At The Hive’s 2023 draft tiers: the finishing touches

The long, winding road that was the 2023 draft cycle has finally come to an end.

With just two sleeps between now and the 2023 NBA Draft, it’s time to wrap up the 2023 At The Hive Top-100 and finalize the opinions on each prospect ranked. What better way to do that than to flesh everything out with one last draft tiers notepad for the 2023 cycle? Bear with me, one more time. Or at least until the 2024 cycle starts on the morning of June 23rd.

Overall, 128 prospects were ranked on our big board. There are notable omissions — Omari Moore, Craig Porter Jr., Liam Robbins and Jazian Gortman to name a few — that I couldn’t genuinely evaluate because I didn’t watch them play more than once or twice. Beyond that, most every “consensus” top-100 prospect is on the board somewhere. I’m gonna open up the final edition of the board to the full list of 128 prospects for full transparency, and also in case a therapist sees it and wants to ask me questions about how I spend my free time.

Let’s nail down the lottery in this final notepad. Many around the draft landscape regard this as one of the deepest classes of lottery-level talent in recent memory, myself included. The top-two are generational and the rest of the top-10 is littered with high-floor, high-upside swings. I finished the 2023 cycle with a lottery grade on 21 prospects — everyone from Victor Wembanyama to Bilal Coulibaly at 21 is worth taking in the top-14 in the average draft. That’s a staggering amount of talent packed into the 2023 class.

I’ll include a screenshot of the top-14 prospects below so it’s easier to follow along. The finalized At The Hive Top-100 big board is live now.

I don’t think we need to hit on Wemby — at this point in the process, I’ve got no unique analysis on him or his game. He’s going to be great if everything works out, and he might be great very soon upon entering the league. Glad Spurs fans finally have a good big man to watch on their team.

Tier 2: All-NBA, franchise cornerstone upside

If it were me that determined the subjects and parameters of NBA draft prospect debates in the public sphere — which it should be, in my opinion — the prospects in play with the second pick would be Scoot Henderson and Amen Thompson.

In the top-three, it’s difficult for me to favor the certainty of a high floor and translatable skillset over tantalizing upside and generational athletic ability. Henderson and Thompson both have that in droves, and are the most athletic guard prospects I’ve ever watched in their own unique way. Henderson blends power, speed and finesse at an unconscionable level, while Thompson moves with such grace and fluidity that it seems like his feet never truly touch the ground. Each of them can rise up in traffic and dunk on centers, or snake their way to the rim and finish a contorting layup.

Feel for the game and athleticism is one of the most easily-applicable skill combinations in basketball. If these guys develop into league-average 3-point shooters (or better), it’s over for the rest of the league.

Tier 3: Perennial All-Star upside

I’ve had Cam Whitmore in the top-5 and ranked above Brandon Miller all year long. There’s an argument Miller is the best shooter in the draft right now (it’s actually Brice Sensabaugh), but I have more belief in Whitmore as a shooter long-term. The space creation, shot versatility and distribution, and degree of difficulty at which Whitmore can convert with efficiency is a massive selling point for me.

The statistical comparison between Whitmore and Miller’s scoring is much closer than one might think. Miller shot 38.4% from deep on 276 total 3PA, with 83% of makes being assisted. Both shot poorly on 2-point jumpers, with Miller 33.3% of his 93 non-rim attempts inside the arc — only 3.3% of them were assisted. From the same range, Whitmore shot 30.3%, 10-33 total, with 50% being assisted. Finally, Whitmore bested Miller at the rim, making 65.8% of his 114 total rim attempts with 28 dunks. Miller finished at 57.8% at the rim with 23 dunks.

Barely a quarter of Miller’s shot attempts at the rim were assisted and Whitmore got help on 41.3% of his makes at the rim; Miller probably gets the slight edge as a college shooter/scorer overall, but that’s kind of the point. It’s only going to get more difficult for Miller to produce in the NBA on a similar shot diet, even with his abundance of skill. He’ll need to create space to make these looks easier, something he’s struggled with. Nate Oats’ offensive system at Alabama strongly shies away from mid-range attempts, but if it were truly a reliable skill, a projected top-three pick would’ve shown efficient creation at the second level in a sample size as large as an entire season.

Whitmore, in nearly half as many minutes played on the season as Miller, applied his explosiveness to generate more dunks and higher-quality looks at the rim; all while converting on an even higher degree of difficult shots from beyond the arc. Both of them can hit through contests and use an array of step-backs to evade closeouts on the perimeter. Whitmore is just more successful with those same moves inside the arc, a strong indicator of physical ability that aligns with the athletic shot-makers littered throughout the NBA.

