NBA Mock Draft featuring all 30 Picks in the First Round, including Scoot Henderson, Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Bilal Coulibaly, Leonard Miller and more!
The 2023 NBA Mock Draft 3.0 is my final iteration of the top picks in the NBA draft where I break down all thirty selections in the draft this Thursday, June 22nd. Players like Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Amen and Ausar Thompson, and more will hear their names called on Thursday in what is an exciting beginning for the future stars of the NBA. What direction will teams like the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, and Indiana Pacers take who have plenty of draft capital and young stars to continue to build around or make a move to support?
If you are looking for what to bet on for the 2023 NBA Draft, you can find some of my Early Best Bets here as well as some other draft betting plays on my Twitter @AndyHHSports. I will continue to be posting about the draft in the days leading up to the big event, so make sure to subscribe here for free so you never miss a post from us here at Happy Hour! With that out of the way, let’s jump right into the final iteration of my 2023 NBA Mock Draft.
1. San Antonio Spurs – Victor Wembanyama, C – France
Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs who have landed the opportunity to turn their franchise around. The Spurs are about as lucky as they come to have gone from David Robinson to Tim Duncan to Victor Wembanyama at center. There is not a lot that I need to say here about Victor as you can find it anywhere and everywhere across the internet and has been the unanimous choice as the number one pick in this draft for a couple of years now.
Victor’s unique frame of 7 foot 5 inches tall with an 8-foot wingspan is a player build that we have never seen be able to have a handle and shoot the three. Wembanyama’s output on the defensive end with an absurd number of blocks and clearly easy rebounding with his size will turn the tide of any franchise and gives the Spurs someone to build around for years to come. It is exciting for players like Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Jeremy Sochan that have shown us a lot of talent, but deep down we knew they would not be the number one option for this franchise. Now the young talent on this roster can truly flourish in their intended roles and have a big man they can rely on.
I could go on about Wembanyama for pages and pages and how truly special he has the potential to be in the NBA. However, you all know he is going number one at -20,000 betting odds and has been the highest-touted prospect since LeBron James in 2003. There is not a lot to say here, so let’s move on to the next!
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2. Charlotte Hornets – Scoot Henderson, G – G-League Ignite
In the fall of 2022 draft experts and basketball fans alike openly agreed that if Victor Wembanyama did not exist, Scoot Henderson would be the unanimous #1 overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft. In fact, many people began to debate if he deserved shouts for the first overall pick following the G-League Ignite’s game against Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 team in the fall that was broadcasted by ESPN. The dynamic guard has drawn comparisons to some of the NBA’s most freakishly athletic guards like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook which is high praise for a kid who is only 19 years old.
However, once Brandon Miller came onto the scene with Alabama this year, the second-best prospect debate became wide open. In a league that highly values do-it-all forwards who can score the ball, create plays, and defend at an elite level, Brandon Miller is seen as what many teams want but struggle to find. The Hornets received the second overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery a couple of weeks ago, and with All-Star LaMelo Ball leading the franchise many have already ruled out Scoot heading to Charlotte.
Why would the Hornets not select the best available player in Scoot Henderson though? When you are a franchise that is historically bad and coming off a very unfavorable season, wouldn’t it make sense to shoot for the stars and take Scoot Henderson? If the Hornets end up moving off of Terry Rozier down the road, their next best two-guard would be James Bouknight, Bryce McGowens, or Dennis Smith Jr. if you consider him a two-guard. Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring in Scoot Henderson and let him and LaMelo figure each other out with the possibility of having the best young backcourt in the NBA?
You already have guys like Cody Martin, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre, and PJ Washington at the forward spots, with the possibility of Miles Bridges coming back following his season away from the league due to legal trouble. With Bridges already being a PR nightmare, does Charlotte really want to bring on Brandon Miller who also has his own legal baggage that weighed down Alabama at times last season? I believe that as long as the franchise makes it clear to LaMelo that he is still their guy and they want to give him what could be an absolutely lethal combo in the backcourt with Scoot, Ball would be open to the idea. LaMelo has done nothing in the past to indicate he’d have a bad attitude or be a bad teammate, and I think that is noteworthy too as we all know the Ball family has no shortage of time in the spotlight.
The Hornets are not in a position to draft for the best fit, and even if they do look at this from a best-fit standpoint, I think Scoot makes way more sense than Miller for this struggling franchise. LaMelo has had his issues with injuries already the last two seasons, but when healthy he has been shooting the three ball like crazy which opens up plenty of possibilities for Scoot to get him more open looks as he facilitates the offense. Even if Bridges does not return to Charlotte, the Hornets still have more to offer at forward (which is still not a lot) than they do at guard. The prospect of having two incredible creators in LaMelo and Scoot when many franchises struggle to find one could create so many opportunities for their offense, and quite frankly the narrative that these two cannot play together is completely uncalled for. I am not buying the smoke that the Hornets are putting out and believe that Scoot Henderson is headed to Charlotte.
