Wembanyama tops a very deep NBA draft class

With the NBA draft on Thursday, here is where we project one of the deepest draft classes ever going, including a blockbuster trade.
  1. San Antonio Spurs: Victor Wembanyama, 7-5 PF/C 19 years old, Metropolitans 92

David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and now Victor Wembanyama, the Spurs have gotten a generational player with the #1 pick three times. The best prospect since LeBron James and a generational talent on both ends of the floor, at 7-5 with a whopping 8 foot wingspan, Wembanyama can handle the ball like a guard, has elite 3-level shot creation with an unblockable jumper (because of his height). He is also one of the more versatile defensive prospects in recent memory.

Though his efficiency has dwindled down toward the end of Metropolitans 92’s season, the volume was still elite as Wembanyama still averaged 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game last season with a TS% of 58. I wouldn’t be surprised with the pace of play in today’s NBA if he averaged 22+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 2+ blocks per game as a rookie for a Spurs team that is desperate for two-way production (ranked 29th in offensive rating and 30th in defensive rating last year).

Wemby the all the talent in the world and could become the greatest player in NBA history if he reaches his potential, though his career will not be deemed a failure if he doesn’t reach his ceiling despite many critics putting enormous amounts of pressure on him to succeed.

NBA Comp: Kevin Durant mixed with Anthony Davis and Jaren Jackson’s shot altering ability

  1. Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Miller, 6-9 SF Freshman, Alabama

A lot of scouts indicated that Brandon Miller showed up to NBA workouts out of shape and 10 pounds heavier, and the other off the court issues don’t do him any justice, but his skill set and perfect fit in the modern NBA should be able to outlast those questions. NBA insiders continue to allude to the fact that Miller is rated higher than Scoot Henderson on a lot of teams boards entering Thursday. Miller is an excellent shot creator at 6-9 who is a catch and shoot wizard and can create his own shot off the dribble (averaged 19.6 points per game with 103 total 3-pointers made and a TS% of 61.3).

His lack of first step explosiveness has been compared to Jabari Smith Jr. from last year (Smith Jr. didn’t have the best rookie year despite playing much better in the second half of the season), but his versatility on both ends of the floor at the Wing position is hard to overlook. The Hornets view Henderson and Miller’s upside as similar and go with fit here alongside LaMelo Ball.

NBA Comp: Paul George

*TRADE* Pelicans trade Zion Williamson, the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft and a future second round pick to the Trail Blazers for the 3rd overall pick, the 23rd overall pick, and Jusuf Nurkic.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans: Scoot Henderson, 6-2 PG 19 years old, G-League Ignite

The most athletic guard prospect to come into the NBA since at least Ja Morant and probably Russell Westbrook, Scoot Henderson brings a mixture of elite explosiveness, scoring, and playmaking at the point guard position and his jumper is much better than Russell Westbrook’s was entering the NBA.

One of the hardest workers in the draft (which is a known fact about Scoot, especially the rumors that he leaves his phone at home when he enters the gym), I have no doubt Henderson will be able to excel in the NBA and vastly improve his jumper each year. The shot mechanics are there, and he is a better defender than people give him credit for (1.1 steals per game, very quick laterally, and is good off ball).

Henderson averaged 17.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game for Ignite with a 3PT% of 27.5 on only 2.7 attempts from 3 per game. His FT% of 76.4 and his TS% of 53.7 indicate that he will be a better 3PT shooter with more attempts at the NBA level, though it doesn’t exclude from from needing to improve immensely from beyond the arc.

Scouts may question his height (just 6-2) but when you have game changing athleticism and scoring ability that Henderson has, that shouldn’t matter to an organization. I would be shocked if Henderson isn’t one of the best players in the NBA within four years and that is exactly why a team like the Pelicans will be giving up so much to get him.

NBA Comp: Prime Russell Westbrook with a better jumper

  1. Houston Rockets: Amen Thompson, 6-7 PG 19 years old, Overtime Elite

Amen Thompson is an excellent athlete with a knack for getting to the rim and drawing defenders to get his teammates open looks. His defense is solid and he’s one of the quicker prospects in this draft, but no one will even get within 5 feet of him attempting a 3.

