Scoot Henderson (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

2023 NBA Draft: Preseason Top 5 Prospect Ranking at Every Position

Jonathan Wasserman

As positions continue to evolve in today's NBA, so does the way we label and categorize prospects.

Among 2023 names, we broke down five main archetypes into lead ball-handlers, combo guards, wings, combo forwards and bigs. Certain groups feel significantly deeper than others, though each seems to have at least one potential star.

The combo guards and wings look like the most loaded, while the projected top-two picks are expected to be a lead ball-handler and a big.

Because of the talent that stretches across the positions, tanking teams should feel confident they'll find a fit this upcoming draft.

Primary Ball-Handlers

Scoot Henderson, G League Ignite (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

5. Nolan Hickman (Gonzaga, Sophomore)

After playing mostly off the ball last year behind Andrew Nembhard, Hickman should operate as Gonzaga's lead ball-handler. Freshman numbers don't tell us much about his playmaking potential, but high school tape and college flashes show he's a high-IQ passer and crafty setup man. With runner touch and finishing instincts, he also shot 60.6 percent inside the arc in 2021-22. Raising his 30.8 three-point percentage will be key for his draft stock.

4. Marcus Sasser (Houston, Senior)

Sasser's creation gives him lead guard potential, though he'll still need to use his handles and elusiveness more for playmaking. Regardless, NBA teams could see a primary ball-handler for their second unit, given how dangerous he is in pick-and-roll situations with his change of speed and shooting off the dribble.

3. Mark Armstrong (Villanova, Freshman))

Armstrong turned heads this summer with his athleticism, shot-making and playmaking flashes for USA in the U18 Americas Championship. For a ball-handler, the ability to sky above the rim, self-create and shoot off the dribble should look enticing. Scouts will want to see the 6'2" Armstrong establish himself as a legitimate lead point guard with more facilitating, though he'll have a good opportunity this year as a starter for a Villanova lineup that has a play-finisher like Cam Whitmore and upperclassmen who can score.

2. Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas, Freshman)

Smith looks like the most complete NCAA prospect with 6'5" positional size, self-creation handles and footwork, signature floater touch, a projectable three-point shot and enough playmaking IQ to run point full time. As long as his confidence and shot selection don't set off alarms, and his frame doesn't restrict him from separating and finishing, a balanced mix of scoring and passing production and flashes should keep Smith in the top-five discussion all season.

1. Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite, 2004)

G League defenses had trouble containing the strength, speed and explosiveness of a 17/18-year-old Henderson, who averaged 14.3 points and 4.2 assists on 51.0 percent shooting inside the arc. Though he'll want to improve his three-point shot, it doesn't need to be a big part of his game given the effectiveness of his special athletic ability for a lead ball-handler, his advanced mid-range scoring and playmaking potential.

Combo Guards

Cason Wallace (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

5. Terquavion Smith (North Carolina State, Sophomore)

After passing on 2022 first-round interest, Smith returns to expectations created by his 13 20-point games, 96 three-point makes and standout performance at the NBA combine. He'll have some pressure to improve on last year's 43.7 two-point percentage and finishing, which raised questions about his 165-pound frame. But NBA teams are on the lookout for microwave scorers with self-creation and shot-making skills, while flashes of pick-and-roll passing suggest there is more playmaking ability for Smith to unlock.

4. Anthony Black (Arkansas, Freshman)

Though Black can be used as a forward, he also earns a combo-guard label for his point-wing skills and experience bringing the ball up and facilitating. He'll add the most value with playmaking, the ability to guard ball-handlers at 6'7" and defensive IQ. Scouts may have questions about his scoring potential because of his burst and shooting.

3. Keyonte George (Baylor, Freshman)

George's scoring potential was on full display during July's GLOBL JAM, where he averaged 22.8 points off confident shot-making and shooting versatility. There are some questions about his limited athletic ability for separating and finishing, and whether he'll offer much value as a playmaker. Still, between the fearless driving, dribble-jumper game and knack for catching fire, George looks to have the right skills and mindset to score at the NBA level.

2. Cason Wallace (Kentucky, Freshman)

Best suited as a combo, Wallace should earn fans across the NBA with his creativity, shot-making and defense. No elite physical trait or skill means NBA teams may have difficulty picturing All-Star-caliber upside. But an extremely well-rounded skill set for scoring off the ball, pick-and-roll offense and shooting—plus outstanding defensive quickness for a 6'5" guard—should make Wallace one of the popular, perceived low-risk prospects outside the draft's Tier 1 names.

1. Amen Thompson (Overtime Elite, 2003)

Depending on what team drafts Thompson, he could be used as a guard or a wing. But aside from quickness, explosion, bounce and coordination that should put him in the NBA's 100th percentile athletes, playmaking also sets him apart from other players in the 6'7" range. His poor shooting will be a hot topic all season, but a limited jumper won't negate the impact of his ability to generate easy transition points, create for teammates and slide/cover ground defensively.

The Wings

(Cam Whitmore, Villanova) Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

5. Nikola Djurisic (Mega MIS, 2004)

Djurisic already looks on track to make a jump based on September's MVP performance at the Stevan Jelovac Memorial tournament in Serbia. Though not the most explosive athlete or shiftiest ball-handler, a combination of 6'8" size, translatable shot-making skill and passing feel hint at an easy NBA fit. He'll have a big role for a team that regularly gives its prospects an opportunity to produce.

4. Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite, 2003)

Loaded with quickness and leaping ability, Thompson impacts games with his transition offense, easy-bucket hops and defense. Flashes of one-on-one shot-making point to plenty of scoring potential as well, though his shooting and decision-making are still major works in progress.