3. Portland Trailblazers – Brandon Miller, F – Alabama
What was once a popular sleeper pick or trendy selection for number two overall has now turned into the betting favorite and Mock Draft favorite alike in Brandon Miller. I am holding my ground here in saying that Scoot is the better prospect and fit for Charlotte, and do believe that if Portland decides to keep the pick at third overall, Miller would be a great fit at forward for a Blazers team that is indecisive on their direction. Brandon’s exceptional shooting paired with exciting defense would be refreshing for a Blazers team that sees that left a lot to be desired in both categories last season.
Brandon Miller had an outstanding season with the Alabama Crimson Tide, exceeding everyone’s expectations and catapulting himself into the Top 3 prospects discussion in this exciting 2023 Draft which is an accomplishment in itself. The praise is well deserved as Brandon Miller brought his team stellar shooting outside the arc (38.4% off 7.5 attempts per game), fierce rebounding (8.2 boards per game), and great free throw shooting (85.9% last season). The stat set is a dream come true for NBA franchises and fantasy basketball fans alike, as the man averaged almost a block and a steal per game which doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how good he can be on defense.
Miller is not picky with his shooting whether he is finding his looks off the catch or creating his space off the dribble. He can drive to the basket, or create opportunities for his teammates with adventurous passing. I believe that as Miller continues to fill out his 6-foot-9-inch frame we will see him become even more physical driving to the basket as well as taking on bigger opponents defensively.
The Portland Trailblazers are likely to make some moves before the Draft or the night of as things play out that evening. If they keep their roster as is with Dame, Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe as their guards, it would be a no-brainer that Brandon Miller slots right in. The Blazers know deep down that Drew Eubanks and Trendon Watford are not going to be their long-term solution at forward, and Jerami Grant has been great at scoring the ball but could use some help to lift this Blazers defense. Miller offers all of the scoring and on-ball defense the Blazers could ask for and fits what the Blazers may want to do if they decide to trade Dame or have him stay patient with a more than ready NBA prospect in Miller.
4. Houston Rockets – Amen Thompson, G – Overtime Elite
The Thompson twins have been on the radar of basketball nerds and recruitment board fans for a long time, as these two ridiculous athletes have shown that the sky is the limit for what they can do with a basketball. My biggest criticism and question marks for both Amen and Ausar come from how poor their shooting was against subpar competition with Overtime Elite, but landing in Houston would not cause this flaw of Amen’s to show right away. For now, I believe that there are a number of reasons to believe Amen is heading to the Houston Rockets at fourth overall, as his special creativity, ungodly athleticism, and experience running the offense should help move the needle for his next team.
Amen Thompson has taken the lead over his twin brother as the preferred basketball prospect for a number of reasons. Amen sees the floor differently than most, and is able to pick out where the play is and create accordingly at a very quick pace. This resulted in him being the primary ball handler while his brother was in more of a wing role when they played together.
His dribbling is outstanding and he moves lightning fast which is fun to see with his build of a 7-foot wingspan and 6-foot-6-inch height. Thompson is already a versatile defender that applies pressure on the ball and challenges opponents in the paint or out wide. His rebounding is spectacular and often leads to quick passes as I touched on before as Thompson is very creative and resourceful with the ball.
The biggest knock on both Thompson brothers continues to be their shooting. But does Amen really need to shoot the ball a lot on a team with Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Jabari Smith Jr.? In fact, I think a creator is exactly what this team needs, as Porter Jr. and Green did not give a lot of help to their new teammate Smith last season and it showed.
Houston’s offense was much more creative when Alperen Sengun was leading the way as their creative center of sorts while others were out injured, so I can only imagine what Amen Thompson can do in that role for the Rockets. Pairing Amen with new head coach Ime Udoka who is very defensive-minded will only add to how versatile the 20-year-old can be, as we saw how night and day the Celtics defense has been before and after Udoka was at the helm. Reports are already beginning to surface that the Rockets are “enamored” with Amen Thompson, and it is pretty clear that even if the Blazers move off of the third overall pick it will be to a team that wants either Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller.
Amen headlines the “third tier” of guys in the 2023 NBA Draft, and is a great fit on a Houston team that needs to continue to fire on high-upside prospects even if the shooting is a massive question mark. Everything else is there for Thompson who won’t have to shoot as much due to his new Rockets teammates already being a little too excited to shoot the ball. People will have their opinions on if Houston should even consider Thompson with the rumors of James Harden heading back to Houston, but it is hard to argue against Amen Thompson being the fourth or fifth-best player in this draft no matter where he lands. With free agency happening after the draft, I have to believe Amen still goes number four in my 2023 NBA mock.
5. Detroit Pistons – Cam Whitmore, F – Villanova
I love Cam Whitmore going fifth overall to the Detroit Pistons who could use a dynamic scorer with star potential. I have covered above why Scoot, Miller, and Amen should round out the Top 4, so at the fifth-overall pick there are a lot of question marks due to the plethora of options for the Pistons. New head coach Monty Williams will have a limited amount of time to weigh his new options with a very interesting roster depth-wise, but the gaps Detroit has on the wing right now are abundantly clear.
