Sometimes, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft is easy. That doesn’t mean there is anything guaranteed at the top of board, but every so often, a generational prospect emerges and an actual consensus forms at the No. 1 spot.
In some years, there is something approaching consensus but with a few holdouts attached. Zion Williamson was a recent example, with at least a few folks around the NBA genuinely preferring Ja Morant. Other times, though, there is no debate whatsoever. That was the case with Anthony Davis. That was the case with LeBron James. And that is the case in 2023.
For months and months, Victor Wembanyama has been a virtual lock at No. 1 overall, barring some sort of catastrophic event that would change the outcome. The 2023 class does have other top prospects, headlined by Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, and Amen Thompson, but Wembanyama’s in a class of his own, which says more about him than the other players on the board.
That doesn’t ensure that he will be one of the greatest of all-time (like James) or a clear Hall of Famer (like Davis), but Wembanyama’s profile is one that is largely unprecedented. As such, Tuesday’s lottery was also the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes, and the winner was the San Antonio Spurs.
With that in mind, here is our first mock draft of the post-lottery reality and with the order set. As a reminder, mock drafts are not the same as big boards, so these picks incorporate (some) intel and team-based thinking.
1. San Antonio Spurs – Victor Wembanyama (C/F, Metropolitans 92)
Apparently, the Spurs only win generational lotteries. Twenty-six years after San Antonio was able to draft Tim Duncan, they get to do it again with Wemby. There is plenty to say here but, for a team that does not currently have much flat-out star power, that is going to change.
2. Charlotte Hornets – Scoot Henderson (G, G League Ignite)
This projection could easily change and the intel machine hasn’t really begun in earnest at this point. On my personal board, Henderson is in his own tier at No. 2 overall, and that means he’s going to Charlotte, even with LaMelo Ball already on board. It helps that I firmly believe Henderson and Ball could play together, but it’s also a best player available pick. If the Hornets aren’t big on Henderson, it could be Brandon Miller or Amen Thompson.
3. Portland Trail Blazers – Brandon Miller (F, Alabama)
As noted above, some will vault Miller to No. 2 given the potential fit question between Henderson and Ball. I wouldn’t go that far, but Miller is a high-quality prospect with tremendous size and shooting acumen on the wing. If Portland keeps this pick, it’s not hard to see how this would make him a snug fit alongside Damian Lillard. If they don’t, there are plenty of teams that could use a player with Miller’s skillset.
4. Houston Rockets – Amen Thompson (G, Overtime Elite)
Houston has real talent on its roster but not a whole lot of direction. There are changes incoming, starting on the bench with Ime Udoka, a whole lot of cap space, and even rumors about James Harden. Thompson is an upside swing, to be sure, but he’s a tremendous athlete with the potential to play on the ball. If his shot comes around, he is going to be a star.
5. Detroit Pistons – Cam Whitmore (F, Villanova)
Detroit had the worst luck on draft night, slipping from the top of the heap to No. 5 overall. To be fair, there was a 48 percent chance for that to happen, but that won’t be any solace for Pistons fans. At any rate, Whitmore is a good fit in Detroit with his blend of power and burst on the wing, and he has tremendous upside as the team looks to build around Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and its army of bigs.
6. Orlando Magic – Ausar Thompson (G/F, Overtime Elite)
Like his brother, Ausar is a fantastic athlete. He is probably more polished than Amen in some ways right now. He isn’t quite as absurd athletically as Amen, but Orlando is in need of some talent on the perimeter and he checks that box.
7. Indiana Pacers – Jarace Walker (F, Houston)
This is not at all sexy, which kind of aligns with Indiana’s general aesthetic. Walker is one of the best defenders in the draft, and the Pacers do need more defensive talent. Plus, Walker could be unlocked with his intriguing passing in the frontcourt.
8. Washington Wizards – Taylor Hendricks (F, UCF)
Hendricks isn’t a household name yet, but he will be soon. This might be low for where he ends up by late June, and his combination of length and athleticism could be devastating on defense. Washington has big decisions coming with Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis, but even if they bring both back, Hendricks slots in nicely.
