2023 NBA Draft Preseason Superlatives
The No Ceilings crew hands out superlative awards for the players covered in the 2023 Preseason NBA Draft Guide.
The college basketball season is almost here, but we here at No Ceilings have already started off our season running. After releasing our Preseason Guide and new merch in our No Ceilings store and previewing the Power Six conferences and the top mid-majors, we have nearly reached the start of the college basketball season. However, we had to circle back to our Preseason Draft Guide one more time before the start of the season, with the player superlatives about the players covered in the guide.
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1. Top Overall Prospect: Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson?
Nathan: Victor Wembanyama. After the showings that he put on in the two exhibition games against the G-League Ignite, Wembanyama answered many of the questions I had about him. His rim protection, aggressiveness, shot-making, and interior offensive impact were all on display in meaningful ways, leading to efficient outings on both ends. I couldn’t imagine passing on the 7’4” Wembanyama’s potential with the top pick in the draft.
Rucker: Victor Wembanyama. That’s nothing to take away from Scoot Henderson, as both players have the potential to be superstars at the next level. Although there are going to be plenty of special talents in this upcoming class, Wembanyama has the tools to become a franchise-altering piece. His size, length, and two-way versatility are something that could transform the league, as long as his health remains stable.
Corey: Victor Wembanyama. No matter how you slice it, the French kid is flat-out special. When you have a 7’4” super freak with an 8’ wingspan that can score at all three levels combined with the potential to become a perennial DPOY, you don’t get in your own way and overthink it. Wembanyama is one of the greatest NBA Draft prospects ever–let’s sit back and enjoy the show.
Metcalf: I hate saying that I was swayed by two games, but after the Vegas week that Victor had, there can't be any other answer. To be clear, my change of heart has nothing to do with the numbers. Victor answered every question I had about him and then some. Once you also factor in the height and length, there is simply too much to be enamored with no matter how much I appreciate Scoot’s game.
Nick: Victor Wembanyama. His offensive arsenal stood out during the two games he played against Scoot and the G League Ignite, but Victor’s defensive potential is the reason why I think it would take a lot to sway me from putting Wembanyama at the front of this draft class. His ridiculous mobility for his 7’4” frame and 8’ wingspan, along with his footwork on the perimeter, makes him a truly unprecedented defensive threat. His great shooting stroke, ability to shoot off movement, and agility around the basket just add cherries on top of an already absurd skill set.
Albert: Walking into the Dollar Loan Center for the Scoot vs. Victor matchup, I was fully ready to bend the knee before King Scoot Henderson. After watching Victor Wembanyama warm up and then play in an actual game, I now understand that Victor Wembanyama is the absolute truth. After the first game, I did have some questions and wanted to be pessimistic. However, the more I watched, and the more I realized I had never seen anyone like him, I realized I was overthinking things. Yes, the frame scares me. Yes, I’d like him to stop fouling everyone. Yes, I wish he had a more refined post-up game. As much as I wish he had those things, at that point, I’m asking for the perfect player. Victor is not normal; he’s an anomaly. It’s good to bet on the anomalies and pray for good health.
Stephen: It’s Scoot Henderson for me. Listen, I understand that Victor Wembanyama has a chance to be something unlike we’ve ever seen–and I get that he’s been on a tear. But Scoot can be one of the best versions of something we have seen. Equally impressive, in my opinion. He epitomizes leadership, and he has the requisite skills to lead a team–not just stand out as an individual.
Maxwell: It’s Victor Wembanyama for me. His size, length, and scoring profile are simply uncanny. In his early season outings, he’s shown an increased aggressiveness when it comes to rebounding and attacking the basket. Defensively, he doesn’t always make the best choices, but he’s still beyond productive on that end. Once he becomes more polished and experienced, he’s going to be more than a nightmare on that side of the ball. We’ve truly never seen anything like him.
2. Next Prospect In Line After Victor and Scoot?
Nathan: Dariq Whitehead. I’ve gone back and forth about ranking Whitehead here along with Cam Whitmore, but I have fewer questions about Whitehead’s perimeter skill set than Whitmore. He’s a smooth shooter off the catch, continuing to get better off the dribble, and is an electric athlete in his own right to get downhill and put opponents on posters. Every team needs scoring wings who can shoot, and Whitehead right now is that answer after the top two guys.
