2023 NBA Draft: Eastern Conference Draft Grades


Atlanta Hawks: B

15. Kobe Bufkin, Michigan
39. Mouhamed Gueye, Washington St.
46. Seth Lundy, Penn State

Given the contractual commitment to Trae Young, the investment in Dejounte Murray in the form of draft pick compensation where two more unprotected first round picks are still due (2025 and 2027) as well as a potential pick swap in 2026, and a four extention given to Bogdan Bogdanovic, a smaller guard who likes to operate in the pick-and-roll did not seem like it would be high priority. That is not to say Kobe Bufkin is anything less than a good prospect. His season really turned in December when teammate Jaelin Llewellyn hurt his knee and went out for the season. To that point, Bufkin was struggling with his shot and finding comfort in his role. He then was able to take a greater role, and emerged as a prospect. Over his final 25 games, he averaged 15 PPG, 51 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three along with 4.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.3 steals. Add to that him being a plus athlete, and he is worthy of the 15th pick. The concern in Atlanta is whether he will find himself in a role similar to one at Michigan. In Atlanta, the question is whether he will be able to find a similar groove. In the 2nd round, Lundy and Gueye make sense as fliers. Mouhamed Gueye is 6’11” with a 7’3.25” wingspan, but thin as a rail and raw. He seems like a great candidate for a two-way contract where he can work with the main team in the off-season to get stronger, and work with the G-League in season to get games and individual development. As a 6’5” wing with a big wingspan, Lundy has the profile of a 3-D wing. If his shot developed earlier in his college career, he probably would have entered. As it is, he probably has to start on a two-way, and hope an opportunity opens up.

Brooklyn Nets: B

21. Noah Clowney, Alabama
22. Dariq Whitehead, Duke
51. Jalen Wilson, Kansas

Clowney makes sense in Brooklyn as he seems like a Nic Claxton starter kit. Much like Claxton, Clowney is long, lean, athletic, can protect the rim, and move his feet. While Claxton has regressed as a shooter since getting to the NBA, one hopes Clowney can develop that aspect of his game. He did attempt 120 three pointers this past season, though only 28 percent went in, but the form is promising. With Dariq Whitehead, Brooklyn is betting on his prep pedigree, age, and frame with the hope his less than stellar season at Duke could simply be written off as a result of a number of injuries and illnesses preventing him from showing his best self. He will only turn 19 in August, so he is young for the class. While he only played 20 minutes per game and averaged just 8.3 PPG, he did shoot 42.9 percent from three. Add this to “The PROFILE” as a 6’7” wing with a 6’10.25” wingspan, and you have a number of reasons for Brooklyn to talk themselves into him. Jalen Wilson went from being a key role player on the national champion as a sophomore to a 1st team All-American as a junior. He is a good athlete with requisite wing size, but the reason he fell into the 2nd round is that, despite flashes, he has not become an efficient three-point shooter. Assuming he starts out on a two-way contact, if he can develop his shot in Long Island, he has a chance. Unfortunately, for wings who have to make it as role players, their games often get simplified.

Charlotte Hornets: B

2. Brandon Miller, Alabama
27. Nick Smith Jr., Arkkansas
31. James Nnaji, Nigeria
41. Amari Bailey, UCLA

As a player, Miller fits the type of player most coveted in the NBA at the moment. He is 6’9”, athletic, can create for himself, and can shoot. This is who the NBA wants, but that infamous night did take place and it is yet to be fully resolved.  Considering the team already was dealing with a player with an assault charge, it was a bit of a surprise that they would opt for Miller over Scoot. While Scoot is smaller, he has star potential. Also, his character and behavior has been exemplary with G-League Ignite. Bridges and Miller are both talented players, and should help them get out of the East cellar, but they come with a lot of baggage for a franchise that has not been good in a long time. Nick Smith had an injury-plagued season at Arkansas. He was perceived as a possible high lottery pick before the college season, but only got in 17 games and really only had a two-and-a-half week stretch where he was in a prominent role with the Razorbacks. Can he get his knee to a place where he can be the plus-defender and quick-creative wing he was pegged to be going into college? James Nnaji aka “Baby Boyombo” is a big developmental center at a good Barca club where he will presumably continue so that can happen off the books. At 6’11” and a reported 7’5” wingspan, he has potential as a rim-protecting center with some lateral movement skills, but he is a bad free throw shooter whose range is the rim. Amari Bailey was a 5-star recruit who went to a veteran UCLA team, and for much of the season played a solid complementary role. When Jaylen Clark went down, Bailey stepped up in a major way. Over the final 6 games, he averaged 17 PPG, 59% from the floor and 47% from three. It is a small sample, but there is an argument had Clark been hurt a month earlier that Bailey would have been taken well before #41 because he proved that he was capable of a bigger role.

