That went well.
The lottery dust has settled, and the Hornets are picking second in the 2023 NBA Draft after heading into the 30-minute ping-pong ball extravaganza with the fourth-best odds at obtaining the number one pick. The Hornets converted on a 12.2 percent chance to land second and moved ahead of the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons, which fell to fourth and fifth, respectively, after tanking all season and finishing with the two worst records. Some would say that’s karma. Not me, but some would.
Congratulations to San Antonio Spurs fans, who have been granted a generational big man prospect for the *checks notes* third time. Victor Wembanyama will be extremely fun to watch develop under Gregg Popovich and he seemed genuinely excited about being a Spur in his post-lottery interview. Charlotte would’ve been better, but there will be no complaints from me about second place this time around.
More importantly, we’ve got an official draft order with the conclusion of the lottery. That can only mean one thing; mock draft season.
For the first volume of this year’s At The Hive mock, we’ll run through the entire first round with short explanations for each pick. Next time out, we’ll expand to two rounds until the final version is released around draft day on June 22.
1. San Antonio Spurs – Victor Wembanyama, Big, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 (France)
The Spurs win the grand prize. San Antonio has built a nice core with Wembanyama and Jeremy Sochan in the frontcourt, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson on the wing and Tre Jones running point. They probably won’t be good next season, but who knows how quickly they’ll ascend through the West after that.
2. Charlotte Hornets – Scoot Henderson, Guard, G League Ignite
There’s going to be a month-long debate on Scoot Henderson vs. Brandon Miller (vs. Amen Thompson?) at two. But only one of these players has the rare combination of explosive athleticism, playmaking feel and pull-up scoring; that’s Henderson. A Melo-Scoot backcourt would be among the most dynamic in the league and instantly gives this organization the identity they’ve been searching for over the last couple seasons.
3. Portland Trail Blazers – Brandon Miller, Wing, Alabama
Portland will be fielding offers for this pick, and they could get a massive haul regardless of whether Henderson or Miller goes second. If they keep it, Miller’s wing scoring and positional size pair well with Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant, as well as younger running mates Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe.
4. Houston Rockets – Amen Thompson, Guard, City Reapers (Overtime Elite)
The Thompson-Jalen Green duo would be exciting at worst, and at best could develop into one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Thompson’s two-way playmaking ability and other-worldly athleticism perfectly complements Green’s self-creation and shot-making.
5. Detroit Pistons – Ausar Thompson, Wing, City Reapers (Overtime Elite)
The Thompson Twins go off the board with back-to-back picks. Detroit adds an athletic wing to pair with Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, forming an electric young core with Cade, Ivey, Ausar and Jalen Duren. Rumor has it that Detroit’s preferred option for its head coaching vacancy is Kevin Ollie, former head coach at Overtime Elite.
6. Orlando Magic – Cam Whitmore, Wing, Villanova
The Magic love athletes, right? Whitmore is easily the most athletic wing in the class, and has shot-creation ability tailor-made for the NBA game. If he can develop as a playmaker and show more consistency on defense, he’s got as much upside as any player outside the top-four.
7. Indiana Pacers – Jarace Walker, Big, Houston
Even with Myles Turner anchoring the paint, Indiana finished 26th in defensive rating last year. Putting a versatile team defender, short-roll playmaker and budding scorer in Walker next to Turner at the four gives the Pacers a formidable frontline going into the future.
8. Washington Wizards – Cason Wallace, Guard, Kentucky
This might be on the high end of Wallace’s range, and the Wizards could really use an upside swing, but these are the situations teams find themselves in when the lottery doesn’t go their way. With no presumed high-upside prospect available, Wallace offers a nice balance of NBA readiness and future potential to either play with or replace Bradley Beal.
9. Utah Jazz – Anthony Black, Guard, Arkansas
Danny Ainge has never shied away from drafting guards that can’t shoot yet (see: Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford, etc.). Black should be right in his wheelhouse; the 6-foot-6 19-year-old can play point guard on offense while switching 1-3 defensively once he gets a bit stronger. If the shot comes around, he’s a legitimate jumbo initiator.
10. Dallas Mavericks – Taylor Hendricks, Forward, UCF
The Mavericks need defense badly. The main reason the public perception of the Kyrie Irving-Luka Dončić pairing is negative is because they traded away all their defenders to get Irving. Sliding Hendricks in at the four or small-ball five adds a security blanket rim protector and team defender on the backline, with lots of offensive upside to boot.
11. Orlando Magic (via CHI) – Dariq Whitehead, Wing, Duke
With the pick acquired in the Nikola Vucevic trade, the Magic land another shooting wing. Whitehead’s one-and-done season didn’t go exactly to plan, but a foot injury (for which he recently had a second surgery) hampered his explosiveness and ability to create shots for himself all year long.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder – Gradey Dick, Wing, Kansas
The Thunder fell just outside of the range in which they could land Walker or Hendricks, two defensive-minded prospects with the size OKC needs to infuse into their core. Instead, they go the opposite direction and add a nuclear movement shooter with underrated an pull-up game and fast-improving off-ball defense in Dick.
13. Toronto Raptors – Kobe Bufkin, Guard, Michigan
In many ways, Bufkin could be the heir apparent to Kyle Lowry’s vacated throne if Toronto drafted him. More of a combo guard than true point, Bufkin is an absolute dog on defense and displays an effective use of angles and bend as a driver.
