The 2023 NBA Draft could be one of the most talented in recent memory
Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson lead a 2023 NBA Draft class that could be special.
What’s the best way to evaluate the overall strength of an NBA draft class? To some, it’s about having blue chip talents stacked through the lottery. There’s also an argument based around depth, that any great draft class needs to have ready-made contributors to be found throughout the first round and into the second round.
Most of the time, though, a draft class is declared special when it has one or two superstars at the top who are so good even the league’s worst run franchises have a tough time messing it up. The 2023 NBA Draft looks like that type of class.
Yes, the 2022 NBA Draft class is still to come and features plenty of intriguing prospects in its own right. Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, and Auburn’s Jabari Smith have emerged as a rock solid top-three. Each player fits into the current NBA trends and has the ability to push the game forward if they hit their highest outcomes. For as talented as all three are, the class that comes after it still feels like it has even more star-power.
What makes the 2023 draft potentially special? Glad you asked. We have a few reasons 2023 could go down as one of the better classes of the modern era.
Victor Wembanyama is being hailed as one of the best center prospects ever
The best long-term NBA prospect in the world is a 17-year-old center from France with a Rudy Gobert-like wingspan, shooting range out to the three-point line, and the upside to be one of the defining athletes of his generation. Victor Wembanyama was called “the world’s most intriguing NBA prospect” by ESPN, and he has both the production and the physical tools to back up the claim. There is almost no doubt Wembanyama would be the top pick in the upcoming 2022 draft if he was old enough to enter.
Wembanyama will be one of the tallest and longest players in the NBA from the moment he’s drafted at 7’3 with a 7’9 wingspan. Wembanyama plays with a non-stop motor, has tremendous instincts as a shot blocker, and can move his feet in space. All of it makes him a potentially generational defender. Offensively, Wembanyama has flashed both shooting range and tough shot-making touch. He should be a dynamic lob threat from day one because of his length and ability to quickly get off the floor, and his game will only blossom from there.
Wembanyama put all of his talent on display during France loss to the United States in the FIBA U-19 World Cup over the summer. Despite playing two years up in competition, Wembanyama dominated the gold medal game and significantly outplayed Holmgren, a projected top pick in 2022 who is 20 months older than him.
For the tournament, Wembanyama averaged 14 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.7 blocks per game. He hit four three-pointers (in 22 attempts) and shot 78 percent from the foul line. He was the best player in a youth tournament he’ll still be allowed to compete in two years from now.
Wembanyama is obviously very thin, but his frame looks like it should be able to carry weight as he gets older. One other concern is injuries. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his fibula last year, and has missed time this season with a small fracture of a finger. He’s now playing for ASVEL, a club owned by Tony Parker, in the French A League, and has already logged minutes in Euroleague. If Wembanyama’s progression keeps up at this pace, he could inspire some of the most shameless tanking the league has ever seen next season.
Scoot Henderson looks like a future All-Star point guard
Sterling ‘Scoot’ Henderson should still be in high school right now. Instead, the suburban Atlanta native graduated early and is already dominating the G League. Henderson joined the Ignite program after Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga legitimized the league’s new developmental initiative last year by each becoming top picks in the 2021 draft. Henderson will have to spend two years with the Ignite, but he’s already making the case he’s the best long-term American prospect currently outside of the NBA.
The powerful 6’3 guard follows in the footsteps of Derrick Rose and John Wall as a lead ball handler defined by his strong frame and elite athleticism. Henderson has tremendous standstill burst that allows him to dust defenders off the dribble and force rotations. He’s strong enough to play through contact in the paint, and he can elevate high above the rim for a finish off whether he’s leaping off one foot or two. He’s a freight train in transition and is already showing signs of knowing how to manipulate an opposing defense in the half court.
Henderson has looked incredible since returning from a rib injury that delayed his start to the season. He put up 31 points and five assists against the Santa Cruz Warriors, 22 points and eight assists against the Stockton Kings, and 27 points and four assists one night later against the Kings’ affiliate once again. He absolutely looks like he belongs on a pro floor right now.
Henderson has elite length with a reported 6’9 wingspan, but at the end of the day his size is still a knock against him, particularly when compared to Wembanyama. His three-point shot is already emerging as his swing skill. He’s started his G League run only 2-for-12 from deep.
There might not be anything more valuable in today’s game than a lead engine offensive engine. Henderson is projecting as exactly that. It’s unfair to imagine him on a high school court right now. Expect him to push Wembanyama for the No. 1 pick in 2023 whether he gets there or not.