Chicago Bulls: B-

35. Julian Phillips, Tennessee

The Bulls traded into the 2nd round to acquire Julian Phillips. He was the best leaper at the Draft Combine, and has great length for a wing. While he is hard-working defensively, it is hard to see him getting on the floor as a slight wing who did not show an ability to make shots away from the rim. He was 30% on two-point jumpers, and 24% from three. He is tailor-made for a year with a G-League team. In a way, he enters the NBA world a lot like Derrick Jones Jr. did, but the Bulls were not the team who developed Jones. In the past, the Bulls front office has spoken of utilizing their G-League affiliate to develop players, but have yet to have a player developed at Windy City to come into their main roster. Phillips should be a good test case. Given that Maxwell Lewis was on the board, and considering their need to add a shooter, it is also fair to wonder whether prioritizing the tantalizing athleticism of Phillips over a good athlete who can shoot like Lewis was the right choice.

Cleveland Cavaliers: B

49.. Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan

At pick #49, many of the concerns about Bates as a prospect are negated, because the level of investment is not great. One stunning fact is that his sprint and lane agility times at the Draft Combine were worse than Zach Edey, but the biggest one is that volume shooters are not the kind of 2nd round picks who stick in the league. You probably have to go back to Lou Williams and Monta Ellis to find prospects whose strength was as volume-shooting perimeter players went to on have successful NBA careers, Bates is a promising shooter. Can the Cavaliers transition him to being a role player? Given where he went as well as where the Cavs are with their roster, it is a worthwhile roll of the dice.

Detroit Pistons: B+

5. Ausar Thompson, Overtime Elite
25. Marcus Sasser, Houston

It was a draft where the players individually make sense as being worthy of their slots, but does not seem to help form a balanced team. Ausar Thompson is undeniably a great athlete and defender, but has a shaky shot with less than ideal form. He is going to a team where Jaden Ivey is athletic and creative, but has a shot that is a work in progress. Cade Cunningham appeared a stellar lead-guard prospect in his rookie year and prior to his injury, but lacked a three-point shot. Killian Hayes has flashed as a point guard and defender, but has not come around as a shooter. The Pistons have a diverse collection of young big men in Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman, Marvin Bagley, and Jalen Duren, but none of them are shooters. Marcus Sasser is a tough two-way guard, but will be behind Cunningham, Ivey, and Hayes. Perhaps he is insurance should they move Hayes. The Pistons seem more concerned with talent acquisition than team building, but team success requires guys that are capable of playing together. It is easy to like the players they have acquired in this and previous couple drafts, but hard to like how it appears they will fit together.

Indiana Pacers: B

8. Jarace Walker, Houston
47. Mojave King, G League Ignite

Walker feels like a natural fit in Indiana. While only 19, he already has an NBA-ready body at 6’7” 249 lbs, a 7’2.5” wingspan, and a 38-inch vertical. On the court, he brings desire defensively and on the glass. He was deferential with what was mostly a veteran Houston team. He is a bit reminiscent of Patrick Williams in that respect where the flashes are so intriguing, but you want to see more consistency and toughness. The Pacers setup should help here. While not a great team last year, they were a very good passing team that trailed only the Nuggets and Warriors in assists per field goals made. This, along with a floor stretching center in Myles Turner should allow him to get set up well and use his size and athleticism to finish inside. Mojave King is a wing from New Zealand who spent this past season with the G-League Ignite. Of the four draft prospects on the Ignite, King was the lowest profile. He is both strong and excellent leaper, but raw. While he has long been projected as a someone who can be a 3-and-D wing, he is not a great shooter. Another year in the G-League should help.

