Draft Deeper's Favorite 2023 NBA Draft Prospects
Our own Nathan Grubel shares "his guys" for the 2023 NBA Draft.
Everyone always has players they tend to favor when it comes to rankings, discussions, and debates within NBA Draft circles.
Those prospects are often brought up more often than not for a variety of reasons, whether it’s confidence in their skill sets, physical tools, mentality.
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Each draft cycle, I find myself also having a list of players I come back to that in my mind are easier to project within different teams and structures because of how their games and attitudes translate to the next level.
And that’s the goal at the end of the day with the draft: to find players that can succeed in nearly any situation and provide value to the team that drafts them.
So, I’ve come up with “my guys” for this cycle. Essentially, these are the players that I believe are going to find success in the NBA regardless of where they’re drafted or how they’re signed. Some of these players are consensus lottery picks, while others are bordering on draftable within that same consensus. Two prospects specifically would’ve made this list, but I will be writing about them individually over the next few weeks so there’s a total of eight discussed in this column.
Let’s get right into why I’m betting on these guys to grow into contributors (or stars) at the next level with the player I have ranked the highest on my board who is in the middle of some intriguing discussions regarding his fit near the top of the draft.
Scoot Henderson, G-League Ignite
I’m not choosing to write about Scoot Henderson to offer a full education to the masses on his game. Tyler Metcalf already accomplished that with his brilliant piece you can find here that references Inside Out and all its glory.
Why I’m choosing Henderson as one of “my guys” goes beyond what he can do on the court, which by the way is more than most prospects his age at his position have shown me they can do in my nearly 12 years of evaluating prospects for the draft.
It’s not just about his beyond-his-years understanding of how to score and distribute out of the pick-and-roll, or his snaking ball screens, or his mid-range proficiency. It’s also not just about his dynamic athleticism, explosiveness, and ability to stop on a dime and then gear right back to maximum at the drop of a hat.
These are all skills and traits that define Henderson for the better, but there’s one more ingredient that thankfully I’ve heard discussed more recently in public circles: leadership.
Henderson is committed by all accounts via intel (and I’ve talked to a number of people publicly and privately who have spent time working with him over the last few years) to being not just the best PLAYER he can be, but the best PERSON.
When an NBA team is selecting high in the lottery, it means the organization more likely than not doesn’t have the right leaders in the locker room outside of the coaching staff to take the franchise back to the playoffs.
Having veterans, to teach young players how to train as professionals, is one ingredient, but every team needs a centerpiece who is not only the most talented of the group to lead on the court, but one who also buys into what’s important each and every day. Someone who is dedicated to LEADING others down that very path, not just doing what he can to work on his individual game.
There’s a difference between being a good player and being someone who communicates well with others and holds players accountable by way of example. Henderson is that guard, and he’s proved it in how he’s elevated his play as well as the play of others over the last few years within the G League Ignite program.
Henderson produced in a pro league for multiple seasons before he turned 20, and his “fit” has come into question of late because he’s viewed as a heliocentric undersized guard that can’t win at a high level in the NBA as a team’s best player.
That notion is far from the truth. Someone who is that committed to serving his teammates and winning can figure out how to play with other great players. He’s a better catch-and-shoot threat, cutter, and transition scorer than given credit for away from the ball, and he balances moving the ball and making plays as much as he does scoring. Henderson’s point-of-attack defense can also take pressure off his partner in the backcourt, as he’s more than willing to take on the other team’s best perimeter player.
These are all examples of a player who will buy in and find ways to contribute no matter his role within the team on both sides of the ball. I am buying ALL IN on Henderson to become one of the game’s best leaders, not just players.
THAT is why he won’t fall past the third pick in the draft, and why I would take him second despite the other players I had in my locker room already.
Cam Whitmore, Villanova
It would appear consensus is catching up to my evaluation of Cam Whitmore as a high-upside player who appears to have a clearer floor than initially given credit for.
With rumors swirling about the Detroit Pistons taking a long look at Whitmore, or that the Houston Rockets could possibly target the young forward should James Harden come back to the franchise he called home for a number of years, Whitmore’s stock hasn’t been higher since the preseason.
