Contrary to what many fans have been led to believe, and despite the fact that Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have seemingly separated themselves into a league of their own, the 2023 NBA Draft is far from being a two-man draft class. It's becoming increasingly clear that the teams trending toward the bottom of the standings have chosen a good year to do so, as the lottery will be stacked with players having tangible star-level potential.
Last season, we took a "no stone unturned" approach to the draft and it ultimately worked out well, as we were able to anticipate the Spurs selecting Jeremy Sochan 9th overall after his gradual rise into lottery discussions. So, we're taking a similar approach this season. While many are (rightfully) naming Wembanyama and Henderson as the best possible selections for the Spurs, a "Wembanyama/Henderson or bust" mentality simply sells some of the draft's other top prospects far too short.
Don't worry--we're going to be talking about both Wembanyama and Henderson at great length later on in the season. But this, along with future monthly "heat check" installments will focus on some of the other potential options the Spurs will have toward the top of the draft board. The brief updates we give about each player can be thought of as bite-sized progress reports. If they're listed under "stock falling," we'll explain why they may be falling in certain mock drafts and big boards. If they're listed under "stock rising" that's your cue to start paying a bit more attention to them moving forward.
Let's not waste any more time: this is December's installment of Spurs prospect heat check.
Dariq Whitehead - Duke
Don't let the 10-2 record fool you: considering the amount of talent on this Duke basketball team, they haven't been off to the best start. Dariq Whitehead appears to be this season's iteration of AJ Griffin in that he's been forced to re-find his shotmaking and general confidence after coming back from injury in the preseason. While the flashes of what originally made him a top-5-caliber prospect are still there, he's been coming along slowly at best.
Whitehead is easily someone that could return to having that top-5 buzz that he entered the season with, so we'll still be watching. But he simply needs to be more aggressive and productive on the court for that to happen.
Dereck Lively II - Duke
Whitehead's teammate, Dereck Lively, has had similar struggles to begin his season, but he may not be able to re-enter high lottery discussions quite as easily as Whitehead can. He had a bit of a return to form in his latest game against Maryland-Eastern Shore, posting 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks, but the three-point shooting he reportedly had in his bag hasn't shown itself at all so far this season. If Lively's offensive game never materializes, expect him to keep falling down draft boards.
Anthony Black - Arkansas
Arkansas' Anthony Black has been outstanding for the Razorbacks ever since finding his footing at the Maui Invitational this past month and has shot up boards as a result. I've always been high on Black's defensive instincts and his feel for the game on both ends of the floor, but his touch around the rim and general shooting aptitude have been a very pleasant surprise so far.
The shooting is based on a very small sample size, so I still have plenty of reservations about that part of his game, but he's an outstanding passer, practically lives in the paint on offense, and is a suffocating point of attack defender racking up nearly 2 steals per game. If we continue to see this kind of play from him, he'll undoubtedly be selected in the lottery and could be one of the draft's best point guards outside of Scoot Henderson.
Keyonte George - Baylor
I had the opportunity to see Keyonte George in person this past month, and he was and still is just as good as advertised. We had him rated a bit higher here to start the season compared to many outlets, and it's because I've believed in his defensive and playmaking abilities since his time at IMG Academy. He's risen up draft boards lately precisely because those skills are now being highlighted early on in his freshman campaign with Baylor.
George is a part of a stacked Baylor backcourt rotation, so he'll have to remain productive as a scorer for him to be considered high in the lottery. Additionally, his showing more signs of life as a space-creator on offense will likely convince more teams that his scoring will translate to the next level. This is what we'll be paying the closest attention to moving forward.
GG Jackson - South Carolina
Many of the questions I had about South Carolina's GG Jackson revolved around his role and his ability to step in as a primary scorer for the Gamecocks at only 17 years old, but through eight games, he's shown an incredible amount of promise. At 6'9" and roughly 215 pounds, he looks and moves shockingly similar to a pre-growth spurt Giannis Antetokounmpo, but operates more like an oversized wing with NBA shooting range on offense.
Jackson's shooting range, ballhandling ability for his size, and defensive versatility are what gives him such tantalizing potential and are why he's been shooting up draft boards. The name of the game for him moving forward will be consistency. If he can continue to score at a high clip, defend multiple positions with ease, and perhaps even improve his playmaking a bit, a team toward the top of the draft board will surely take a flier on him.
Cam Whitmore - Villanova
Full disclosure: I'm more excited about Villanova's Cam Whitmore than anybody else on this list at the time of writing. He's only played three games in a Villanova Wildcats uniform as he's only just returning from a thumb injury, but it doesn't look like he's missed a beat. In his past two games, he's averaged 20 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal per game. He's been shooting the ball confidently, getting to the rim with ease, and showing impressive footwork and ballhandling.
The biggest surprise thus far, though, has been his disciplined defense. While he'll occasionally let his man get away from him while away from the ball, when he's defended the ballhandler, he's stayed low, shown good lateral quickness, can flip his hips quickly to change direction, and keeps his chest square. If he continues this impressive two-way for the rest of his season, he'll be a surefire top-5 pick.