The San Antonio Spurs are on the precipice of potentially changing the NBA landscape for the next decade with the expected selection of Victor Wembanyama at No. 1. Every other draft day plot, point of intrigue, all gossip fodder this year is overshadowed by the spectacle of the greatest basketball prospect in 20 years.
No matter which way this goes, 2023 will be remembered as the Wemby Draft.
That said, the NBA community is still abuzz with presumptions, assumptions and scuttlebutt over what’s going down after Wemby walks up to shake Adam Silver’s hand. With that in mind, I checked in with a number of NBA sources in the past week-plus. As always, Rule No. 1 of draft week is: believe nothing. These people are motivated to lie! That said, occasional kernels of truth do pop from time to time. Here’s some of what’s on the minds of those around the league as we head into Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
Scoot vs. Miller remains a very hot debate
But should it? Granted, this is a small sample size, but of the 10 people I talked to (not all of them general managers), seven of them said they’d take Scoot Henderson over Miller — and that’s with some of them taking into account Charlotte’s roster construction.
“These teams are building around these multiple, dynamic pick-and-roll players, and when you get deep in the playoffs, the ability to get to the basket and draw fouls [is significant],” one high-ranking Western Conference executive told CBS Sports. “Miller doesn’t have as much personal versatility, the combination of Scoot’s scoring and playmaking, that’s what teams are looking for. Brandon is exciting, don’t get me wrong, but this is more of an appreciation for Scoot.”
That executive said he expects Henderson to be a multiple-time All Star — and fitting alongside LaMelo Ball shouldn’t be a concern for Charlotte.
“To have the opportunity to play with two of these guys as playmakers, they’ll help each other,” he said. “It’s not a fit issue. LaMelo at the top of his apex, he should be playing multiple positions as the wing player. He doesn’t have to be a primary ball handler. If you look at his catch-and-shoot numbers, they’re elite. Scoot is almost too good to pass up.”
Said another Western Conference source: “Scoot has all the winning intangibles, and despite the possible oversaturation with ball handling, there’s too much there. In any other draft, he’d be a No. 1 pick, in my mind. We can kill the jump shot and kill his lack of efficiency in the second part of the year, but I think when that dude is locked in, with the right pieces around him, we’re talking about a Westbrook, a Ja, a John Wall.”
“Take Scoot,” another GM said. “Makeup, competitiveness, I’m betting on the human being. He’s what an elite point guard looks like in our league. I just love him more. I think he’s going to be really good. … With Miller, off-the-court stuff aside, when you look at the back at some of the games he had, something’s missing. Not very vocal, missing something. I don’t think he’s an elite-elite athlete like some of these wings.”
There are still plenty in Miller’s corner as the better choice. He’s easily the better shooter, and he’s taller and fits the mold of a prototypical NBA wing. One Eastern Conference source was plainly in on Miller over Scoot, and another evaluator ardently agreed. What ultimately matters is what Mitch Kupchak thinks. (Jabari Smith Jr. … until that switched in the 11th hour..) At this point, the assumption is Charlotte will take Miller. Then again, the assumption a year ago was that Orlando was taking
Whitmore slide rumors: real or smoke?
The draft “starts” at the No. 4 spot with Houston. Amen Thompson is the favorite to go there. There was a time (just a few weeks back) when Villanova‘s Cam Whitmore was considered a viable choice to go fourth. But there is a feeling spreading in the league that Whitmore’s stock is slipping more than any other player in the lottery. What does this mean, where does it stem from and will it actually come to pass?
Whitmore had a really good pro day workout in May, but a few of his team workouts weren’t as fruitful, sources said. Throw that on top of a somewhat-bumpy year at Villanova, and some are thinking he’s due to drop three or more spots from his previous top-five projection. One executive said it is possible Whitmore could drop to No. 9. Another source said he doesn’t believe it’s smoke, that Whitmore’s drop will bear out on Thursday. (Neither source is picking in the top 10, but as always, this is lying season, folks.)
“I think it’s real,” another source said of Whitmore’s slide. “There’s medical stuff that’s popped up. I think that’s one of the primary reasons, and I think it’s more so there’s other guys with more certainty there. The gap between how much better he is than everyone else is not there, and throw in maybe medical stuff and that’s what you got when you’ve got the Thompson twins, (Anthony) Black, Jarace (Walker), Taylor Hendricks. Then throw in the questions with consistency, production, his place on the floor, it all adds up.”
“From a basketball perspective, he’s got hard things to replicate: size and power and potential to get his own shot,” one front office executive said. “There’s a point in the top 10 where he becomes a no-brainer. If he were to fall to 9, that seems odd to me. I don’t fully grasp it.”
“I remember going to Seton Hall and he was buried at the end of the game,” another executive said. “This guy’s supposed to be a top-five pick and he’s not even on the floor against a very average team.”
The people who like Whitmore as a top-six prospect point to his physical tools and previous play against high-level competition, dating back to his time before Villanova. Another source said Whitmore’s been overanalyzed and there is usually at least one player in the top 10 every year who suffers from analytical fatigue in the final days leading up to the draft. Whitmore didn’t fare well in some workouts and interviews, according to sources, but we’ll see if he actually falls and how far. From my perspective, getting picked sixth or better wouldn’t constitute a fall. A lot of people are really curious where he lands.
