Big-time lottery shakeups highlight our latest mock of the 2023 NBA Draft following the deadline to withdraw and return to college.
The drama in the 2023 NBA Draft won’t start with the No. 1 pick — Victor Wembanyama has that sewn up and the Spurs won’t be trading the selection for anything — but rather behind it at No. 2.
The debate over Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson has been raging since Miller emerged as an All-American during his lone season at Alabama. More recently, the conversation has reached a fever pitch after the Hornets jumped up into the No. 2 spot on lottery night.
Charlotte already has a young star point guard in LaMelo Ball, so adding a dynamite 6-foot-9 wing scorer seems like a no-brainer. On the other hand, there are the off-court concerns with Miller, and he reportedly didn’t interview well at the combine. Meanwhile, Henderson had been the presumed No. 2 pick behind Wembanyama since the draft process started, and he did nothing to dispel that fact with his play for G League Ignite.
Charlotte has been a lost franchise since returning as the Bobcats in the 2004-05 season, failing to win a single playoff series in that span. In fact, the 2016 postseason is the only time the franchise has won a playoff game following its rebirth. Suffice it to say, there’s pressure on the front office to get this pick right.
However, they’re not the only franchise in the lottery with pressure to hit on its pick. Portland is struggling to build a contender around Damian Lillard and faces interesting decisions with the third selection. Houston has a complex situation of its own at No. 4 as it looks to bring back James Harden via free agency. Orlando needs to add the right pieces around Paolo Banchero to take a step forward the franchise has struggled to take since the Dwight Howard era.
We could go on and on, but there’s no shortage of intrigue in this draft. With the NBA Combine and early withdrawal deadline now in the rearview mirror, we have a clear picture of the draft pool — and a clearer picture of where teams might be leaning with their picks.
Here are our updated projections for the entire first round based on intel from around the league:
1) SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Victor Wembanyama, C/PF, Metropolitans 92 (LNB Pro A) – 7-4, 229 lbs.
21.5 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 47.0 FG%, 27.5 3P%
The 19-year-old is dominating the French professional ranks like no one his age has done before. There is nothing he can’t do on the basketball court. The only negative against him is that he needs to add strength, which he should do as he gets older. Durability is the only concern at this point — and he has been healthy since his professional career started in 2019.
2) CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Brandon Miller, SF, Alabama – 6-9, 200 lbs.
18.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 43.0 FG%, 38.4 3P%
As noted above, Charlotte has a tough choice here between Henderson and Miller, but the latter fits a positional need better given the presence of LaMelo Ball. Miller did have a historically bad NCAA Tournament, shooting under 20 percent across Alabama’s three games, but his strong body of work should override that. He’s also lethal in catch-and-shoot situations, which is significant given Ball’s ability to create for others.
3) PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Scoot Henderson, PG, G League Ignite – 6-4, 195 lbs.
16.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 5.4 rpg, 42.9 FG%, 27.5 3P%
Portland is looking to trade this pick as part of a package for an established veteran that can help Damian Lillard win now. If Miller falls here, it makes keeping the pick a bit easier, but if he’s off the board, things get tricky. Henderson doesn’t figure to mesh well with Lillard on the court, and Portland already has two young guards they like in Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe. But would they pass on a prospect who has (rightfully, in my opinion) been compared to a young Derrick Rose? I think they take Henderson and use him as trade bait — or potentially as a core piece if they move on from Lillard.
4) HOUSTON ROCKETS
Amen Thompson, PG/SG, Overtime Elite – 6-7, 209 lbs.
16.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.9 apg, 56.6 FG%, 25.0 3P%
Houston needs a point guard and is still early enough in its rebuild that it can (and should) go with the best player available here. Thompson checks both those boxes with tremendous size, playmaking, versatility and athleticism. James Harden has been linked to a return to the Rockets in free agency, and this pick has been the subject of several trade rumors. If they end up keeping it, however, the Rockets would benefit from drafting someone with Thompson’s upside.
5) DETROIT PISTONS
Cam Whitmore, SF, Villanova – 6-7, 232 lbs.
12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 47.8 FG%, 34.3 3P%
The Pistons were the biggest losers of lottery night, falling all the way from the projected No. 1 pick to No. 5. Without a shot at Wembanyama and having filled backcourt needs with each of the last two first-round picks (Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey), I have Detroit taking a swing on Cam Whitmore here. Injuries and inconsistent playing time caused the talented freshman to have an up-and-down season at Villanova, but he’s a smooth offensive weapon that can fill it up from all three levels. He also has the strength and versatility to impact the game defensively if he’s bought in.
