Grading Every First Round Pick From The 2023 NBA Draft

The 2023 NBA Draft had no questions about who would be the No. 1 overall pick, but from there nothing was certain until the picks were made — including who would be making them.

Much like the 2021 Draft, none of the teams in the top 10 were able to make major trades to get veteran players, leading to most everyone staying put in the lottery, with a few smaller deals that saw teams jostle positions to move up or down a few picks to land the player they coveted most. That means some teams have some very interesting decisions to make in the coming weeks after failing to land immediate veteran help — cough, Portland, cough — but after a wild week of trades, things were almost oddly calm during the proceedings, with no major current players changing hands.

With that in mind, we kept tabs on all 30 first round picks, grading them as we went. This year didn’t feature many teams making dramatic reaches that left evaluators scratching their heads, so most of the grades are pretty solid, although there were certainly teams that fared better than others.

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1. San Antonio Spurs — Victor Wembanyama, A+: The Spurs had a bit of good fortune in the lottery to even have the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama, so this isn’t exactly the product of incredible scouting work, but he’s the best prospect in the draft by a wide margin and one of the best prospects to enter the league in the in decades. Of course, that doesn’t ensure anything once he arrives, but the tools are virtually unprecedented and San Antonio has a franchise centerpiece.

2. Charlotte Hornets — Brandon Miller, B-: It isn’t a surprise to see Miller come off the board at No. 2 overall, but Scoot Henderson is the better prospect, which knocks Charlotte’s grade down a bit. With that said, Miller is a worthy No. 2 overall choice in most drafts with a combination of size and shooting that provides a strong median outcome.

3. Portland Trail Blazers — Scoot Henderson, A: In the majority of drafts over the last two decades, Henderson would’ve been the No. 1 overall prospect. With Victor Wembanyama involved, that wasn’t the case in 2023, but Henderson slipping to No. 3 on the board provides incredible value for Portland. Granted, the Blazers may have some interesting decisions to make in the future with Damian Lillard, but Henderson is too good to pass on with this pick.

4. Houston Rockets — Amen Thompson, B+: Thompson isn’t without flaws by any means, but he brings tremendous upside to the table. Amen projects to be immediately be one of the best athletes in the NBA on arrival, and his combination of on-ball playmaking and defensive potential is tantalizing. The big question is whether he’ll develop a solid jump shot, which could determine his ultimate ceiling.

5. Detroit Pistons — Ausar Thompson, B-: For many evaluators, the No. 5 spot represents the first slot with real, tangible uncertainty. Ausar doesn’t quite match the obscene athleticism of his brother, Amen, but he is a tremendous athlete in his own right with size and versatility. At this juncture, Ausar plays more like a wing and could provide key flexibility for Detroit on both ends of the floor.

6. Orlando Magic — Anthony Black, B: This was a tricky spot for Orlando. Not only did the Magic enter the night with two of the top 11 picks, but some of the top-rated players remaining on the board were somewhat duplicative with Paolo Banchero and/or Franz Wagner. As a result, Anthony Black is the choice, and he is a versatile, talented perimeter player. Black’s primary question mark on the offensive side is his perimeter shooting, which could be a clunky fit in Orlando, but Black gives the Magic another ball-handler with the size to be a menace defensively.

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7. Washington Wizards — Bilal Coulibaly, B: This is an aggressive move and choice from Washington. While this range of the draft is perceived as relatively flat, Coulibaly was seen as a fringe first-round pick only a few weeks and months ago before a meteoric rise. His athletic and physical tools are outstanding, and Coulibaly could be a tremendous defender as a result. The questions come more on offense, where he has operated in a very small overall role playing with Metropolitans 92.

8. Indiana Pacers — Jarace Walker, B+: Indiana was able to extract extra capital from Washington and still got the player they likely would have taken at No. 7. Walker isn’t a terribly sexy prospect offensively, but he is a very strong passer for his size with an emerging skill level that brings on intrigue. His primary appeal is defense, with an NBA-ready physical strength and feel to defend multiple positions, which is one of the Pacers biggest needs.

9. Utah Jazz — Taylor Hendricks, A-: Utah is in an interesting phase with a ton of picks, both this year and in the future, to complement a young roster that is still rebuilding. Scouts are split on Hendricks’ overall upside, but he brings definite intrigue as a defender and floor spacer with size. He projects as a potentially devastating role player that can fit just about anywhere.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder — Cason Wallace, B: The fit could be a bit of a challenge for Wallace in OKC with a backcourt that is already quite full with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and others. In a vacuum, Wallace is a solid pick here, though, as he might be the best perimeter defender in the draft. There are some questions about his offensive ceiling, particularly as a shooter, but the overall package is encouraging.

11. Orlando Magic — Jett Howard, C+: This is probably the most surprising pick of the draft to this point, but it also makes some sense. Orlando is in need of shooting and, while Gradey Dick was a higher-rated prospect for most scouts, Howard brings size and shooting. His defensive questions could also be insulated within Orlando’s structure.

12. Dallas Mavericks — Dereck Lively, B+: Things worked out well for Dallas. The Mavericks moved down two spots and picked a guy they could’ve very reasonably taken at No. 10. Lively isn’t a finished product, but he was a defensive monster in the second half of the college season. Dallas needs that kind of defensive presence, and Lively’s offense should be unlocked as a low-usage guy next to Luka Doncic and, perhaps, Kyrie Irving.

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13. Toronto Raptors — Gradey Dick, A-: This is a good value and a good fit. Dick is one of the best shooters in the class with good size for a wing and the ability to move off the ball and shoot on the move. Defensively, he probably won’t be a big plus, but Dick improved as the season went along, and Toronto’s roster could use the infusion of floor spacing.

