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NBA mock draft 2023: An international super prospect tops a loaded class

Here’s our first 2023 NBA Draft board.

There’s no better time to look ahead to next year’s class than the day after the NBA Draft. With the 2022 draft officially in the books, we are happy to release our first mock for the 2023 NBA Draft.

The 2023 NBA Draft is going to feel a bit different than recent drafts because of the lack of top-end prospects playing at the college level. For 16 straight years, the No. 1 overall pick has played college basketball, but we’d be shocked if that trend continues in 2023. None of the top three players on our preseason board will play college hoops next season.

Next year’s draft is led by 7’2 French center Victor Wembanyama — who has a strong case as the best prospect to hit the draft since LeBron James. Read our full report on what makes Wembanyama so special here. G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson will pressure Wembanyama for the top pick, but it would be stunning if he actually passed him. The Thompson twins — Amen and Ausar — will also get looks in the top-3 after playing in Overtime Elite.

I have been doing day-after-the-draft early mocks every year since 2015. Those have been full of hits and misses. You can find my early boards for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 here.

Here is our first 2023 NBA mock draft.

2023 NBA mock draft: Preseason board

Pick Player From Position Age
Pick Player From Position Age
1 Victor Wembanyama France Center Born 2004
2 Scoot Henderson G League Ignite Guard Born 2004
3 Amen Thompson Overtime Elite Guard/Wing Born 2003
4 Ausar Thompson Overtime Elite Wing Born 2003
5 Kel'el Ware Oregon Center Freshman
6 Cam Whitmore Villanova Forward Freshman
7 Nick Smith Arkansas Guard Freshman
8 Dariq Whitehead Duke Guard Freshman
9 Jarace Walker Houston Forward Freshman
10 Anthony Black Arkansas Guard Freshman
11 Cason Wallace Kentucky Guard Freshman
12 Jordan Walsh Arkansas Wing Freshman
13 Dereck Lively Duke Center Freshman
14 Terquavion Smith NC State Guard Sophomore
15 Keyonte George Baylor Guard Freshman
16 Brandon Miller Alabama Wing Freshman
17 Jett Howard Michigan Wing/Forward Freshman
18 Dillon Mitchell Texas Forward Freshman
19 Leonard Miller G League Ignite Wing Born 2003
20 DaRon Holmes Dayton Forward Sophomore
21 Amari Bailey UCLA Guard Freshman
22 Gradey Dick Kansas Wing Freshman
23 Arthur Kaluma Creighton Wing Sophomore
24 Matthew Cleveland Florida Sate Wing Sophomore
25 Julian Strawther Gonzaga Wing Junior
26 Jaime Jaquez Jr. UCLA Forward Senior
27 Kris Murray Iowa Forward Junior
28 Daimion Collins Kentucky Forward/Center Sophomore
29 Jalen Wilson Kansas Wing/Forward Senior
30 Pete Nance North Carolina Forward Senior

Here are some of the biggest themes of this draft class.

Victor Wembanyama is a generational NBA prospect

What are the qualities that make up a superstar basketball prospect? Let’s start with size and length, skill level and feel, athleticism and versatility. French wunderkind Victor Wembanyama checks all of these boxes and more.

Wembanyama is an 18-year-old who is already playing in the top French pro league. He’s listed at 7’2, 230 pounds, with a 7’9 wingspan — and that might be conservative. He profiles as an elite rim protector on defense and lob threat on offense who is also showing the ability to space the floor out to three-point range. We wrote a 2,000 word breakdown of why Wembanyama is one of the best prospects to ever hit the NBA draft. Here’s one clip from that piece:

Wembanyama would have been the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft if we was born four days earlier. Every bad team in the league should be thinking about tanking to have a chance to win his rights in the lottery after 2022-23 season.

Scoot Henderson has all the makings of a star point guard

Scoot Henderson reclassified to skip his senior year of high school coming out of suburban Atlanta, but instead of going to college he decided to play for the G League Ignite. Henderson played half the year as a 17-year-old, but almost immediately emerged as the top long-term player on the team and perhaps the best American basketball prospect not currently in the NBA.

Henderson is a super explosive point guard who has drawn comparisons to prime Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall for his ability to get downhill and attack the basket. Listed at 6’2, 195 pounds, with a reported 6’9 wingspan, Henderson has blazing speed in transition, a wicked first step in the halfcourt, and ridiculous hops to easily finish above the rim. His production in the G League last season — 14.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on 45 percent shooting from the field — was remarkable given how young he was.

Henderson needs to improve as a three-point shooter after hitting just 21.6 percent of his shots from deep. He needs to continue to make progress reading the defense as a passer. Still, his speed, strength, leaping, and body control is an outstanding package of baseline skills, and he’s already proven he has the production to back it up.

The Thompson twins will be a fascinating NBA Draft evaluation

Amen and Ausar Thompson are identical twins from Oakland who moved to Florida for high school. The twins were on the verge of breaking out as elite recruits when they decided to join Overtime Elite, an upstart basketball league that paid them six figure salaries to spend two years training and developing as an alternative to college.

The Thompson twins’ groundbreaking path to the draft makes their production difficult to contextualize, but there’s no denying their immense physical talent. Both Amen and Ausar are 6’7 wings with 10/10, A+ quick-twitch athleticism. This is a pair of big wings with extreme open floor speed, absurd leaping ability in tight spaces, jarring standstill burst, and a level of flexibility that allows them both to get off creative plays other athletes would never think about.

Ausar is the better shooter and the more technically-savvy defender. Amen feels like the better passer, and plays with a level of creativity unlocked by his ridiculous athleticism that doesn’t even make sense. Ausar might be better right now, but there’s a sense Amen could be better in the future.

Amen did this:

And Ausar did this:

The twins are going to be a tricky evaluation for several reasons. Neither are good outside shooters. Both are going to need to make major improvements to their handle. Scouting in an entirely new context like OTE is its own challenge. Regardless, the Thompson twins are mega-athletes with a high motor and a strong feel for the game. They are NBA nerds, too. They did some absolutely brilliant, confounding, and unprecedented stuff on the court.

Read PD and watch this video to get a better handle on the Thompsons. You are going to be hearing a lot about them over the next 12 months.

Nick Smith is the next bucket-getting combo guard

SB Nation evaluated the incoming freshmen in-person at the McDonald’s All-American Game and at the practices and game for the Jordan Brand Classic. Against the top players in the class, Nick Smith Jr. stood out for his quickness, three-level scoring ability, and feathery shooting touch.

The Arkansas native is a 6’3 guard with a reported 6’9 wingspan who projects as a three-level scoring threat with some playmaking ability. Smith is an incredibly slippery ball handler, able to break free from his primary defender with shifty ball handling moves and a combination of creativity and flexibility that lets him get off looks from unusual angles. He already has an excellent floater. In an era of the league where bigger wings are taking on more playmaking duties, Smith feels like a natural fit as a secondary creator and lead scoring option next to an oversized primary facilitator.

The success of Jordan Poole, Tyrese Maxey, and Tyler Herro should be a nice boost to Smith’s stock. We’re worried about how he translates defensively with a thin frame, and just how effectively he can finish over NBA length. Still, his mid-range scoring and pull-up shooting ability really is tremendous. Smith is the biggest star in a loaded Arkansas recruiting class that includes fellow first round picks Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black. Razorbacks games will be must see TV for NBA draft fans next season.

Kel’el Ware is a freshman center with great physical tools

Smith’s teammate at North Little Rock High School is an elite NBA prospect in his own right. Ware is an agile 7-foot center with a burgeoning offensive skill set to complement his athletic gifts as a lob catcher and shot blocker. He’s only started scratching the surface of his immense talent over the last 12 months, and he was impressive enough on the high school All-Star circuit to warrant legitimate top-five consideration in early draft projections. Ware appears to have good touch as a shooter and some playmaking upside, which is what makes him especially exciting. It will be fascinating to see if he’s comfortable taking three-pointers next season as a freshman at Oregon.

Ware just played a staring role on Team USA’s gold medal-winning team at FIBA U18 Americas, where he averaged 15.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game on 67.2 percent shooting from the field. Watch his highlights from the tournament here:

Cam Whitmore is a powerful athlete and explosive leaper

Whitmore was another one of the big winners from the high school All-Star circuit. A powerfully-built 6’7, 225 pound forward, Whitmore has a monster combination of strength and athletic explosiveness that should make him a staple on highlights reels all season. He’s capable of some incredible above-the-rim finishes in transition, and will be a serious lob threat in the halfcourt sets. Whitmore is a load coming downhill, but will need to prove he can make an open three-pointer to get defenses to close out on him.

The incoming Villanova freshman was Team USA’s biggest star on the U18 FIBA Americas run, averaging 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game on 70.6 percent shooting from two-point range. He also went 10-of-22 from three-point range, good for 45.5 percent. If he can really shoot like that, it’s possible to envision him cracking the top-five of this draft. Watch his FIBA highlights here:

Whitmore reminds me a bit of Miles Bridges. Whitmore lacks great length (he reportedly only has a 6’8 wingspan) on the defensive end, but he’s going to be Villanova’s biggest freshman star since at least Jalen Brunson.

Dariq Whitehead is Duke’s next star freshman

Coach K has retired, but Duke still landed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, with Whitehead as their headline star. Whitehead was once an understudy on (arguably) the greatest high school team of all-time at Montverde behind Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody, and others, but he’s always been considered one of the best players in his class. He should get plenty of on-ball reps in the Duke backcourt next season next to returning guard Jeremy Roach.

Whitehead has a good all-around skill set, with polish in almost every area rather than one notable strength. He has good size for a shooting guard (6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan) with quick-twitch athletic traits that should make him a dependable player on both ends. His ball handling, passing, and defense should impress from the jump, and scouts will be fascinated to see how his three-point shot looks.

Jarace Walker is the burly freshman stud on a loaded Houston team

The Houston Cougars have been one of college basketball’s most consistent programs over the last half-decade, and now they’re finally landing blue chip recruits. Walker is the highest-rated recruit of the Kelvin Sampson era, and his arrival helps lift the Cougars’ ceiling to a national championship-level. A strong 6’8, 225-pound forward with a reported 7’2 wingspan, Walker combines raw power with a burgeoning skill set to emerge as a possible top-10 pick.