At 6’7” and 235 pounds, Whitmore is a physical specimen. Testing very well by all accounts athletically, Whitmore has a case as one of this draft’s best talents physically along with the Thompson twins.
His game is viewed as power, with his build and strength leveraging contact and high-level finishing ability on the interior. The way Whitmore can back down defenders, or drive right through them, is a style of play that lends itself well to the NBA where its best scorers are those who embrace physicality and understand how often they should be getting to the free throw line.
I fully expect Whitmore’s free throw attempts to increase year-by-year in the league as he continues to develop his ball-handling ability, which already is pretty good for a wing his age. His first step is nearly impossible to wall off, so security over his dribbling will be one of the primary focuses within his development early on.
But his game is more than just driving and putting pressure on the rim. Whitmore’s shooting, particularly his catch-and-shoot numbers, graded out fairly well at Villanova. He provided spacing for other guards to operate, and also improved at creating his own shot off the dribble as the season went on. These “finesse” elements in his offensive game are what will continue to separate him from just a play finisher into a potential star mismatch forward.
Nevertheless, they give him a defined floor in the short term to earn minutes right away despite being one of the youngest players in his draft class, as he’ll still be 18 on draft night.
Not only do I buy into the shooting being a strength of Whitmore’s in the short and long term, but his defense has also been under-discussed over recent months. I personally watched Whitmore go up against UConn in March, and he guarded a number of opposing perimeter threats throughout the game, while also getting a few possessions on forwards like Alex Karaban and Adama Sanogo.
His play on Jordan Hawkins though is what stood out to me the most. While he has the size and strength advantage over a guard like Hawkins, Whitmore isn’t supposed to keep pace with a movement shooter who makes his money running miles during the game to create space for open shots.
Whitmore stuck with Hawkins and either denied shots, contested looks, or walled off driving attempts. He did the same against opposing forwards, and even against guys like Andre Jackson and Tristen Newton.
Having that level of defensive versatility, which he showed all year not just in one game, is HUGE when adapting to the NBA level. Pro teams, especially in the playoffs, ideally hunt mismatches and players they can exploit to create advantages. There is no exploiting a player like Whitmore, who is built like a power forward but moves laterally like a guard.
What these skills do is establish a baseline that lends itself to the moniker of “3-and-D” which is a label that’s become all the rage to discuss and search for in recent years—and for good reason. If you can’t shoot and/or defend at a certain rate, it becomes difficult to guarantee a certain number of minutes for said player. Few are considering Whitmore a “3-and-D” wing/combo forward, yet that’s how he profiles.
All of the passing/playmaking concerns are absolutely valid about Whitmore. He didn’t fit into Villanova’s offense the greatest from a ball movement standpoint, and the flow stopped as often with him as it did with the other lead options on the team. There was little structure within the team’s offense this past year, but that’s not an excuse for the tunnel vision Whitmore displayed operating out of his most utilized play type which was pick-and-roll (28th percentile in pick-and-rolls including passes per Synergy Sports).
But embracing his strengths and who he is as a player is how a team can find the right role for him and reap the rewards in the short term while also giving him opportunities to learn and grow as the years go on.
If Whitmore hits his stride, he could become one of this group’s brightest stars as a two-way presence capable of doing nearly everything on the floor. Even if he doesn’t unlock his greatest outcomes though, Whitmore’s baseline production serves as a unique complementary piece within a starting lineup because not all role players are gifted with the tools he possesses.
I’m buying Whitmore as a “3-and-D” forward who could become much more with proper film study, practice, and attention to detail with the ball in his hands. That player is worth drafting high, and it seems the buzz is matching that sentiment.
Jordan Walsh, Arkansas
When Jordan Walsh kept his name in the 2023 NBA Draft, I was excited because he’s the type of wing a franchise should have to develop given where playoff basketball is trending.
It’s becoming more crucial than ever to have multiple big wings who can defend up and down the lineup while finding enough ways to contribute on offense.
Yes, the results at Arkansas were certainly mixed this past season, but Walsh’s game did take some small steps forward on that end to suggest further upside.
As the year went on, Walsh started mixing in better driving technique and angles. He didn’t go to turning his back to his opponent as much, and he found ways to use better footwork to get by his man and proceed on to the next level of the defense. Even though he’s still figuring out the timing on certain shots, when to accelerate towards contact vs. coming to a stop and utilizing a runner or pull-up shot, Walsh has proven he can get to spots on the floor.
