At The Hive’s 2023 draft tiers: post-withdrawal deadline

We’re in the home stretch.

With only 13 days remaining until the 2023 NBA Draft, it’s almost time for fans, analysts and front office staff alike to be putting the finishing touches on their draft boards. Over the next week, teams will be cramming in public and private workouts and combing over the last bits of film.

The rumor mill has been suspiciously quiet this cycle. Beyond the occasional rumored draft promise, we really haven’t gotten much besides speculative debates. Maybe that changes as we get up against the clock here soon.

Back to the program. The At The Hive Top-100 got obliterated at the early-entry withdrawal deadline — 24 players went back to school, two in the top-30 and 10 in the top-60. That led me back to my catalogue of recorded games from the past season to dive back into the lower-tier prospects to fill out our top-100 again.

A few players jumped up quite a bit as a result. The besides that, the first round remained mostly intact. An extra tier has been added because it felt weird having Cam Whitmore and Brandon Miller in the same tier as prospect in the teens. The last big board update during draft week will be focused on the top-40ish prospects that could be within Charlotte’s draft range. For now, let’s wade into the weeds together.

Tier 6: Priority Two-Way prospects

The addition of the third Two-Way slot in the new CBA warrants an extension of the Two-Way prospect tier, in my opinion. The amount of prospects worthy of a Two-Way is directly impacted by the number of Two-Ways available. That, along with the general depth of this class through the mid-50s results in a lot of interesting Two-Way gambles in this class.

The guards

One of my absolute favorites: Adam Flagler. Over the years in which Baylor guards have dominated the college basketball landscape, Flagler has been a fixture in Scott Drew’s backcourt. A dynamic shooter that can easily toggle between table-setting and shot-hunting, he’s been able to play off all the highly-touted guards to come through Waco of late.

You’re telling me a 6-foot-3 ball-handler that shot 39.6% from deep in his career — including 40% with 41.2% of those makes coming unassisted as a fifth-year — had a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and capably defends opposing guards at the point of attack over a large sample size? Say less.

He might be a subpar athlete that doesn’t pressure the rim and lacks defensive versatility, but he makes up for it with a diverse 3-point shot diet that features deep pull-ups and a quick trigger off the catch. Flagler would be my primary target to land on a Two-Way deal, whether that entails drafting him or signing him on the UDFA market.

Nadir Hifi is one of the most recent additions to our board after watching a handful of Le Portel games — including one against Victor Wembanyama and the Mets 92 (which is available on YouTube.) Hifi would be my top draft-and-stash target, but I’d be glad to get him in the organization on a Two-Way also.

He’s an ultra-fast combo guard with impressive live-dribble playmaking, creative interior finishing and an endless motor defensively. The shot needs some work and he can fade into the background when the game slows down, but Hifi has the tools to succeed as a backup guard in the NBA. Due to his international status, Hifi has until June 12 to withdraw from the draft. If he does get picked this year or in the future, he’d be the first Algerian ever drafted into the NBA.

the wings

Seth Lundy was probably the biggest beneficiary of quality Combine scrimmages and the early-entry withdrawal on our board. Jalen Pickett grabbed headlines for Penn State last season, but Lundy was the best NBA prospect. The precision in his footwork when creating space for threes or squaring himself towards the rim to shoot off the catch is ready-made for off-ball actions in the league, and he’s a strong, tough defender that’s active on the glass as well.

The first player outside the top-60 is Alex Fudge, a wing out of Florida. If he had a semblance of an offensive skillset outside of dunks, he’d be much higher, because the physical tools and defensive event creation flashes are interesting. The ball skills are just severely lacking at this stage, though he’s only 19. It’s worth an investment on some level to see if he can stretch out a defense with his shot, and then attack closeouts to make use of that athleticism.

A couple under-the-radar wings that I’m higher on than consensus: Caleb McConnell and Dane Goodwin, and they couldn’t be further apart as prospects.