6) ORLANDO MAGIC
Ausar Thompson, SG/SF, Overtime Elite – 6-7, 215 lbs.
16.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.1 apg, 48.1 FG%, 29.8 3P%
Ausar, twin brother of Amen, is another top-5 talent. Orlando is starting to come out of its rebuild with Paolo Banchero as the centerpiece and could use more depth on the wing. Thompson isn’t a good shooter at this point, but he is an elite athlete with positional versatility and high-level defensive potential.
7) INDIANA PACERS
Jarace Walker, PF, Houston – 6-8, 240 lbs.
11.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 46.5 FG%, 34.7 3P%
Indiana has a guard-dominated team full of shooters around Myles Turner, which gives it a promising and exciting identity, but the Pacers do need more of an interior presence. That’s where Walker comes in. He was a defensive and rebounding menace for Houston while also showing reliable range extending beyond the college 3-point line. This fit seems to work well for both sides.
8) WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Anthony Black, PG/SG, Arkansas – 6-7, 198 lbs.
12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 45.3 FG%, 30.1 3P%
Black emerged as Arkansas’ best and most reliable playmaker last season and saw his draft stock skyrocket because of it. Standing 6-7, he does a little bit of everything and prefers to play with the ball in his hands. Washington has been looking for a starting-caliber point guard since John Wall’s Achilles injury and subsequent departure, so this makes sense. Black’s size allows him to play multiple positions and would give the Wizards some lineup versatility, too, which is a bonus for a team still searching for an identity.
9) UTAH JAZZ
Taylor Hendricks, SF/PF, UCF – 6-9, 210 lbs.
15.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 47.8 FG%, 39.4 3P%
Utah’s unexpected success in 2022-23 came thanks to Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler emerging as franchise building blocks. The flip side is that it also knocked the Jazz out of position to nab one of the draft’s top picks. Hendricks is a high-upside play thanks to his elite tools. He has the size, production and efficiency that NBA teams covet, especially when it comes to his shooting ability. Hendricks does need to add weight to his frame, but his defensive versatility and high motor will be valued by a Jazz team that can be patient with his development.
10) DALLAS MAVERICKS
Jordan Hawkins, SG, UConn – 6-5, 185 lbs.
16.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 38.8 3P%
It’s no secret that Dallas needs to improve defensively while surrounding Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving with more talent. The strategy has been to space the floor with shooters, and I think the Mavs focus on that over the defensive need. Hawkins is an elite shooter, simply put. Whether it’s in spot-up situations or coming off screens or dribble-handoffs, no one was more lethal in college basketball than the sophomore. Hawkins’ efficiency dips when he has to put the ball on the deck or make plays for others, but his skill as a shooter makes up for it.
11) ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA BULLS)
Gradey Dick, SG, Kansas – 6-8, 205 lbs.
14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 44.2 FG%, 40.3 3P%
Orlando has finished in the bottom six of the NBA in 3-point shooting each of the last four seasons. To take the next step as a team, the Magic have to be able to space the floor, and Dick is the best and most versatile shooter in this draft. It is a bit of a reach, so the Magic may look to move back, but I don’t think they’ll want to risk missing out on a shooter of this caliber.
12) OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Bilal Coulibaly, SG/SF, Metropolitans 92 (LNB Pro A) – 6-6, 230 lbs.
5.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 53.2 FG%, 45.2 3P%
Coulibaly has been one of the biggest risers of the pre-draft process because of his play in the French League playoffs. He gained the attention of NBA scouts thanks to his efficient shooting numbers while playing with Wembanyama, but now he’s playing a significant role in Mets 92’s run to the LNB Pro A Finals, emerging as the clear No. 2 option behind Wemby. While he is still incredibly raw, Coulibaly’s development has him on track to be an impact player sooner rather than later. There’s a chance he’ll go higher than this, but there are reports the Thunder have him atop their wishlist.
13) TORONTO RAPTORS
Jalen Hood-Schifino, SG/PG, Indiana – 6-6, 213 lbs.
13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, 41.7 FG%, 33.3 3P%
Toronto may have a glaring need in the backcourt if it loses Fred VanVleet and/or Gary Trent Jr. in free agency this offseason. Hood-Schifino demonstrated the ability to thrive in either guard position at Indiana, along with showing off NBA-level shot creation. He has the tools to be a plus defender, and Hood-Schifino has the potential to develop into a versatile weapon on the offensive end — something the Raptors need long-term.
14) NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Keyonte George, SG, Baylor – 6-4, 185 lbs.