Thompson shot just 25% from beyond the arc against very weak competition in the Overtime Elite league and if he is unable to improve his 3PT jumper, his outstanding playmaking will take a hit as defenses will know exactly what he wants to do (which is get to the rim, create space for a fallaway or mid range jumper, and get his teammates open looks after drawing defenders).

Nonetheless, the upside of an NBA star is there, but it may take a few years for Thompson to get acclimated against real competition and make a serious impact at the NBA level. He could reach superstar status if his jumper ever comes around and the fit on the Rockets is excellent, considering Thompson will. be surrounded by a young team with other prospects trying to improve in all facets of their game.

NBA Comp: Prospect Lonzo Ball with more athleticism

  1. Detroit Pistons: Cam Whitmore, 6-7 SF Freshman, Villanova

Cam Whitmore is one of the most physically imposing and athletic players in this draft, who at just 18 years old will enter the league with an ability to blow by defenders and score at will. His 3PT shooting needs some work (34.5%) but his TS% of 57.6 and his good on ball defense are hard to ignore. Whitmore may go as high as 5th to the Pistons because of his two-way versatility and knack for scoring at such a young age. With players like Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey needing the ball in their hands, Whitmore will provide secondary shot creation and on ball defense.

NBA Comp: Jaylen Brown

  1. Orlando Magic: Ausar Thompson, 6-7 SG/SF 19 years old, Overtime Elite

Ausar Thompson is extremely athletic just like his brother, but he can hit the mid range and 3PT shot with at least some consistency unlike his brother (though his 29% from 3 mark last year doesn’t necessarily support that claim). I question whether Ausar’s 3PT shot will translate to the NBA because he has a hitch in his shooting mechanics (it’s not a fluid motion, think Lonzo Ball in college).

Thompson is a good off-ball defender that switches and has a high IQ on that end of the floor. However, the reason. he isn’t as highly touted as his brother is his lack of playmaking skills and his shooting motion. Either way, someone in the top 10 will take a chance on Thompson’s upside and try to refine the rest of his game and with the Magic’s young core’s development, they can take the risk on Thompson.

NBA Comp: Prospect Zach LaVine

  1. Indiana Pacers: Taylor Hendricks, 6-9 Forward Freshman, UCF

Taylor Hendricks checks a lot of boxes: He’s an elite 3PT shooter (39.4% on 4.6 attempts per game) that can create his own shot at 6-9, he is an extremely versatile defender who can guard 1-4 very well and block shots at a high level (1.7 blocks per game), and he can rebound very well (7 boards per game) at just 19 years old.

Other than Miller, Hendricks is the best 3 and D player in this class and should be more efficient than Miller right away. The extra shot creation Hendricks showed down the stretch of last season proved he has more upside than meets the eye.

NBA Comp: Trey Murphy III

  1. Washington Wizards: Anthony Black, 6-8 PG Freshman, Arkansas

Anthony Black is the next big-guard to take over the NBA (think Josh Giddey and LaMelo Ball). At 6-7 Black is excellent in transition, lets the game come to him very easily, and is always looking to get open shots for his teammates. Add in he is one of the best on ball defenders and high-IQ players in the draft, NBA teams are going to fall in love with Black and his undeniable upside.

Like a few other prospects in this draft, Black struggles at shooting the 3-pointer (30.1% last year), but he gets to the rim with ease, does all the right things, and makes his teammates better, something newly minted Wizards GM Michael Winger will admire. That should allow Black to play in the NBA for 10+ years and contribute at a high level regardless of whether he ever becomes a good 3PT shooter.

NBA Comp: Josh Giddey

  1. Utah Jazz: Bilal Coulibaly, 6-7 SF 18 years old, Metropolitans 92

The more I evaluate Bilal Coulibaly the more I fall in love with his game. If you read my Big Board on my Substack, Baller Sports Dialogue, I had Coulibaly ranked in the 30’s, when in fact he has arguably the highest upside in this draft aside from the big 3 at the top of the board.

