At The Hive’s 2023 NBA Draft Tiers: post-Combine update

We’re back with some more draft tier notes, just in time for the heat of the 2023 cycle.

The lottery dust has settled, and the pre-draft camps are behind us with the conclusion of the NBA Combine in Chicago. From here on out, all we’re getting is bits and pieces of information on which players may or may not be performing well in team workouts.

Thankfully for Hornets fans, the team tweets out a list of the players that participate in each draft workout held at the Spectrum Center, so we won’t be starved for news. When it comes to figuring out what other teams at the top of the draft are planning on doing, well, good luck.

The top-100 big board has received another official update, so be sure to head over there or pull it up in another tab to reference alongside this post. Last time, we talked about Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, and Taylor Hendricks, along with some others that I’m higher on than consensus.

This time around, we’ll hit on a top prospect with plenty of rumored connections to Charlotte whom I’m lower on than consensus, an upside play for the 27th pick, and some players who’ve risen throughout the lower tiers following the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, G League Elite Camp and Combine.

Tier 2: Perennial/potential All-Star prospects

Of all the “consensus” top prospects, Brandon Miller is the player I’m lowest on. One can only be so low on a player they have ranked fifth in the class, but given that Miller is generating buzz as a potential No. 2 pick, it’s safe to say I’m firmly on the other side of that fence.

Typically, teams picking in the top-three are looking to change the outlook of their franchise with the player they select. Even beyond Victor Wembanyama, there are multiple extremely high-upside talents to be taken — this is where the line is drawn with Miller for me. Granted he’s 6-foot-9, shoots the leather off the ball, defends his position and would fit well on just about any team, but there are a few critical areas in which he comes up short. The inability to consistently create separation on pull-up jumpers and the lack of blow-by speed in his first step severely limit his effectiveness as a creator, and those problems surfaced more often as the competition level rose while at Alabama.

Brandon Miller’s statistics from the 22-23 season, per BartTorvik

As we can conclude from the BartTorvik page above, life got tougher for Miller as the quality of his opponents rose. That’s to be expected in part, but the biggest drop-offs come in the most important areas for players who project as no. 1 options and leading scorers. In top-50 quality games, Miller’s two-point percentage dropped 9.8 percent, his three-point shooting fell to 31.9 percent, and his assist rate dropped while his turnover rate increased.

For a player billed as an elite shooter, he doesn’t shoot the ball at an elite level, even given the difficulty of his attempts. This trend is especially prevalent against higher-quality competition. For comparison’s sake — and this is why draft comparisons can be a fool’s errand — here are Jayson Tatum’s numbers from his season at Duke, a player who Miller has been compared to in the mainstream circles over the last few months.

In college, it was clear that Tatum was an exceptional athlete with a superb handle and separation ability even though his overall three-point efficiency wasn’t great. In Miller’s case, it’s the opposite; his raw shooting numbers are good, but the film is a bit spotty.

Jayson Tatum’s statistics from the 2017-18 season, per BartTorvik

Not for nothing, Miller played this season as a 20-year-old in the SEC, while Tatum was 18 in the ACC, and the difference in statistical output is still night-and-day. Prospects that eventually turned into lead options at the wing position in the NBA typically produce efficiently at a high level against top NCAA competition.

All of this is not to say that Miller will bust out of the league; I think he’ll last a long time as a quality starter in the NBA. There’s just a big difference in draft value between a big wing that can command an offense, lead a defense and be a team’s best player, and a big wing that is an elite scorer but struggles to create inside the arc for himself and isn’t on par athletically with All-NBA caliber wings. Miller’s stock falls closer to the latter in my opinion. Less like Tatum and Paul George, more like Khris Middleton. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Tier 3: Potential starters and high-end rotation players

The Hornets are likely to miss out on most of the players that are in mid-to-late lottery range with the 27th pick. In my opinion, this is where the general quality of the draft begins to trail off, too. Bilal Coulibaly has soared up draft boards in recent weeks and might be gone by 27, but he offers an intriguing upside play if Charlotte keeps this pick.

A teammate of Victor Wembanyama with the Metropolitans 92, the 18-year-old Coulibaly was in and out of the rotation to start the year, but has come on strong to close the season. Peaking with a 37-point double-double in late-January, he’s now scored in double-figures in four of the Mets’ last six games as they finish out the regular season (which caused him and Wemby to miss the Combine) and has developed into a contributor on the best team in France over the course of six months.

Coulibaly is a smooth athlete with a tight handle, length and doesn’t turn 19 until late July. Stashing him in Europe for another year or assigning him to Greensboro for most of his rookie season would allow him to work through his development with consistent game reps.

Tier 4: Potential rotation and end-of-bench players

No prospect within the 25-45 range solidified their draft status like Olivier-Maxence Prosper did at the Combine. With two years of eligibility remaining, there was a strong chance he’d return to Marquette and make another run at a national championship if he weren’t a candidate for a guaranteed deal.