One fascinating development that’s come from Walsh gaining confidence as a driver has been his live-dribble passing, which was on display during the NBA Draft Combine. Walsh compiled a number of assists across both of his matchups, suggesting that he has better feel than what he showed during the first half of his season for the Razorbacks.
Improving his approach to scoring, while also refining his spot-up shooting mechanics (his comfort level has grown tremendously though in terms of stepping into those looks) is at the forefront of his developmental plan.
But what he brings NOW that few other prospects do at this stage is his defensive versatility. There are no positions that Walsh didn’t get a chance to guard in college, as his size, length, and leaping ability let him stand his ground, wall off drivers, or make plays on the ball that few other wings can. Walsh can stick on guards, flip his hips and play through ball screens, close out on shooters, and hold his own in the post. And as he gets stronger, it only adds to the types of players he can guard in the NBA.
Walsh’s nose for the glass, his willingness and anticipation in jumping passing lanes and offering help to protect the rim from the weak side, and the number of matchups he can take individually on defense bode well for the type of role he can have in the league. At worst, teams can look to bring him off the bench as a utility wing depending on certain matchups. Should he make the jump offensively that I’m projecting in terms of taking his slashing game to the next level and knocking down open corner and wing spot-up shots, Walsh has playoff starting wing written all over him.
Is the offensive game a gamble to develop? Absolutely. But there are real signs given his feel and tools that Walsh can become the type of player he needs to after a few years of further development. I’m betting on Walsh to piece more of his game together and impact winning throughout his career.
Seth Lundy, Penn State
Here’s where we get into some players that SHOULD have a clear outlook on the 2023 draft but haven’t up until recently by consensus.
I’m starting with Seth Lundy, who I’m giving major credit to my guy Maxwell Baumbach for regarding his evaluation.
A few months ago, Maxwell reached out to me asking if I was sure that Lundy wasn’t a player we should be paying more attention to. Naturally, I was watching more Penn State in January and February because of a certain point guard I’ll discuss later in this column. But Lundy kept growing on me too as I studied more of the Nittany Lions.
Now, maybe the reason why he wasn’t on my board sooner was because his game is never going to “pop” off the screen. Lundy isn’t a wow-factor wing who is throwing down vicious dunks or lulling defenders to sleep for crazy step-back shots with the ball in his hands. He’s not running a high diet of pick-and-rolls to pile up points and assists.
But just because a player isn’t the most “dynamic” doesn’t mean they can’t play a part in a team’s success. Lundy’s steady presence at 6’5” is a great thing to have within a rotation because he comes to work every day and does his job.
It’s not that he isn’t capable of handling the ball or finding teammates from the top of the floor. It’s that he knows who he is, which is a lethal shooter from three-point range, a solid positional rebounder, and a tough individual defender.
Lundy shoots it from the parking lot at times, as there is no limit to the range on his jumper. His willingness to spot up from well beyond an NBA line and fire off shot after shot is exactly what higher usage options want next to them in the league. Having confident marksmen to convert on drive-and-kick looks is everything, and Lundy is one of the best pure shooters in this class for my money.
Is he as versatile of a defender as some of the other wings who will be drafted ahead of him? No, as he doesn’t have the quickest feet to rotate or contain quicker drivers. But he’s tough as nails, and he isn’t exactly someone opposing offenses can hunt possession after possession. As a guy who is likely to guard on the wing and stick with shooters, Lundy can do that job well enough while also helping to crash the glass defensively and communicate away from the ball with his teammates.
NBA teams want guys like Lundy in the playoffs because they don’t overextend themselves and know how to play the game at a high level. Lundy can fit in on any roster, making him a much greater proposition to draft than players who are going to require more developmental time or don’t have as universal fits within a team construct.
I’m buying Lundy sticking around and helping some good teams win in the NBA.
Landers Nolley II, Cincinnati
Similar to the case for Seth Lundy, Landers Nolley II finds himself in a similar position heading into the 2023 draft.
Nolley transferred to multiple schools throughout his college career, but really made a jump in his efficiency and effectiveness at Cincinnati.