Coulibaly is an ultra quick and versatile defender that causes opposing offensive players problems, he’s an excellent cutter that finds ways to get open, and hit over 45 percent of his threes despite scouts labeling him as one of the worst shooters in this draft class last October. The Jazz are still a few years away from seriously competing in the playoffs, and they’ll draft a forward who fits the 3 and D build and has some elite upside as a two-way star.

NBA Comp: Mikal Bridges

*TRADE* The Mavericks trade the 10th overall pick, Josh Green, and Davis Bertans to the Wizards for Corey Kispert and sign and traded Kyle Kuzma

  1. Washington Wizards: Cason Wallace, 6-3 Combo Guard Freshman, Kentucky

The Wizards will likely make some moves on Draft night and I think the Mavericks are a perfect trade partner to send some win now players for their lottery pick. Cason Wallace is a lockdown defender who will drive opposing guards crazy at the next level. He is also a gifted playmaker and scorer, though his lack of athleticism is the reason he isn’t considered a top 5 pick.

Wallace averaged 11.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2 steals per game with a TS% of 54.6 in his Freshman year at Kentucky, and his all-around game should transfer almost immediately to the NBA level. Whoever selects Wallace in the draft will be getting a possible two-way star, and I think the Wizards will hit a home-run with this steal of a pick.

NBA Comp: Jrue Holiday

  1. Orlando Magic: Gradey Dick, 6-8 Wing Freshman, Kansas

Gradey Dick is arguably the best shooter in this draft (40.3% from 3, 58.6 TS%), but he shouldn’t be deemed simply that. Dick can create his own shot off the dribble and get his teammates open, while also showing some versatility on the defensive end of the floor.

Everyone needs a reliable shotmaker who does all the right things and Dick will fit in wherever he goes, but a team like the Magic desperately need a reliable 3PT shooter with some secondary shot creation. Dick fits that build and shoot fit in perfect in Orlando alongside Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. He may never be the best player on a title team, but should be able to create instant offense for years in the NBA.

NBA Comp: Gordon Hayward

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jarace Walker, 6-9 PF Freshman, Houston

Jarace Walker has a prototypical build for a big man in the NBA, but he has the quickness of a Wing. His mid range jumper is extremely advanced for his age, and he is one of the most versatile defenders in the draft projecting the ability to guard 3-5 at the NBA level.

He should develop a 3PT shot in time, but his playmaking skills progressed as his Freshman year at Houston went on, and he can already use his big body to get to the rim whenever he wants. Overall, Walker doesn’t have a whole lot of upside, but should be a prototypical “championship role player” who will contribute to winning for years to come and the Thunder are close to contention and adding a versatile forward in Walker could be the final piece in getting to the playoffs.

NBA Comp: Paul Millsap

  1. Toronto Raptors: Nick Smith Jr., 6-5 Combo Guard Freshman, Arkansas

Nick Smith Jr. is a crafty Combo Guard that is a true 3-level scorer with some playmaking upside. Smith Jr.’s season was plagued by injuries and inconsistencies, but his knack for scoring and the upside of being an offensive star at the NBA level will not go unnoticed and the Raptors need an impact player on the offensive end. Originally seen as a top 5 talent in this year’s draft, Smith Jr. will now be selected at a discount outside the top 10 and the Raptors could get their franchise player here with Smith Jr.

NBA Comp: Prospect Jamal Murray

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (from the New Orleans trade): Jordan Hawkins, 6-5 SG Sophomore, UCONN

Jordan Hawkins shot 38.8% from 3PT range despite taking 7.6 3-point attempts per game on average in his Sophomore season at UCONN, but he is way more than just a gifted shooter.

He started scoring more from mid-range and at the rim as last year progressed and is a proven on-ball defender that should translate to the next level. 3PT shooting, secondary playmaking, and on ball defense will intrigue enough teams for Hawkins to be taken in the lottery or right outside it.

A lot of contenders would love to get him as his catch and shoot and one dribble spot up 3PT shooting abilities are invaluable in today’s NBA, but the Blazers have someone already like him, in Anfernee Simons, and that’ll entice them to select the NBA ready scorer in Hawkins at 14 overall.

