The 2023 NBA Draft goes down Thursday night. We know Victor Wembanyama is going No. 1 to the San Antonio Spurs. After that, the fun begins. And I do think it’s going to be a chaotic night with a lot of moving parts.
I suppose you could call that my first bold prediction. This won’t be a quiet draft night. With that in mind, I’m going to go through five bold predictions I see happening Thursday night.
1. Portland trades Scoot Henderson
If it were me, I would bite the bullet and trade Damian Lillard. I don’t think the Portland Trail Blazers can put a contender together with the combination of their assets and realistic trade options. I would take Scoot Henderson, if he’s around at No. 3, and build around him and Shaedon Sharpe while also moving off Anfernee Simons. There’s too much evidence that small, defensively challenged guards are poisonous postseason players.
But they’re probably not going to do that. And it’s understandable. Lillard remains a top-10ish player in the league, and the Blazers can swing big with the Scoot chip. I think it happens. I don’t know if it’ll be a Zion Williamson or a Paul George or somebody nobody sees coming, but I think Portland trades Scoot. Which, of course, can only happen if the Charlotte Hornets, who have the No. 2 pick, let it happen.
Which brings me to my second bold prediction …
2. Charlotte overthinks No. 2 pick
Brandon Miller looks good. As a catch-and-shoot player with great length, he’s absolutely the right fit pick next to LaMelo Ball. But you can’t pick for fit at No. 2 in the draft. The Golden State Warriors did that at No. 2 in the 2020 draft when they took James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball.
The Hornets should either take Scoot Henderson, who to me looks like another Baron Davis, and figure out the fit over time with Ball — and eventually trade Ball — or, if possible, they should trade the pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for Williamson.
We know New Orleans covets Henderson. And while we also know the risks Williamson presents from both an injury and off-court maturity standpoint — the work ethic and commitment to being great just might not be there — for a team like the Hornets, who simply aren’t going to have very many swings at an MVP-level talent that they didn’t draft themselves, the potential of pairing Ball and Williamson is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Sure, it’s a risk, but it’s a shot Charlotte has to take.
That trade idea is pure speculation, of course. I think it could be there for the taking, but I don’t know that. What I do know is Scoot Henderson, who is a No. 1 overall talent that just so happens to be in the same draft as one of the greatest prospects in history, will be available at No. 2, and I think Charlotte is going to overthink the hell out of this and take Miller for “fit.”
3. Magic come out a winner
Orlando has the No. 6 and 11 picks, and they’re either going to get two more big-time prospects — our Colin Ward-Henninger has Ausar Thompson and Grady Dick — or use one or even both of the picks to swing a big trade.
I like the latter idea. Another of my colleagues, Sam Quinn, floated the idea of Orlando moving both its lottery picks to the Atlanta Hawks for Dejounte Murray, who is in a sticky contract situation in Atlanta and would serve as the All-Star-level point guard that an Orlando core flush with size and youth needs to become a serious team.
Either way, the Magic are going to come out of this draft as an even more exciting team than they were last season, which is saying something. There are few teams more enjoyable to watch.
There are few things in life I feel more strong about that NOT using a lottery pick to draft a point guard who can’t shoot. Consider the following examples: Ricky Rubio, Michael Carter-Williams, Dante Exum, Elfrid Payton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kris Dunn, Frank Ntilikina — all lottery-pick point guards who couldn’t shoot when they entered the league. (Nor did anyone in this group develop a stroke over time.) There’s not an All-Star among them. In fact, there’s barely a rotation player among them.
Other than Rubio, every name on that list has been or was a bust. And considering the expectations placed on the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, given that his name was called two spots before Stephen Curry, Rubio has been a major disappointment.
Now here comes Anthony Black. He has a lot of the same traits as a lot of those guys I just listed — traits that entice you to ignore the glaring “if he ever learns to shoot” caveat on the profile. Black has great size and athleticism. He’s a splendid passer. He looks a lot like a more athletic Josh Giddey, which, admittedly, sounds pretty awesome. That’s why he’s projected to go top-10, perhaps to Orlando at No. 6, with rumors that Utah could try to trade up to get him.
But I’m sticking with the evidence. If you’re Derrick Rose or John Wall, fine. Point guards who can’t shoot aren’t doomed if they’re No. 1 overall guys. But these mid-lottery guys? It’s just too big of a hurdle, and I can’t look at Black’s frankly hideous shot and think there’s hope that he can turn it into an honest strength.
I actually hope I’m wrong about this. I watched a lot of tape on Black the last few days, and he’s a really fun player. Great energy. Seems like he’s be a joy to play alongside. You want to root for him. But this is my rule, and it’s proven true too many times for me to ignore. I just can’t get behind using a lottery pick on a bricklaying point guard. But someone is going to do it Thursday night.
5. Dallas trades No. 10 pick
After trading for Kyrie Irving with designs, however delusional, on competing with the big boys in the West, the Dallas Mavericks threw their final two games of the season when they were still mathematically alive for a play-in spot.
They did that with the hope that they could, with a little ping-pong-ball luck, hang onto the No. 10 pick in this year’s draft, which would’ve gone to the New York Knicks had it landed No. 11 or lower. It worked. Dallas landed No. 10, and I can’t make myself believe it did that for any other reason than to trade the pick.
Luka Doncic needs real help. Now. A rookie does nothing for this team, which is about two minutes from feeling the heat of a Doncic trade demand, even if it’s just an unspoken threat hanging in the air. As far as a trade target, defense is priority number one.