14. New Orleans Pelicans — Jordan Hawkins, B: New Orleans doesn’t have a ton of glaring needs, but more shooting is something the Pelicans can use. Hawkins brings it as the best off-ball mover in the class and a proven, dynamic shooter. He’s not a great defender and has limited size on the wing, but the offense should play.

15. Atlanta Hawks — Kobe Bufkin, A-: It felt as if Atlanta might once again benefit from medical questions to nab a falling prospect like Cam Whitmore, but Bufkin is a very strong pick for the Hawks. He checks a lot of boxes on both ends of the floor with shooting guard size and point guard skills. Bufkin has strong basketball feel and he is already a quality defender that could continue to improve as he gets stronger.

16. Utah Jazz — Keyonte George, B-: Utah has the freedom of three picks, and George is an intriguing player from an upside standpoint. He was a consensus top-10 guy coming out of high school and, while Baylor didn’t go perfectly, he can score and make shots off the bounce. He also has strong craft off the bounce, though George isn’t an elite athlete and could struggle on defense.

17. Los Angeles Lakers — Jalen Hood-Schifino, B: Hood-Schifino’s efficiency at Indiana left a lot to be desired this season, which is definitely worth noting. There are caveats, including the fact that Indiana’s offensive structure was not conducive to his individual success, and Hood-Schifino does have very good tools when it comes to size and pick-and-roll ability. He’s also a stout defender, and if he can figure out the offensive side within a smaller role, the Lakers can maximize him.

18. Miami Heat — Jaime Jaquez Jr., B: I’m a sucker for Jaime Jaquez, and I’ll admit that. This is a substantial rise from where most had him during the season but, well, this is about where I had him the entire time. Miami is also a wonderful landing spot because the Heat do a fantastic job putting players in positions to succeed. Jaquez’s toughness and feel for the game fit beautifully with the Heat.

19. Golden State Warriors — Brandin Podziemski, B-: This is a better grade than any other team would’ve received in taking Podziemski, but it’s a good fit. His feel is very good and Podziemski is a dynamic shooter. As a very limited athlete, there are defensive concerns and the chance that he just can’t hold up, but Golden State was the appropriate team to take that risk.

20. Houston Rockets — Cam Whitmore, A (or Incomplete): From the outside, we can’t know how to evaluate this. Whitmore’s precipitous fall is shocking amid rumblings of shaky medicals. If you remove that, this would be a total and complete heist for Houston. At a certain point, nabbing a very clear top-10 talent is worth the risk for a player they were considering at 4 early in the process.

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21. Brooklyn Nets — Noah Clowney, B: This is a solid value for Clowney, especially from an upside perspective. His defensive potential is clear with his length, athleticism, and feel, and Clowney has the potential to shoot and space the floor on offense. If the shooting doesn’t pop, he may be a center with some overlap next to Nic Claxton, but this is the point of the draft where you can simply take the best player available. Clowney is a reasonable bet on that.

22. Brooklyn Nets — Dariq Whitehead, A-: While the medical talking point of the draft was Cam Whitmore’s fall, Whitehead’s pre-draft process was marked by medical questions. He was limited during the season and then had another surgical procedure when the season ended. If the medical is clear, though, Whitehead is a former top-five high school prospect in this class, and he is a worthy risk for Brooklyn.

23. Portland Trail Blazers — Kris Murray, A-: Portland’s overall direction is quite interesting right now after the selection of Scoot Henderson and how that meshes with Damian Lillard. The selection of Murray works in any context, though, as he is a versatile combo forward that can shoot and defend. Yes, he’s older than most first-round prospects, but that is why he’s available now. It’s a very good value.

24. Dallas Mavericks — Olivier-Maxence Prosper, B+: Dallas could use a two-way forward, much in the way that most teams could and used their second trade of the Draft to find one. Prosper fits the bill as a high-quality defender who can also space the floor. He also doesn’t need the ball to succeed on offense, which fits nicely with the Mavericks’ system.

25. Detroit Pistons — Marcus Sasser, B: This isn’t a flashy selection by any means, but it’s an appropriate landing spot on the board for Sasser as Detroit traded back into the first round to nab him. His pull-up shooting is intriguing on offense, and Sasser is a very strong on-ball defender. He’s limited in size and won’t give much in terms of penetration, but Sasser profiles as a rotation guard.

26. Indiana Pacers — Ben Sheppard, B-: What a rise for Ben Sheppard. He was almost entirely off the mainstream radar during the season, but the upperclassman from Belmont brings a dynamic overall skill set. He is a modern player with his shooting and movement skills.

27. Charlotte Hornets — Nick Smith Jr., B+: Smith Jr. falling this far would’ve been quite shocking before the season. He struggled, at least relatively, at Arkansas with injury and performance, but the talent is there as a natural creator. Charlotte may not be the perfect place for that skill to blossom, but it’s a good value here.

28. Utah Jazz — Brice Sensabaugh, B: There are some injury and defensive concerns with Sensabaugh, but he is a bucket. He is a fantastic shooter that could average buckets of points in the right situation. He doesn’t offer much else right now, but this late in the draft, the value is strong.

29. Denver Nuggets — Julian Strawther, B-: This might be a bit early for Strawther in a vacuum, but Denver can be trusted to maximize his skill set. He is a fantastic shooter and has the size that Denver seems to covet. Defensively, it’s an adventure right now, but there is room to grow with his tools.

30. L.A. Clippers — Kobe Brown, B-: Brown has the pieces to be a very solid role player in the NBA. He fits within the Clippers’ structure as a result, and if his shooting uptick from 2022-23 is real, Brown could be a steal with the final pick of the first round.

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