Rucker: Cam Whitmore. I’ve found myself in love with Whitmore as a prospect even before his strong showing this summer in the FIBA Americas. Whitmore has the tools to be a heck of a talent on the wings at the next level. Not only is the outside shot on the right path, but he has the mentality to dunk opponents into a dark dimension when driving the lane. Whitmore’s recent injury will set him back a bit, but I imagine he will start to set the basketball world on fire when he returns. There’s a legit foundation of special tools all around; if they can come together during his freshman season at NOVA, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cam as the next prospect off the board.
Corey: Amen Thompson is my bet to be the next guy taken after Vic and Scoot. I would personally go in a different direction, but Amen has a rare combination of outlier athleticism, plus positional size and primary playmaking potential that NBA teams crave. Amen’s shot is a major work in progress, but even so, defenders won’t be able to stay in front of him and prevent him from getting into the teeth of the defense, where he can either put you on a poster or make any read in the book. The OTE stud can guard multiple spots, he’s a highlight reel waiting to happen, and he’s ridiculously marketable. There’s a lot of appeal to nabbing him with the third pick.
Metcalf: I think Dariq Whitehead is an absolute stud, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets off to a bit of a slow start, given the injury and role on a loaded Duke team. Therefore, I have to go with Jarace Walker. He’s a physical freak with immense skill, IQ, and defensive versatility. The shot is a bit funky and needs work, but he has good touch and a promising repertoire. I fully expect Walker to thrive on both ends of the floor for a very good Houston team.
Nick: Nick Smith Jr. There is a pretty strong crop of prospects in the Top 10 range of this draft, but I have Nick Smith Jr. ahead of the rest of that group at the moment. His explosiveness, handle, and shooting stroke combine to make him a very solid scoring guard prospect. Add in his burgeoning playmaking game and his top-tier defensive effort, and you get a very potent mix. I expect Nick Smith Jr. to excel at Arkansas this season; if he can solidify his playmaking game enough to encourage teams about his point guard potential, he has a better chance, in my mind, to lock himself into the Top 3 picture than anyone else.
Albert: I love Jarace Walker. This is actually a really strong class beyond the Top 2 marquee guys. Of that second tier, Jarace Walker is worthy of being discussed at the top. Walker is going to showcase a beautiful blend of intense defense, play-making, and scoring ability during his time in Houston. As my co-host Corey Tulaba beautifully outlined in his piece on Walker, Walker is the definition of an indomitable spirit. His mid-range jumper and touch around the rim looked crispy in high school, and I think there’s real potential for him to be a three-level scorer. The man goes for the jugular every single time, and I can’t wait to see what he looks like once the college season gets rolling.
Stephen: I have Cam Whitmore, and I have no doubt that he may not even be in line after this season. He may cut in line. Playing in Villanova, Cam will learn a very sophisticated system on both sides of the ball. Adding that to freaky physical attributes and natural ability, and he just might make this a 3-man race.
Maxwell: Cam Whitmore is number three for me. His thumb injury has me a bit concerned, but I’m not willing to sell my stock yet. Whitmore is an obscene athlete who put together a fantastic string of outings on the high school All-Star game circuit. He followed up on that by dominating the FIBA Under-18 Americas to a comical degree. His defensive versatility, finishing prowess, and budding playmaking have me highly intrigued. The jumper is the big question mark with him, but I’m higher on it than most—though erratic in consistency, he hit 45.4% of his triples during the FIBA event.
3. Best Returning College Prospect
Nathan: Terquavion Smith. I had him ranked as a mid-to-late first rounder last year before he decided to withdraw his name and come back to school. I’ll likely start with him in a similar range, but I’m most interested to see his development as he prepares for a sophomore season. Few guards in the country can match his combination of speed and perimeter shooting, and NBA teams love bucket-getting guards who can get their own look. If he takes another step as a passer and finisher, he should be in the lottery.
Rucker: Arthur Kaluma is the guy to pay VERY close attention to throughout this upcoming year. There are a lot of fascinating returners in this class, but Kaluma has the potential to really make a serious charge up some boards with a strong season. Creighton should be a bit of a wagon, and Kaluma could be the engine that makes this team go. After a strong conclusion to the 2021-22 season, followed by an impressive showing for Uganda this summer, Kaluma looks to quickly be trending in the right direction.
Corey: One of my pre-season hot takes is that I believe that Marcus Sasser is going to be a lottery pick. Sasser is an absolute pit bull on the floor that’s capable of hitting tough shots regardless of who’s trying to check him. Sasser was on a heater last year, looking the part of a first rounder before his season-ending injury. The Cougars guard returned for the NBA Draft Combine and lit the net on fire, not missing a beat. He’s going to be on a warpath this coming season that may ultimately lead to a national title.
