Don't Shed A Tier: February 2023
A look at the tiers of talent we can project forward toward the 2023 draft class
Since I began doing draft work back in 2018 (and in public view in 2019), I’ve been doing an exercise that really forces me to think about how I rank prospects. Instead of giving just one linear ranking, I first separate them into tiers. Tiers give parameters for prospects to meet, then clumps the players together based on who falls into the same categories. The exercise also forces me to acknowledge which types of players (role players vs. stars, high-upside guys vs. dependable pros) I value most.
Since 2021, I’ve been a little more fluid in acknowledging that I prefer the tiers method to a linear ranking, mainly because each team that drafts in a certain range will have different needs. There’s flexibility within each tier to take the best fit, and even some to go across multiple tiers if there’s a franchise on the clock with a higher risk propensity than others.
In late February over the All-Star break, we find this to be the perfect time to dive into our initial tier-based exercise, looking at all the players who currently have first-round grades. We’ll break down, in brief terms, each player within these tiers, explain why they are here, and even discuss what each individual tier means.
Tier 1: Franchise Player Alphas
Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson
Buzz around this 2023 draft class has been high ever since last summer when Victor Wembanyama’s dominance became known. Vic developed a ton of buzz over the summer and came over to play a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas this October. After getting to see him in person playing pro competition and dominating the G-League Ignite, NBA scouts and executives alike have been drooling over the potential that Wembanyama brings.
Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like him. His defensive impact cannot be overstated, as his massive wingspan and surprising agility helps him swallow shots up. He could become a dominant rim protector early in his career. What has everyone so excited, though, is the way he’s adjusting to the modern offensive game. At 7’4”, Wemby handles the ball in the pick-and-roll, creates his own shots in isolation, and can spin from the three-point line to the bucket in one dribble. His one-legged floaters from 3 are absurd, his dribble moves more polished than anyone his size in history, and he has an unguardable late-clock turnaround jumper that goes in at a high clip.
Wembanyama is the best prospect I’ve ever scouted.
That doesn’t mean Wemby isn’t without flaws. His 3-point shooting could be more consistent, and his body needs to add strength so it can hold up. But on his own merits as a player, he’s too good to pass up.
In any other draft class, Scoot Henderson would likely be a prime target to go number one overall. He’s definitely in Tier 1 as being a game-changer superstar from the moment he steps into the NBA. We love the intangibles Scoot brings as a 6’2” point guard and how athletic he is. Scoot knows when to score and when to pass, is great in the mid-range, and is a drastically underrated pick-and-roll creator. He’s the guy you give the keys of an offense to from the jump.
It’s rare to see two Tier 1 guys that I feel so confident in. Scoot might be the best guard prospect I’ve ever evaluated, and he still doesn’t have a chance to be the top guy in this draft. Landing in the top two is going to change the trajectories of some fortunate franchises.
Tier 2: Alpha Upside with High-End Trajectory
Brandon Miller, Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore
If there were anyone outside the top two in this draft class to turn into a star, these are the three guys we’d bet on. Miller has the safest floor of the group because he’s already an elite shooter. 45/43/82 splits this year are phenomenal, and at 6’8” he’s got room to beat guys in the mid-range — something he did in high school but hasn’t with the Crimson Tide. Some will point to a lack of elite athleticism as an inhibitor on Miller’s ability to score in the lane at the next level. We see a ton of tools that will only become more impactful once he adds strength. There’s something about him, the way he carries himself, and the buzz around him coming out of Alabama all season that makes us believe he’s got the ‘it’ factor.
Amen Thompson has been a mainstream favorite to be the third star in this draft from the beginning. It’s easy to see why with his athletic tools: he’s got perhaps the quickest first step from a standstill that I’ve ever seen. Oh, and he can jump out of the gym too. At 6’7” he’ll clearly be a fascinating prospect thanks to that insanely high ceiling, but the half-court production as a scorer simply hasn’t been there. In 2023, we’re having a difficult time knowing what to do with a prospect who has no semblance of a jump shot but is clearly one of the most talented athletes we’ve ever seen.
Finally, there’s Whitmore, a guy I had the displeasure of coaching against twice his senior year in high school. He’s a bully of a wing who has made real strides as a shooter, both off the catch and on pull-ups. His game is a tad predetermined right now, and he doesn’t create for teammates as much as he’ll need to at the next level. Size, athleticism (which is also top-tier), handling, scoring, and some defensive traits all make Whitmore standout as one of the top freshmen in all of college basketball.
Tier 3: Fringe All-Stars At Peak/ Good 3rd Options
Keyonte George, Nick Smith
In comparison to some prior years, this draft class is pretty light on Tier 3 players. Part of the reason for that is the uncertainty around so many who could be in this group but are instead in the more volatile Tier 5 thanks to the inconsistency of their play and questions projecting forward.
That isn’t to say we still don’t have questions about Keyonte George or Nick Smith. George is still fairly inefficient as a scorer and faces some athletic limitations on offense. Smith’s injury-riddled campaign makes it hard to trust his resume at Arkansas. However, based on what we’ve seen, both players know how to impact a game — and can do so as on-ball or off-ball threats. That raises their floors a bit, leading to them landing in Tier 3 right now.
George is an underrated on-ball defender when engaged and has made huge strides this year at Baylor. He’s a very smart passer who could thrive in an offense where his touches are more consistent in ball screens. He’s also a really good spot-up shooter and can play off-ball next to other stars. That’s a combination we’re willing to bet on as he figures out how to generate easier looks for himself at the rim.
As for Smith, his best role is as a shooter and an off-ball player. His stroke is so smooth and he’s been lauded as a great shooting prospect since his early days in high school. Using his catch-and-shoot and movement prowess to his advantage will open up the lane, where he’s a decent secondary creator and can score off a silky floater. Scoring versatility is the name of the game for these two.