Whitmore’s upside is immense as his quick and calculated movements allow him to stun defenders and get to the basket. He has a great handle and is able to move fast yet still control the ball and dribble well. Cam was a great scorer at Villanova and had a knack for finishing with either hand under the basket. He is an explosive athlete that has the ability to score in many different spots across the floor which I believe helps Detroit a lot.
Cam’s defense is great on the ball, and his awareness of what is going on around him helps disrupt opposing defenses whether he is snagging steals (1.4 steals per game in 26 games) or breaking screens. Whitmore has a knack for turning defense into offense and often forced turnovers for Villanova. The physical 6’6″ wing weighs in at 235 lbs and can truck through defenders and break through screens. Detroit was a bottom-five team in defensive efficiency last season, so adding Whitmore to the roster will help begin to set the tone for a young team defensively.
I do not believe the Pistons will take a shot on Ausar Thompson at fifth overall as although Ausar is an athletic freak like his brother, Detroit desperately needs scoring and we know Thompson is not going to be able to provide that. That leaves Detroit with their pick of forwards from Whitmore, Taylor Hendricks, and Jarace Walker. I do not believe Hendricks fits into Detroit as well as Whitmore or Walker, with Detroit already jam-packed with big men. After trading away Saddiq Bey to the Hawks, and Bojan Bogdanovich being an excellent trade piece this season or next, the Pistons could use Whitmore’s strong finishing ability under the basket as well as stellar shooting.
This is one of my favorite picks of the draft, and some places are projecting Cam as high as number four to the Rockets. I believe after an interesting season from Jaden Ivey, the Pistons cannot pass up taking a player with star potential like Cam Whitmore. The sky is the limit for the former Villanova Wildcat, and Detroit really could begin to be building something fun if Cade Cunningham returns to full health as expected.
6. Orlando Magic – Taylor Hendricks, F – UCF
The Florida kid who also played at Central Florida gets to keep his living situation as is by staying in Orlando with the Magic. Taylor Hendricks is a riveting prospect at 6’9” tall and a 7’1” wingspan that pairs strong interior defense with impressive three-point shooting for his size. Hendricks not only will add further defensive value to an already defensively sound Magic roster but will also solve some issues they have had scoring the basketball while giving Orlando an even more versatile set of lineup options.
Hendricks has high-level protection around the rim and his 1.7 blocks per game in college tell that part of the story. His patience with opposing offensive players is easy to see as he is not always jumping when the other team wants him to bite, yet Taylor still loves contesting shots. He will dive for loose balls, take charges, and do the dirty work on defense like a player who absolutely cares and tried hard every possession. The perimeter defense from the man out of UCF is also stellar but needs some work on moments when speedy players are able to exploit his size and get around him.
The way that Taylor Hendricks handles the pick-and-roll is very encouraging, as he is multifaceted in this part of his game while also offering himself up as a pick-and-pop threat too. Hendricks shot 39.1% from behind the arc off of 4.6 attempts for three per game last season. He can handle the ball and is not afraid to drive to the basket if he is not a fan of the look he’s getting after a few dribbles from the mid-range.
There will be some pushback for having Hendricks in this spot for Orlando, but he has played some center in the past in high school which opens the door for a myriad of lineup options. The Magic need more scoring, and with Cam Whitmore off the board, I believe that Hendricks solves that problem immediately while still adding to their fiery young defense. Hendricks profiles as one of my favorite players in this class, with the only other knock on his game being the competition level. However, with so many questions still surrounding how to evaluate talent outside of the college level, and this draft class being dominated at the top by prospects who have taken these new paths, I think Hendricks will put those doubts to bed quickly as the pre-draft process continues.
7. Indiana Pacers – Ausar Thompson, G/F – Overtime Elite
If you are a fan who prefers Ausar to Amen you may have these two flip-flopped, or one falling even farther than the other if they don’t go back to back at four and five. I think if Ausar falls out of the Top 5 his likely spot will be Indy, and the Pacers could really swing for the fences on the upside here despite their main need being at power forward. Why not go big when a player of Ausar’s caliber and upside is still available on the board?
Ausar is coming in below his twin brother Amen on most draft boards because he was less of a primary ball handler and more of a versatile, defensive-minded wing. Because of this, Ausar is less of a threat when spacing the floor for his teammates because, like his twin, his shooting is below average at best right now. However, the athletic freak of nature that Ausar is paired with the defensive tenacity he brings to the table presents a unique opportunity for Indy who ranked in the bottom 5 in defensive efficiency last season.
Thompson would once again not be the primary ballhandler as we know Haliburton has proven to be more than capable in that role, but he could take some playmaking relief off of Tyrese’s shoulder. Ausar averaged 6.1 assists a game despite not being the primary ball handler for Overtime Elite, and his passing is a sniper with his passes whether they’re off the dribble or quickly facilitated. When you add in the rebounding and insane number of steals Ausar is able to grab, it is a no-brainer to take a shot on the kid with this much potential.
