1. Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite
Henderson’s (pictured) draft position has been one of the constants in the 2023 class, as he’s been projected to be the 2nd or, at worst, 3rd pick all season long in mock drafts. He brings explosive athleticism and a strong, mature build for a 19 year old PG and has been a major threat as a scorer and live dribble playmaker throughout his amateur career. Many believe that he could’ve been a lottery pick pick as early as his Soph. year in HS, to illustrate just how special a prospect as he is. His production in each of the past 2 seasons in the G-League have been solid, with gradual improvements in every area. He will need to work on his commitment to defense, as well as expanding his shooting range to be more efficient from 3, but he has the physical tools to be able to match up with either guard spot due to his length, and his touch from mid-range gives optimism that he can develop into a long-range threat. If his 3-ball gets to league average territory, look out. We may be looking at the best PG prospect since Ja Morant 4 years ago who could revolutionize the position again. Henderson represents a great consolation prize for whoever selects him after the Wembanyama pick, and he’s a hot topic that quite a few teams are actively looking to trade up in the draft to select.
2. Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite
Thompson’s highlight reel is one of the most fun in the 2023 class, as he excels in transition with his outstanding speed and leaping skills and has no shortage of dunks and quick striking passes on the move. He’s a tall PG at 6’7 that uses his size to see the floor pretty well and also has the tools to be able to defend anywhere on the perimeter. His jump shot (or lack thereof) improving significantly will be a huge swing skill for him that’ll determine his ability to realize his potential, as teams will dare him to make the defense pay due to his struggles from mid-range and deep. Age and level of competition also have been concerns, as Thompson is 20 years old and often played against players as young as 16 in the Overtime Elite program, which could lead to a steep learning curve as he jumps to the pro level. He has some fundamental things to clean up on both ends of the court, particularly when the game slows down, but he’s an exciting prospect who can be impactful as an up-tempo style open court player.
3. Jalen Hood-Schifino, indiana
Hood-Schifino is a physically gifted 6’6 215 guard coming off a productive Fr. season at Indiana where he showed his strong mid-range game and prowess operating in the pick and roll, two areas where he is among the best in the 2023 Draft. He plays with both great poise and pace, and usually has a size and strength advantage when operating at the point of attack. There is a lack of athleticism and some deliberateness to his game, which can make him predictable to high IQ players at times and represents a certain cap to his upside. He’s much more built to play in a slower pace, halfcourt system than one that wants to get out and run, but at the same time, he does not pressure the rim much against set defenses and has some struggles converting around the hoop. Some teams will question whether or not it’s worth it to let him be the ball-dominant lead guard he’s most comfortable operating as considering his reliance on ball screens to get separation and due to him being a decent but not great natural playmaker for others. Still, as a big guard who can slide over and play some 2 he offers some versatility and doesn’t mind getting physical on defense either. Team fit will be a significant factor in Hood-Schifino realizing his potential at the NBA level.
4. Cason Wallace, Kentucky
Speaking of being a hound as an on-ball defender, Cason Wallace is just the guy in this group if you’re looking for a potential defensive stopper on the perimeter. He is a tough, physical player who moves his feet to deny penetration and shows the quick hands to be an impactful ball thief. He had his growing pains offensively, particularly as a scorer, but his play and facilitation were admirable considering he was thrusted into the lead guard role unexpectedly as a Fr. after some injuries changed Kentucky’s lineup. He’s not the most creative scorer or shot creator, but he is a solid decision maker who usually makes the right play, is decent hitting open shots and can match up at either guard spot.
5. Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
A ballyhooed recruit heading into the season, Smith Jr. is a bit of a wild card after an injury-plagued Fr. year at Arkansas where he flashed his immense talent but never got in a great rhythm due to missing an important stretch of the schedule. He shows great quickness and speed with the ball, and is aggressive looking to score. He will need to work on his shot selection and impacting games when his shot isn’t falling, as well as getting stronger to be better at dealing with contact and converting around the rim amongst the trees. But he has instant offense type skills and is one of the more natural shot creators in the class with his ability to break down the defense, & he can be a hound as an on-ball defense at his best as well.
