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: bigs

. . player. . . Yohan Traore. 5. 525

Auburn’s Yohan Traore hasn’t been placed highly on too many big boards up to this point, but we fully believe that he could be a 1st-rounder if he continues to play as he did against Israel’s U20 team–which included current Washington Wizard Deni Avdija–in a preseason exhibition match this past August. 

At 6’10” and roughly 230 pounds, is a bit of a tweener, causing most of his damage on offense in the post but occasionally stretching out to the three-point line. On the other end of the floor, while not the most switchable defender, he can hold his own against bigs in the paint and occasionally cover forwards on the perimeter. Generally, he lacks some complementary skills on both ends of the floor (i.e., passing and ball handling on offense; shot-blocking on defense), so we’ll be carefully monitoring for flashes in those areas during his freshman campaign at Auburn.

4. Ousmane N’Diaye, Dragons Rhoendorf

Ousmane N’Diaye is likely the biggest sleeper candidate to be featured on this list, as he played this past season in the third-tier league (ProB) of the Bundesliga in Germany. To provide a bit more context of the level of talent in ProB, coincidentally, Jeremy Sochan played for Orange Academy of the Bundesliga’s second-tier league (ProA) before his freshman season at Baylor. With this in mind, however, N’Diaye will be moving up to play for Baskonia in the Spanish ACB.

N’Diaye will be one of the younger entrants in the coming draft and will need to add more weight to his frame to effectively defend NBA bigs, but nonetheless, the 6’11”, 210-pound big has an advanced handle for his size that could improve further, has a sweet shooting stroke from three, and a great feel for the game for his age. He has reportedly been improving rapidly over the past several years in the Bundesliga’s developmental system and may be primed for a breakout year in the ACB.

If N’Diaye can knock down threes consistently, effectively protect the rim, and perhaps even switch onto some smaller players on the defensive end, he’ll be a name worth continuing to monitor.

. 3. . . Kel'el Ware. player. 515.

When it comes to bigs in the 2023 draft, the “big names” start with Oregon’s Kel’el Ware. The big man out of Little Rock, Arkansas, who also happened to be Nick Smith Jr.’s high school teammate, is a modern stretch five with impressive athleticism both in the open court and around the rim. Not only was Ware able to showcase his convincing jump shot during the FIBA U18 Americas Championship tournament, but he was also able to show his propensity for timing blocks well and generally being a good rim protector. 

Our appeal with Ware comes down to fit. If you’re asking me, when looking for a potential frontcourt partner for Jeremy Sochan, one should look for a big man that can protect the paint (so as to allow Sochan to defend on the perimeter and/or at the point of attack), and someone that is comfortable playing on the perimeter on offense. In that way, a stretch five like Ware, on paper, is a near-perfect match to place next to Sochan.

At this point in the draft cycle, our concerns with Ware lie in his motor, engagement, and conditioning. Despite his fluid athleticism, Ware can be a bit slow on the court at times, trail a bit too much in transition, and lose focus playing defense in the half-court. If he can straighten out those issues at Oregon, he’ll be much more competitive for the second spot on this list.

. . player. 434. . . Dereck Lively II. 2

We’re going to keep the analysis on Dereck Lively pretty brief because, frankly, he profiles quite similarly to Kel’el Ware. Lively is a stretch five that is proven to be a good rim protector, runs the floor well, and can knock down outside shots on offense. The reasons we’re high on Ware apply to Lively as well.

So then, what gives Lively the edge on this early big board? He’s a bit taller than Ware, standing at roughly 7’1” or 7’2”, a hair leaner at roughly 215 pounds, and overall a slightly better athlete at this point. Furthermore, compared to Ware, we have fewer reservations about Lively’s motor and defensive engagement, he can switch on the perimeter a bit, and we buy into his jump shot a bit more for now. To be entirely transparent, though, it’s still a very tight race between the two bigs and we’ll have to see how they both fare at the next level before declaring a true leader with confidence.

1. Victor Wembanyama, Metropolitans 92

If you’ve been paying any attention to the draft lately or have already seen some of the carnage taking place on Spurs Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, etc., then you probably already know a bit about Victor Wembanyama. He’s been given every name in the book from “unicorn” to “generational talent,” with some even labeling him as the best NBA prospect since LeBron James. 

Standing at roughly 7’4” to 7’5” (no, that is not a typo), Wembanyama is almost certainly the 2023 draft’s best defensive prospect by a country mile. He can switch onto smaller guards on the perimeter, recover well when he’s beat, compete with bigs around the rim, and block shots that no human being should be able to block.

Wembanyama is just as impressive on offense, however, as you’ll see him leading fast breaks, hitting stepback threes, snaking through defenders with his unprecedented ballhandling skills, and seemingly dunking balls with little to no jump. Name just about any basketball skill and there’s a good chance that Wembanyama is at least serviceable at it, if not elite.

Should fans be concerned about his durability as they were with Chet Holmgren this past draft? Perhaps a bit, particularly given that he has a bit of an injury history already, but Wembanyama is too good of a prospect to shy away from just because of those concerns.

Next. Spurs' 3 biggest competitors for Wembanyama. dark

If your team selects him in the draft and he ends up riddled with injuries in the future, that is an outcome that the team will have to live with. Because if that team were to select him and he stays healthy, that team could have a kind of player the league has never seen before.