Way-too-early 2023 NBA Draft big board has sky-high potential

Dariq Whitehead - Nike Hoop Summit
Dariq Whitehead - Nike Hoop Summit / Steph Chambers/GettyImages
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Spurs preseason top five: guards

. 5. . . . Cason Wallace. player. 528

A preseason watch list would not be complete without the obligatory Kentucky guard, and this year, the guy we have our eyes on is Cason Wallace. He isn’t an eye-popping athlete in any sense of the word, but he’s a pesky, hard-nosed defender, a good shooter, likely has one of the best floaters of any player featured on this list, and has proven in the past that he can be a team’s primary creator on the ball. 

With that in mind, he may begin to fall on big boards and mock drafts for similar reasons that Tyty Washington did this past draft cycle: it appears as if Wallace will be playing off-ball with Sahvir Wheeler playing as Kentucky’s lead guard. However, if Wallace can hit threes at a high rate, show that he can be a consistently good defender, and occasionally give fans a taste of his playmaking, he could be the first Kentucky guard to be selected in the lottery in quite some time.

4. Sidy Cissoko, G League Ignite

I’m exponentially higher on Sidy Cissoko than most at this point in the draft cycle, and it’s in part because he’s so difficult to classify. While many outlets currently have him listed at around 6’5” and 175 pounds, he looks to have grown to be closer to 6’7” or 6’8” and 200 pounds. He stands a chance to be one of the best passers (if not the best) in his class, is a very good transition athlete, plays aggressive defense against multiple positions, and has a motor that never seems to stop. Many will be focused on Scoot Henderson when it comes to the G-League Ignite, but I’m buying a ton of stock on Cissoko as well.

Cissoko’s swing skill that will determine how soon he’s selected, not unlike Anthony Black, is his jump shot. I’m buying in on his shot far more than Black’s, however, as he’s already shown several promising flashes of good touch and very deep range despite being relatively inefficient up to this point. 

Cissoko will likely be playing many of his minutes away from the ball with Henderson being the Ignite’s lead guard, but if Cissoko can make his presence felt on defense, continue to make winning plays with his everlasting motor, and knock down threes at a respectable clip, do not be surprised if he’s a lock for the lottery. If Dyson Daniels can be taken in the top ten, there is no doubt in my mind that Cissoko could be selected there if all goes well for him.

player. . 3. . Nick Smith Jr.. 524. .

When it comes to college basketball teams stacked with freshman talent, Duke and Arkansas immediately come to mind this season, and in Arkansas’ case, Nick Smith Jr. is a huge contributor to that talent. He’s a scrappy offensive menace that stuffed the stat sheets during his time at North Little Rock High School, posting averages of 26.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game.

His most frequent player comparison up to this point has been Jamal Murray, but if you’re asking me early on, I see more shades of Murray’s teammate Bones Hyland. Smith has a silky smooth pull-up game from three, has one of the better floaters in his draft class, and uses his speed and wiry frame to sneak layups past defenders around the rim. Having Anthony Black at his disposal to feed him the rock should only increase his already high three-level scoring upside.

On the flip side of that coin, however, Smith’s physicality (or lack thereof) may not stand up well to interior defenders at the next level. His size could additionally pose some issues for him on defense despite his long wingspan and willingness to play aggressively on that end of the floor. If Smith’s scoring translates well to the next level and he can prove that he isn’t a defensive sieve, he could flirt with the top five in the upcoming draft.

Keyonte George. 2. 460. . . . player.

Lewisville, TX native Keyonte George, much like Nick Smith, is advertised as a bucket-getting combo guard with high shooting upside. But despite the two being lumped together in conversations because of that, I think that’s where their similarities mostly end.

While Smith’s athleticism is defined by his quickness and length, George’s is defined more by power and coordination. He welcomes contact at and around the rim and makes some tough finishes through that contact with convincing regularity. But when defenders sag off of him to try and put a stop to his drives, he can hit a three with a hand in his face or hit pull-ups in the midrange. Regardless of where he scores, he is an advanced ballhandler that can get to his spots with ease.

I currently have George rated a bit higher than Smith due to his often underrated defensive upside, but the majority of that upside is far more theoretical than something that was often demonstrated in his high school play. If George can prove that he’s willing to buy into Scott Drew’s defensive scheme at Baylor, yet still remain effective as the team’s likely number-one scoring option, the sky is the limit for him.

1. Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite

To put it plainly, coming into the 2023 draft cycle, Scoot Henderson is the reason that Victor Wembanyama isn’t in a one-man race for the #1 overall pick. Henderson showed several convincing flashes of superstardom as a 17-year-old in a professional league, playing against players that often already have NBA experience. To call that level of visible talent unprecedented would likely be an understatement.

Henderson is an all-world athlete in general and may be the best functional athlete on this list perhaps barring (spoiler alert) Cam Whitmore. He’s lightning fast in the open court, incredibly shifty, strong, and is nearly just as effective of an athlete even with the ball in his hands. Henderson is just as skilled as he is athletic, though, as he made a hyper-efficient 48.6% of his 3.5 pull-up jump shots per game this past season, is a natural creator out of the pick and roll, and has shown good touch around the rim with both hands.

I’ll be closely monitoring Henderson’s defensive engagement, which he’s already shown very convincing flashes of, as well as his three-point shooting. With that in mind, though, all signs point toward Henderson having a breakout year as the G-League Ignite’s primary option and he is, in my mind, very easily the most NBA-ready guard in his class. Unless he experiences a severe dropoff, expect him to be a top-two pick.