As I touched on before, Thompson’s shooting is by far the biggest critique of his game besides the level of competition he played against at Overtime Elite. Ausar shot the three better than Amen but only had a 48% Field goal percentage. Both brothers were below 70% in free throw percentage as well, which has been a longtime indicator of if you’ll be able to develop a shot down the line someday. However, Ausar has changed some mechanics with his shot and as a result, has begun to become confident in shooting the ball despite the results still being iffy at best. If the Indiana Pacers are patient with Ausar, a star could have fallen into their hands on draft night after their Draft Lottery wasn’t as lucky as they had hoped.
8. Washington Wizards – Anthony Black, G – Arkansas
Anthony Black is my favorite player to land with the Washington Wizards. The Wiz have been without a legitimate point guard not named Russell Westbrook since John Wall left (sorry Morris and Dinwiddie!). Black is certainly not a point guard, but he does have the facilitating and creating abilities it takes to be one that Washington desperately needs. I absolutely love big guards that can use their size to defend and create, and Black’s 6’6″ 210 lbs frame fits that build to a tee. The pressure is off for Black to have to score, as you’ve got Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis who need a floor general to help pave unique ways for them to score that isn’t just playing iso ball.
Black is already solid at the pick-and-roll which is a large benefit for one of the NBA’s most beloved offensive play starters, and Black’s vision will help him create more than just simple mismatches from it. Not only does Anthony do a great job facilitating the offense, but also he is not afraid to drive to the bucket and has a solid touch around the rim when he does. If he isn’t scoring under the rim he is drawing fouls which is a welcome sight for the Wizards who ranked in the bottom third of the league in free throws attempted per game.
The cons of Black’s game are his inability to create his own space and his inferior shooting ability off the dribble. I think being placed on a Wizards team with Beal, Kristaps, and potentially Kuzma would help mask Anthony’s inefficiencies and allow his true strengths to shine. Black also has a knack for snagging steals, averaging an astounding 2.1 steals per game with the Razorbacks.
Finally, I would not be doing Anthony Black justice if I skipped over his defensive abilities. Black has great defense on the ball and keeps his hands in the air which I love. He can defend multiple positions with his size and intensity and is a thoughtful defender off the ball where he can slide in and force turnovers on opponents as they drive to the basket.
You could make the case for Jarace Walker who is arguably the better prospect here, or Cason Wallace who is a true point guard as being the selection Washington needs to make. However, I believe that we have seen guards who have shown flashes of scoring be able to improve as they grow up in the NBA, and Black’s ability to paint different pictures on offense sets him apart from the others still on the board. It will be an adjustment at first, but if the Wizards are truly trying to build around Beal then this would be a long-term investment that is not quite as expensive as the financial investment they made in their star shooting guard.
9. Utah Jazz – Cason Wallace, G – Kentucky
The Jazz are aware that there has been a gap at point guard ever since Mike Conley departed at the deadline, and the options of Jordan Clarkson, Kris Dunn, and Talen Horton-Tucker just aren’t going to cut it when it comes to running the offense. Cason Wallace is just the fit this team needs, and if he jumps Anthony Black and ends up going to Washington, the Jazz could also get a high upside guard in Black. I personally love Black’s upside a bit more than Cason’s, but I do not want that to take away from the hype surrounding yet another Kentucky guard in Wallace.
Cason Wallace recently canceled a visit with the Atlanta Hawks who hold the 15th pick in a move many people anticipate means he is heading toward the Top 14 lottery picks. It is well deserved for Wallace who boasts one of the best defensive guards in the draft, and some say the best defensive guard in recent years. Wallace averaged 2 steals a game at Kentucky which is an incredibly hard stat to average one of, much less double that. Cason is built to be tough and out-hustles his opponents which just adds to the case of his incredible on-ball defending.
Not only does Wallace’s length and vision for the game help him with his on-ball defending, but he also uses his smarts in positioning himself correctly off the ball to make an impact in cutting off passing lanes and stopping opponents when they don’t see it coming. The 6’2” height is made up for by his 6’8” wingspan and relentless energy in all facets of the game. His quick release when shooting will help as he continues to build on that aspect of his game, but overall Cason has showcased he can score around the rim and makes his free throws.
Wallace will help shore up the point guard position in Utah, and I believe that coming from the Calipari system he will be even more ready for the league than some anticipate. It is clear that one of the most solid reasons the top prospects in this draft are here after the first three picks are likely because of their ability to defend, and Wallace is no exception. In fact, he is likely one of the best in the class.
10. Dallas Mavericks – Jarace Walker, F – Houston
Earlier in the week I wrote up a play that also dissected Jarace Walker’s game. You can find that here, so I won’t repeat myself too much!