In the league, Miller is going to win with skill, finesse and length. Whitmore is going to win with power, explosiveness and finesse. To me, it’s more worthwhile to gamble on the latter opposed to the former at the top of the draft.

Tier 4: Lottery talent, quality starters to high-level rotation pieces

The mid-to-late lottery is my favorite portion of this draft class. It boggles my mind that throughout the cycle, this class has gone from being renowned for it’s depth of talent to being viewed as an average class outside the top-three.

For example: plenty of mock drafts have Brice Sensabaugh dropping well outside the lottery, sometimes into the second round. Sensabaugh just averaged 16/5 per game on high volume with 48/41/83 shooting splits as a teenager in a loaded Big Ten conference. These are the other underclassmen with the same shooting production as Sensabaugh since 2008:

Solid company if you ask me. The level at which Sensabaugh dominated one of the best conferences in college basketball as a 19-year-old is almost unthinkable, especially since his knee was bothering him all season. I think it’s reasonable to project him as a 20 point-per-game scorer by the end of his rookie contract if all goes well.

Playmaking as a whole — offensively and defensively — was a weak spot at Ohio State in terms of production, but he drew enough attention to force doubles and help at times, and often made fast, quality passing reads in those situations. There’s just so much to build off with Sensabaugh, and the skills he’s already developed are incredibly impactful for wings in the NBA.

There are three other prospects in the top-14 that I’m higher on than most: Ausar Thompson, Leonard Miller and Jalen Hood-Schifino. Let’s do a quick-hitter on each of them and then we can get out of here and buckle down for the draft in *checks notes* 48 hours.

Thompson: NBA off-guard/wing, can make the right passing reads out of screens and has a tight handle for a secondary/tertiary ball-handler. Not as explosive and doesn’t glide like Amen, but is the better rebounder/shot-blocker/interior player. Similar stop-and-go athleticism but has improved as a shooter and projects more favorably than Amen in that area currently, pull-up mechanics look good in FT-line range. Great instincts as a defender, absurd shot-blocker for a guard that can move to disrupt any passing lane or shot. Still needs to learn to shoot consistently despite having a better jumper at this stage than Amen. Easily projectable as an All-Defense wing, if he can shoot he’s one of the league’s best role-players. Doesn’t have the threat as a passer than Amen has and isn’t as explosive/quick with his first step but still a 90th percentile athlete with size and maybe an above-average C&S jumper from range in time. Was the more heralded prospect of the Twins in high school until Amen blew up in OTE.

Hood-Schifino: Big lead guard, bounce pass extraordinaire. Efficient shooter from deep early on but trailed off a bit, jumper looks clean on C&S and gets it off easily off the bounce over contests. 117:89 assist-to-turnover ratio for a good IU team, great bet as an initiator/secondary option as 3-level scorer. Has some pretty ugly turnovers at times but I think it’s a product of a young player knowing he can make difficult/crazy passes rather than a lack of vision, needs to iron out decision-making. Made a lot old school mid-range jumpers off pindowns/curls at the elbow/FT line in Mike Woodson’s offense. Shows excellent pace and craft as a ball-screen operator, keeps a low, tight dribble, has the bend/quickness to get around defenders, into creases and take advantage of angles to get to his spots in the MR and paint, also throws great non-conventional passes (bounce passes esp.). Might need some G League time to start rookie year and adjust to NBA defense/scoring but could make quick strides a la Mark Williams or Jaden Hardy after building a foundation of confidence.

Miller: Truly unique prospect, weird play style but in the best way. Feathery touch out to like 25 feet but inconsistent mechanics, has skinny legs however a light lower body affords him a lot of bend and flexibility when making pivots and hard plants on drives, impressive deceleration as a ball-handler for his size. Combined with savvy use of length/fakes/craft around basket and the vision is clear if the C&S shot comes around — when he’s on, makes barely touch the net, and he’s got a nice floater game off 2-3 dribbles attacking closeouts or 1-on-1. Turned into a little things/dirty work player for Ignite this year after running the show in high school, really bought into a role and became a double-double machine, like that for his NBA projection. Could be an oversized 3 or tall 4 that hustles, gets stocks/deflections, rebounds, creates for himself and acts as a connector piece at his peak. Does a lot of big man things on the interior while offering some passing, energetic two-way play and untapped scoring/creation upside. Still only 19 and has adapted to and succeeded in multiple roles, one of which was in a professional league against many players far older than him.

Well, that’s a wrap on the 2023 draft cycle. It was really fun to evaluate this deep class of prospects. I feel like I learned a lot and got much better in my analysis and can see more than I did when scouting previous classes. As always, thank you to the At The Hive community for reading and engaging with our draft content. You guys are the best. For as fun as it can be, hopefully we won’t be debating top-three draft choices again for a long time.

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