After dropping 21/7/2 with a steal, made three-pointer and 10-12 from the line in game one, he decided to put it on ice and let his body of work — along with impressive measurements at nearly 6-foot-7 barefoot with a 7-foot-1 wingspan — speak for itself.

“O-Max” steadily elevated his stock throughout the season at Marquette and it seems like he’s peaking at the right time. Every team in the NBA can use a 20-year-old, 6-foot-8 glue-guy with potential to shoot and create some looks for himself attacking the basket off closeouts. There’s a lot to like in the Montréal native. Plus he’s got an elite name.

Ricky Council IV — who didn’t necessarily pop in the scrimmages, totaling 13 points on 10 FGA across two games — is a guy that I just can’t quit. Though he’s only a 30.3 percent shooter from deep in his three-year college career and shot a career-low 27 percent with Arkansas last season, Council is a superb athlete and may be one of the best driver/finishers in the entire class.

In his first season against SEC competition, Council generated 7.1 free-throw attempts per-40 minutes, and he’s a career-78.6 percent shooter on a whopping 379 FTA. Of the 45 players in Division I basketball to amass 35 dunks while toting a usage rate above 20 percent last season, Council was the shortest at 6-foot-6, and he was 17th among the group in free-throw rate per BartTorvik. This type of finishing production is just crazy from a player who isn’t stretching defenses beyond the arc yet. It’s truly a testament to his athleticism, body contortion skills and finishing touch.

If Council is available with any of Charlotte’s early-second rounders, I will be frothing at the mouth. Landing this type of play-finishing downhill threat with some potential to shoot down the road on a Two-Way would be a coup, and even a guaranteed deal would be fine with me.

Tier 5: Priority Two-Way prospects

Charlotte is most likely done investing valuable draft capital in centers for the time being with Mark Williams, Nick Richards and Kai Jones all signed through the 2024-25 season. However, the addition of the third Two-Way slot in the new CBA provides another low-cost option for frontcourt depth, and small-market teams like the Hornets could stand to benefit if they can help Two-Ways develop into rotation players.

Mouhamed Gueye has firmly been in draft range on my board throughout the process, and Colin Castleton joined him once I caught up on Florida film a week or so ago. Both have improved their standing at pre-draft camps, especially Castleton, who played exceedingly well at the G League Elite camp and was surprisingly left off the Combine list.

At nearly 7 feet with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and a strong frame, Castleton can move his feet in space, processes the game at a high level for a center and plays with an edge down low. As a fifth-year at Florida, he averaged 16 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 3 blocks per game. That level of production in a power-six conference can’t be overlooked, even though Castleton will already be 23 years old on draft night.

It was disappointing that Gueye didn’t scrimmage at the Combine but he measured out well and had a solid pro day, so maybe there’s a method to the madness. Another near-7-footer with balance and fluidity when defending in space, Gueye has real ability to find cutters and shooters floating beyond the arc on the short-roll. He’s flashed enough ball skills to buy into a high offensive ceiling in relative to fellow second-round centers, and has shown a willingness to space the floor with 65 3PA in two seasons at Washington State.

One more year of development at Wazzu could vault him into the first-round conversation in the 2024 draft. If he stays in this draft, some team will be getting a buy-low investment on a center with plenty of tools to fit into the modern game.

Tier 6: Priority UDFA/Exhibit 10 prospects

I’m in agreement with many draft analysts and evaluators that the depth of this class trails off in the mid-40s or so. Still, there are a handful of prospects in the 50s or later whose game I’ve grown quite fond of during this cycle. The Hornets have pulled quite a few rotation pieces out of the second round in recent years, so there’s plausible reason for optimism that Mitch Kupchak and his crew can identify talent late in the draft and turn one of their three second-round picks into a contributing player.

Outside of Victor Wembanyama, the only player in this class who truly fits the “positionless” mold is Grant Nelson. The 21-year-old out of North Dakota State made the All-Summit League and All-Defense teams and was a force of nature on both ends of the floor. He’s legitimately quick at 6-foot-11, has a very sound handle and stays on-balance pulling up for jumpers while displaying some very raw, yet very intriguing feel as a live-dribble passer.

Nelson went semi-viral on Twitter earlier in the season and played well against his fellow draft hopefuls in the Combine scrimmages. The 41st pick might be a tad early for an upside swing on Nelson, but if he’s available on the UDFA market it’s well worth the investment.

There’s something about D’Moi Hodge that makes me think he’s going to crack an NBA rotation some day. Maybe it’s the 91 steals at Missouri, good for fourth-most in the entire country, or the 40 percent shooting from deep on 7.1 attempts per game coupled with a 71.7 percent clip finishing at the rim, or the size, length and tenacity to guard up and down the lineup.

Or maybe it’s all of the above. Hodge is older for a second-round prospect, having already turned 24, but a high-motor two-way playmaker that can operate as a secondary ball-handler and slide off-ball as a stationary shooter in second units is worthy of a selection.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. Let me know in the comments which prospects you all have gotten higher or lower on as of late. We’ve got a whole month to keep digging into these late-first and early-second round prospects in the Hornets’ range, so let’s have at it.

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