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NBA mock draft 2023: These March Madness prospects can rise in NCAA tournament

The 2023 NBA Draft is notable for the lack of college talent projected at the very top of the order. French super prospect Victor Wembanyama is the no-brainer pick at No. 1 overall, giving the lucky team that wins the lottery a potential league-altering 7’5 big man who can dominate the rim on both ends and splash jump shots from all over the court. G League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson, an Atlanta native, has been projected as the No. 2 selection all season. It’s possible Oakland-bred twins Amen and Ausar Thompson will go at No. 3 and No. 4 overall after spending the last two years in the upstart Overtime Elite league.

Of course, March Madness has a way of changing draft projections every year. While no one is surpassing Wembanayma for No. 1, there are several prospects who can potentially rise into the top five with a breakout NCAA tournament, and one freshman wing who could bump Henderson for No. 2 overall.

We simulated the draft order with one spin of the Tankathon machine. The San Antonio Spurs were the lucky winner of the No. 1 pick. The Portland Trail Blazers made the biggest leap up the order to end up in the top four. Before March Madness begins, here’s our projection of what the draft board looks like. We’ll have more analysis after the table.

2023 NBA mock draft: Pre-NCAA tournament edition

Pick Team Player Position From
Pick Team Player Position From
1 San Antonio Spurs Victor Wembanyama Big/Forward Metropolitans 92 (France)
2 Orlando Magic Scoot Henderson Guard G League Ignite
3 Charlotte Hornets Amen Thompson Guard Overtime Elite
4 Portland Trail Blazers Brandon Miller Wing Alabama
5 Detroit Pistons Cam Whitmore Wing Villanova
6 Houston Rockets Ausar Thompson Wing Overtime Elite
7 Indiana Pacers Jarace Walker Forward Houston
8 Washington Wizards Nick Smith Jr. Guard Arkansas
9 Orlando Magic (via Bulls) Gradey Dick Wing Kansas
10 Toronto Raptors Cason Wallace Guard Kentucky
11 Utah Jazz Keyonte George Guard Baylor
12 New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers) Jett Howard Forward Michigan
13 Los Angeles Lakers (via Pelicans) Anthony Black Guard Arkansas
14 Oklahoma City Thunder Rayan Rupert Wing New Zealand Breakers (France)
15 New York Knicks (via Mavs) Maxwell Lewis Wing Pepperdine
16 Atlanta Hawks Taylor Hendricks Forward UCF
17 Utah Jazz (via Wolves) Kyle Filipowski Big Duke
18 Golden State Warriors Dariq Whitehead Guard Duke
19 Houston Rockets (via Clippers) Kris Murray Forward Iowa
20 Miami Heat Brice Sensabaugh Guard/Wing Ohio State
21 Brooklyn Nets (via Suns) GG Jackson Forward South Carolina
22 Portland Trail Blazers (via Knicks) Kel’el Ware Big Oregon
23 Brooklyn Nets Colby Jones Guard/Wing Xavier
24 Sacramento Kings Noah Clowney Big/Forward Alabama
25 Memphis Grizzlies Leonard Miller Forward G League Ignite
26 Indiana Pacers (via Cavs) Terquavion Smith Guard NC State
27 Utah Jazz (via 76ers) Jalen Hood-Schifino Guard Indiana
28 Charlotte Hornets (via Nuggets) Kobe Bufkin Guard Michigan
29 Indiana Pacers (via Celtics) Dereck Lively II Big Duke
30 Los Angeles Clippers (via Bucks) Terrence Shannon Jr. Wing/Guard Illinois

Of the 30 players projected to go in the first round of this mock draft, 16 of them are playing in the 2023 NCAA tournament. Let’s dive into some of the biggest storylines.

Brandon Miller could rise to No. 2 with strong March Madness showing

Alabama freshman wing Brandon Miller has looked like the best NBA prospect in college basketball all season. As he enters March Madness, Miller is about to be under intense scrutiny for his presence at the murder of 23-year-old Jamea Harris in Jan. while trying to lead the No. 1 overall seed in the field to Final Four for the first time in program history.

Miller was not charged in the killing, but according to police testimony, he drove a car with a gun in it to the scene that night. The windshield of Miller’s car was reportedly struck twice with bullets. Former Alabama player Darius Miles was charged with capital murder and kicked off the team following Harris’ death, and Nate Oats’ team has been dealing with the fallout not-so-gracefully for most of the season. It’s impossible to talk about Miller as a prospect without mentioning Harris’ death, but the Crimson Tide will do all they can to keep the focus on basketball.

It’s easy to see what makes Miller such an enticing prospect on the court. At 6’9, 200 pounds, the freshman wing is an electric scorer with tough shot-making ability, deep range on his jumper, and tremendous positional size for a pro. He’s proved himself against tough competition all year, continues to make subtle improvements to his skill set, and had a huge impact on his team’s success as Bama has risen to become perhaps the best team in the country after being picked to finish No. 5 in the SEC in the preseason. His accomplishments — SEC Player of the Year, the leading scorer among all freshmen in the country — speak for themselves.

Miller’s signature skill is his shot-making. He’s made 40.1 percent of his threes on 257 attempts entering the NCAA tournament. Miller has real gravity as he moves around the perimeter, darting around screens and quickly squaring himself to the basket to hit shots. His ability to space the floor and provide knockdown shooting with plus size on the perimeter makes him the most malleable player in this class outside of Wembanyama: Every team in the league could use a player with this skill set without having to alter what they already have in place.

