The four prospects who could break up the 2023 NBA draft’s Big Three


Any discussion of the top prospects in the 2023 NBA draft has primarily focused on three names — Victor Wembanyama, Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson. Wembanyama and Henderson jumped out of the gates early as the presumptive top two picks, while Miller joined them as the college basketball season moved on. All three remain at the center of the conversation now that the draft order has been set.

For NBA evaluators, the next two weeks ahead of the draft June 22 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be crucial. Workouts, off-court intel, medicals and deep film sessions will help determine the rest of their draft boards, especially as they attempt to decipher which players could end up exceeding expectations and emerging as All-Stars from outside the top three.

When the results of the 2023 draft are assessed many years from now, will the top three picks prove to be the top three players selected? History would suggest that’s unlikely.

With that in mind, ESPN’s NBA draft experts Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo evaluated four players who are plausible candidates to break up the presumed Big Three hegemony long-term, listing the reasons each could break through, thinking about why they might fail and discussing the potential teams that could be the best fits for helping them reach their full potential.


Amen Thompson | Overtime Elite | Top 100 rank: No. 4

Why Amen might be better than the Big Three

Amen Thompson has a higher ceiling than any prospect in this class not named Wembanyama. Combine Jaylen Brown‘s physical tools, Jaden Ivey‘s change of gear explosiveness, Andre Iguodala‘s court vision/passing and OG Anunoby’s defensive versatility, and you have a (perhaps hyperbolic) picture of what makes Thompson the most fascinating prospect in this class.

Thompson is 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan and a perfectly proportioned 214-pound frame that has packed on 15 pounds in the past 18 months and still could easily add 10-15 more in due time. He’s tested anywhere from a 42 to 45-inch vertical leap in the past, helping him average more dunks per game than any player in the draft. While he’s not a polished ball handler or decision-maker yet in half-court settings, his ability to accelerate from zero to 100 from a standstill is unparalleled. He combines that with superb body control, footwork, dexterity and creativity using long-stride Eurosteps and finishing around the basket with either hand, making him unstoppable once he gets downhill. When his first move is cut off, he can stop and start, switch hands, use sharp crossovers and accelerate again to overpower defenders in the lane and draw fouls. He finished 65% of his 2-point attempts this season, more than 11% better than his brother, Ausar, in no small part due to his extraordinary transition scoring ability, where he converted an astounding 87% of his 2-point attempts this season, per Synergy Sports Tech (Ausar hit 73%) while drawing quite a few free throws with his punishing frame.

Billed as more of the point guard of the twins, Amen’s unselfishness, live-dribble passing and ability to utilize both sides of the floor from his superior vantage points seeing over the top of defenses separate him from other physical marvels in his mold we’ve seen in the past. Right now that manifests itself more in highlight reel fashion — with some absolutely jaw-dropping flashes of raw talent — than with great consistency, as his decision-making is a major work in progress. He doesn’t have a consistent means of beating defenders in the half court, struggling when forced to his weaker left hand, settling for too many midrange pull-ups and being too turnover-prone due to his often-adventurous style of play.

Despite his obvious talent as a passer, it’s hard to call him a great game manager at this stage in half-court situations as a lead guard, especially operating out of pick-and-roll where he has significant room to grow. Nevertheless, he vividly shows you his talent with the way he throws skip passes to open shooters in the opposite corner, makes high-level touch passes, throws two-handed outlets the length of the floor and drives and dishes in simple fashion after moving the defense.

Amen has All-NBA type upside defensive as well. He’s not consistent in this area either, but shows extraordinary ability picking up opponents at half court and sticking to them like glue, closing out ferociously on the perimeter, blocking jumpers, flying into passing lanes, going out of his area for rebounds and generally wreaking havoc with his speed, quickness getting off his feet, instincts and length. His somewhat casual nature works against him at times, especially off the ball where he has too many sleepy moments, but the way he can turn his hips, recover and get back into plays suggests incredible potential if he can dial up the intensity more consistently.