Metcalf: Arthur Kaluma is going to have himself a year. I know he came on late as a freshman last season, but I think that was just a taste of things to come, not a flash in the pan. Honorable mentions to Terquavion Smith, Langston Love, and Nolan Hickman, who are also in line for monster sophomore seasons.
Nick: Jaime Jaquez Jr. stunned many other evaluators, myself included, when he decided to return to UCLA for his senior season, and he stands out to me as the clear best returning prospect. He got more opportunities on the ball last year than ever, and he shone brightly in those opportunities, and he continued to menace opposing offenses as one of the savviest off-ball defenders in college basketball. If his outside shooting percentage returns to the 30%+ range after a down season last year, Jaquez Jr. could easily cement himself as a first round pick before the end of the season–and might even sniff lottery consideration.
Albert: Jaime Jaquez Jr. is going to ball out this year. Mick Cronin put a lot of trust in Jaquez last year to create shots for himself and his teammates. He has a really good back-to-the-basket game and showed real growth as an outside shooter last season. I’m excited to see him develop as a playmaker and continue to put up more shots from three. I expect another jump from him this season that may lead to him getting drafted in or around the lottery,
Stephen: I have Arthur Kaluma as my first-in-line returner. As the season continued for Creighton, Kaluma took a big leap in output and became an undeniable talent. For those that have questions about his game, I hear you, but I’m investing in a player that should come back stronger having an offseason to grow and improve. Look out for this athletic Forward with a nice shot.
Maxwell: It’s Arthur Kaluma on my board. He has NBA size, consistently punished mismatches, and is growing by the day in terms of how he processes the game. While playing for the Ugandan national team this summer, he showed more counter moves off the bounce, increased patience as an attacker, and a more poised defensive approach. He’ll need to become a better shooter off the catch, but I believe he can work on that, and he has almost everything else you could want in a modern forward.
4. Best Freshman Prospect
Nathan: I’m going to cheat on this answer a tad. I have Dariq Whitehead as the third-best player in this draft right now. Best freshman PROSPECT however, I’m going to buy a lot of stock in Dereck Lively. Guys who are 7’1” just don’t move like he can. A skywalker in every sense of the word, Lively can put anyone on a poster. Coordinated to switch and guard on the perimeter as well as protect the rim, if his outside shot continues to extend to three-point range, he might be the best long-term play of any other freshmen in the class.
Rucker: I’m not going to go with Cam Whitmore again, so let me bring up another one of my favorite freshman. It’s Jarace Walker, folks. There are some really special tools here, and I absolutely love the fit with Walker heading to Houston this year. At 6’8” with a strong frame and high motor, Walker plays the game like a point forward with sensational playmaking ability. It would not surprise me if he skyrockets up draft boards throughout the year.
Corey: Jarace Walker is the guy for me. Walker measures in at 6’8” and 240 pounds with a 7’2” wingspan and the ferocity to devour souls. Walker has all the requisite skills in his bag to thrive at the next level, paired with the versatility to fit into any offensive or defensive scheme. Jarace can legitimately guard one through five defensively while playing any role that you need from him on the other end. There are questions surrounding how well he’ll shoot it, but he has workable form and brings so many other things to the table that I know translate to NBA success. Walker can initiate offense for himself and others from the wing, can operate as either the screener or ball handler out of ball screens, or serve as a play finisher as either a cutter or in the dunker spot. When I look at the modern NBA, Walker is the one guy in this class outside of the Top 2 that is screaming at me to buy all the stock in him. The Cougar freshman has not only the basketball skills to thrive; but the physical tools, competitiveness, and feel to make the most of his potential.
Metcalf: Dariq Whitehead. The leaps he’s taken as a shooter over the last few seasons have been astounding. Then you factor in the myriad of roles he’s played these last two seasons, and you get an athletic wing who can do a bit of everything, is used to playing with a lot of talent, and is eager to get to the NBA.
Nick: Since I used Nick Smith Jr. as the answer to another question, I’m going to go with Cam Whitmore here instead. He has an NBA-ready body already, and he seems likely to return with a vengeance once he recovers from his preseason injury. His shot is coming around slowly, he plays incredibly physical basketball, and he has serious playmaking gifts. NBA teams these days are always looking for 6’8” players who can fill multiple roles for their team, and Cam Whitmore certainly fits that bill.