Walker would be a great fit in Dallas if they keep Kyrie around as we know Luka and Kyrie can carry the team in scoring and only need a bit of help from their teammates in that department. This takes a lot of the burden off of Walker who can focus on what he is great at which is locking down any opponent coming his way, while also grabbing boards for a squad that ranked second-to-last in total rebounds per game last season. Many media outlets don’t have Walker slipping this far, and I see him going as high as number seven to Indiana. Walker is by far the best available at this spot in my mock draft so far and would be a dream fit for a Mavericks team that is desperate to beef up their depth at forward.
11. Orlando Magic – Keyonte George, G – Baylor
The Orlando Magic need scoring. Orlando secured an excellent three-point shooter in Taylor Hendricks at #6 Overall in my Mock Draft, and now they take a swing on Baylor guard Keyonte George with the eleventh pick. I love the fit for George in Orlando, as all sorts of questions surround their backcourt depth of Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, and Cole Anthony. George could be the solution this squad needs to find a scoring burst outside of just relying on Paolo and Franz.
George has a massive bag of tricks on offense whether it is creating space to find his shot, capitalizing on the catch-and-shoot from behind the arc, or driving to the basket for a high-percentage attempt in the paint. Keyonte’s field goal and three-point percentages may not jump off the page at you, but having a nearly 80% free throw percentage assures scouts and fans alike he should be fine in the big leagues. With plenty of attempts to score the ball for Baylor, Keyonte George established his reputation as an absolute killer when scoring the ball, and is not afraid to be aggressive on the other end with swift hands looking to break up opponent’s plays.
A lot of people have Gradey Dick going to the Magic here. I know that the Magic already have plenty of defenders, but Dick’s liability on the defensive end makes me like that George has shown us more on that end. I give Keyonte the slight edge over Dick due to his multi-faceted scoring prowess as well as that win over Gradey on the defensive end. The current Orlando backcourt has not been the most reliable whether it’s injuries or inconsistency, and I think taking a shot on George will assure that you are getting the scoring you need with the ceiling being as high as Orlando’s third-best player someday.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder – Gradey Dick, G – Kansas
The Oklahoma City Thunder need scoring just like the Orlando Magic do. Gradey Dick may not be the best solution for this team defensively, but boy can this guy score the ball. Dick scored over 40% of his three-point attempts last season for Kansas, averaging 14.1 points per game and 5.7 attempts from behind the arc. If this doesn’t add a huge relief of the scoring burden from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s shoulders along with the emergence of Jalen Williams, I am not sure who else that is in this draft class can!
Dick has an incredible shooting form that gets the ball out of his hands quickly and efficiently. There is no shot that is out of the realm of Gradey’s capabilities as he can drive to the cup as well as shoot from the midrange with fantastic movements on the ground and in the air if needed. The athletic ability of Gradey Dick has never been a question, which makes me think there is a chance for his defense to grow if he really puts the effort in and joins and franchise that teaches him discipline on that end of the floor.
If Gradey Dick falls past the 12 spot and Oklahoma City still holds the pick, it will likely be for the quickly rising Bilal Coulibaly who is currently still competing with Victor Wembanyama in France right now. This would indicate to me that the Thunder do not think they need shooting as badly as I think they do, or that they are still in the business of drafting the highest ceiling prospect and rating Coulibaly over Dick. I personally think Dick’s ceiling is becoming a top 3 scoring option for an NBA franchise someday, and do not see Coulibaly as that which I will touch on later.
13. Toronto Raptors – Jalen Hood-Schifino, G – Indiana
With the impending free agency of Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. ahead, the future at guard for the Toronto Raptors is very uncertain. Scottie Barnes has had a unique role with this squad and has run a bit of point guard here and there throughout his college and professional career now. However, I do not think Scottie is the surefire solution to go with her, and truly think if the Raptors hang on to the thirteenth overall pick that they will need to find reinforcements quickly to plan for the loss of one or both members of their backcourt.
Enter Jalen Hood-Schifino, a 20-year-old guard out of Indiana that could help add to Toronto defensively right away, and develop into the backcourt of the future with the Raptors whether they decide to let Scottie run the point or not. With guys like Anthony Black, Cason Wallace, and Keyonte George off the board, I still think Jalen gives the Raptors a path forward with a lot of potential to grow with a team that has an uncertain direction after last season. Hood-Schifino already has a stellar midrange shot, knocks down his free throws at a 77% clip, and is working on his shooting beyond the arc which he has time to improve upon.
Another aspect of Jalen’s game that I believe will add value to any NBA team that takes him is how advanced he can play in the pick-and-roll. With how much teams in the Association love running it to get a play started, Hood-Schifino will have no problem using his speed to get to his spot or find the open man and facilitate the offense. His 6’4” height paired with a 6’10” wingspan on a 217 lb frame allows Jalen to hold his ground defensively, and he is unafraid of breaking up the opposing offense with grabs and deflections on the ball. Toronto should be excited about Hood-Schifino as he is still so young and already showing flashes of being a solid addition to the backcourt whether the Raptors’ free agents stick around or head elsewhere.