Why Amen might fail

While he’s made progress with his jumper this season (making nearly twice as many 3s in OTE-play, while upping his free throw percentage from 51% to 67%), this is still far from a strength of his at the moment. He still looks reluctant to take open 3-pointers and his mechanics really waver from game to game, even if he’s had some encouraging moments, which could make it difficult for him to play off the ball. Although his ceiling is higher than almost any player in this class, his floor is much lower than some of his peers at the top of the draft.

He’s a tricky basketball fit who needs a forward-thinking front office and coaching staff to fully unlock. You can certainly envision a world where his inconsistent pick-and-roll prowess, decision-making, perimeter shooting and occasional lapses defensively are frowned upon by a coaching staff hyper-focused on winning as many games as possible in the short-term. If not given the freedom to make mistakes and explore the depths of his talent as a big point guard, there’s a lot of downside if he ends up in the wrong situation, especially if he loses confidence or doesn’t improve his jumper sufficiently.

Who’s the best early first-round fit for Amen?

The way the draft board lined up on lottery night didn’t do Amen many favors. The Houston Rockets (if the James Harden rumors are to be believed), Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic or Indiana Pacers aren’t situations where you could envision the keys to a franchise being turned over to him, which I believe is the best way for him to reach his full potential as a prospect. Washington at No. 8 looks like a great situation potentially — if its new front office can stomach a full-blown rebuild (a question mark pending the long-term status of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma). If not, Utah at No. 9, with a gaping hole in the backcourt and a sufficiently long timeline from ownership to take a home run swing on a talent of this nature, also stands out. Even though Amen is the fourth-best prospect in this class in my estimation, taking a little tumble on draft night might be the best outcome for his long-term outlook. — Jonathan Givony


Ausar Thompson | Overtime Elite | Top 100 rank: No. 5

Why Ausar might be better than the Big Three

Ausar shares many of the same attributes as his older (by one minute) brother, with a higher floor and more two-way consistency that should make it easier for him to operate alongside other good players without having a team built around him — giving him an easier runway to find early success.

He’s also 6-7 in shoes with a 7-foot wingspan at a chiseled 218 pounds. While not quite as vertically explosive as his brother, he’s tremendously gifted athletically in his own right, capable of putting significant pressure on opposing defenders in downhill situations with his size and strength, especially in the open floor, drawing fouls in bunches just by virtue of his tools. While Amen loves going around defenders with his herky-jerky footwork, tremendous body control and slithery movement, Ausar is better at finishing over the top of opponents by bulldozering through, hanging in the air and finishing impressively through contact at the apex. He’s similarly an unselfish passer who shows real creativity and imagination with his ball movement which bodes very well for his long-term development thanks to his strong feel for the game.

Ausar’s ballhandling and finishing are less refined than his brother, especially with his weaker left hand, and he often deferred to him as an initiator and shot-creator this season, even if he also shows superb flashes of ability playing off double-crossovers and hesitation moves in smaller doses. His decision-making is a major work in progress, as he commits too many unforced errors and only converted 40% of his 2-point attempts in the half court (Amen was at 47% while getting to the free throw line more than twice as often).

With that said, his outlook as a shooter looks much rosier, as his perimeter shooting made impressive strides this season, especially late in the year, where he finished off making 15-for-34 (44%) 3-pointers in four playoff contests, averaged 22.5 points per game and made some huge clutch plays. His mechanics are much improved and he even shows flashes of making jumpers off movement, be it with iso stepbacks or pullups versus unders, with increasingly deep range and a quicker release on his spot-up jumpers.

Defensively, he’s the one who was usually tasked with guarding the point of attack, as he’s absolutely superb at getting over the top of screens, smothering opposing ball handlers with tremendous mirroring ability using his quick feet and sharp hip turns. He’ll also have some moments of relaxing off the ball excessively, but the way he covers ground ferociously for steals, blocks and rebounds is absolutely special from a movement standpoint, giving him significant potential here long-term.