Albert: Because I love you guys, I won't talk about Jarace Walker again. Let’s move on to a guy I don’t think anyone is going to talk about in this section. I like Dillon Mitchell. I’m cheating because I don’t think he’s the best freshman, but I like him a ton and really hope he has a good freshman season. I love the size and length on the guy, and I like that he’s active on the boards. His jumper looks promising, and with more reps, I think he can become a really good shooter from outside. I believe there’s some real potential for him to become a good defender with his length and how he moves. Overall he’s the type of player that I think a lot of teams are going to be looking to add. Skilled wings are always valuable, and I think Mitchell will become very popular with NBA front offices.
Stephen: It’s Cam again for me, folks. I don’t think there is a team in the NBA that wouldn’t want a 6’7”, 232-pound, Forward that can score from the inside or the outside. He can rival anyone in this class as the most athletic player in the draft.
Maxwell: I’m sticking with Cam Whitmore! His pro body, athleticism, and pure aggression getting to the rim is a wonderful set of traits. He’s willing to be a bully, and if the skill level catches up with his tools (it‘s not that far behind), he can easily lock down the number three spot.
5. Biggest Sleeper Prospect
Nathan: Since Baba Miller has moved to the forefront of draft conversation lately, I’ll go with Koby Brea out of Dayton. DaRon Holmes is getting the preseason buzz for the Flyers, but Brea is a 6’6” wing prospect who can score from anywhere. A better athlete than given credit for, with a good handle to navigate with, he has a chance to make a real splash this season and vault his name right into first round territory and beyond.
Rucker: I’m going to go with someone I believe might deserve a little more “buzz” in the Draft world. I’ve found myself extremely intrigued with Xavier’s Colby Jones. At 6’6” with a quick release from outside, Jones shows up on tape in a number of different areas than just the box scores. He plays the game unselfishly and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work to keep possessions alive. He’s a guy that I believe could take another big step this year, and he could have scouts smitten about his impact on both sides of the floor.
Corey: RJ Melendez from Illinois is a dude that I think might come out of nowhere and turn some heads this season. Melendez is a 6’7” wing that can dribble, pass, shoot, defend, and play above the rim. Melendez played limited minutes last season for the Illini, but he made the most of those minutes when he got them, showing the kinds of flashes of a dude that looks the part of the prototypical NBA wing. Melendez has the looks and game that could make him one of the best breakout candidates of the 2023 cycle.
Metcalf: It would be weird if I didn’t mention him once. It has to be Taran Armstrong. Armstrong was the best playmaker in the country last season and is primed for the same pedigree this season. He has ideal size for a point guard and competes defensively. If he can figure out any semblance of scoring consistency, he could be a first-round pick.
Nick: He’s gotten a lot of love from the No Ceilings crew over the past year, but I still don’t think draft evaluators as a whole have given enough love to Richmond’s Tyler Burton. He hit 37% of his triples last year on a difficult shot diet, plays solid defense, and crashes the glass at an insane rate for a 6’7” wing. If he can up his long-range percentage just a bit and show a bit of improvement as a playmaker, I find it hard to believe that there won’t be an NBA team or two that are willing to take a second round or UDFA flyer on Burton.
Albert: I don’t know if he’s a sleeper, but I want to use this opportunity to talk about Jordan Hawkins. Hawkins is the walking bucket from UConn that impressed at times during his freshman season. I think Hawkins is going to have a much better sophomore season. With the wild athletic ability and versatility of Andre Jackson next to him, I think Hawkins will have the freedom to go and hunt buckets.
Stephen: Fun question! I’m going to go with Pepperdine prospect Houston Mallette. He’s a 6’5 Guard with a BEAUTIFUL jumper. In a pool of very talented returning players, Mallette was named to the WCC All-Freshman team with names that are expected to take big leaps. Tell me why Mallette can’t. I’ll wait.
Maxwell: Tucker DeVries, the sophomore out of Drake! I covered him for my No Stone Unturned Series, and I’ve yet to see him listed in a mock draft or mainstream Top 100. DeVries has pro size at 6’7”, NBA shooting range, and a remarkable ability to create out of the pick-and-roll. He’s comfortable using his off-hand and gets low on his way to the rim. His instincts as a team defender are sublime. He’ll need to improve athletically, but his coach (and father) told me that he’s going to have “a completely different look than a year ago.” If he takes a step forward physically and there’s an efficiency uptick, he’ll be undeniable.
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