NBA Comp: Norman Powell

  1. Atlanta Hawks: Keyonte George, 6-4 SG Freshman, Baylor

Keyonte George can score at will and showed that his Freshman year at Baylor averaging 15.3 points per game with a 3PT% of 33.8 and a TS% of 54 in the Big 12 at just 19 years old. His playmaking and defense need some work, but he’s a high upside player that should be able to contribute on the offensive end right when he enters the league.

The Hawks are entering a weird position, where they have to choose if they want to add win-now players to build around Trae Young, or gamble on young guys with upside that could turn into NBA stars. They go with a high upside guy and the best player on the board here at 15 with George.

NBA Comp: Bradley Beal

  1. Utah Jazz: Rayan Rupert, 6-7 Wing 19 years old, New Zealand Breakers

I am always hesitant to rank players very high that have no offensive game, but Jeremy Sochan proved a lot of people wrong in year 1 despite showing almost no offensive ability in college.

Like Sochan, Rayan Rupert is an elite defender with an unreal 7-2 wingspan, but unlike Sochan in college, Rupert has shown some flashes of 3PT shooting. His playmaking and shot creation need work, but he will at the very least be an elite defender at the NBA level with some offensive upside if developed correctly. The Jazz are only going to select on upside in this draft considering they are still a few years away from competing for a title, and they go with Rupert, who like the 9th overall pick Bilal Coulibaly, is very raw but with sky high potential.

NBA Comp: Jeremy Sochan

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bufkin, 6-7 SG Sophomore, Michigan

Kobe Bufkin has one of the highest ceilings in the draft due to 6-8 wingspan, being excellent at changing pace (think D’Angelo Russell) and his versatility on both ends of the floor. Bufkin is a gifted playmaker who can get to the rim with ease and draw multiple defenders to make the extra pass to a wide open shooter, but he will look to score first if he can.

On defense, Bufkin is laterally quick and switches well, he doesn’t let many defenders blow by him and he rotates well off ball. The only negatives surrounding Bufkin is that he tries to do too much at times, leading to turnovers and bad shots. Either way, if Bufkin is available at 17, the Lakers will pull the trigger and select a player that could end up being a top 5-10 guy from this draft. Remember, the Rob Pelinka and Michigan ties go way back.

NBA Comp: Taller Tyrese Maxey/D’Angelo Russell

  1. Miami Heat: Jett Howard, 6-8 Wing Freshman, Michigan

Jett Howard has one of the smoothest jumpers in the class and will fit perfectly alongside any pass-first point guard that will get him open shots on catch and shoot opportunities. However, he isn’t just a catch and shoot threat, a lot of times using his athleticism to get to the rim and dunk on opponents. He scored 14.2 points per game and shot about 37% from 3PT range as a Freshman in the Big 10, but his defense isn’t great A lot of teams desperately need a good 3PT shooter that can be relied upon in big games, and Howard should be able to step up to the plate and provide that.

He lacks lateral quickness and has trouble switching and staying in front of defenders. However, that shouldn’t matter as his poise and production as a catch-and-shoot 3PT shooter with some secondary shot-creation at just 19 years old can help a team win right away. The Heat desperately need some more scoring off of the bench and despite still being very young, Howard’s game should translate to the NBA immediately.

NBA Comp: Klay Thompson/Keegan Murray

  1. Golden State Warriors: Kris Murray, 6-8 Wing Junior, Iowa

Kris Murray plays exactly like his brother, Keegan Murray, shooting 3’s at a high rate, showing some secondary shot creation skills, and having versatility on defense as well. Keegan was a better prospect because he can shoot better, but Kris is going to be a good NBA role player at the very least and will be a first-round pick because of his size and versatility.

What I like most about Kris is that he doesn’t rush the game, he lets it come to him. If his shot isn’t there, he won’t force it, he will make the extra pass. Defensively he has a very high IQ and has some lateral quickness and overall toughness. For contending teams, Murray will be a plug and play rotational player as he is one of the more NBA ready prospects in this draft.

This selection makes so much sense for the Warriors, who live and die by the 3-pointer. Murray is one of the best 3PT shooters in this draft, and with the Dubs lack of depth that severely affected them in the playoffs last season, Murray is NBA ready and can provide instant offense and some defensive versatility right away for a contender.