Why Ausar might fail

Even with the improvement he showed, Ausar still only converted 26% of his 3-pointers (and 65% of his free throws) this season when adding in the six games OTE played as part of an ambitious pre-season schedule against international pro teams, exactly the same as the year before. His struggles in those preseason settings — where the gap between him and his twin brother looked especially wide with how poorly he shot the ball — were somewhat alarming. To his credit, he rebounded and played significantly better late in the year — winning regular season and playoff MVP honors at OTE — coming up with several sensational performances in games with defenses geared on slowing him down and exposing his weaknesses. Those games played a big role in several NBA teams moving him ahead of Amen on their draft boards, especially considering his more seamless positional fit with his superior shooting mechanics and willingness to take and miss outside shots. But he’ll have to continue to build on that and show that he can become a consistent shooter as his career moves along.

Who’s the best early first-round fit for Ausar?

A team like Orlando — who doesn’t need him to be a primary ball handler from day one, but still has plenty of minutes and opportunity in the backcourt — looks like a great fit. Early on in his career, Ausar can focus on being the type of wing-stopper the team lacks at the moment — sliding between point guards and power forwards — while also providing capable floor spacing, unselfish ball movement and transition scoring, things that are in his wheelhouse and could certainly help the Magic turn the corner from rebuilding to playoff contenders. As his ballhandling, pull-up jumper and decision-making continue to evolve, there’s considerable room for growth alongside the likes of Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. — Givony


Cam Whitmore | Villanova | Top 100 rank: No. 6

Why Whitmore might be better than the Big Three

From a statistical perspective, Whitmore’s freshman season at Villanova was underwhelming, with averages of just 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals and less than an assist per game. After building up buzz with strong performances at last summer’s FIBA Americas U18 Championship, Whitmore never quite delivered on the hype. He dealt with injuries early on in what became a difficult transition year for the Wildcats following the retirement of esteemed coach Jay Wright.

When projecting a prospect’s ceiling, struggles always have to be contextualized — and in Whitmore’s case, there’s still quite a bit for teams to get excited about. He’s an excellent athlete on the wing with a 40.5-inch max vertical, solid positional height at 6-5 ¾ barefoot and a 235-pound frame that can dole out punishment to defenders and allow him to play a bit bigger than his size. And despite a somewhat mercurial season, he was reasonably efficient in the end, shooting 57% on 2s, 34% from 3 and 70% at the foul line. If you forgive the inconsistency and look at Whitmore’s physical profile, shooting potential and room to develop more game off the dribble and think he becomes a more consistent defender, the entire package portends significant upside considering how much time he has to figure out things.

Whitmore doesn’t turn 19 until July 8, leaving a long developmental runway ahead to stack on skills. At times, evaluators can be quick to slap the label of disappointment on prospects who don’t quite deliver on the momentum they carry into their college seasons — but if you step back from that a little bit, it’s worth noting he’s actually been on a somewhat steady growth trajectory for a couple seasons. He’s improved quite a bit as a jump shooter and shot-creator from when I first saw him in his AAU days, flashing some occasional ability to run pick-and-roll. And he’s become an impressive athlete, particularly in the open court, and a solid defender when locked in due to his physical strength, balance and quickness in tight spaces.

All that considered, Whitmore’s high-end development outcomes are primarily tied to his scoring potential, as well as his ability to tap into his considerable physical gifts and translate them into efficient offense. When he gets ahead of steam, it’s extremely difficult for defenders to get him off his line to the basket. He should be able to catch and shoot reliably and can hit shots off one or two dribbles. And you can argue the spacing was suboptimal in college, whereas the NBA’s style of play should lead to easier opportunities to score in transition and more space to attack in the half court. Optimizing Whitmore with a quality point guard could also help quite a bit.

While it’s important to understand that Whitmore’s overall game remains a work in progress in most areas, his overall profile sets a pathway for him to wind up as one of the best scorers in this draft class, and one who should hold his own defensively and on the glass. He’s ready for the league physically and has to land somewhere that can help him harness it. Through an optimistic lens, there are futures where he outkicks his potentially lofty draft slot.

play

0:26

Cam Whitmore flies down the lane for massive one-handed jam for Nova

Cam Whitmore puts an exclamation point on Villanova’s upset win over Creighton with a massive dunk.

