Fight For Your NBA Draft Guys
The NBA Draft can present it's challenges for evaluators. At some point, you've got to be willing to fight for the prospects you can't get enough of.
There is a point in every NBA Draft cycle at which we’ve all had enough.
We’ve exhausted our eyes with almost an entire year of film consumption. Our hands are covered in ink from flipping through notebooks full of notes on every prospect game our brain can process. Questions have turned into self-debates. Sleepers have inched their way up our personal big boards. It seems as if the process has reached a point in which we simply are looking for answers instead of stretching our minds to ponder new examinations.
Every draft fan, evaluator, scout, or consumer of basketball nirvana reaches a crossroads at which one simple question must be put on the table.
Who are the guys you’re willing to “bang the table” for? Who are the players who are you willing to stand firm and fight for?
Now, let’s get this straight. I’m not talking about physically fighting when it comes to your opinion on a potential basketball player’s future outcome at the next level. But I have been told there have been such instances that will take place in an NBA office.
Scouts and evaluators go through a vicious cycle each year to get their eyes on the upcoming crop of basketball stars. We are all artists, looking to paint our own canvas when it comes to projecting the success of potential teenagers preparing to start the next chapter of their basketball journeys.
But none of us can tell the future. None of us possess a Magic 8 Ball that will present us with all of the outcomes. The NBA Draft is a roll of the dice. Even if we pour in more film consumption than anyone else, projecting the success of a prospect will always be a gamble.
The best we can do is do our homework—research as much as we can to improve our abilities as an evaluator. If we put in the time, our eyes will improve. Like a young point guard stepping onto an NBA floor, we can only hope that the beautiful game of basketball will start to slow down for all of us.
At some point, certain prospects start to shine brighter in the eyes of the beholder. We start to find players that simply “jump” off the screen when we compare them to the hundreds of individuals we have watched throughout the year.
That’s when you’ve got to fight for your guys.
That’s when you have to stand up for the players in a draft class that you are willing to go to war for.
Personally, when I look at each NBA Draft class, it requires an open mind. You can’t get too caught up in trying to compare one draft class to the other, because each crop of talent is going to offer their own ingredients. Potential versus production will always be a narrative to debate in every class.
At some point in the draft, when is the potential “idea” of a player going to outweigh the production of an upperclassman? The growing nightmarish debate of “the one bad year” also comes to the surface. If a prospect is a one-and-done, but that one year was viewed as a disappointment, are you believing in the player from high school? Was it a system in which they struggled to fit?
Plenty of questions can start to arise, and all of them will require you to revisit your notes and trust your gut. The 2023 NBA Draft class is going to be another awesome one. For evaluators, it’s another assortment of players that offers us intriguing challenges that we all must take on with patience.
It doesn’t take long for the debates to start with this class. Already we’ve seen a public debate grow over who should go next after Metropolitans 92 big man Victor Wembanyama. At No Ceilings, we stress that we’re rooting for every prospect in every NBA Draft to have as much success as possible. These are kids getting ready to take on the most difficult challenge of their basketball journeys.
But I have my own list of guys that I’m willing to fight for. Hopefully, you will have your own list as well.
Colby Jones | Guard | Xavier
I pride myself on going to bat for upperclassmen that have simply gotten better each year throughout their collegiate careers. Over the years, being an “upperclassman” has been ruled as a negative in the draft space. It’s something that continues to shock me as an evaluator and, most importantly, a fan of the NBA.
Players will look at themselves in the mirror and say, “you know what, I could probably improve my game a lot with another year.” We should be applauding them for that type of self-realization. That’s just what Xavier junior guard Colby Jones did. Listed at 6’6”, Colby Jones will be a swiss-army-knife of production at the next level. Jones was buzzing in NBA Draft circles as a potential sleeper during the 2021-22 NCAA season. While Jones was filling up the box scores, there was a clear desire for him to add the outside shot to his game. That’s when Colby decided to return for his junior season.
11.6 PTS | 7.3 REB | 3.2 AST | 1.5 STL
48.3 FG% | 29.2 3P% | 68.0 FT%
8.5 FGA | 2.1 3PA | 4.2 FTA
15.0 PTS | 5.7 REB | 4.4 AST | 1.3 STL
50.9 FG% | 37.8 3P% | 65.3 FT%
11.3 FGA | 3.3 3PA | 3.4 FT%
Jones went back and did just what NBA scouts wanted to see. He developed a smooth-shooting stroke from outside that looks to be trending in the right direction rapidly. It’s not just the shot that makes Colby an intriguing talent moving forward, though. Jones is an intelligent player who understands patience and how to work to get to his spots. He’s going to have the potential to be an outstanding “connecting” piece at the next level. When players are entering the NBA, they are going to have to rely on their strengths in order to make an impact as a rookie. Jones offers the versatility on both sides of the floor to step up and contribute in a number of different areas.
Jones won’t be the “sexiest” pick of the 2023 NBA Draft. But he’s going to be in the running for “how did he go that late?” Some team will have a long conversation about passing him up much earlier than expected.