McConnell is a 6-foot-7 defensive ace, guarding 1-3 in college and averaging a whopping 2.5 steals per game (2.9 stocks) in his fifth year at Rutgers. He was 23rd in the nation in steal rate and 4th among that group in DBPM. On the other end, he’s made tremendous strides as a jumbo pick-and-roll ball-handler. He’s a very poor shooter for a 24-year-old — 26.3% from deep and 72.8% from the line for his career, which tanks his stock. A 59.8% mark at the rim and a budding runner/floater package out of ball-screens inspires a smidgeon of hope that he can piece together enough offense to allow his defense to flourish.

Then there’s Goodwin, the career-39.1% shooter on a light 585 total 3-point attempts in five years at Notre Dame. Not only is he efficient from deep, he’s just a hair under 60% at the rim and another hair under 40% on long twos. He rebounds well for his size and makes the extra pass when necessary, and he’s got the strength and quickness to hold up defensively as a pro. Very little draft buzz for a player that’s scored in double-figures in the ACC each of the last four seasons.

the bigs

There’s a near-zero percent chance the Hornets give a guaranteed contract to a big man prospect in the 2023 class with how many they’ve taken in years prior. However, I think investing a Two-Way slot in a center to bring along slowly in Greensboro or use as low-cost depth at the end of the bench would be prudent.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Adama Sanogo worked himself into a long-term backup center; he’d be higher on our board if he wasn’t so early in the development stages as a shooter and passer. Last year, he put up 25.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 stocks per-40 minutes while shooting 19-for-52 (35.8%) from range for the national champion Connecticut Huskies.

It’s the first year he’s taken threes and his shooting motion out of pick-and-pops looks smooth already, if a bit slow and methodical. He’s raised his efficiency at the line each year. He only started playing basketball in 2014. There are plenty of indicators that the 21-year-old Sanogo isn’t close to his peak yet.

Tristan Vukčević rounds out the top-60 — I’m not a fan compared to consensus. There aren’t enough ancillary skills present at the moment for me to be too interested. He’s a great shooter with a virtually-unblockable release and excellent touch. But, he tallied just 20 total blocks in 52 appearances with Real Madrid and Partizan, is a subpar rebounder due to a slight frame and while he’s not slow, I don’t think he’s ever going to be a switchable/versatile defender. The shooting alone is worth a Two-Way but I’d be hesitant to invest heavily at this stage.

Like Sanogo, but to a lesser degree, it wouldn’t shock me if Charles Bediako and/or Trey Jemison carved out an NBA role for themselves in spite of a low draft position.

Bediako is wildly raw offensively. As a 21-year-old sophomore at Alabama, he made 35.5% of his free throws (48.8% for his career), shot 0-for-6 from deep and nearly half his makes at the rim were dunks — very little evidence of any shooting touch. It’ll be tough to overcome that without long developmental strides, but he had an argument as one of the best defensive bigs in the nation. He’s scheme-versatile in the PnR and generates a ton of stocks using his size, anticipation and athleticism. If he ever proves he can do something on offense besides finish open dunks, he’s going to get chances in the NBA.

The UAB Blazers were an awesome deep-cut prospect team this year. Eric Gaines went back to school, but Jelly Walker and Jemison stayed in. Jemison will make his hay as a pro setting rock-solid screens, finishing at a high clip using delicate touch, and catching guards by surprise with how well he defends his feet in space with his 7-foot, 260-pound frame. He’s an elite “does the little things that don’t show up in the box score” big.

Last but surely not least: Patrick Gardner, shooting big out of Marist. I’d wager that nobody in the draft sphere has him higher than me, and that’s okay. If I’m the only person who believes in a 6-foot-11, 245-pound floor-spacer that shot 38.3% from three, 64% at the rim and 46% on long twos that makes positive contributions as a rim protector in rotation, so be it.

Gardner has flown well under the radar after two seasons at Nassau Community College in New York, three seasons (one of which was cancelled) at Division-III St. Michael’s College in Vermont, and then a year at Marist in the MAAC. He can pass from the elbows, shoot off the catch and off screens/pop-outs, and crashes the glass. He deserves more buzz than he’s gotten, bar none. Plenty of bigs with worse statistical profiles have been ranked higher in the past.