Why Whitmore might fail

Having said that, there are also some holes that are relatively easy to poke in Whitmore’s profile. Despite his general physical gifts, his wingspan isn’t overwhelming relative to his true height at 6-8 ½ , something that isn’t a deal-breaker, but also doesn’t place him in the upper tier of NBA wings when it comes to tools. Whitmore got to the foul line infrequently for someone reputed as a downhill scorer, averaging a meager 2.5 attempts per game in college. And his rebounding numbers — something that should theoretically be a strength for a player as strong and vertically gifted as he is — were also underwhelming, averaging just 7.8 boards per 40 minutes.

Teams have lamented Whitmore’s sporadic motor and energy to an extent. They will want to see higher levels of engagement from him on a game-to-game basis in hopes of juicing that production in a meaningful way. His defensive awareness can be better, and he can come off as a bit languid at times. But the most critical knock here is that Whitmore may lack the elite feel commonly found in the NBA’s best players. Most rookies don’t have it right away and it can be forgiven to an extent due to his age, but there’s also an intangible quality to this argument, a certain level of aptitude for playing with others that young players sometimes have or don’t.

Whitmore has shown flashes of passing here and there, but averaged just 1.1 assists per 40, a shockingly low number for a player who was among his team’s leaders in usage. And while the team’s struggles can’t be pinned purely on him, it’s fair to argue that Whitmore doesn’t make teammates much better at this stage of his development. There’s often a ceiling for these types of non-playmaking scorers in the NBA, particularly in the current era where so many of the league’s stars boast incredible mental acuity in the flow of the game. That type of elite aptitude is a trait that often manifests early in a player’s career, to an extent.

If Whitmore doesn’t develop much as a decision-maker or as a shot-creator — his handle is just average at this stage when initiating offense for himself, and his jumper has to keep improving — he can certainly still have a long career in the NBA. But without a significant leap in either area, it might be much more difficult for him to end his career as one of the three top players in this draft class. On the other hand, if he finds a way to do both, watch out.

Who’s the best early first-round fit for Whitmore?

I personally like Detroit as a landing spot, due in part to the fact he fits several needs — the Pistons would benefit from his mix of scoring and athleticism and need help on the wing. He’d likely benefit from playing with Cade Cunningham and would be able to keep up with Jaden Ivey’s speed in transition. The fit here is pretty clean, with a new coaching staff coming in under Monty Williams eager to turn things around.

The Rockets have a number of shot-creators and would be able to plug Whitmore in at forward, but Houston also looks like a too-many-cooks situation, with young scorers already on the roster who need touches and minutes. Perhaps a cleaner fit might be found in Indiana at No. 7, or in Utah should he fall No. 9. But Whitmore’s development and ability to earn offensive usage commensurate with his talent will fall more on his own capacity to improve than any circumstances he lands in. The range of outcomes here is pretty wide, but could be rewarding wherever he’s ultimately selected. — Woo


Anthony Black | Arkansas | Top 100 rank: No. 8

Why Black might be better than the Big Three

Black’s name has been floating around front offices all season as an unlikely top-five prospect in this class, dating back to his November breakout in Maui. While it’s not the most widely held opinion — it’s probably not wrong to label Black as a bit of a hipster pick in this conversation — he will enter the NBA with a number of traits teams are constantly hunting for that suit a modern, positionless style of play. I wound up seeing Arkansas live four separate times this season and walked away increasingly enamored with the player Black could become.

At 6-5 ¾ barefoot and 210 pounds, Black brings excellent size and a sturdy build on the perimeter and should have a degree of physical advantage in the NBA. While he’s nominally labeled as a point guard, a role he certainly possesses the requisite feel and passing chops to play at a high level, I actually think the highest value outcomes with him lie in his ability to use those skills operating out of multiple roles all over the floor. His playmaking is a big part of where his upside lies: He has access to a wide variety of pass types at his size, and for my money, he’s one of the smartest half-court players in the draft, capable of playing on and off the ball, willing to make the extra pass and understand how to relocate.