As a 6’7” wing, Nolley finally embraced his role as a shooter and play finisher, focusing on getting to his spots on the floor for replicable shots within the flow of the offense. Mastering the corner three, baseline pull-up, and pump fake and drive put his team in a position to win games on a nightly basis because of the known commodity that Nolley became.
Gone was the guy who wanted to take shot after shot to prove his worth in an offense, and here was Nolley who embraced his role as someone who could contribute to winning.
Factor in how Nolley defends multiple positions and takes pride on that side of the floor, and Nolley’s “3-and-D” pitch is as clear as other prospects in this class.
Where Nolley did show some interesting flashes this past year was in his pick-and-roll game when he got the opportunities to run out of those sets. His pacing and ball handling took a step forward, and his ranking overall out of those sets didn’t drop off when factoring in passes. Nolley’s overall decision-making has gotten to a level where he can be trusted to make quick enough reads with the ball and deliver simple passes to keep the offense chugging along.
Being able to stop on a dime and hit outside shots, move without the ball to hunt for better looks, and even handle in a secondary role to score or set up others are all valuable skills for an NBA-level wing, along with the awareness and tools to guard on and off the ball.
While Nolley is on the older side in terms of draftable prospects, and doesn’t have clear upside to operate well in a higher volume role, it was important to watch him develop into someone teams could trust from a baseline standpoint.
Nolley is the type of role player I want on my team, and that’s why I’m riding with him as one of “my guys” for this draft cycle.
D’Moi Hodge, Missouri
Missouri’s rise back this past season as a basketball program was fun to watch, and two players were huge parts of it.
While I also believe in Kobe Brown as a prospect and buy his ability to impact a game offensively as a mismatch forward, D’Moi Hodge consistently set the tone for his team and then some.
The 6’4” combo guard found comfort in playing more of an off-ball role, but even though he wasn’t a higher usage guard Hodge found ways to operate out of DHOs and off screens to turn the corner, put pressure on the defense, and either score or make the right read to move the ball.
As a scorer, Hodge’s bread and butter is the transition game. He’s electric in the open court, capable of running the offense on the break, filling the lane, or expanding out to the corners and wings for open threes early in the shot clock. Hodge can play with pace in certain situations, but when he’s at full speed he’s difficult to contain and stop.
Overall, Hodge rated out in the 98th percentile offensively this past season per Synergy Sports because he embraced his identity and role to the fullest. Transition looks, spot-up shots, catch-and-shoot opportunities, straight-line drives: Hodge was incredibly proficient in all of these areas, while still finding windows to pass and make others around him better.
Defensively, Hodge is an absolute menace. He has some of the quickest hands at his position in this draft class, and embraces face-guarding opponents to deny them opportunities to get the ball back. When Hodge guards someone, their shot attempts are down from their average per contest instantaneously. There’s something to be said about that style of defense and the energy and commitment it takes on a consistent basis. Hodge is committed to helping his team win games any way possible, and it starts with his ability to contain, wall off, and force turnovers to play to his strengths on the break.
If Hodge had more experience as a primary ball-handler given his size and positional role, he’d be a sure-fire draft pick in the coming weeks. But Hodge will turn 25 during this upcoming year (JUCO transfer) and is likely more or less the player he’s going to be throughout his career.
Let me be clear: that player Hodge is, that’s a guy I want going to battle with me night in and night out. Without a ton of upside to tap into though given where certain skill sets are at, it’s tougher to make a draftable case for Hodge.
He put the world on notice at the Portsmouth Invitational that he can play his role well and make an impact in a number of ways on the court against his peers. Even at the NBA Draft Combine, Hodge didn’t stand out as a scorer but his timely rebounding and defensive playmaking solidified his role on the floor.
I’m still betting on Hodge to not only make the league, but hold onto a roster spot for a long time, eventually breaking into a good team’s rotation. Organizations want players who know how to grind to become the best versions of themselves. Hodge took a longer route to get to where he is, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s here now working to make his dream a reality.
Jalen Pickett, Penn State
Experienced guards aren’t always the highest draft picks come June. NBA teams generally would rather take swings on plus positional size, two-way wings, and big men who can play meaningful minutes helping to anchor a defense be it as a starter or off the bench with a second unit.