Shaedon Sharpe is the next super athletic shooting guard
Sharpe has been on a meteoric rise since leaving his native Ontario, Canada to come to the U.S. ahead of his sophomore year of high school. The 6’5 shooting guard bounced from prep schools in Kansas to Arizona, and rose from an off the radar prospect to a legit top-50 recruit. As he headed to his final season on the Nike EYBL circuit, Sharpe blossomed into the No. 1 ranked player in the class.
Sharpe has tremendous physical tools for an NBA shooting guard at 6’4 with a reported 7-foot wingspan. He’s a slasher at his core, using a quick first step and developing upper body strength to create separation, play through contract, and finish at the rim. If he’s not quite in the same tier as Anthony Edwards and Jalen Green as an elite athlete, he’s damn close.
The big improvements in Sharpe’s game has been his ball handling and shooting. He’s is now a dangerous pull-up shooter with range beyond the three-point line. He’s said he’s modeling game off Bradley Beal, and you can see the outlines of that type of scorer from his EYBL tape.
In 12 games on the circuit, he averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists per game on 56.9 percent true shooting and 36.1 percent three-point shooting on 6.9 attempts per game, according to Cerebro Sports.
Sharpe has committed to Kentucky as part of a ridiculously talented recruiting class, and he plans to enroll for the second semester. Sharpe says he isn’t taking the court in college this year, but time practicing against TyTy Washington and the rest of the Wildcats’ roster should only help him grow as a player. Scouts will want to see where he is as a passer and playmaker whenever he debuts in Lexington.
Emoni Bates still might be a special shooter
Scouts have cooled on Bates considerably since he was once touted as the ‘next Kevin Durant’ early in his high school career. Bates suffered from poor shot selection and an environment that fostered his worst habits over the last couple years in Michigan, which is why he deserves credit for the bold leap he made this season. Bates graduated early and enrolled at Memphis despite being too young to enter the 2022 draft. Now his strengths and weaknesses are on full display for potentially two seasons of college ball.
For all the scrutiny Bates has received, he’s still a 6’9 wing with the potential to be a deadly outside shooter. Bates has deep range on his jump shot and can rip them off the dribble with ease. He’s hitting 35 percent of his threes so far at Memphis which is impressive when you consider he’s one of the youngest players in the country.
Bates has also showed his limitations since coming to Memphis. While head coach Penny Hardaway promised he’d be used as a point guard, he still often throws overly ambitious passes that end in turnovers. He still takes too many difficult shots outside the flow of the offense. Despite standing 6’9, he only has a 6’7 wingspan which will severely limit his positional versatility in the league.
With so much conversation around Bates for so many years, it’s easy to forget he’s still just 17 years old. A 6’9 wing who can shoot and handle the way he can will have appeal as long he can reign himself in a little bit. Two years of tough love at Memphis could be the best thing for him.
Thompson twins are next-level athletes
Amen and Ausar Thompson are twins from Florida who decided to pioneer the new Overtime Elite league instead of finishing out their high school careers. The Thompsons have continued their rapid ascension in recent months and are now being considered potential top-10 or even top-5 picks in 2023 despite being ranked in the mid-40s of their high school class this past spring.
The appeal of the Thompson twins starts with their size and nuclear athleticism. The guards both stand around 6’7 with plus wingspans. Their ability to fly around the court on both ends immediately jumps out. The Thompsons can pressure the ball on the perimeter, get into the passing lanes to force turnovers, and rise above the rim to block shots. They should both be elite defenders and transition scorers. Their offensive skill sets in the halfcourt are just starting to come into sharper focus.
Amen has shown more playmaking ability. Ausar is a slasher who uses his tremendous burst to attack the basket. Ausar is the better outside shooter at this point. Both make multiple plays every game that stop you in your tracks.
There are other names to watch out for, too
- Dariq Whitehead: The 6’6 wing is the latest stud from Montverde Academy and was sharing the floor with Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes a couple years ago. He projects as an excellent defender and a high-feel player offensively who continues to improve as a shooter.
- Dereck Lively: A 7’1 center with a 7’8 wingspan, Lively is a monster rim protector and lob threat who started to hit three-pointers this year. He’s going to Duke and could end up as a top-five pick.
- Nick Smith: A 6’4 guard with a deep bag of scoring tricks, Smith is known for his ability to change speeds, attack the basket, and get into his pull-up game. He’s headed to Arkansas next season.
- Cason Wallace: A 6’3 combo guard from Texas, Wallace has shown the ability to score off the bounce, hit threes, and defend. He’ll be the next star guard at Kentucky.
- Keyonte George: A 6’4 guard with three-level scoring ability who can get buckets on or off the ball. He’s the highest-ranked recruit Baylor has ever landed according to some services.
- Adem Bona: A 6’9 center with great quickness and mobility who should be a highly-impactful rim protector at UCLA next season.