6. Brandin Podziemski, Santa Clara
Podziemski has been a big climber during pre-draft workouts and is coming off a Soph. season at Santa Clara where he put up gaudy numbers and shot the lights out all season. He is 6’5 210 and able to operate both as a primary and secondary ball-handler with his feathery touch, versatile shooting profile and his crafty ability to score and make well-timed precision passes in the pick and roll game. Him leading the WCC in rebounds as a PG is one of my favorite stats of any prospect in this class. He’s not very quick and has physical & athletic limitations that will bring questions about what backcourt spot he’ll be best suited to defend at the NBA level. He also struggled to see the floor as a Fr. at Illinois, and some may see him as a 1-year wonder at the college level who feasted on inferior competition. Still, his style of play is fun and his floor spacing skills are valuable in the NBA right now. He can fit the role of a guy who can space the floor next to a ball-dominant lead guard or slide over and play some minutes on the ball himself, which makes him someone worth monitoring for overachieving success at the NBA level relative to his draft position.
7. Marcus Sasser, Houston
Sasser is among the most accomplished players in the 2023 PG group, having made a Final 4, as well as winning 116 games and 3 conference titles in his 4-year career all while being a 1st team All-American as a Sr. He likes to shoot the deep ball and can get points in bunches with his jumper, while also being a solid and competitive on-ball defender with active hands. He’s not particularly impressive from a physical or athletic standpoint, and it can show as a finisher and when looking to collapse the defense in the halfcourt. He also isn’t a true facilitator and looks to score more than pass, so his role will likely change at the next level to more of a floor spacer than traditional on-ball PG. But his pedigree and production give him opportunities to stick as a potential rotational piece who can ‘3-and-D’ in the backcourt depending on the matchups.
8. Isaiah Wong, Miami
Another decorated college guard who made some deep NCAA tournament runs and was a multiyear All-ACC performer, Wong is a solid offensive player who performs well when the lights are bright. He’s skilled and can score at all 3 levels, even if he isn’t a standout at any one aspect of his game. He can competently play both on or off the ball as well. His physical and athletic tools are both just OK at best for NBA standards, and he is a bit stuck between guard positions defensively though, which makes some of his evaluation tricky. He also could stand to be a little less streaky as a spot-up shooter. Still, he has been productive and has plenty of experience as both a primary and secondary ball-handler, which will give him a chance to stick even if he’s not a high upside prospect.
9. Jalen Pickett, Penn State
A throwback type guard who was a triple double threat as a high usage all-everything guard for Penn State as a Sr., Pickett had a monster year in 22-23. He likes to use his wide 6’4 210 body to shield and post up smaller players to get to his spots, and has major success doing so. In addition, he shot the ball pretty well from distance this season, competes on defense and is a strong presence on the glass for good measure. His style is very deliberate and at its worse can become stagnant, as he will at times pound the ball for too long and has his struggles when he can’t simply bully his matchups for positioning. He likely won’t be nearly as effective with his play style against stronger, more athletic competition as Pickett lacks athleticism himself. Factor in that Pickett is a 5th year player who will be 24 years old on opening night and it may be an uphill battle for this overachieving guard.
10. Jazian Gortman, Overtime Elite
“J Gort”, as they call him, is an athletic and slippery guard who pressures defenses with his dribble drive game as a player who can get into the lane. Has nice handles, quickness and is a fairly flashy player with plenty of crossovers and tricky layups around the basket. He also is a player who competes hard and shows very quick hands & good instincts to force turnovers on defense and is promising on the ball at the lead guard spot. From a skill perspective, he is a bit raw and will need to work on his jump shot and overall efficiency on offense, as he sometimes gets out of control and straddles with being more style than substance. He also can gamble too often defensively. Then you have the questions about the level of competition he faced with the Overtime Elite program as another 20 year old who played against guys as young as age 16. Still, Gortman clearly has upside and athleticism that is untapped and he will ultimately be given chances to show he belongs at the pro level.