Third guards, backup point guards, they aren’t always the highest priority to find in the draft. But when the right player comes along, a la Andrew Nembhard last year, it’s important to recognize their talent and bring them into an organization if they’re a great fit to take on a role within the rotation.
Jalen Pickett fits that description beautifully, as another guard who transferred up to the Big Ten Conference and helped Penn State have one of its best seasons in recent memory as an NCAA Tournament squad.
Pickett isn’t the most conventional point guard in terms of his play style, but there’s no denying that he produces results at a high level.
A triple-double threat nightly, Pickett brings energy, feel, and toughness to lineups as a floor general. His vision playing out of pick-and-roll, his post-up game reminiscent of some of the best guards that have come through Villanova, and his defensive equity in the backcourt are all NBA-level skills that he can hang his hat on coming in.
If he were smaller than he is, I would understand why teams wouldn’t want to buy in and select him with a draft choice. But Pickett is sturdy at 6’4” and over 200 pounds, meaning he can match up physically with either backcourt position and also find ways to get downhill and score at the rim. His ability to create separation is underrated, as Pickett converted on 42.3% of his pull-up looks this past season.
With an improved catch-and-shoot game, the ability to hit tough shots and runners in the painted area, and his willingness to crash the glass and set up his teammates for good looks, Pickett has a floor as a backup guard who can impact winning on both sides of the ball.
That type of player may not have the “sexiest” upside or the standout blow-by athletic ability that fans seemingly want every player on the floor to have, but there’s something to be said about positional strength, IQ, and adaptability. The offense can flow through Pickett, or he has the craft and awareness to play off others and impact the game away from the ball.
If he can prove to teams that he’s as much of a threat without the rock as he is with it, similar to how Nembhard raised his stock during last year’s pre-draft process, then it becomes easier to envision him drafted on June 22nd.
I’m riding with Pickett as one of “my guys” because I’m a big believer in having experienced creators and leaders off the bench to run an offense and offer spot start capability should injuries arise in the backcourt. Pickett profiles as a long-term pro in basketball.
Craig Porter Jr., Wichita State
Experienced guards who have gone through battles to get to where they are have been a common thread through the last few prospects in this column, and that is just the same for Craig Porter Jr.
Porter wasn’t a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, and took the JUCO route in an effort to transfer up to a Divison I college basketball program. Wichita State is where he made a name for himself, not only as a player but as a leader.
He took the reins of the offense for the Shockers the last few years and asserted himself as a pick-and-roll scorer, as well as someone who can operate on an island and either shoot over the top of defenders or knife his way into the teeth of the defense to score in the paint.
Porter’s game is all about shake, hesitation, pace, and confidence. There isn’t a shot on the floor he doesn’t believe he can make, and it shows on the tape. From hitting tough contested step-back looks, to jamming it home when he has a lane to the basket. Porter is an underrated athlete at the guard position, but someone who also recognizes when and HOW he needs to score.
An improved shooter off the catch, as well as someone who can move without the ball and position himself to space and help move the ball on offense, Porter is confident as expressed in the interview below that he can play off another ball-dominant guard and do whatever it takes to win games.
Most importantly though, Porter’s fit within multiple roster constructions comes back to the fact that he DEFENDS HIS ASS OFF! Whether it be man-to-man, or communicating and reading the opposing offense like a football safety and jumping to make plays on the ball, Porter’s steal and block rates for a guard are absurd.
And he loves playing on that side of the ball. Guards who take pride defensively can change the game, especially if they are tough enough to scale up and defend wings in higher-leverage situations. I’m buying Porter can be one of those guards who defends 1-3 on an NBA floor depending on the matchup because he takes the time to scout and know his personnel.
There are still opportunities for Porter to become a better playmaker offensively, particularly out of pick-and-roll. And his shooting could stand to keep improving as he moves up to another level of competition. But given how he holds himself accountable, not to mention his overall feel on both sides of the ball, I would expect both of those weaknesses to turn into positives during the course of his career.
Porter may not get drafted, but he should absolutely be on a short list for two-way contracts for any team in need of another guard on the roster who can play both sides of the ball. His attitude, high character, and willingness to do whatever it takes to win are all infectious, and those are exactly the traits any team should want in the locker room.
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