15.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 37.6 FG%, 33.8 3P%
The Pelicans need more offensive creators, too, because they don’t really have any outside of Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. George showed flashes of being one of the nation’s best during his season at Baylor. He scored at least 20 points a dozen times and had multiple games with seven assists, consistently demonstrating the ability to create for both himself and his teammates. George isn’t the best defender, but his offensive game fills a need for New Orleans.
15) ATLANTA HAWKS
Nick Smith Jr., PG/SG, Arkansas – 6-5, 185 lbs.
12.5 ppg, 1.7 apg, 37.6 FG%, 33.8 3P%
Smith was a five-star prospect who never found his groove at Arkansas due to injuries. That said, the tools that made such a coveted recruit still make him appealing. He has tremendous size for a point guard, with the length to be an elite defender and a shot-making ability that could truly make him special. Smith wasn’t very efficient in college, but his shot selection suffered as Arkansas’ offense struggled with spacing. Atlanta needs more perimeter pop behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, so it makes sense for them to gamble on Smith here.
16) UTAH JAZZ (VIA TIMBERWOLVES)
Rayan Rupert, SG/SF, NZ Breakers (NBL) – 6-6, 192 lbs.
5.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.9 spg, 35.1 FG%, 23.0 3P%
I mentioned Utah’s ability to gamble on long-term upside previously, and that’s what I have them doing here with Rupert. He’s a tremendous defensive player with the upside to become one of the NBA’s best on that end. The hope is that he becomes a tremendous 3-and-D player but, at the very least, he’ll be a defensive specialist with a selfless offensive game.
17) LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Cason Wallace, SG/PG, Kentucky – 6-4, 193 lbs.
11.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 spg, 44.6 FG%, 34.6 3P%
The Lakers are going to continue to build around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, which means adding players who can knock down perimeter shots and play multiple positions. They also need to add some perimeter defense. There’s a case to be made that Wallace is the best perimeter defender in this class and can guard anyone 1 through 3. He also showed at Kentucky that he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact offensively — helpful when playing alongside LA’s playmakers. If his 3-point shot continues to improve, which it did throughout his lone season in college, he may end up looking like a steal here.
18) MIAMI HEAT
Jett Howard, SG/SF, Michigan – 6-8, 215 lbs.
14.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 41.4 FG%, 36.8 3P%
Jett’s father, Juwan, spent a decade with the Heat as either a player or a coach, so there are strong ties here. Miami also places a strong value on 3-point shooting and positional versatility. Howard showed he can do those things at a high level during his season at Michigan. There must be more buy-in from Howard on the defensive end if he’s going to succeed in the NBA, but his size, skill and pedigree make him a solid fit here – and the effort concerns wouldn’t be as much of a worry given Miami’s culture.
19) GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Dereck Lively II, C, Duke – 7-1, 230 lbs.
5.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 65.8 FG%
Remember when the Warriors drafted James Wiseman in hopes that he could be their long-term piece in the middle? That never materialized, but that same thinking goes into this Lively projection. Golden State built a dynasty around perimeter shooting, yet rebounding and defensive versatility were integral to those championship runs. Given Draymond Green’s uncertain future and the lack of size on this roster, Lively would provide some more versatility and the kind of rim-protector-slash-lob-threat the Warriors haven’t had. Golden State needs to focus on defense, which makes Lively a solid fit.
20) HOUSTON ROCKETS (VIA CLIPPERS)
Leonard Miller, SF/PF, G League Ignite – 6-9, 195 lbs.
18.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 55.6 FG%, 32.7 3P%
Miller was incredibly productive while playing for Ignite, more than anyone really anticipated. As this Houston team amasses versatile pieces, Miller would add a new dimension in the frontcourt. He still needs to grow into the mental side of the game with improved decision-making and consistency/effort, but all the tools of an impact player are there. The Rockets can be patient with his development, too.
21) BROOKLYN NETS (VIA SUNS)
Kobe Bufkin, SG/PG, Michigan – 6-4, 175 lbs.
14.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 48.2 FG%, 35.5 3P%
Brooklyn’s backcourt could use more depth, and the franchise has placed an emphasis on versatile, multi-positional players. Bufkin can play either guard spot and excels on the defensive end, flashing the potential to be a quality two-way guard. If the Nets don’t package their picks to move up in the draft, this would be a solid landing spot with plenty of opportunity for Bufkin.
22) BROOKLYN NETS
Noah Clowney, PF, Alabama – 6-10, 210 lbs.
9.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 48.6 FG%, 28.3 3P%
Clowney was inconsistent as a freshman, but the flashes of perimeter prowess he showed as a freshman intrigues NBA teams. Clowney is a freak, fluid athlete who has immense potential, and this may be a spot for Brooklyn to gamble on that upside given this is their second first-round pick this late in the draft.
23) PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (VIA KNICKS)
Brice Sensabaugh, SF, Ohio State – 6-6, 235 lbs.
16.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 48.0 FG%, 40.5 3P%
As with the Blazers’ No. 3 pick, there’s a good chance Portland tries to flip this one for an established veteran player. However, assuming the Blazers keep it, I have them adding more versatility and offensive firepower to their frontcourt. Sensabaugh is an efficient 3-point shooter who can score at all three levels with ease, both off the bounce or in spot-up/cutting situations. He needs to improve defensively, but Sensabaugh can step in and be productive offensively right away.
24) SACRAMENTO KINGS
Kris Murray, PF, Iowa – 6-8, 215 lbs.
20.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 47.6 FG%, 33.5 3P%
The Kings drafted Keegan Murray with the No. 4 overall pick last year, so why not double up and draft Kris here? Keegan had a successful rookie season thanks to how the Kings utilized his versatile offensive skill set, and Kris also possesses many of those same skills. Having two of those chess pieces would allow Mike Brown to do some creative things with the ball.
25) MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Jaime Jaquez Jr., SF, UCLA – 6-6, 220 lbs.
17.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 48.1 FG%, 31.7 3P%
This feels like a relatively easy choice for Memphis, who is already dealing with a tumultuous offseason thanks to Ja Morant. The Grizzlies need to replace Dylan Brooks’ defensive versatility on the wing, and Jaquez should be able to step in and fill that role — without all the antics. Jaquez will need to become more consistent with his perimeter jumper, but he does so many positive things that impact winning. Memphis also doesn’t shy away from taking experienced college players.
26) INDIANA PACERS (VIA CAVALIERS)
Gregory Jackson II, PF/SF, South Carolina – 6-9, 215 lbs.
15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 38.4 FG%, 32.4 3P%
We already discussed Indiana’s need for size and its ability to gamble on upside given the status of its rebuild. The Pacers have three first-round picks, so why not take a chance on the ultimate wild card in GG Jackson? The top prospect in the 2023 recruiting class reclassified to play for South Carolina this past season, showing both his potential and his flaws in the process. Jackson is a terrific athlete who can dominate down low and play on the perimeter, but his shot selection is spotty, and his effort was inconsistent this past season. The star potential is there if he can put it all together.
27) CHARLOTTE HORNETS (VIA NUGGETS)
Dariq Whitehead, SF, Duke – 6-7, 220 lbs.
8.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 42.1 FG%, 42.9 3P%
Despite Charlotte already going for wing help at No. 2, the Hornets can further bolster that unit with Whitehead. He was a top-5 prospect in the 2022 recruiting class but never really found his footing at Duke due to injury. Nevertheless, he still showed flashes of being an efficient offensive force last season. There isn’t anything Whitehead struggles with on that end given his size, skill and fluidity.
28) UTAH JAZZ (VIA 76ERS)
Amari Bailey, SG, UCLA – 6-5, 185 lbs.
11.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 apg, 49.1 FG%, 38.9 3P%
Another five-star prospect who wasn’t as impactful as expected in college, Bailey’s lack of eye-popping numbers has more to do with being buried on UCLA’s depth chart than anything else. When he stepped into a bigger role in the postseason following Jaylen Clark’s injury, he averaged 17.3 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the floor and nearly 47 percent from deep. Utah will hope he can maintain that kind of production.
29) INDIANA PACERS (VIA CELTICS)
Bobi Klintman, SF/PF, Wake Forest – 6-10, 225 lbs.
5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 40.7 FG%, 36.8 3P%
The Pacers are looking to package this pick and the No. 26 pick to move up but, if they keep both, it’s not unlikely to gamble with both selections. After taking GG Jackson earlier, Indiana may take another swing for Klintman’s upside. He was not overly productive at Wake Forest but showed the tools — size, athleticism, perimeter shooting — that have NBA teams believing his best basketball is ahead of him.
30) LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (VIA BUCKS)
Brandin Podziemski, SG, Santa Clara – 6-5, 200 lbs.
19.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 48.3 FG%, 43.8 3P%
Podziemski flourished at Santa Clara after transferring from Illinois, showcasing elite offensive ability beyond just shooting (though he was an incredibly efficient 3-point shooter, both in spot-up and off-the-bounce situations). The Clippers don’t have many pressing needs that can be filled at the end of the first round, but the hope here is that Podziemski can impact the game with his shooting and eventually develop into a Luke Kennard-type bench producer.