Jordan Hawkins | Wing | UConn
Throughout the year, UConn Huskies sophomore wing Jordan Hawkins has had me in my feelings. With the Huskies having themselves a lengthy tournament run, the buzz surrounding Hawkins has started to explode like a gasoline barrel being thrown into a forest fire.
Potential “elite shooters” have always had a strange range when it comes to the history of the NBA Draft. With the modern NBA becoming a juggernaut of offensive ecstasy, teams these days are hunting for potential bucket-getting machines. Hawkins will draw the praise of many as one of the best movement shooters in this class. It’s hard to find a disagreement there. Hawkins is a NIGHTMARE to deal with on the defensive side of the ball. He’s like a Chevrolet pick-up truck that is going to put 200,000 miles on the engine and just keep running.
5.8 PTS | 2.0 REB | 0.5 AST | 0.3 STL
35.3 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 82.1 FT%
5.1 FGA | 3.0 3PA | 1.4 FTA
27 Games | 4 Starts | 14.7 MIN
2022-23 (as of 3/29/23)
16.3 PTS | 3.8 REB | 1.3 AST | 0.7 STL
40.7 FG% | 38.5 3P% | 88.6 FT%
12.2 FGA | 7.7 3PA | 3.8 FTA
35 Games | 35 Starts | 29.5 MIN
While many might view Hawkins as a potential three-point specialist, I still believe there’s a lot more to his game that is being teased. Hawkins has some bounce and can get downhill and attack the lane with bad intentions. There have also been some flashes of creativity off the dribble. If Hawkins has all of that potential to turn into a dangerous multi-level scorer, as well as some untapped defensive upside, why aren’t we talking about him becoming a potential Top 10 pick?
Jarace Walker | Forward | Houston
It took about twenty minutes of high school film for me to fall in absolute love with Jarace Walker as a prospect. After about another three hours, I found myself drooling at the potential that is just rising to the surface. The NBA continues to be a league that is possessed when it comes to finding players that offer versatility. If you’re a rising prospect that can hang your hat on impacting the game in a variety of ways, teams are going to be interested.
The 2023 NBA Draft has plenty of potential superstar talents near the top of the consensus. While I don’t believe Walker has “superstar” upside, I do believe he can become a “superstar connector.”
11.2 PTS | 6.8 REB | 1.8 AST | 1.3 BLK
46.5 FG% | 34.7 3P% | 66.3 FT%
9.4 FGA | 2.8 3PA | 2.2 FTA
Jarace came into the 2022-23 season with one glaring area of his game that needed to improve. Like so many other prospects, it appeared as if the outside shot was the only thing holding him back from cementing himself as a special talent. Walker took considerable strides forward this year with his three-point shot and looks to have the potential to be a versatile two-way monster.
He’s one of the most gifted defensive players in this class, with sensational shot-blocking ability and impressive off-ball awareness. Walker also has SERIOUS playmaking upside that was just teased to us throughout his freshman year with Houston. He spent a lot of time at IMG Academy as sort of a “point-center” and the vision and playmaking ability are legit. Teams looking for a connecting piece that can make all of the surrounding pieces better in a number of areas are going to be smitten with the 6’8”, 240-pound forward.
Kobe Bufkin | Guard | Michigan
As I progress throughout my deep-dive of film, one player continued to have me saying “my goodness” on a regular basis. That player was Michigan Wolverines guard Kobe Bufkin. Listed at 6’4”, Bufkin is coming off an outstanding year for the Wolverines and has been on the rise in NBA Draft circles.
But there are a lot of interesting things going on here when it comes to Bufkin. Despite being a sophomore, Bufkin won’t turn 20 years old until September. I’m a sucker for players who suddenly have a productive surge after one year. To me, that means that the confidence is starting to pour in, and we are seeing a player who is starting to believe in their abilities on the basketball court.
3.0 PTS | 1.1 REB | 0.3 AST | 0.4 STL
38.0 FG% | 22.2 3P% | 77.3 FT%
2.8 FGA | 1.3 3PA | 0.8 FTA
28 Games | 0 Starts | 10.6 MIN
14.0 PTS | 4.5 REB | 2.9 AST | 1.3 STL
48.2 FG% | 35.5 3P% | 84.9 FT%
10.9 FGA | 3.7 3PA | 2.6 FTA
33 Games | 33 Starts | 34.0 MIN
Breaking down Kobe Bufkin’s film throughout the entire year was just a pleasure. He’s a smooth guard who plays the game with impressive composure. Bufkin understands the importance of hesitations and uses subtle fakes to create just enough of a window to get to his spots. He understands how to utilize his change of gears and puts himself and his teammates in a position to thrive.
On the defensive end of the ball, there’s some scary stuff developing. Bufkin has the tools to be a pest defensively. Not only is there some intriguing on-ball stuff, but Bufkin also has shown some nastiness when it comes to off-ball awareness, as he will come over for emphatic rejections at the rim.
