Just when you all thought you’d gotten rid of me. Not so fast.
I hope everyone’s been enjoying the independently-operated At The Hive so far. It’s been about a month since I’ve written anything substantive, so why not go back to the well and pump out some good, old-fashioned draft content. This period of the draft cycle between March Madness and the lottery is perhaps the most enthralling for fans of lottery teams — anything is possible, yet nothing is overly probable, and it’s somewhat reasonable to envision any top-15 prospect landing in their respective city. The world is our oyster right now. Victor Wembanyama is a Charlotte Hornet, at least until May 16 (manifesting that slogan worked quite well for me with LaMelo Ball in 2020, for what it’s worth. Just saying).
Thanks to Jon, the new At The Hive site has a very cool feature where our NBA Draft Big Board is featured under it’s own heading on the homepage. The Top-100 can be viewed there whenever one sees fit and will be updated periodically until the final version of this cycle is released on draft day, June 22. Each update will be accompanied by a post like this one, which essentially act as open notepads for my thought process while evaluating these prospects. I’ll break down the notes by tiers to highlight risers, fallers, sleepers, and players we’re higher/lower on than the consensus. Here’s the first iteration of the At The Hive Top-100 for the 2023 NBA Draft class.
Tier 1: Perennial/potential All-NBA prospects
Otherwise known as the “Wemby and Scoot” tier in this class. However, there’s a third player I’d include in this lofty group; Amen Thompson. Yes, the questions about his translation as an athlete, passer, defender and scorer from Overtime Elite to the NBA are real — but the talent pool in that league has deepened since last season to the point where the Thompson Twins are regularly facing off against fellow draft prospects, albeit none with apparent top-five pick potential. Still, Amen’s first-step burst, quickness in tight quarters and sheer speed in the open court make him look like he’s playing basketball at 1.5x speed and I find it hard to believe he’s only making athletic plays like the one embedded below because he’s on the court with lesser talent than himself. He damn near teleports around his defender.
Tier 2: Perennial/potential All-Star prospects
A couple of “my guys” from this class land in this tier. Cam Whitmore is a clear-cut top-five prospect for me despite the limitations and utter lack of production as a playmaker at Villanova; the amalgamation of brute strength, lateral and vertical explosiveness separation ability, shot creation off the dribble, shooting touch and defensive activity, all while being one of the youngest players in the class (Whitmore doesn’t turn 19 until July 8) is wildly enticing to me. He’s a similar prospect to Miles Bridges athletically but with significantly more upside as a shot creator and defender.
Ausar Thompson, Taylor Hendricks, Brice Sensabaugh and Jalen Hood-Schifino are a few more lottery prospects I’m a bit higher on than others. While there’s admittedly a gap between Amen and Ausar, the latter twin is still a high-level athlete that projects as a versatile wing defender, budding catch-and-shoot threat and a nightmare in transition. That’s still worth a top-10 draft pick given his positional value and athletic traits. Same goes for Hendricks, whose jack-of-all-trades defensive skillset and off-ball scoring in a stout 6-foot-9-inch frame are tailor-made for the modern NBA. Wanna know how many players in NCAA Division I basketball matched Hendricks’ 5.9 block percentage, 61 made threes and 36 made dunks as a freshman in a major conference this past season? Zero.
Both Sensabaugh and Hood-Schifino made the 22-23 Big Ten All-Freshman team, with Hood-Schifino taking home Freshman of the Year honors. The 6-foot-6-inch big guard is a stellar ball-screen operator, flashing pace, craft and feel as a passer in pick-and-roll setting, with the ability to rise above defenders in the mid-range and get all the way to the cup. There’s an impressive smoothness and poise to Hood-Schifino’s game, though he is an older freshman and will be 20 by draft night. Sensabaugh is one of the best shooters and easily the most efficient volume scorer in a class littered with snipers. As a 19-year-old in the Big Ten, he shot 57.8 percent at the rim, 49.4 percent on two-point jumpers, 40.5 percent on threes and 83 percent from the line with a 32.1 usage rate. He finished the season with 38 assists to 67 turnovers, but his willingness to pass increased throughout the season and the shooting prowess is undeniable.
Tier 3: Potential starters and high-end rotation players
The 2023 class is pretty deep with lottery talent in my eyes, so this tier starts a bit lower on the board than in most years. To me, there are 21 lottery prospects in this draft — any player from Wemby to Judah Mintz could be selected in the top-14 in any given draft, but this year is an exception to the rule. In turn, that renders the late-first an intriguing range of the draft, and one where the Hornets hold a second first-round pick at that. There are a lot of cool and interesting prospects in the 20s and 30s of this class that could develop into valuable pieces on quality teams.
GG Jackson II would be the ultimate upside play with the 27th pick, and it’d keep the Columbia, South Carolina native near home. If he irons out his shot selection, decision-making and commits to utilizing his athleticism as a defender and hits, he’s likely an All-Star caliber forward. If not, it might get rough for him in the league as a shot-creator that’s not overly efficient, doesn’t make plays for teammates and isn’t a reliable team defender.