Arkansas’ spacing was suboptimal at times, and while the results weren’t purely positive, Black seemed to rise to the occasion most of the time, making real strides as an individual scorer, a major development NBA teams weren’t necessarily expecting to see. A lot of that stemmed from a noticeable growth in confidence and aggression, coming from a player whose tendencies had more commonly been to defer rather than score. His scoring upside still isn’t as immense as the other players in his peer group — he may never average as many points as Miller or Henderson — but he’s become a better finisher, has learned to use his frame to his advantage and should be able to create mismatches effectively as his body continues to mature.

A big part of the argument here is that Black is also an excellent defender, with good feet and balance making him a good lateral mover. He should be able to capably defend smaller guards and bigger wings, and also adds size on the floor as a team defender, where he’s disruptive with his hands and guards well vertically despite a somewhat average wingspan. He’s already more advanced with better habits on that end than the other players in this conversation.

At the end of the day, betting on Black to become a top-three player in this class is a bigger bet on his intangible qualities than anything else: The archetype he fits as an oversized, positionless perimeter cog who helps drive winning with his play on both ends is quite difficult to find, and you can point to recent draftees such as Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels as the hallmark for the type of role Black will play. He likely won’t evolve into a superstar scorer, but there are outcomes where he’s indispensable to a team’s success, able to fit into every type of lineup and play with all types of teammates and enhance the environment around him. It’s also worth noting his development path has certainly been encouraging; Black only began focusing full-time on basketball a few years ago, as he was previously a multisport athlete and standout football player. Taking that unusual pathway, without playing on a major shoe circuit team, to leading all college freshmen in minutes, may point to some untapped, outlier type of upside.

play

0:18

Anthony Black slams it home with authority

Anthony Black slams it home with authority

Why Black might fail

The elephant in the room here — a risk factor that could ultimately hamstring every other argument in his favor to an extent — is that Black’s jump shot is still a question mark. He shot 30% from three on 2.6 attempts per game and 70% from the foul line on 190 total attempts, a below-average shooting profile that’s backed up by his unconventional shooting mechanics and the somewhat flat trajectory of his ball. He certainly got better this season in that department, showing increased confidence to get attempts up and play through his misses, but Black is still a ways from being the type of shooter teams have to account for at all times. His ability to toggle between roles and positions without the ball in his hands will stem to an extent from how much gravity he eventually creates as a floor-spacer, and whether he can make defenses respect him.

There are also some valid concerns with the way Black creates shots in the paint, where he can be a bit more size-reliant than skill-reliant in general, wielding his frame to create space against defenders but lacking advanced counters when attacking bodies downhill. Getting all the way to the rim more frequently and being able to harness his athleticism better will be crucial, something I expect will improve as Black becomes more physically mature and develops core strength.

It can sometimes be a tricky sell high in the draft to gamble on prospects with a history of shooting reticence, who could feasibly revert to those tendencies when faced with adversity in the NBA. Any way you cut it, Black falls into that bucket, something that will likely keep him out of the top five on draft night. It’s not a given his scoring continues to improve, and the premium on shooting makes this a pretty pivotal swing skill that gives him a wide range of outcomes. You’re betting on his feel, intrinsic strengths and capacity to improve, but it’s still a bet, and his pathway to being one of the best players in this draft class requires a bit more vision and guts, at least if you’re taking him early.

Who’s the best early first-round fit for Black?

The cleanest fits for Black are at the back of the top 10, with Washington and Utah both in need of playmaking and operating on timelines that would afford him time to grow as a scorer, make mistakes and build confidence. The Houston-Detroit-Orlando-Indiana foursome picking between Nos. 4-7 are all hoping to take steps forward, if not outright make the playoffs next season, and plugging in and properly developing someone who’s a below-average shooter in those situations becomes a taller task. If playoff urgency were no object, I’d like Black quite a bit in Orlando, giving them additional size and feel that would blend well with Banchero and Wagner. — Woo

Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service used by NBA, NCAA and international teams.

Jeremy Woo is an NBA analyst specializing in prospect evaluation and the draft. He was previously a staff writer and draft insider at Sports Illustrated.





Source link

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

0FansLike
3,912FollowersFollow
0SubscribersSubscribe
- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles