CHICAGO — The 2023 NBA Draft will be remembered forever for the player set to go No. 1 overall. Victor Wembanyama, the 7’5 French super prospect hailed as the best talent to enter the league since at least LeBron James, will start his career with the San Antonio Spurs after the franchise became the lucky winners of the draft lottery. While Wembanyama finishes out a dominant season in France, the rest of the players in this draft class headed to Chicago for the annual draft combine.
Players come to the combine to get measured, interview with teams, run through drills, and — for those hoping to secure a spot in the first or second rounds — compete in scrimmages. Historically, the NBA combine doesn’t really make-or-break a prospect the way the NFL Draft combine often does, but there have been some major success stories. Just last year, we hailed Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams as the combine’s big winner before he went on to become a lottery pick and the one of the NBA’s best rookies for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Here are the major takeaways from a trip to Chicago to see the 2023 NBA Draft combine.
Winner: Olivier-Maxence Prosper
Marquette forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper was a standout in every aspect: measurements, testing, and the scrimmage. Prosper started his college career at Clemson, then transferred to Marquette where he spent two years in a high-energy glue guy role. The NBA is always looking for big forwards who can defend and have projectable shooting skills, and the prospect commonly referred to as O-Max fits the bill.
We’ll start with the size: Prosper measured at nearly 6’7 barefoot, 212 pounds, with a 7’1 wingspan. He crushed the athletic testing with a 40.5-inch max vertical and an even more impressive 35-inch standing jump. When he took the floor in the scrimmage, all he did was drop 21 points and seven rebounds by attacking the basket and getting to the foul line.
Marquette's Olivier Maxence-Prosper had a strong first game at the NBA draft combine with 21 points, 7 rebounds in 22 minutes, bringing tremendous activity on both ends of the floor. pic.twitter.com/mbCsz8X7NW— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 17, 2023
Prosper was one of only five players in college basketball to finish with at least 38 dunks and 38 three-pointers. Scouts will love his ability to defend three through five on a switch, his rebounding, and the fact that he dunks everything in close. His swing skill is his three-point shot — he hit 31.6 percent of his threes on 193 attempts in his college career — but he seems to have good touch as a 75 percent free throw shooter.
Did we mention Prosper will still be 20 years old on draft night? Typically pegged in the middle of the second round on mock drafts coming into the combine, you can bet that O-Max will be moving up boards.
Winner: Ben Sheppard and Seth Lundy
Ben Sheppard was a four-year shooting guard at Belmont who impressed with his shooting ability and high-IQ play. He measured with good size for a shooting guard at 6’5.25 barefoot, 195 pounds, and a 6’7.75 wingspan, and then looked like the most impressive player on the court during scrimmages on Thursday.
Ben Sheppard fighting over steals, staying on the ball handler's hip and forcing the turnover, then feeding Johni Broome for the lay with the great bounce pass.— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) May 18, 2023
Ben Sheppard has been THE star of the 1st combine scrimmage today pic.twitter.com/w8OPMhVVPV
Sheppard’s movement shooting will be his biggest appeal to teams. He improved his three-point percentage every year of his college career, and hit 41.6 percent of his threes as a senior. His real signature skill may be his ability to make the right play every time he gets the ball, and compete on every possession. He feels like a major second round sleeper right now.
Speaking of shooters: meet Penn State’s Seth Lundy. The senior opened eyes for his shooting ability and stout frame on one of the better Penn State teams in program history, and he looked the part of an NBA role player during scrimmages this week.
Lundy measured at 6’4 barefoot, 214 pounds, with a 6’10.25 wingspan. His strong and stocky frame allows him to compete as a physical defender, and his length lets his challenge shots against bigger offensive players. The real appeal for Lundy though is his three-point shooting. He showed NBA teams he’s one of the best shooters likely to be available in the second round during scrimmages.
Seth Lundy shot 4/5 from three yesterday and now starts the game with two threes. Has shot the lights out in these scrimmages. Fits the 3&D mold. pic.twitter.com/dnp2nAjRqf— Global Scouting (@GlobalScouting_) May 18, 2023
Lundy hit 40 percent of his threes on 230 attempts this year. Teams always want high volume shooters with the size to defend wings. Lundy fits the bill.
Loser: Fake wingspans
Always enjoy a good measurement debunking, but for couple years ESPN/Biancardi been touting Adem Bona's wingspan between 7-4 and 7-6. Measured 7-0.25 at combine.— fendo (@dancingwithnoah) May 17, 2023
The tape measure doesn’t lie. Often times, the combine represents the first time teams can get accurate measurements on prospects, and every year a few players end up being smaller than anticipated. Duke’s Dereck Lively II was the player whose measurements I was most interested in — he’s been said to have a 7’7 wingspan that many are skeptical of — but he decided not to measure at the combine. Alas!
Loser: Scoot Henderson’s chances of going No. 2 overall
The first point of intrigue in the 2023 NBA Draft is what the Charlotte Hornets do with the second pick. To me, G League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson is clearly the second best player in this class behind Wembanyama, but the franchise may have concerns about how he fits with star guard LaMelo Ball. According to ESPN’s Jonathon Givony, the sense in the gym at the combine is that Alabama freshman wing Brandon Miller is likely to be Charlotte’s second-overall pick instead of Henderson.
Via Givony:— Paulo Alves (@PauloAlvesNBA) May 18, 2023
“Its a near consensus in the gym that Charlotte is going to take Brandon Miller”#Rockets pic.twitter.com/WKogI66IJD
Personally, I feel like the Hornets’ talent base is so weak that they need the best player regardless of position. I also like the fit between Ball and Henderson, at least a little bit: Scoot is more of a scorer who does his damage in the mid-range, while Ball is a gifted playmaker who will shoot threes at volume. It’s fair to wonder how impactful Henderson will be off the ball offensively when Ball is cooking — he hasn’t shown the ability to shoot threes at volume — and the defense will also be a concern.
Still, I worry about Miller’s ability to create offense off the bounce, and view him as the fifth best prospect in this class behind Cam Whitmore and Amen Thompson, as well. It’s going to be a fascinating decision for Charlotte.
Loser: The Blazers chances of making a pick at No. 3, reportedly
It’s no secret that Damian Lillard wants the Portland Trail Blazers to build a competitive team right away. After the Blazers landed at No. 3 overall in the lottery, all the buzz in Chicago was about Portland trading that pick for a young All-Star caliber player. Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that the Trail Blazers will shop the pick:
Portland, in an effort to continue building a contending roster around its star Damian Lillard, is expected to make the pick available for a trade, league sources tell Bleacher Report.
The most talked-about trade in Chicago centered on Portland sending the No. 3 pick to the Brooklyn Nets for wing Mikal Bridges. Lillard would seemingly adore that type of move, but I’m not buying it for a few reasons. For one, Bridges alone wouldn’t make Portland a contender — they would need to add a stud big man, as well. I also believe Portland’s front office, which now includes former ESPN draft ace Mike Schmitz, will be looking to build the best team long-term rather than seeking out quick-fixes.
I’m guessing Portland takes Scoot Henderson at No. 3 overall if he’s available. I also believe that would anger Lillard. I think the Nets would agree to a package built around flipping Bridges for Henderson, but I’m skeptical that Portland is really going to flip a stud 19-year-old to appease a superstar about to turn 33 years old.
Winner: Tristan Vukcevic, Brandin Podziemski, and Amari Bailey also impressed in scrimmages
Need a stretch five in this class? 7-foot Real Madrid center Tristan Vukcevic showed off his versatile offensive skill during a standout Wednesday scrimmage by scoring 21 points in just 16 minutes. Vukcevic barely played for Real Madrid this season, so his decision to play in the scrimmage could pay real dividends.
Tristan Vukcevic knocks down a pair of triples!— NBA Draft (@NBADraft) May 17, 2023
Microsoft @Surface #NBACombine on ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/wLEF8SHNvE
Santa Clara guard Brandin Podziemski could also be tracking as a first round pick. The 6’5 point guard left Illinois after his freshman season and shined this year as a big playmaking guard who can run pick-and-roll, stuff the stat sheet, and has the size to check multiple positions.
Finding it hard to believe that Brandin Podziemski falls out of the top 25. 10 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals in the last combine scrimmage of the day. 6'5 guard with a 39-inch vert... come on. pic.twitter.com/0Oul1IUIlU— Teg (@IQfor3) May 17, 2023
Chicago native Amari Bailey also showed out in his hometown. Bailey was considered a top recruit after starring alongside Bronny James at Sierra Canyon high school, but he’s remade his game as a tough, physical role player who can fill in the cracks for a team in the backcourt. Bailey will need to prove he can shoot threes with volume, but his ability to defend backcourt positions and collapse opposing defenses by beating his man off the dribble and making the right play will give him a chance to earn a role in the league down the line.
6’5 Freshman Amari Bailey ( @amaribailey ) had an impressive showing in day 1 of the NBA combine scrimmages 17 points 8 assists being aggressive downhill and getting several paint touches pic.twitter.com/dsIXNimHHw— Swish Cultures (@swishcultures_) May 17, 2023
Check out our new 2023 NBA mock draft with the lottery results completed. Keep visiting SB Nation for more draft coverage.