14. New Orleans Pelicans – Dereck Lively II, C – Duke
This is not my favorite selection of my Mock Draft, but I sincerely believe Lively will be taken in the lottery and if he falls this far to the fourteenth pick there are a number of reasons New Orleans should take him. Jonas Valanciunas has been great for New Orleans and absolutely still has a couple of years left in the tank.
However, Jonas is in the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent while the organization is filled with uncertainty and shakiness with Zion Williamson’s persistent injuries and off the court drama. On top of the storylines, there are rumors that the Pelicans are interested in trading up for Scoot Henderson as well. Why not go ahead and lock in a high-potential center in Dereck Lively II who had a rough start at Duke but showed promise in the latter half of the season and in the pre-draft process.
Lively’s defense was spectacular throughout the second half of the season for Duke, averaging 2-and-a-half blocks per game over the full season and a 7-foot-8 wingspan to assure he continues getting blocks at the NBA level too. I don’t believe Lively is going to be great when it comes to creating anything on his own or for others, but with the Pelicans having multiple players who can handle the ball, he should be able to be an excellent lob threat and easy to find a guy who can score around the rim. He is still a very, very rough around the edges prospect, but Willie Green and his staff have not had a problem getting their young guys to buy in and shine their brightest which would be great for Dereck who gets to shadow under Jonas for a year too.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Bilal Coulibaly, F – Metropolitans 92
The range of where Bilal Coulibaly could be picked stretches anywhere from a Top 10 pick to the mid-twenties, but with the success he has seen in the playoffs paired with his growth as a player over the last two seasons, it is clear why Coulibaly continues to climb up draft boards across the league quickly. Bilal’s shot-making has not been incredible, but he has drawn comparisons to OG Anonuby for how resourceful he can be on the defensive end. This would be a godsend defensively for the Hawks, who ranked in the bottom 5 in the NBA last season in defensive efficiency.
The good news for Bilal is if the shot does not develop, the Atlanta Hawks have so much shooting around him in Trae, Hunter, Bey, Bogdan, and AJ. This team needs someone like Coulibaly who has unique measurements of 6’7” in height and a 7’3” wingspan along with a tenacity on defense that shows in the box score (1.4 steals per game) and on the floor closing out opponents and blocking shots. The soon-to-be 19-year-old can play defense right away at the professional level and has shown that throughout his professional career.
The exciting part for Coulibaly and the reason why he likely will be taken before the Hawks can even have a chance at him is that his shooting is slowly beginning to show itself. We know that Bilal is clinical finishing the ball and is excellent at driving to the cup, but he has now shown flashes of shooting threes off the catch and is knocking down his free throws at a 76% rate. If Bilal goes lower than many project, the Atlanta Hawks should count their blessings as Coulibaly would solve many issues they have immediately and in the future.
16. Utah Jazz – Kobe Bufkin
I have the Jazz taking Cason Wallace at 9 to help at guard, and why not take Kobe Bufkin to reinforce that while also getting his versatility as a wing option too? The 6’4” guard out of Michigan is a great two-way player who lit the Big 10 on fire toward the latter half of the year, and if he had one more percentage point in his free throws during the final 12 games of conference play the man would have had been averaging a 50/40/90. Kobe offers not only his scoring from the midrange and behind the arc (35.5% off 3.7 attempts for three), but also his capabilities as a playmaker that Utah desperately needs.
Sometimes Bufkin got outshined by Hunter Dickinson and Jett Howard, but as he grew into his own and saw his usage increase as the season progressed it became clear that there is a lot of reason to be excited about how his game translates to the pros. As I highlighted before, Bufkin’s evolution in upgrading his efficiency as a scorer was one reassuring piece, but I love the hustle he brings on the defensive end where Kobe is not afraid to get dirty and hurry for blocks and rebounds as a guard. The Jazz would not only be bolstering their free for all of a backcourt but would also be adding in my opinion the clearcut best available at this point, with many other mock drafts having Kobe sitting at the edge of the lottery selections.
17. Los Angeles Lakers – Brice Sensabaugh, G – Ohio State
Before the Los Angeles Lakers made major changes to their roster as the trade deadline approached last season, their glaring weakness was the lack of shooters on the squad. This was mainly addressed and the team grew together very quickly before our eyes throughout the final weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs. But why stop there?
Brice Sensabaugh offers the Lakers an additional scoring option that can shoot the three in a variety of ways and is not afraid of taking contested shots that he somehow gets away with scoring. The former Buckeye scores for fun, averaging 16.3 points per game in college with a 40.5% three-point percentage on 4.5 attempts per game.
Sensabaugh’s biggest flaws are his lack of effort on the defensive end paired with his clear intentions of not wanting to pass the ball. The defense will need some work, but what better way to learn to pass than playing with two NBA greats in Anthony Davis and LeBron James who will make sure the young man passes real quick. Jokes aside, Sensabaugh could definitely learn a lot from a team with plenty of experience and different journeys around the league, and I am confident that the Lakers would make a good fit for the exciting 19-year-old out of Columbus, Ohio.