NBA Comp: Keegan Murray

  1. Houston Rockets: Jalen Hood-Schifino, 6-6 SG Freshman, Indiana

Jalen Hood-Schifino is rising up all draft boards because of his ideal size and scoring ability (especially in the mid-range game) to play Shooting Guard in the NBA. Hood-Schifino averaged an inefficient 13.5 points per game in his lone year at Indiana (as his eFG% of just 46.8 indicates), but many scouts still love his scoring upside despite the inefficient numbers.

I am one of the evaluators that doesn’t think Hood-Schifino’s game will translate to the NBA right away. He is a risky prospect that will need a ton of development on both ends of the floor to reach his ceiling, but the Rockets have some breathing room to gamble on his upside.

NBA Comp: CJ McCollum

  1. Brooklyn Nets: Derek Lively II, 7-1 C Freshman, Duke

A wizard at interior defense, Dereck Lively II is an absolute game-changer on defense that has elite shot-altering ability to the likes of Anthony Davis, Hassan Whiteside, and other great shot-blockers. Though Robert Williams III is much shorter, quicker, and more versatile than Lively, the way he can change the pace of play and completely shut down big men is reminiscent of the “Time Lord” himself.

He will likely never be that impactful on offense, but he could be an impactful role player on a championship team for years to come and the Nets would love to pair a high upside defensive big alongside Nic Claxton, who they developed into one of the league’s best interior defenders already.

NBA Comp: Robert Williams III

  1. Brooklyn Nets: Maxwell Lewis, 6-7 Wing Freshman, Pepperdine

On their second of back to back picks, I think the Nets target a player that has some upside, but is also a good fit now. Maxwell Lewis is an elite 3PT shooter who has a 7 foot wingspan that allows him to cause problems defensively, but he is far from being a finished product.

The Nets need more 3PT shooting and Lewis fits the build to help in that area right away. Lewis showed more promise at the beginning of the year for Pepperdine, but his 3 and D potential is off the charts and teams and the Nets will jump on the opportunity to select him.

Comp: Trey Murphy

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (from Portland): Brice Sensabaugh, 6-6 Wing Freshman, Ohio State

Brice Sensabaugh was one of the most efficient scorers in the country as a Freshman in the Big 10 averaging 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game with a 3PT% of 40.2 and an eFG% of 55.5 despite having an extremely high usage percentage of 34.4.

Sensabaugh may never be a good defender at the NBA level but he is a true bucket-getter that can score from all 3 levels and that will entice a lot of teams considering his skill set and age. The Pelicans are a team in need some more scoring off the bench and Sensabaugh can bring that right away, so I expect them to target him here with the 23rd overall pick.

NBA Comp: TJ Warren

  1. Sacramento Kings: Colby Jones, 6-5 Combo Guard Junior, Xavier

Colby Jones will get knocked because he doesn’t do anything absolutely elite on offense, but he is a ballhawk on defense that forces turnovers at a high rate, and is an extremely gifted playmaker and shot creator that excels with the ball in his hands in transition. His off-ball defensive IQ is also one of the best in the draft, and he is a team leader that is vocal on both ends of the floor.

Jones can contribute right away to any team, and despite him being a Junior, he’s still just 20 years old and has more upside than a lot of scouts give him credit for. At the very least, Jones should be a very good backup combo guard for years to come and should fit right in on a the Kings, who need a plug and play combo guard off the bench that can play right away in the rotation.

NBA Comp: Josh Hart

  1. Memphis Grizzlies: Dariq Whitehead, Dariq Whitehead, 6-8 Wing Freshman, Duke

Dariq Whitehead was the #1 recruit in the country entering Duke, but after missing substantial time due to injuries, and not being as impactful on both ends of the floor as scouts had hoped he’d be, Whitehead is falling out of the lottery despite his immense talent.

Whitehead has excellent shooting mechanics and shot almost 43% from 3PT range in his Freshman year at Duke, while also displaying some extra playmaking and shot creation skills, like one dribble-pullups, crossover-two steps and finishing at the rim, and a few step back threes.

His defense is solid, though he may never be more than an average defender at best in the NBA. A team would be taking a risk on Whitehead, hoping the 3-level efficient scorer that he was in high school can eventually translate to the NBA and the some team will gamble on the upside of Whitehead. The Grizzlies have enough depth to take a high-risk high-reward player in Whitehead.