9. Utah Jazz – Anthony Black (G/F, Arkansas)
Utah is kind of a blank canvas right now, but in a good way. Lauri Markkanen broke out and Walker Kessler is the anchor, but everything else is in relative flux. I love Black’s game and he has the feel of a high-level, two-way guard that every team could use, especially one like Utah that could put him alongside Ochai Agbaji.
10. Dallas Mavericks – Cason Wallace (G, Kentucky)
Dallas could be the team that takes a swing at center, but another need is point-of-attack defense. Wallace is outstanding in that regard and brings real pedigree coming out of Kentucky. If they can afford to think this way as opposed to drafting the most NBA ready guy in this spot, he could be a nice complement to Luka Doncic long-term.
11. Orlando Magic (via Chicago) – Gradey Dick (G/F, Kansas)
In this scenario, the Magic take the home run swing with their first lottery pick and nab shooting with the second. Dick’s upside isn’t through the roof but he has good size and high-level shooting ability. Orlando needs the floor spacing and he can bring it.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder – Bilal Coulibaly (G/F, Metropolitans 92)
This might be insanely high. It’s hard to tell. He has moved into the late-lottery or mid-first conversation for many people in the last few weeks, and Coulibaly is a teammate of Wembanyama’s. He is a big-time ceiling swing at the age of 18, but you could convince me he goes anywhere from 10 to 40 when all is said and done. And if there’s one team that would love to take this kind of swing, it’s the Thunder.
13. Toronto Raptors – Nick Smith Jr. (G, Arkansas)
Smith wasn’t very good this year amid injury and a suboptimal overall situation. He was billed as a potential top-five pick coming into the year, though, and some of that pedigree has been sticky with many fans around the league. Toronto has real uncertainty in the backcourt right now — especially with Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.’s futures in doubt — and Smith does have quite a bag on offense.
14. New Orleans Pelicans – Brice Sensabaugh (F, Ohio State)
New Orleans isn’t the easiest team to choose for at this early stage, but the Pelicans could use some more offensive punch and floor spacing. Sensabaugh is a high-level shooter and, even with defensive questions, a late-lottery landing spot would be reasonable.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Dariq Whitehead (G/F, Duke)
Word broke in early May that Whitehead would be having a second procedure on his foot. That certainly isn’t great news, but some may view it as an explanation as to why Whitehead wasn’t quite himself in terms of explosiveness and productivity at Duke. Medicals will be paramount when it comes to teams evaluating his status in the mid-to-late first round, but the Hawks can afford to be patient with a pretty deep roster. Amusingly, this would be the third straight one-and-done player to fall to Atlanta in the first round for varying reasons, but the first two have gone fairly well so far with Jalen Johnson and AJ Griffin.
16. Utah Jazz (via Minnesota) – Leonard Miller (F, G League Ignite)
Miller could wind up in the lottery with the buzz he’s getting and his stock is undeniably on the rise over the last few months. He is still raw in some ways, particularly with his shooting, but Utah is in talent acquisition mode and Miller’s upside is quite substantial.
17. Los Angeles Lakers – Jalen Hood-Schifino (G, Indiana)
Given the playoff run the Lakers are making, it is almost more difficult to project what they might do in the draft. Hood-Schifino checks a lot of boxes as a 6’6 guard with the ability to play on the ball offensively and defend with versatility. On the flip side, his efficiency was woeful at times in college and there are questions about whether he can plug-and-play on offense within a team construct.
18. Miami Heat – Rayan Rupert (G/F, New Zealand Breakers)
If the Heat want someone who can play more right away, this won’t be the pick. That isn’t always Miami’s style, though, and after going with Nikola Jovic a year ago, Rupert projects to be a potentially impactful defensive piece down the line.
19. Golden State Warriors – Dereck Lively (C, Duke)
Good luck trying to figure out the Warriors right now. For one, Bob Myers may not be making this pick. For another, the roster could be in flux, or they could mostly run it back. We’ll slot Lively in here as a strong value and also through the lens of what the Warriors have done in the past. James Wiseman didn’t work, but the Warriors could still look to a long-term center play and this is a much more practical spot on the draft board to try it. His offense has a long way to go, but defensively, he’s a monster.
