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Battling The Temptation of Upside
The temptation of finding star power can be challenging for NBA Front Offices. That could include a talented 2023 NBA Draft class filled with questions.
In life, we find that there are opportunities that arise that require risk.
Sometimes you have to put your foot on the ground and be prepared to roll the dice. Failure is often an idea that will bring with it stress and doubt. But in order to achieve something great, you might need to be willing to go all in to chase a dream.
The NBA Draft shares a similar battle of temptation. Front offices are passionately looking to an incoming slate of prospects with the hope of taking the next step forward toward their pursuit of becoming a championship contender. The draft is the biggest sign of optimism for every NBA franchise. It’s an opportunity for each front office to believe that they can find the missing piece to put the puzzle together.
All organizations picking early are hoping to find fortune when it comes to the lottery. The hope is that on draft night, they can land a talent that has the tools to help them escape lottery purgatory. While some might argue that a certain “range” when it comes to the draft has a drop-off, teams will convince themselves that their pick can be different.
That’s when temptation comes into play, and it drives an organization mad with time. There’s no such thing as a “safe” pick when it comes to the NBA Draft. There are simply too many obstacles that are unknown. Teams aren’t just drafting players for right now. They are looking to invest their future in individuals. They are projecting what a player could turn into in three years. Calculating the potential for what type of talent that prospect could be when it comes to his second contract.
One of the biggest mental battles for front offices is the idea of “swinging for the fences.” Teams that are consistently picking in the lottery don’t want to be there. So the idea of finding a “star” suddenly looks extremely enticing. But one swing and a miss can find a team falling deeper down the rabbit hole. One roll of the dice could find a front office looking for a new address.
The 2023 NBA Draft has plenty of notable story lines. Sure, you’ve heard plenty about international alien Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson by now. There’s also Alabama’s freshman wing Brandon Miller, all of whom are expected to be Top 3 picks next month.
But after that, there are plenty of questions when it comes to some of the potential “upside” characters in this class. Some have elite tools that are sure to be eye candy to organizations. Others look to have higher floors that could prove to be gold when it comes to value in the first round.
Amen Thompson, Wing, Overtime Elite
The Temptation: Freakish Athlete with size and playmaking swagger
The upside for Amen Thompson is awesome. All it takes is a defensive rebound and a couple of dribbles before Amen turns into The Flash in transition. Not only does Amen defy gravity when it comes to his desire to live above the rim, but he has a truly vicious first step.
Amen Thompson has everything you’d be looking for in an electrifying playmaker with size. Teams are simply going to need to be convinced that the outside shot can come around. There are instances on film in which Amen is being dared to shoot the ball. That will only be magnified when it comes to the NBA game. But this is the NBA. This is the league in which teams pride themselves on the abilities of their developmental staff.
This will be one of the most fascinating names to monitor when it comes to the pre-draft process. Teams will be eager to see what Amen can showcase in a workout setting. There will be plenty of scouts and decision-makers watching closely. While the shot will be the main attraction, the rest of the tools that Amen offers will surely have executives looking to pick their jaw up off the floor. It’s becoming a challenging roll of the dice. Some team is going to find themselves at the craps table ready to risk it all for the ridiculous upside.
Cam Whitmore, Forward, Villanova
The Temptation: Freight train with nastiness who is scratching the surface offensively
Coming into the 2023 NBA Draft cycle, I was quickly falling in love with Cam Whitmore as a prospect. The reason behind this passionate love was the terrifying nastiness Whitmore had when it came to attacking the basket. When Whitmore gets a head of steam, it looks like a shark that has just got a taste of blood. He has the size and frame to invite any contact, shedding off challengers with relative ease.
Whitmore got off to a slow start this year after dealing with a preseason thumb injury. Once he returned to the court, there was some general rawness, as expected. Whitmore went on to finish the second half of the season with some promising showings. In his last six games, Whitmore averaged 14.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.4% from the field and 38.1% from three-point range.
There’s no doubt that Whitmore is going to check a lot of boxes when it comes to getting decision-makers excited. He measured in at the combine at 6’5.75” (WITHOUT shoes), 235 pounds, and a 6’8.5” wingspan. Those are all numbers that project well for an expected forward at the next level. The hope is that Whitmore can continue to develop the rest of his offensive versatility.
Playmaking is still an area that needs to be unlocked, and Whitmore will need to become a more consistent threat from outside. But the tools and mentality will have teams dreaming that Whitmore can turn into a versatile forward with some nastiness to his game. He could intrigue teams looking to add a punch as a connecting piece.
Gregory “GG” Jackson, Forward, South Carolina
The Temptation: Youthful and raw forward with terrifying offensive upside
One of the most tantalizing prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft class will be Gregory “GG” Jackson. After initially committing to North Carolina for the 2023-24 season, Jackson reclassified and joined South Carolina for the 2022-23 season. In terms of talent alone, Jackson might be one of the top 10 players in this class. He’s an offensive force on the floor with smoothness and great size for a player of his caliber.