14. New Orleans Pelicans – Jordan Hawkins, Guard, Connecticut
The Pelicans don’t really need another young player, honestly, and they don’t have much room in the rotation unless trades are made. With how the board has fallen to this point, might as well opt for the best shooter left on the board in Hawkins.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Leonard Miller, Forward, G League Ignite (Canada)
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Miller go higher than his on draft night. He measured well at the Combine and improved significantly as the Ignite season went on, showing that he can fill a role as a glue guy that rebounds, defends and works for buckets on the interior while maintaining the handle and touch he flashed in high school.
16. Utah Jazz (via MIN) – Keyonte George, Guard, Baylor
George has elite touch and makes a lot of tough shots, but has equally worrisome athletic traits and didn’t handle point guard duties at Baylor very well. Scoring guards always have a place in the modern NBA, but it maybe not as a long-term starter. Utah can afford to take a swing on George outside the lottery given they have three first-round picks.
17. Los Angeles Lakers – Brice Sensabaugh, Wing, Ohio State
Personally, I’d take Sensabaugh and his efficient difficult shot-making much higher than 17, but I don’t know how much NBA scouts like him yet. Even if he doesn’t offer much as a playmaker or team defender, his scoring is so good from all three levels that it likely won’t matter for his NBA future.
18. Miami Heat – Nick Smith Jr., Guard, Arkansas
Once a consensus top-10 pick, Smith struggled through injuries in his lone season at Arkansas. Though he has great finishing touch and secondary playmaking ability, he isn’t very explosive and shot below-average from distance. Miami seems like a team that would get the most out of a player like that.
19. Golden State Warriors – Kris Murray, Forward, Iowa
Golden State should once again be looking to move off its first-round pick. If there aren’t any takers, Murray fits the bill of an NBA-ready prospect that can space the floor, though his upside is pretty limited.
20. Houston Rockets (via LAC) – Dereck Lively II, Center, Duke
After missing out on Wembanyama, the Rockets still landed a center. Alperen Şengün is the better player at this stage, but Lively could grow into a more effective option in the postseason given his size and athletic advantages.
21. Brooklyn Nets (via PHX) – Jalen Hood-Schifino, Guard, Indiana
The Nets get a big guard that can make plays out of a variety of actions and angles and utilize a deep bag of scoring moves in the mid-range. Hood-Schifino was the Big 10 Freshman of the Year under Mike Woodson.
22. Brooklyn Nets – Bilal Coulibaly, Wing, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 (France)
Rarely do players with as much upside as Coulibaly last until the early-twenties, but combine his raw ability, lack of playing time early in the season and late charge as a producer on the best team in France, and it makes sense why it took until recently for his stock to take off.
23. Portland Trail Blazers (via NYK) – Noah Clowney, Big, Alabama
Joe Cronin and Mike Schmitz both like young, high-upside players. Portland could use some size and shooting potential in the frontcourt, and they land both of the Alabama freshman in Clowney and Miller with this pick.
24. Sacramento Kings – Rayan Rupert, Wing, New Zealand Breakers (France)
Prior to the beginning of the 2023 draft cycle, Rupert was billed as a big point guard with court vision that locks down the point of attack defensively. Now, it seems his camp has gone down the “3-and-D wing” label route despite Rupert shooting below 33 percent from deep in all four seasons of pro basketball. It’s confusing, but he’s still worth a pick.
25. Memphis Grizzlies – Jett Howard, Wing, Michigan
The Grizzlies have some athletes on the wing already and were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last season. Howard’s teammates could mask his defensive shortcomings while he hunts for jumpers off ball screens and handoffs.
26. Indiana Pacers (via CLE) – GG Jackson II, Forward, South Carolina
Indiana can afford to take a swing with one of its two late-first rounders, and that’s where Jackson comes in. The peak of his shot-creation flashes look like that of a future All-Star, but the lowlights are filled with poor shot selections, a palpable unwillingness to pass and an inconsistent motor on defense.
27. Charlotte Hornets (via DEN) – Maxwell Lewis, Wing, Pepperdine
For me personally, this would be a dream scenario. Lewis finished out his sophomore season in Malibu poorly, but displayed plenty of shot-making and creation in two seasons for the Waves. Another 6-foot-8 shooter with potential defensive versatility? Sign me up.
28. Utah Jazz (via PHI) – Sidy Cissoko, Wing, G League Ignite (France)
Don’t be surprised if Cissoko is a stock riser throughout the pre-draft process. They don’t grow 6-foot-7 wings with natural playmaking feel and an NBA-ready frame on trees, you know. Utah takes another swing on a high-upside player, and gives themselves a fun little Black-George-Cissoko trio.
29. Indiana Pacers (via BOS) – Colby Jones, Guard, Xavier
A smooth scoring guard, Jones could theoretically hop into the Pacers’ rotation at some point next season. Following up the swing on Jackson with more of a sure-thing in Jones would be a wise draft strategy in my opinion.
30. Los Angeles Clippers (via MIL) – Marcus Sasser, Guard, Houston
Sasser closes out the first round by landing in an advantageous spot; if he can still score in the paint against NBA bigs, his shooting and point-of-attack defense might get him on the court over Bones Hyland, especially in the playoffs.