THORPE: Brandon Miller over Scoot, and here’s why
Also, would you draft Victor Wembanyama over Michael Jordan?
“After Victor,” David Thorpe said on the phone late Tuesday, after days of examining video, “all these players are so flawed.” It’s a year made weird by circumstance: There are incredible prospects who can’t shoot, for instance. Those who add that skill could all be amazing. Most will not; it matters which team they end up on. But it’s also a year when a surprising number of the best prospects—Scoot Henderson, Amen and Ausar Thompson, Leonard Miller—haven’t played in meaningful competition since high school, meaning David feels a little blind about assessing their all-important competitive fire under stress. Every year he tells us that what happens most isn’t who you get, but how well the team can develop them. This year, it’s more true than ever. With that in mind, here are his six favorite players in the 2023 draft.
COMING SOON: David assesses the “mystery players” of the 2023 draft, including: the Thompson twins, Leonard Miller, Bilal Coulibaly, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, and more!
BY DAVID THORPE
The first handful of picks in this year’s draft will likely include a mix of college players, G League Ignite standouts, and one European pro. That’s good for the NBA, but it’s going to be potentially risky for a few teams. That’s because you can’t get through a game without (metaphorically) being punched in the mouth repeatedly. That’s everything from having to guard great players to missing 10 shots in a row. How are you going to react when no one is guarding you but the ball still won’t go into the hole? What happens when the whistle keeps going against you while the importance of the game is raising the urgency of every possession?
For those who played in college or overseas, we have a good picture of how they might deal with the haymakers they’ll face in this league. There’s a record; there’s evidence.
Though I’m all for new ways of marketing the league and developing players, I’m a little wary of players from G League Ignite and Overtime Elite. Why? They’re not playing for anything—not as a team at least. And that makes it difficult to know what you’re actually getting in terms of discipline, integrity, and determination. We simply have no idea whether G League Ignite or Overtime Elite guys can do that because there is no emphasis on winning in the same way you find in college or the European leagues. Add in the fact that you have no proof of high-leverage decision-making.
Guys who are desperate to win and who know their roles are super valuable to me. Using the reigning-champion Nuggets as an example (or pretty much every champion before them), they were a team of men who knew their roles and accepted them even though the role might be less than what their talent allows. If you want to get good at playing a role, you have to have some practice at playing that role. That’s how you come to understand that you have to give up some of the things I can do for some of the things we can do.
I’m always looking for the warrior mentality, and that’s a lot easier to assess when players are playing for something. College is far from perfect for player development, but at the very least players are desperate to win and are pushed relentlessly. They tend to struggle absent those two things.
Winning teams like to select the more competitive but unselfish players. Losing teams tend to pick the most talented. I’m always reminded of Gregg Popovich here: “We want players who are over themselves.” That humility is a great start, especially when combined with mettle. The college and international games are far more about “we” than “me.” The intensity levels are typically very high as well.
And how can you be sure G League Ignite or Overtime Elite players have that mettle when they’re only playing exhibition games? (Both leagues could help themselves a ton by addressing this.)
That’s a key factor in this draft for me. With that in mind, here are the top six players in this draft.
Victor Wembanyama (7-4, 235)—Center, Metropolitans 92
If LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kevin Durant were in this draft, based on how each player had produced to those points of their careers, I’d be taking Wembanyama with the top pick.