18. Miami Heat – Jett Howard, F – Michigan
The Miami Heat are already very familiar with Jett Howard whose father Juwan Howard coached him at Michigan after coaching and playing for the Miami Heat throughout the entire 2010s. Miami will be looking to add additional scorers following their miraculous NBA Finals run, and what better player to target than someone whose dad is a part of the Heat family?
Jett was a great offensive weapon for the Michigan Wolverines last season, averaging 36.8% from three out of 7.3 attempts a game. The 6’8” big wing can do more than just knocking down threes though, as his movements and ball knowledge are reflected in his quick adjustments he makes when running plays.
However, where Howard shines with his basketball IQ on the offensive end he somewhat lacks on the defensive end. Jett will sometimes be caught out of position or looking lost on defense which is a bad look for any prospect, but I have confidence that the effort he puts in on that end can help him grow and learn with a team like Miami who the world knows for their pest-like defending.
19. Golden State Warriors – Noah Clowney, C – Alabama
The direction of the Warriors and what their team needs is still unclear following their postseason run this past season. Golden State was a weird team this year as they slipped up at times in an uncharacteristic fashion and were also abysmal away from home. The problem for the Warriors with this draft pick is that their options are slim regarding who can come in and contribute at 19th overall while their window is closing on their reign at the top.
Noah Clowney may not even be 19 years old yet, and may also be a raw prospect in many facets, but I believe his versatility at the center position could add value for Golden State now and later. It is clear that the Warriors have failed with their James Wiseman experiment, and Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga have shown flashes but still need more time to grow and develop. Maybe that track record leads Golden State to trade the pick and Kuminga for a reliable piece that helps them win now?
Regardless, Clowney has a lot to offer on the defensive end and shows a lot of hustle and heart on that side of the ball. For a 6-foot-10 big man with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Noah is quite athletic and can hurry across the floor to any spot he is needed in order to wreak havoc on opposing offensive schemes. His shooting is a work in progress, but he is unafraid to shoot the three averaging close to one a game in college.
I love Clowney’s positive and disciplined attitude towards the game. It is something that you don’t see with a lot of guys who are still in their teens, and I believe Golden State can also appreciate this paired with the effort he displays on the defensive end. Someday the Warriors have to find the heir to Looney’s throne, so why not try again now? This draft class is quite short on center talent, so I do see Clowney maybe going higher than some think, even if he does not wind up in Golden State.
20. Houston Rockets – Leonard Miller, F – G-League Ignite
The Houston Rockets will need to continue to make big swings and Leonard Miller, who was a teammate of Scoot Henderson’s with the G-League Ignite, will act as just that. Leonard is 6-foot-10-inches and will give the Rockets even more length and rebounding to pair with Tari Eason and Jabari Smith. Miller averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds last season in the G-League which is impressive in itself, but he is just getting started from a basketball development standpoint as he continues to figure out who he is following his massive high school growth spurt.
If Miller can unlock his shooting from behind the arc, he will score in bunches and have a variety of tricks up his sleeve. For now, he is a consistent and efficient scorer inside that flies past defenders with great ball handling and an ability to finish with either hand. Ime Udoka will be able to start fresh with the young man and instill some of his defensive mastermind into a player who has shown flashes of incredible potential but still has some development left. If the Rockets make it work, Leonard Miller could be a steal with the 20th pick in the draft.
21. Brooklyn Nets – Jordan Hawkins, G – UConn
If the Nets don’t ship one or both of these picks in order to move up, they have their pick of the litter before things get interesting from the mid-twenties and on. Jordan Hawkins showed the world how spectacular he can be scoring the ball when he is on, and he did it on the biggest stage leading UConn to a national title less than three months ago. Cam Thomas has been lightning in a bottle for this team when players sit out, and Hawkins could offer a similar effect with his 38.8% 3P% in college off of 7.6 attempts per game showing he has it in him. With there being more questions at guard than at forward for this team, I like taking a chance on Hawkins here who will be able to keep up defensively on a roster that is known for it but still doesn’t really have an identity.
22. Brooklyn Nets – James Nnaji, C – Barcelona
The 6’10” Nigerian center would be able to add depth to Nicolas Claxton who gave validation to Brooklyn’s faith in him last year. Although Nnaji’s stats do not jump off the page, he has the body type and young age to suggest there is some potential upside to his game if he is given the coaching and patience required. The 225-pound big man has a 7’7” wingspan that helps him finish the ball inside and take on opponents in the paint, which in the short term could be a nice stop-gap when Claxton is not on the floor but in the long term could become a great rebounding center with a solid interior defensive presence. This is the part of the draft where a lot of picks are going to surprise us, so why not swing for the fences here if you are Brooklyn?