One of the popular topics of conversation surrounding Kobe Bufkin is “should he declare for the NBA Draft?” I think that’s an easy answer. It won’t surprise me if he’s a name that starts to make a march up draft boards around the league as well.
Cason Wallace | Guard | Kentucky
The more I watch Kentucky Wildcats freshman guard Cason Wallace, the more I’m convinced at a player who is going to have a LENGTHY NBA career. Wallace is a grinder. He’s a grab your hard hat and lunch pail type of guard, and teams should be all over him in the NBA Draft.
But the harsh reality is that those types of players aren’t “sexy” when it comes to the highlight machines. As a high school prospect, Wallace popped as a physical defender who looked to have some intriguing feel as a ball handler. Scouts wanted to see if the outside shot would take the necessary steps forward. Throughout the majority of the year, Wallace looked to be taking huge steps forward with his shooting, especially as a catch-and-shoot threat.
But Wallace also had some rough patches throughout the year in which the three-point shot just struggled to fall. So which side are we buying? Are we buying the impressive stretch of the season or are we going to focus on a rough patch? I’ve always never let a tough stretch sway my opinion on a prospect. I find it’s important to take in the entire slate and weigh the situations involved. Wallace was playing banged up throughout some stretches of the year; could that have played a factor? Always important questions you must answer. At the end of the day, I’m trusting the form, and I’m trusting the BUNDLE of tools he has in his game.
11.7 PTS | 3.7 REB | 4.3 AST | 2.0 STL
44.6 FG% | 34.6 3P% | 75.7 FT%
9.8 FGA | 4.0 3PA | 2.2 FTA
Cason has shown some intriguing touch in the lane, especially with his floater. He’s also a horrifying defender. Wallace attacks ball handlers like a King Cobra. He’s got lethal hands and is especially quick at the point of attack. Off the ball, he stays active and understands how to anticipate what the offense is trying to do. He’s also got some sensational timing as a shot blocker, which you’ll see on numerous occasions as he’s hustling back for chase-down rejections.
At the end of the day, Cason Wallace is going to draw plenty of comparisons to Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday. While I think a more realistic comparison might be where Holiday was coming out of UCLA, that’s still a heck of a tip of the hat. Wallace has the tools to be an elite defender and a shifty floor general with offensive upside. If that doesn’t get you excited, then I’m not sure what will.
Julian Strawther | Wing | Gonzaga
There’s something about a wing with the desire to attack the boards that gets me in my feelings. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Insert Gonzaga junior wing Julian Strawther.
During the 2022 NBA Draft cycle, I took a trip to Las Vegas with fellow No Ceilings member Albert Ghim. The main goal was to get an in-person evaluation of former Gonzaga star and 2022 second overall selection Chet Holmgren. After leaving that experience, I found myself with two conclusions.
Chet Holmgren is scary good.
Julian Strawther is a dawg.
Julian Strawther is just a player that you would absolutely love to insert in your rotation. He’s one of the best rebounding wings in this class, and I believe he’s taken the right steps forward in his development. As a sophomore, Strawther went on to impress on a stacked Bulldogs team—the same team that included Holmgren, Andrew Nembhard, Drew Timme, and so on.
The 6’7”, 205-pound wing decided to return to Gonzaga for his junior year, and I’ve loved the strides in development I’ve seen from Strawther this season. Teams are always hunting for potential 3-and-D guys. That’s just what Strawther can offer, but he’s got some nastiness to his game as well. As he showed throughout the 2022-23 season, Strawther can get hot from outside and completely take over a game. He had a 40-point performance this year against Portland while shooting 14-of-21 from the field and 8-of-12 from three.
3.4 PTS | 1.2 REB | 0.0 AST | 0.2 STL
51.7 FG% | 32.1 3P% | 69.6 FT%
2.3 FGA | 1.1 3PA | 0.9 FTA
25 Games | 0 Starts | 7.4 MIN
11.8 PTS | 5.4 REB | 1.0 AST | 0.5 STL
49.8 FG% | 36.5 3P% | 70.5 FT%
8.5 FGA | 4.6 3PA | 2.4 FTA
32 Games | 31 Starts | 26.8 MIN
15.2 PTS | 6.2 REB | 1.3 AST | 0.8 STL
46.9 FG% | 40.8 3P% | 77.6 FT%
37 Games | 37 Starts | 31.2 MIN
He also followed that up later in the year with a three-game stretch that saw him average 27.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 54.2% from three on 8.0 attempts per game. Strawther will most likely be projected as a player who could hear his name called somewhere at the end of the first round or early second round. But some team would be intelligent to add a player of his ability to their rotation. He could be someone that simply just figures out how to impact winning for a long time at the NBA level.
All of us are going to have our own prospects that we start to get excited about in every NBA Draft cycle. But there’s a different type of excitement that will enter the conversation soon. You’re going to find yourself zeroing in on some specific names that might be your “flavor” when it comes to prospect evaluation. Don’t be afraid to be against the consensus. If anything, embrace it. Put forth the time and work on trusting your gut and convincing yourself that you see something special in these players.