The Hornets are likely out of the big man market, but DaRon Holmes II has the potential to be the best rim-runner in the class and reminds me a lot of Nicolas Claxton despite being frequently placed outside the top-30 on draft boards. Noah Clowney is an interesting hybrid 4/5 that rebounded the hell out of the ball as a freshman in the SEC, flashed potential as a floor-spacer and doesn’t turn 19 until July 14 if Charlotte wants another young big in the stable.
If Mitch Kupchak and his staff want immediate reinforcements with the 27th or 34th pick, Andre Jackson Jr., Brandin Podziemski, Marcus Sasser and Julian Strawther all have skills that fit into an NBA rotation right now. Jackson gives me strong Cody Martin vibes as an ultra-talented and toolsy perimeter defender that can handle occasional point guard duties, but with even more athletic pop and conversely, even less three-point shooting. Podziemski and Sasser offer cheaper, younger replacements for Dennis Smith Jr. and/or Théo Maledon, and their ability to command an offense, create various looks out of screens and handoffs while defending their position would slot in well behind LaMelo Ball.
Tier 4: Potential rotation and end-of-bench players
As someone who’s high on this class overall, the mid-second round is where the depth begins to trail off, and quickly. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Kobe Brown are both 23-year-olds that have such well-rounded skillsets and do so many of the “little things” that I find it hard to imagine them not cracking an NBA rotation at some point in their pro careers. Kris Murray and Jalen Wilson are low-upside scorers on the older end of the spectrum as well, and Oso Ighodaro, who is responsible for the coolest clip I’ve seen posted on Twitter this cycle, is the last intriguing second-rounder I’d consider giving a guaranteed deal. After that, the run of Two-Way, Exhibit 10 and Summer League bets begins.
Tier 4: Priority Two-Way prospects
If I were working in a team’s front office, I’d be begging Arthur Kaluma to stay in the draft and settle for a Two-Way deal rather than return for his junior season and rebuild his stock. After a strong couple of games with the Ugandan national team in FIBA World Cup qualifiers last summer, he seemed a surefire first-round pick. Though his three-point percentage improved, he still shot just 31.1 percent from range and seemed to fall out of rhythm and make questionable decisions a bit too often. A year of seasoning against professional competition would do him wonders, and he’s athletic and energetic enough to make an impact in transition and defensively while he works out the kinks as a halfcourt scorer.
Some will disagree, but Eric Gaines is just incredibly fun. Between resembling an Olympic high-jumper when he rises up to dunk on bigs nearly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than him and his ultra-aggressiveness used to generate steals at the point of attack and create transition opportunities, where he’s an adept playmaker on top of the impressive athletic displays, there’s never a dull moment. UAB was one of my favorite teams to watch this season, and Gaines is the highest-ranked of the three Blazers on my board. There’s a world in which he ends up a similar-but-toned-down version of current-day Dennis Smith Jr.
Mike Sharavjamts, otherwise known as “Mongolian Mike,” is the second Mongolian athlete to receive a Division I scholarship and only the second true freshman to start for the Dayton Flyers in the past decade (per Adam Ward of SB Nation). He’s also 6-foot-8, plays point guard, has a fluid handle and smooth catch-and-shoot mechanics for his size. Oh, and he’s the son of Sharavjamts Tserenjankhar, a former Harlem Globetrotter and the first-ever professional basketball player from Mongolia. On top of the extremely cool story, Sharavjamts has a super fun point forward-style skillset for a player development staff to mold and work with.
Tier 5: Exhibit 10 targets and Summer League invites
We’re getting into the real nitty-gritty here. This is officially “draft sicko” territory, where very few, if any prospects are likely to make it in the NBA. But we live in an era of basketball that is flush with talent all across the world, and not being able to stick in the best league on the planet doesn’t mean a player isn’t abundantly skilled. Even well outside of draft range, there are always gems to be unearthed; even if that’s in the G League or overseas.
By far the youngest players left on my board, if any of Nikola Đurišić, Julian Phillips or Dillon Mitchell were willing to accept an Exhibit 10 — which they shouldn’t be given that they’re still 19 — I’d be sure I made the first call to their agents. Finding young talent with the most room to grow, or giving older players such as D’Moi Hodge, Tyler Burton or Toumani Camara a chance to crack an NBA roster on the cusp of their prime years as athletes are my preferred routes for E10 deals and Summer League invites. Also, let me know if anyone else has Jordan Dingle top-85. I haven’t seen it yet and I’d like to plant my flag on Jordan Dingle Island as soon as possible if I’m the leader of the pack.
Well, after a lot of words, that’ll do it for the first Top-100 update of the cycle. There will probably be three or four of these between now and the June 22 draft. Let me know what prospects you all like in the comments!