Miami Heat: B+

18. Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA

After knocking off the #1 seed Bucks, #2 Celtics, and making the Finals with a rotation that featured 5 four-year colleges players, four of whom went undrafted, of which two of those up-transferred from DII or DIII schools, the Heat were not going to shy away from a senior. Not one who fits “THE PROFILE” as a 6’7” wing with a 6’9.5” wingspan and a 39- inch vertical following a college career concluded with as a 2nd-team All-American, 2023 Pac-12 Player of the Year, and two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive Team. The concern is that while Jaquez was one of the best mid-range shooters in the country, he has never been a consistent or high volume three-point shooter. Obviously, that will have to change for him to stick, but he seems like  a Heat “culture guy”.

Milwaukee Bucks: B

35. Andre Jackson Jr., UConn
58. Chris Livingston, Kentucky

In the 2nd round, Milwaukee traded for the draft rights to Andre Jackson and took Chris Livingston with the final pick. Both are phenomenal athletes and possess good wing size. Jackson is a solid defender and passer, but the reason he fell into the 2nd round was his inability to shoot. For him to stick in the league long-term, he will need to grow in that respect. Fortunately, the traits he does possess should make him the kind of player that coaches want to give the time to develop. Livingston’s agent seemed to maneuver his client to Milwaukee’s final pick by asking other teams not to take him, which is an odd way of operating given that late 2nd round picks are not guaranteed much. Livingston is rawer than Jackson. He was 26% on two-point jumpers and 31% on threes. It will be interesting to see whether Rich Paul’s machinations mean Livingston will be given a full NBA contract as opposed to a two-way contract. Given that Milwaukee is a veteran contending team, both should spend a good amount of time as a rookie with the Wisconsin Herd, though the Bucks have enough “rest” games where Jackson, and maybe even Livingston, could get some time in those games.

Orlando Magic: B

6. Anthony Black, Arkansas
11. Jett Howard, Michigan

Anthony Black and Jett Howard make for an interesting contrast of first round picks. If you could somehow combine their strengths, you would have a potential top 3 pick. Both fit the preferred size criteria of John Hammond by having great size for their position, but each are currently lacking a trait to make them certain all-around players. Black is a big, athletic defensive oriented point guard going to a team with Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, and Jalen Suggs. Like Fultz and Suggs, Black is not a great shooter. He has the length and defensive ability to play the 2, but it is hard to operate there if the player is not a plus-shooter. Howard, who felt like a reach at 11, is an excellent shooter, but struggled defensively as a freshman and far from overwhelming athletically. The challenge for Orlando, who now have more than 12 players aged 25-or-younger, is to find a collective identity as they move towards competitiveness. While Howard might help with their shooting, the Magic don’t seem likely to be one of the better shooting teams. Black has the length, athleticism, and desire to be a pest defensively, but it is difficult to see them becoming a top tier defensive team. The key for this draft will be whether the Magic can eventually get Black and Howard to grow into effective players on both ends.

Toronto Raptors: A-

13. Gradey Dick, Kansas

Hansel stole Zoolander’s suit! With the Raptors feeling like a team in transition this summer with Fred van Vleet becoming a free agent and Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr entering the final years of their deals, it feels as though taking Gradey Dick can do no harm. In very simplistic terms, Gradey Dick makes sense for a Raptors team with numerous long, athletic wings but finished 28th in 3-point shooting. If Fred VanVleet is not retained, they might end up regretting not taking Jalen Hood-Schifino or Kobe Bufkin, but Gradey offers a great skill that will hold regardless of how the team takes shape.

Washington Wizards: A-

7. Bilal Coulibaly, France
42. Tristan Vukcevic, Serbia

In many ways, the Wizards were always going to be a difficult spot for rookies in this class. While a team that is at ground zero will afford young players a chance to play and make mistakes, it can also be a challenging experience with constant roster turnover as the team tries to find players it wants. In Coulibaly’s case, he is also going to experience a cultural transition playing in the US for the first time. While still growing into his body, he has the frame and athleticism of a modern two-way NBA wing. Can he overcome what figures to be a challenging first few seasons to develop into that player? I am not going to bet against him, but would have felt better about it in a more stable environment. Vukcevic was the darling at the Draft Combine scrimmages as a 7-footer who can shoot, but has never played 500 minutes in a season. He played 463 with Partizan this season after 300 the year prior. He has a long ways to go. Does it make more sense for Washington to bring him over, or try to find him a team overseas where he can get to a level where he is best-suited to get minutes and develop? Given that they are at ground zero, they could give him minutes, but would it give him the best chance to make it by starting his NBA clock before being ready?


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