P.S. for full transparency, here are the prospects I didn’t get around to this cycle. I try to record 3-5 games for every NCAA team with a prospect, but sadly my streaming service doesn’t show all 363 D1 teams on television. Below are all the college players that I didn’t see enough of, and the international guys without full-length games on YouTube. Some day, Synergy Sports will bless me with a (paid, on time, and in full!) subscription.

Prospects that would’ve landed here if I could access enough film for an honest scout: Omari Moore, Liam Robbins, Craig Porter Jr., Angelo Allegri, Jaylen Martin, Jazian Gortman, Tevian Jones

International prospects I haven’t been able to watch enough of: Ousmane N’Diaye, Zvonimir Ivisic, Mario Nakić, Tom Digebu, Fedor Žugić, Michael Caicedo, Mantas Rubštavičius, Keye Van Der Vuurst de Vries, Liutauras Lelevicius

Tier 7: Priority UDFA/Exhibit 10 prospects

Oh, you thought we were in the weeds in Tier 6? Yeah, right. Now it’s time to talk about Jacob Toppin. Or Chase Audige. Maybe Hunter Maldonado. Perhaps we’ll hit the NCAA’s second all-time leading scorer, Antoine Davis. KC Ndefo? We’ll get to him, too.

Toppin is on the cusp of Two-Way range, but not quite there given his age and shooting inefficiencies. He’s a really good athlete, though, and he rebounds and passes well for his position. It’ll be difficult for him to utilize his smart cutting with no shooting gravity but if the shot comes around, there might be a little something there as an energy forward off the bench.

Few players in the country statistically embodied the 3-and-D archetype than Audige. Among all players with a 4.3 STL% equal to Audige’s, only D’Moi Hodge made more threes. The lower-body mechanics on his jumper are very narrow and he ends up off-balance a lot, resulting in lower efficiency over the entire sample. He’s a hell of a passer on the move, more so as a freestyler rather than traditional playmaker. Props to his parents for gracing him with a high-quality first name.

Maldonado — a sixth-year (!!!) out of Wyoming — is the “jack of all trades, master of none” prospect in this class. The 6-foot-7 playmaking wing is a versatile finisher inside the arc, a great positional rebounder and has never averaged less than 1 steal per game in college. He doesn’t make many threes and isn’t the type of athlete to warrant on-ball creation reps, but he’s got fantastic feel for the game.

If Davis had just one more college game, he almost certainly would’ve scored the four points necessary to surpass Pete Maravich as the NCAA basketball’s all-time leading scorer. Instead, he’ll settle for a paltry 3,664 points scored in five seasons at Detroit Mercy. The 6-foot-1 guard is a deep-range, high-volume pull-up scorer that aggressively seeks contact when he steps inside the arc. He also plays much better defense than his archetype and offensive workload would suggest, averaging 1.3 steals per game for his career.

Remember the Saint Peter’s Peacocks from that 2022 NCAA Tournament run? Doug Edert and his mustache stole the headlines, but Ndefo was the only pro prospect on then-head coach Shaheen Holloway’s squad. He’s a long, somewhat lean defensive stopper, racking up 2.9 stocks per game at Seton Hall as a grad transfer. The defense, play-finishing at the rim and relentless motor translated to a bigger conference, but he can’t shoot or score for himself. That will only get tougher in the NBA, but G League and overseas teams need defense, too, and he could wreak havoc there while he continues to work on his jumper.

Players that likely would’ve landed here if I could access enough film for an honest scout: Taylor Funk, Justyn Mutts, JT Shumate, Grant Sherfield, KJ Williams, Darius McGhee, Sam Sessoms

Alright, that’s enough for today. The last big board update and tiers notepad will be published just ahead of the draft, probably between the 15th and 18th to give myself some time to decompress before the circus comes to town on the 22nd.

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