack.
He’s incredible at pressuring defenses in transition, as he’s one of the best “rebound and run” guys in this class. His blend of length, athleticism, tenacity, and vision as a passer makes him such a dynamic weapon in the open floor, where his versatility seems to shine the most. Walsh’s offhand passes also are a thing of beauty; the way Musselman utilizes his passing abilities, as well as watching the way he evolves as a playmaker, will be fascinating to track this season.
Playing alongside guards like Anthony Black, Davonte Davis, and Nick Smith Jr. should only highlight what Walsh can do as an off-ball scorer too. Defensively he makes a lot of splash plays, but I think the 6’7” forward could improve with his consistency from an effort and awareness standpoint. Continuing to showcase progression as a shooter and ball-handler will also be crucial to Walsh’s development going forward, but I expect him to be a problem for the rest of the SEC this year. Look for him to push for a top 10 placement amongst draft boards for a majority of the season.
Alex: Dariq Whitehead (Duke): Dariq Whitehead is the freshman I am most excited to watch this upcoming season. Hailing from the prestigious Montverde Academy, Whitehead has been a part of some of the best HS teams ever—including that ridiculously stacked 2019-20 team with Cade, Moody, Scottie, Sharpe, and Houstan. Now, he has the chance to continue Duke’s legacy post-Coach K. The 6’6” wing is an explosive athlete who can score from all three levels. His combination of size, speed, power, and athleticism makes him the ideal prototype for a modern NBA wing. He is also one of the youngest prospects in this upcoming class as he doesn’t turn 18 until August 1st of this year. You wouldn’t know that by just watching him, though, as he plays beyond his years and is already strong enough to more than hold his own at the collegiate (and probably pro) levels. While the shot has improved, and he’s become very good on that end, there are times that he relies on it a bit too much and settles for tough jumpers instead of taking full advantage of his strength and athleticism to attack the rim in the halfcourt.
Defensively, I think he’s going to be solid. It’s always tough for freshmen to be positive defenders in college, but Dariq has all the tools, and when he’s locked in, there are some brilliant moments, especially on-ball. I expect him to be able to slide his feet on the perimeter and bump guys off their spots at Duke. He is also a guy who loves to get out on the break, so don’t be surprised if he ends up jumping passing lanes and turns defensive into offense very often this season.