20. Houston Rockets (via LA Clippers) – Jordan Hawkins (G/F, UConn)
Candidly, Hawkins probably won’t fall this far, but that’s the way the board broke in this instance. At any rate, his primary appeal is as a movement shooter that doesn’t need the ball to succeed. Houston could desperately use a player of that skill set, and it’s also a very strong value to grab him at No. 20 overall.
21. Brooklyn Nets (via Phoenix) – Kobe Bufkin (G, Michigan)
The odds of Bufkin going ahead of his teammate, Jett Howard, a few months ago would’ve seemed astronomical. Now, it is probably the more likely scenario. Michigan improved as things ran more through Bufkin in the back half of the season, and his combination of size, athleticism, and defensive potential is appetizing.
22. Brooklyn Nets – GG Jackson (F, South Carolina)
Jackson might be the most difficult evaluation in the entire draft. He was the No. 1 high school prospect in his class before re-classifying and landing at South Carolina. His efficiency numbers were rather horrifying in one college season, but South Carolina’s roster was unsightly and Jackson wasn’t exactly put in a position to succeed. Some teams seem to have Jackson almost crossed off when it comes to first-round consideration, but Brooklyn can be adventurous with two picks and aim for upside.
23. Portland Trail Blazers (via New York) – Keyonte George (G, Baylor)
This is too low for George in my view, but it’s a value for Portland. It remains to be seen how his defense translates, but George knows how to operate with the ball in his hands and could be at worst an interesting third guard.
24. Sacramento Kings – Kris Murray (F, Iowa)
I promise this wasn’t on purpose. Murray is the twin brother of Kings forward Keegan Murray, and there are myriad scenarios in which Kris is already off the board by the time the Kings are on the clock. Still, if he slips this far, Sacramento should honestly pounce. They could use another potential two-way forward and the family connection doesn’t hurt.
25. Memphis Grizzlies – Jett Howard (G/F, Michigan)
With Luke Kennard now on board, the Grizzlies’ need for shooting isn’t quite as pronounced, but Memphis could still use another marksman. That is the primary appeal of Howard, who really struggled defensively at Michigan and wasn’t efficient enough as the No. 1 option. That won’t be his destiny at the NBA level, and putting him in a strong defensive culture could help.
26. Indiana Pacers (via Cleveland) – Sidy Cissoko (G, G League Ignite)
Cissoko is another prospect who needs to shoot it much better to reach his ultimate ceiling, and that is the swing skill. He does have really nice playmaking capability and defensive aptitude, though, and he makes sense in Indiana.
27. Charlotte Hornets (via Denver) – Colby Jones (G/F, Xavier)
Jones won’t blow you away in any specific area, but he doesn’t leave much wanting either. It wouldn’t be terribly sexy, but he’s a top-25 guy for me and the Hornets adding another versatile wing (on a cheap contract) to go with Henderson and Ball makes sense.
28. Utah Jazz (via Philadelphia) – Max Lewis (G/F, Pepperdine)
The season didn’t close well for Lewis, but at this point in the draft, his potential shooting and size on the wing is appetizing. Utah has three picks and plenty of incentive to swing big.
29. Indiana Pacers (via Boston) – Bobi Klintman (F, Wake Forest)
To be honest, this whole thing is weird. Klintman has nice tools at 6’10 and could become a valuable two-way player. He was way off the radar for most until recently but, with a recent withdrawal from the combine and rumors of a first-round promise, he slots here for now. To be clear, it’s unclear if he actually got a promise, let alone one that came from the Pacers.
30. LA Clippers (via Milwaukee) – Andre Jackson (G/F, UConn)
It remains to be seen if Jackson can find a jump shot, but he played fantastic basketball during UConn’s title run. He’s a big-time athlete with great feel, good passing vision, and enough size to be dangerous, all of which are things the Clippers either value or really, really need.