NBA Comp: Cam Reddish+

  1. Indiana Pacers: Leonard Miller, 6-10 PF 19 years old, G-League Ignite

Leonard Miller is an ultra athletic big man that can dribble and create his own shot. Miller is also extremely versatile on defense because of his quickness and length (7-2 wingspan). He excelled in his one year in the G-League averaging 18.2 points per game with a TS% of about 65 and pulled in over 11 rebounds per game and was a menace on the offensive glass.

Miller has enormous upside, but he will likely need a few years before he can be counted on to contribute to a contending team. The Pacers will try to develop Miller quickly and prepare him for big games at a very young age as their rebuild around Tyrese Haliburton is almost complete.

NBA Comp: Christian Wood

  1. Charlotte Hornets: Keyontae Johnson, 6-6 Wing Senior, Kansas State

Keyontae Johnson has excellent length for a Wing (6-11 wingspan) and is one of the strongest players in the draft, but he isn’t a reliable 3PT shooter and relies on his strength and athleticism to score inside.

At the NBA level he has the defensive abilities to guard 2-4, but the offensive limitations of a Power Forward inside of a Shooting Guard/Small Forwards body. Johnson can contribute on both ends of the floor right away, but he’s a career role player at best. The Hornets need some players that can contribute in the NBA now and Johnson will be able to fill a bench role immediately.

NBA Comp: Shorter Julius Randle

*Trade* Utah Jazz send 28th overall pick to the Boston Celtics for three future second round picks.

  1. Boston Celtics: Trayce Jackson-Davis, 6-9 PF/C Senior, Indiana

Trayce Jackson Davis is a high-flying and mobile Big that thrives in the pick-and-roll game, similar to John Collins. Jackson-Davis also has a mid range jumper and some post moves, but his bread and butter is his shot-blocking ability, interior defense, rebounding, and ability to catch lobs. The Celtics need another big that is NBA ready and can contribute right away on a contending team and Jackson-Davis fits that build.

NBA Comp: John Collins

*Trade* Pacers trade the 29th overall pick to the Lakers for three future second round picks

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: Amari Bailey, 6-4 Combo Guard Freshman, UCLA

I am higher on Amari Bailey than any other evaluator in the country. Despite struggling to find his role on offense earlier on in the season at UCLA, Bailey found a way to tear defenses a part in the NCAA Tournament with his innate playmaking and finishing skills.

After Bailey used his athleticism to impose his will in getting to the rim, then he’d keep defenses honest by knocking down a few mid-range and 3PT shots, showing his improved versatility on offense. Add in his elite on ball defense (one of the best on-ball defenders in the draft) and his dominant end to the season, organizations should be salivating at the opportunity to select Bailey outside the lottery at a discount.

Confidence isn’t an issue for Bailey…talk about the moxie it takes to shoot that go-ahead three against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 with the game on the line. That showed Bailey’s unwavering confidence in himself, and that is important for bigger games at the NBA level when things will get tough to continue to believe in yourself. A comparison for Bailey is very tough because very few guards with his athleticism and finishing skills have his court vision and elite on-ball defense. The Lakers drafted on upside at 17th overall with Bufkin, and I expect them to do the same with Bailey here.

NBA Comp: More Athletic and Bigger Jalen Brunson

  1. Los Angeles Clippers: Jaime Jaquez Jr., 6-6 SF Senior, UCLA

Jaime Jaquez Jr. will never be one of the three best players on a basketball team, but he is a switchable and versatile defender who is tough and has a high IQ. He has a bigger bag than many evaluators give him credit for on offense, including a step back from mid range, using his strength to finish at the rim, and every once in a while knocking down a needed 3-point jumper. Jaquez fits the build as a “team first championship role player”, someone who will understand their role and do whatever it takes to win and the Clippers are a contending team that needs some toughness off of the bench.

NBA Comp: Rick Fox

Advanced Statistics used in this article are gathered from Fox Sports, ESPN, G-League Ignite, Basketball Reference, and Overtime Elite, and are updated as of Wednesday June 21st 2023.