3. Brandon Miller (Alabama, Freshman)

Explosive leaping, 6'9" size and guard skills create mismatch scoring potential against wings. It wouldn't be surprising to see streaky shooting or questionable decisions throughout the season, but at his size, consistent flashes of perimeter creation, tough dribble jumpers and exciting finishes could help Miller draw comparisons to multiple NBA star wings.

2. Dariq Whitehead (Duke, Freshman)

Throughout high school, improved self-creation and off-the-dribble shooting have turned Whitehead into a high-level NBA scoring prospect. While he has to continue improving his three-point consistency, finishing package and decision-making, the 6'6" wing possesses the tools, athleticism, first step, pull-up/step-back and general shot-making for on- and off-ball scoring.

1. Cam Whitmore (Villanova, Freshman)

At 6'7", 232 pounds, Whitmore gets the most out of his physical tools and athleticism for transition offense and half-court finishing. There are more skilled wing prospects, but Whitmore looks sharper every new cycle of events with his ball-handling, shooting and passing. Even without reliable creation or consistent perimeter shot-making, Whitmore should still continue to impact games with power, explosion and effort. He's a high-floor prospect who has the potential to keep rising as his off-the-dribble game and jumper keep evolving.

Combo Forwards

(Jarace Walker, Houston) Michael Reaves/Getty Images

5. Arthur Kaluma (Creighton, Sophomore)

A pair of big games for Kaluma in the African World Cup Qualifiers helped validate his strong 2022 postseason and signal a sophomore breakout. At 6'7", his shot-making potential, tools and athleticism hint at three-and-D potential, though he'll have to build on last year's shot-making flashes or add to his off-the-dribble game. Using the eye test, Kaluma seems closer to becoming a regular shooting threat than a half-court creator/scorer.

4. Leonard Miller (G League Ignite, 2003)

Miller's guard skills for a 6'10" forward caught scouts' attention during April's Nike Hoop Summit. He looked too raw at the NBA combine for the 2022 draft, so withdrawing and joining Ignite seemed like a sensible move. Though not super polished, enough flashes of three-point shooting, open-floor ball-handling, floater touch and rim runs should highlight enticing scoring versatility for a teenage forward with big-man height.

3. Dillon Mitchell (Texas, Freshman)

Quickness and bounce allow Mitchell to impact games without using many dribbles or threatening defenses with a jumper. He'll make his mark and money by giving his team easy baskets off transition, dunker-spot finishes and putbacks while adding defensive playmaking at the other end. Any development with his ball-handling or shooting would be a bonus.

2. Chris Livingston (Kentucky, Freshman)

Livingston should immediately pop to NBA teams with a 6'6", 220-pound frame and plenty of shot-making range. Even if he's limited to mostly spot-up scoring chances at Kentucky, scouts should see a translatable package of shooting, defensive tools and the ability to slash through contact.

1. Jarace Walker (Houston, Freshman)

At 6'8", 235 pounds, Walker combines powerful physical tools with budding perimeter skill and defensive activity. Scouts may ding him for missing a three-point shot, but this early in his development, the overwhelming strength, creation flashes, mid-range shot-making, passing and shot-blocking outweigh his need to add more shooting range.

The Bigs

(Victor Wembanyama, Metropolitans 92) Sonia Canada/Getty Images

5. Yohan Traore (Auburn, Freshman)

Traore's shooting development has been noteworthy, and it could lead to the 6'10", 220-pound freshman generating one-and-done buzz. He's still on the raw side, but the combination of pro tools and pick-and-pop potential, plus his motor/activity around the basket, may help scouts picture an NBA fit.

4. Dereck Lively (Duke, Freshman)

There isn't a ton of upside tied to Lively's archetype, but NBA teams still value elite finishing and shot-blocking from the center position, as evidenced by Jalen Duren and Mark Williams both going top 15 in last year's draft. At 7'1" with a 7'5" wingspan, scouts should see translatable pick-and-roll tools and rim protection tied to his length and motor. Promising flashes of over-the-shoulder scoring and set three-pointers (which we saw in high school) should help maximize his draft stock.

3. Kel'el Ware (Oregon, Freshman)

Ware offers 7'0" size, mobility and timing for NBA finishing and shot-blocking. He's also delivered enough glimpses of hook shots and shooting touch to hint at more scoring potential down the road. Scouts still figure to express some hesitation over his lack of strength and explosion for a center who doesn't offer much creation.

2. GG Jackson (South Carolina, Freshman)

At 6'9", 210 pounds, Jackson is mostly tools, athleticism and motor for transition play, finishing, offensive rebounding and defensive playmaking. He also won't turn 18 years old until December, which should create wiggle room and visions of upside when he does show the occasional jumper or ball-handling move. How close or far away he appears skill- and polish-wise will determine his final spot on draft boards, as it's possible he looks too raw offensively for a lottery power forward. Still, after averaging 14.0 points in 17.0 minutes at the U18s and leading the EYBL in rebounding, Jackson figures to produce his way into the first round, even if he appears limited in creating and scoring away from the basket in the half court.

1. Victor Wembanyama (Metropolitans 92, 2004)

The hype has been building for years behind Wembanyama's never-before-season creation and shot-making fluidity for a 7'3" big. He's already delivering, having put up a pair of 34-point games in the preseason. It appears the 18-year-old will be locked into a featured role that will allow him to showcase unprecedented scoring versatility fueled by perimeter skills, finishing tools and special movement. With regard to the No. 1 pick, G League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson will put pressure on Wembanyama to raise his three-point percentage, look comfortable with contact, minimize turnovers and stay healthy. However, the NBA draft has never had a prospect his size look this sharp putting the ball down, separating into jumpers and hitting spot-up threes while changing games defensively with his outrageous length, mobility and anticipation.

   

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