Walker can really handle the ball on the perimeter, using dribble crossovers like a player half his size to rise into his mid-range pull-up. He has soft touch inside the arc, and has started to stretch out his range to the three-point line. The best thing about Walker might be his motor that never stops running. Whether he’s attacking the glass as a rebounder, hitting tough mid-range shots, getting downhill off the bounce, or forcing turnovers on the defensive end, Walker always seems to be around the action. He was one of the most impressive players at McDonald’s festivities this year.

Cason Wallace is a lockdown defender coming to Kentucky

Wallace profiles as the best freshman on a loaded Kentucky team next season because of his size, strength, and two-way consistency. Wallace is an absolute menace on the defensive end, shining at the point-of-attack and also showing big play potential to force takeaways. I was at the Jordan Brand Classic when he pulled off a ridiculous two-handed chasedown block that caused a collective gasp throughout the gym.

Wallace probably isn’t a full-time playmaking point guard — Sahvir Wheeler will handle those duties for Kentucky — but he’s able to hit tough shots inside the arc, attack the glass, and make a living turning defense into offense. Wallace is sure to be a fan favorite for draft fanatics next year for his toughness and lockdown defense.

Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh are Arkansas’ other top freshmen

Nick Smith Jr. is most highly-touted prospect in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class at Arkansas, but we wouldn’t be surprised if either of his stud freshmen teammates — Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh — eventually pass him on NBA boards due to their size and physicality.

Black is a 6’7 point guard who had a standout prep career for powerhouse Duncanville High School near Dallas. Black’s skill set is defined by his ironclad feel for the game. He’s the type of point guard who makes quick decisions as a passer, and leverages his size to see angles smaller guards would miss. He’s also a tremendous defender both at the point of attack and when making rotations to force turnovers. Shooting is definitely his swing skill after going 1-of-6 from three-point range and 5-of-10 from the free throw line in six FIBA U18 games. Teams will want to see him prove he can get to and finish at the rim, as well. Still, the size, feel, and defense makes him a likely lottery pick.

Walsh is a huge wing at 6’7 with a 7’3 wingspan with a strong frame. Walsh possesses impressive ball handling ability for someone with his size, and is at his best attacking defenses in the open floor. He’s a load when he’s getting downhill, and has no trouble finishing above the rim.

Walsh also has real playmaking flashes, but his outside shot remains a big question mark. He’ll make up for his shaky shooting on the defensive end, where he looks quick enough to survive on the perimeter but strong enough to hold up inside. The Razorbacks are going to be so much fun next year.

Terquavion Smith is the top returner

We had NC State freshman guard Terquavion Smith as one of the biggest winners from this year’s draft combine. We would have had him as a first round pick in the next mock draft we did, but instead Smith made the surprising decision to go back to school for his sophomore year. He’s now our top college returner in 2023.

Smith is a slender guard — measuring at 6’3.75 and only 165 pounds — built to get buckets off the bounce. He impressed with both his three-point volume (8.1 attempts per game) and accuracy (37 percent) from deep. Teams will want to see him continue to develop as a playmaker after posting a 14.7 assist rate last year, and find a way to get to the free throw line more often.

This year’s top college returners will emerge throughout the season

We did a pretty good job identifying last year’s top returners, with Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray, and Bennedict Mathurin each in the 15-20 range of our preseason, day-after-the-draft mock. No one could have envisioned Johnny Davis and Tari Eason — players who only averaged about seven points per game as freshmen — emerging into lottery-level talents at the time.

There’s no doubt there will be plenty of non-freshmen players from the college level drafted in the first round of 2023, we just don’t know who is going breakout just yet. Here are some of our early favorites to catch the eye of NBA scouts:

  • Arthur Kaluma, F, Creighton: Kaluma has a great frame for a wing at 6’7, 220 pounds, with a 7’1 wingspan. He didn’t post big block or steal rates defensively, but has the size to be solid on that end. He put up 24 points and 12 rebounds on 4-of-10 shooting from three in Creighton’s second round NCAA tournament loss to Kansas to start his 2023 draft hype early. He needs to show the late season shooting improvement was real, and that he can cut down on his turnovers.
  • DaRon Holmes, F, Dayton: Holmes is a stringy 6’10 big man who cleans up everything around the rim. He shot 66.2 percent on two-pointers, had a sky-high 8.7 block rate, and looked comfortable hitting the glass. The next step is developing some shooting touch, even if it’s just from the free throw line.
  • Matthew Cleveland, G, Florida State: We had Cleveland projected as a one-and-done in our preseason mock last year. He scored the ball well when attacking downhill, but had no shooting touch. If he can improve from his 6-of-17 total from three and 55 percent free throw percentage, he has the tools to be a solid NBA wing.

Who did we miss?

Let us know in the comments below.

We’re going to be following this class all the way up until the 2023 NBA Draft. This will be another fun cycle to cover.