Jackson won’t turn 19 years old until December. His youth will have plenty of teams intrigued about his development down the road as his best basketball is ahead of him. But there’s still some maturity to his game that needs to be unlocked, as to be expected by someone who started the collegiate season at the age of 17.
GG measured in at 6’8.25” without shoes at the NBA Draft combine. He weighed 214.4 pounds and posted a 6’11.5” wingspan. While the shot selection will scare plenty of scouts, there are also flashes of brilliance when it comes to GG’s offensive weaponry. At some point in this draft, an NBA organization is going to be enticed by the upside of GG. If they can have a strong foundation in place, GG could become a player that brings back incredible value.
Rayan Rupert, Wing, NZ Breakers
The Temptation: Freakish and lengthy wing with scary defensive chops
French-born wing Rayan Rupert made the decision to play in the NBL this year for the New Zealand Breakers. It was something that got the excitement of NBA scouts, especially after a strong summer in FIBA play. Rupert won’t wow any evaluators with his production. He averaged 5.9 points per game in just 17.1 minutes during the 2022-23 season.
But Rupert is going to have fans in front offices. He’s a raw wing with scary tools that are just waiting to be unlocked. It helped that Rupert put up some eye-opening measurements at the NBA Draft combine. He measured in at 6’6” without shoes, including a 7’2” wingspan. The NBA skill right now is the defensive ability, where Rupert has the potential to be an absolute nightmare as a defender.
He’s active with great feet and some intriguing flashes as an off-ball defender. There’s plenty of consistency that needs to come around, but Rupert has also taken steps forward with his outside shot. He’s a name to monitor closely, as he could be higher on NBA Draft boards than most realize.
Dariq Whitehead, Wing, Duke
The Temptation: Highly touted prospect who battled adversity and could present “steal” appeal
This is one of the most fascinating evaluations in recent memory. Coming into the 2023 NBA Draft cycle, Dariq Whitehead was viewed as a preseason Top 5 selection. Whitehead was a nasty wing in high school that looked to just be needing some outside shooting consistency to put everything together.
After a preseason injury delayed his collegiate debut, Whitehead finally returned to the court on November 18. In his first eight games, Whitehead averaged 5.6 points per game in just 15.0 minutes. He followed that up by averaging 11.1 points per game over his next 11 games while shooting 47.3% from three-point range.
Whitehead will be one of the wildcards of this draft. His explosiveness never seemed to fully be back during his freshman season with the Blue Devils. While Whitehead didn’t look 100%, his outside shot took considerable strides forward. I’ve also found myself intrigued with some of the playmaking flashes from Dariq. Scouts will need to be intrigued that Whitehead can regain his previous form. If they are, then Whitehead can become a sensational “gamble” at some point on draft night.
Nick Smith Jr, Guard, Arkansas
The Temptation: Smooth shooting guard that tried to play “catch up” and is still oozing with talent
At one point in the preseason, many believed that Nick Smith Jr. could be in the running for the third overall pick. That was until a preseason injury put a halt to some lofty expectations. We see this happen every year. Some prospects that are projected as high preseason lottery picks just simply don’t live up to the hype. Minnesota Timberwolves wing Jaden McDaniels was once viewed as a potential Top 5 pick before a disappointing year at Washington. That resulted in McDaniels being selected 28th in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Could Nick Smith Jr. be in for a similar path? Perhaps. It was a brutal year for Smith at Arkansas, one that saw him battling injuries and trying to get back to the court as fast as possible. There’s a chance that Smith could still become an intriguing selection at one point in this draft.
He’s a plus-sized ball handler with a smooth shooting stroke from outside. The pre-draft process will be crucial for Smith, as evaluators will want to confirm the hype he had coming out of high school. The good news for Smith is that workouts should theoretically prove promising for revitalizing his stock.
Leonard Miller, Forward, G League Ignite
The Temptation: Raw forward with great measurables who has taken a serious stride forward with his development
There’s no other way to put it. Leonard Miller has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the 2023 NBA Draft cycle when it comes to his development. Miller took strides forward in his only season with the G League Ignite. Now, he’s become a name that has a fascinating range moving forward.
Miller continued to check the boxes with his measurements at the NBA Draft combine. He measured in at 6’9.25” without shoes, 212.8 pounds, and a 7’2” wingspan. Miller became a rebounding force for the Ignite this year. According to the G League’s stats, Miller averaged 18.0 points and 11.0 rebounds while shooting 55.6% from the field.
The question moving forward is what role teams envision for Miller moving forward. There’s no denying that he has a raw set of skills that will entice NBA organizations. But does Leonard’s “fit” become one of the more fascinating dilemmas of this entire draft class.
If a team is looking for a rebounding burst with a high motor and raw skills, then Miller is going to be moving up boards. With the right team, Miller could prove to be a dangerous weapon in the rotation. But the question remains, what team is eyeing Miller as a potential unique asset for their roster?