23. Portland Trailblazers – Nick Smith Jr., G – Arkansas
If you’re Portland, you missed out on Scoot Henderson whom many believed could fall to third overall. With the Dame rumors beginning to heat up, Nick Smith Jr. offers a lot of upside and question marks that could either be a home run this deep into the first round or a major whiff. Smith has solid playmaking out of the pick-and-roll, and his effort on defense is unquestionable which would immediately add value to a Portland team that played no defense last season. If Dame does stay, it could be great for Smith Jr. to learn as he familiarizes himself with his new young teammates of Shaedon Sharpe and Brandon Miller who he can help create for in the future if his health holds up and potential projects how many think it could.
24. Sacramento Kings – Olivier-Maxence Prosper, F – Marquette
Sacramento set records for how prolific their offense was last season, but everyone knew their one question mark all season was on defense. Enter O-Max, the soon-to-be 21-year-old product of Marquette that is an incredible athlete who will add defensive energy to this Kings team that will help them immensely down the stretch. Prosper’s energy and effort are exemplified in his style of play, where he is always snagging loose balls, forcing turnovers, and grabbing boards. The versatility that O-Max can bring to Sacramento on defense will prove he is a worthy role player for this team on day one, and I believe that his freak-of-nature abilities that many athletes cannot attain will set him apart from a pretty good defensive draft class.
25. Memphis Grizzlies – Colby Jones, G/F – Xavier
The Grizzlies have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons due to Ja Moran for the last couple of months, but when it is all said and done we know the identity this team holds. The collective Memphis unit works as a team and has had a tenacious style of play for some time now. Colby Jones would fit right into this group as an excellent ball mover and solid dribbler. Jones has a strong defensive mind off the ball that will add value right away, and if he works on his shooting a bit he will be able to be a dual threat under the basket while working on an improved jump shot.
26. Indiana Pacers – Kris Murray, F – Iowa
It is rumored that the Pacers may be packaging two or all three of their 26th, 29th, and 32nd picks in order to move up in this draft, and are also shopping their lottery pick for an experienced wing. It may not be NBA experience, but Kris Murray’s mature and stellar 3-and-D game could add value to Indy right away. There are countless comparisons that have been made between Kris and his brother Keegan who had a great second half of the year with Sacramento, but Kris also possesses strong creating skills and a polished handle. The Pacers desperately need a power forward, and could definitely find their man deep in the first round in Kris Murray.
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27. Charlotte Hornets – GG Jackson, F – South Carolina
GG Jackson was the #1 recruit in the 2023 class before reclassifying to join UNC last season. When UNC was out of scholarships, GG made the switch back home to Columbia, SC where he was expected to showcase his skills as a future star that many believed he could be. Following an underwhelming freshman campaign, Jackson still offers plenty of potential and question marks as the youngest player in the draft class. Charlotte will eventually need to move off of PJ Washington at forward someday, but GG Jackson could spend time developing under him and work on chemistry with Mark Williams as the two paired together could be a serious threat under the rim for years to come.
28. Utah Jazz – Sidy Cissoko, F – G-League Ignite
With their third pick in the first round, the Jazz select a high-potential raw prospect in Sidy Cissoko out of the G-League Ignite. Cissoko is very physical and brings a certain energy on the defensive end that will help the Jazz find their identity on that end of the ball. Sidy is not very proven as a shooter, but the Jazz would give him plenty of time to develop and flourish as they continue their rebuild. Cissoko could be the guy whom we look back on in four years and ask, “How did Danny Ainge snag this guy at the end of the first round?”
29. Indiana Pacers – Ben Sheppard, G – Belmont
The Pacers were criticized for taking Chris Duarte due to his age two drafts ago and will block out that noise as they once again take a player with experience in Ben Sheppard at the end of the first round. Buddy Hield has had a resurgence in Indy, but can the Pacers rely on his three-point shooting forever? Sheppard would find some incredible looks with Haliburton dishing him the ball, and even if he does have to settle for tough shots, we know he can make them as Ben has proven time and time again. Sheppard averaged 18.8 points off of 41.5% shooting from behind the arc his senior year and would be a great role player for scoring and off-ball defense in Indy.
30. LA Clippers – Brandin Podziemski, G – Santa Clara
We are a couple of months removed from the Clippers playoff exit, and I am still not sure what the identity of this team is. It is highly likely that Brandin Podziemski does not fall this far to the Clippers, but if he does, he could be a nice answer at guard for a team that does not know what they’ll get from stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and certainly don’t know what they’ll get at guard from Russell Westbrook, Terrance Mann, and Bones Hyland. Brandin was a great three point shooter at Santa Clara, averaging 43.8% from behind the arc off 5.8 attempts a game, and can also be a playmaker if the Clippers need him to be. We saw how talented Brandin’s former teammate Jalen Williams was last season for the Thunder, and now we could have another solid prospect coming out of Santa Clara again into a much deeper Clippers roster that has plenty of questions.
THIS IS AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY ANDY CHASE
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