Two who could overshadow the draft: Zion, Dame
The two biggest names attached to potential movement are Portland’s Damian Lillard and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson. The will-he-or-won’t-he with Lillard has been a talking point for years. The Zion rumormongering has grown louder as of late, but to hear one source lay it out, it’s going to take a huge package of talent and future first rounders to get New Orleans to shift off Williamson.
Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin knows his window to capitalize on building a contender is now — not two or three years down the road. Brandon Ingram is in his prime, C.J. McCollum has exited his, and Williamson is still waiting to enter into such a phase.
“I can 100% see them trading up,” one source said. “Griff is well aware the window is now. The franchise has underperformed. With another underperforming season, then there will be changes.”
The risk of letting Zion loose is still seen as too great, one source said. If he’s traded away and becomes elite, that can flip a front office. If they keep him and he’s still not healthy, Zion’s contract keeps him relatively cheap because he’s not paid as much if he doesn’t play a majority of games.
Then again: “We’d be surprised by Dame, Zion not so much,” one person in the Western Conference said.
So yeah, nobody knows anything. As a few people pointed out, the Lillard chatter is starting to venture into Bradley Beal territory. Hey, it took a long time, but Beal did eventually get dealt. What I can promise you is Zion or Lillard moving on draft night would be the biggest story of the evening, even bigger than the formality of San Antonio drafting Wembanyama.
Over/under 1.5 trades in the lottery
In asking around, this year’s lottery is considered below average. And yet, once again, the “there’s going to be so many trades” gossip has predictably arrived right on time. That in mind, if I’m setting the over/under at 1.5 trades in the top 14, I guess I’ll take the over. Dallas at No. 10 is considered — by a wide margin — to be the most likely trade target among all teams picking in the lottery.
“Dallas feels a little bit of pressure to deliver on Luka’s potential,” one Western Conference source said. “Aligning to get to the end of his contract without being on a pathway to being a championship contender is a little difficult.”
We’ve seen many teams enter the draft with a wide assumption they will make a move, only to keep the pick. So we’ll see about Dallas. The other teams (in order) considered potentially open to swapping more than others: Indiana at No. 7, Utah at No. 9, Orlando at No. 11.
Said one Eastern Conference evaluator: “This is all speculation right now and everyone’s bored.”
We’ll soon find out how accurate the collective NBA mock draft community is on some guys who have jumped up a tier or two in the past couple of weeks. Here are the three hottest names relative to where their stock was more than a month ago.
- BILAL COULIBALY: The Frenchman who played with Wembanyama. Some around the league believe he could go as high as No. 9 to Utah, and don’t think he falls beyond Toronto at 13. Said one source: “Are one of these teams in the top 10 quietly going to move on that? That’s one everyone’s monitoring.” Others have skepticism, due to the fact he’s jumped so far so fast. The feeling at this juncture is Coulibaly’s wingspan, fluidity, size and age will have teams on the back end of the lottery spooked to pass on him.
- KOBE BUFKIN: The Michigan product has jumped up in a major way in recent weeks, going from late first-rounder to a guy who could be called in the lottery. His sophomore season was a plot twist. He played alongside Hunter Dickinson and Jett Howard on an OK Michigan team, and came out as the best pro prospect of the bunch. “He’s big, versatile, can handle/pass, looks like a multi, do-it-all who can play 1 through 3 at our level,” one source said. “He’s helped himself more than anyone.” The range feels 8-15 for Bufkin.
- BRANDIN PODZIEMSKI: One source said all three guys on this list here are products of the powers of the analytic staffs on teams. “The modeling is pretty standard league-wide, so those guys are darlings from an analytics perspective,” the source said. Podziemski would make it back-to-back Santa Clara players picked in the first round (Jalen Williams last season). That after the school went through a three-decade drought. He seems a lock to go top-25. Be sure .
- JETT HOWARD, MICHIGAN: Reads on Howard’s stock are all over the map. Huge knocks against his defense, and two sources suggested there might only be a couple of teams that have a top-25 grade on him. More polarizing than I realized.
- BRICE SENSABAUGH, OHIO STATE: Was projected as a safe first round pick for most of this process. However, as we get closer to the big moment, word is spreading over concerns regarding his size and medical, multiple sources said. His range was once thought to be No. 15-25, but now it feels more like No. 23-35.
- ANDRE JACKSON JR., UCONN: Perhaps his lack of a jumper is going to cost him first-round status. Jackson passes a lot of tests, but it’s worth considering that his decision to leave UConn wasn’t a no-brainer. Many teams (including some I talked to) have a second-round grade on him — and like him at that value.
In polling some NBA minds, here are three guys who got a few nods for being valued slightly more than mock drafts would suggest.
- SETH LUNDY, PENN STATE: Probably destined to go in the second round, but he got more votes than anyone else. Certainly one to watch for on Thursday night.
- JULIAN PHILLIPS, TENNESSEE: Viewed as the preeminent boom-or-bust borderline first round player. There are no doubt teams who are in love with Phillips’ athleticism and potential. Will any trade up a few spots to snag him, or will they anxiously wait and hope he’s there in the 30-35 range?
- MARCUS SASSER, HOUSTON: Winning prospect whose lack of size seems destined to keep him with a second-round ceiling. Sasser’s competitive nature helped him in the past couple of months, all but assuring he’ll be taken somewhere in the first half of the second round.