Whether Miller can become a true lead engine of an NBA offense depends how his rim pressure and playmaking develop. Miller is a good athlete, but he’s not overwhelming as a leaper near the rim and he’s not going to blow by most pro defenders with his speed. Miller needs to keep developing his finishing craft, and he’s already shown massive improvement in that area as the season has gone along.

Miller’s playmaking remains a bigger work-in-progress. He enters the NCAA tournament with 71 turnovers to 70 assists on the season. The ability to pressure opposing defenses as a scorer and facilitator is the biggest key for any No. 1 option in the NBA. Miller has a long way to go in that regard, while also being the oldest college freshman in this draft class. He’ll turn 21 years old in Nov. of his rookie season.

Scoot Henderson was supposed to be the no-brainer pick at No. 2 overall behind Wembanyama in the 2023 NBA Draft. Instead, the G League Ignite point guard stagnated a bit this season, and opened the door for Miller to grab the second pick. While Henderson is a better athlete and playmaker, Miller has a big edge in size and shooting. If Miller can lead Alabama on a deep March Madness run, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him go second overall even after so much trouble off-the-court.

6 other projected lottery picks are also playing in the NCAA tournament

These freshmen feel like sure-fire lottery picks before March Madness begins, but can still improve their standing in the eyes of NBA evaluators with an impressive showing in the tournament.

  • Jarace Walker, F, Houston: At 6’8, 240 pounds, Walker is a big forward with a two-way skill set. He’s been a key piece to a top-five Cougars defense all season, showing his ability to make quick rotations, provide supplemental rim protection, clean the glass, and force turnovers. Offensively, Walker has shown a solid three-point stroke — 34.4 percent on 93 attempts — but will still face skepticism because he’s a 61 percent free throw shooter. Walker has been a role player for a veteran Houston team with national title aspirations, but he has more one-on-one scoring ability and maybe a little more playmaking potential than he’s shown this year. NBA teams will want to know if he’s fast enough to defend modern fours, and if he can demand a closeout from opposing defenses when he’s spacing the floor as a shooter.
  • Nick Smith Jr., G, Arkansas: Smith entered the season as the front-runner to be the first college player taken in the draft, but he’s been in-and-out of the lineup with injuries and has provided evaluators with more questions than answers in the games he’s played. Smith is a thin scoring guard at 6’5, 185 pounds with wild shot-making ability when he’s on: He has awesome touch on his floater and can get it off against any form of coverage, and he’s a dangerous three-point shooter on both spot-ups and pull-ups. There are some issues on both ends of the floor, though. Can Smith facilitate well enough to be a full-time point guard? Can he score efficiently enough at the rim (he enters the tournament shooting 15-of-28 at the rim for 53.6 percent)? Can he defend his position with such a thin frame? Smith should have a high floor as a microwave-scoring sixth man if nothing else, but he has the potential to be so much more than that if he can continue fine-tuning his overall game.
  • Gradey Dick, G, Kansas: Dick is a knockdown shooter at 6’8 who can bend opposing defenses with the threat of his shot-making as he runs around screens. The freshman has a quick trigger on his release and has proven he can combine volume and accuracy by making 40 percent of his 198 attempts before March Madness begins. Scouts will question his defense, but Dick has looked feisty on that end at times and boosts a solid 2.5 percent steal rate. Given how in-demand tall shooters are, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Dick go in the top 10 if Kansas goes on a deep run.
  • Cason Wallace, G, Kentucky: Wallace is a monster defensive guard with a solid offensive skill set to match. At 6’4, 195 pounds, the Dallas native is tough at the point of attack and excellent at forcing turnovers on rotations. He’s a master at the chasedown block, and can defend up in the lineup against bigger players. Offensively, he offers more of a ‘connector’ skill set than one of a true floor general. He’s a quick ball mover who can make easy passing reads when he breaks down the defense, and his shot has been a little better than advertised after hitting around 35 percent on threes, mostly on spot-ups. He can be a bit loose with the ball at times as a dribbler, and has had turnover issues all year. Ideally, Wallace will be paired with a true lead engine and will be able to focus on wreaking havoc defensively and growing into his dribble-pass-shoot skill set offensively.

Baylor’s Keyonte George and Arkansas’ Anthony Black also project as lottery picks. George is a talented scorer and shot-maker despite the lack of elite athleticism, and adds value with his perimeter defense and occasionally flashy passing. Black is a huge point guard at 6’7 who projects as a versatile multi-positional defender, but NBA scouts will want to see him put more pressure on opposing defenses by developing a reliable jump shot and an in-between game.

Who are some college veterans who can rise in March Madness?

Kris Murray is the twin brother of Sacramento Kings rookie Keegan Murray, and has become a potential first-round pick by having his own breakout season this year with his bro off to the pros. Kris offers a similar skill set to his brother: At 6’8, 220 pounds, he can space the floor as a shooter, defend bigger forwards, and offer some supplemental rim protection and rebounding. Keegan is hitting 40 percent of his threes this year for the Kings — if Kris can do that, some team is going to get a steal in the middle of the first round.

  • Illinois has two players who can establish themselves as first-round picks in Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins. Shannon is the lead engine for Illinois as an athletic 6’6 wing who can attack downhill and hit threes when he gets hot. Hawkins is a toolsy 6’10 big man comfortable playing out of the perimeter offensively, but scouts will want to see if he can hold up enough on the inside defensively to play center in the league.

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