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Fresh 2023 NBA Draft Predictions

Zach Buckley

The 2023 NBA draft is right around the corner.

Do you know which prospect your team is taking yet?

Unless you're a fan of the San Antonio Spurs—jackpot winners at the draft lottery and soon-to-be employers of French superprospect Victor Wembanyama—the answer is no, but the closer the talent grab gets, the easier it becomes to make some educated guesses.

That's what we're doing here, in fact, with a quintet of draft-night predictions guaranteed* to come true.

*Predictions not at all guaranteed to happen.

No. 3 Pick Stays in Portland, and so Does Dame (For Now)

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This draft feels like a line-in-the-sand moment for the Portland Trail Blazers.

They have a 32-year-old superstar in Damian Lillard (he turns 33 next month) and the No. 3 pick in this draft. These items aren't supposed to coexist, as an authority no less than Lillard himself has already explained.

"If the route is to (draft youth), then that's not my route," he told reporters in April.

The availability of this pick has been an open secret ever since. The Athletic's John Hollinger relayed there is "widespread" speculation that Portland will package it with Anfernee Simons to land "an elite small forward."

That sounds fine in theory, as the Blazers have long needed two-way wings to give Lillard a puncher's chance at major postseason success. But good luck finding that "elite small forward" who is both available and on a team that would prefer having an early draft pick over a top-shelf talent.

Simons and No. 3 aren't prying Jaylen Brown away from the Boston Celtics. That package isn't bringing back Mikal Bridges, either. It's maybe enough to land Pascal Siakam, but he's not a small forward. It might be enough to get O.G. Anunoby, but he's not elite.

Portland will take its search beyond this quartet, but it could easily discover that the perfect trade partner doesn't exist. Teams that covet the dart throw that is the No. 3 pick probably don't have a lot of elite talent lying around.

Trading the pick for the sake of doing a deal does nothing for the Blazers, so there's a real chance they keep this selection.

Maybe that would make Lillard rethink his commitment to this club, but he wouldn't have to bail right away. If the No. 3 pick delivers a blue-chip talent who proves to be a fast learner, and Portland sees significant growth from people such as Simons and Shaedon Sharpe, this team might be able to make noise a lot quicker than Lillard initially feared.

Scoot Henderson Falls Outside of Top 3

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If anyone had the chance to topple Wembanyama as this class' No. 1 prospect, it had to be Scoot Henderson.

There was always a gap between the two, but for a time, it also seemed there was a sizable gap between Henderson and the rest. At this stage, though, that gap has all but evaporated. Brandon Miller has now become the popular pick at No. 2, as B/R's Jonathan Wasserman recently explained "some scouts around the league have cooled on Henderson."

Now, cooling on Henderson is a vague and relative term. It might be as simple as switching from the notion he is the clear-cut No. 2 in this draft to believing there's at least a conversation to be had about that pick.

But what if this cooling goes beyond that? He is an explosive athlete and creative playmaker, but he's also a 6'2" guard with a questionable-at-best jumper. This season, he shot just 42.9 percent overall, 27.5 percent from three and 76.4 percent at the line. For context, those are worse rates at every level than Russell Westbrook's career 43.8/30.5/77.8 slash.

Henderson isn't a perfect prospect in a vacuum, and he's far from a perfect fit for either the Charlotte Hornets or the Trail Blazers. They already have primary playmakers in LaMelo Ball and Lillard, respectively, and Henderson's shooting woes could torpedo his off-ball value.

If Charlotte snatches up Miller at No. 2, and Portland can't trade out of the No. 3 spot, it's very possible the Blazers could pass on Henderson in favor of someone like Amen Thompson, whose size, athleticism and two-way playmaking could make him a better fit with Lillard.

It's also possible Portland could simply prefer Thompson over Henderson as a prospect.

Both Thompson Twins Go Top 5

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Identical twins, Amen and Ausar Thompson, have long cemented themselves as lottery prospects in this draft. But that basic label might undersell where they actually sit in this class.

Each makes the short list of this draft's best athletes. They both stand 6'7", have blink-and-you'll-miss-them burst and bounce around like they aren't bound by the same laws of gravity as the rest of us. They differ a bit on offense, but on defense they are versatile, high-energy stoppers who turn steals, boards and blocks into breakaway chances in an instant.

They have one other thing in common: Both are reportedly "in heavy consideration at No. 4," per B/R's Jonathan Wasserman.

Of course, one might not even make it that far. Amen typically gets mocked a couple of spots higher than Ausar, but teams could order them differently on their respective big boards. Ausar is more developed as a shooter, while Amen is the superior shot-creator, so it might depend on team need more than anything to split them up.

If teams buy their long-term outlooks as even passable shooters, both could be among the first five picks. There aren't many question marks within their skill sets, otherwise. And since they check virtually all of the non-shooting boxes, they could be perfect for this increasingly position-less league that demands as many do-it-all players on the floor as possible.

Bilal Coulibaly Lands Inside Top 10

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If you've spent any time watching Victor Wembanyama highlights, chances are Bilal Coulibaly has landed somewhere on your radar.

Over time, though, the young swingman has gone from being Wemby's elastic-armed, defensive-minded teammate to a lottery prospect in his own right. In fact, B/R's Jonathan Wasserman recently shared that "rumors of a lottery promise have started swirling in NBA circles."

If the team that made that promise doesn't have a top-10 pick, then those words might be meaningless.

Coulibaly's draft stock is perpetually climbing, and with Metropolitans 92 advancing to the LNB Pro A Finals, he'll keep pumping it up. While other prospects are holding interviews and participating in workouts, he is putting front and center his ability to help his team win games—championship-round contests, at that.

The 18-year-old uses a 7'3" wingspan, a sturdy frame and a relentless motor to silence scorers of nearly all sizes and play styles. When he isn't pestering a perimeter player or battling on the low block, he's plugging up passing lanes and helping as a weakside shot-blocker.

His ability to create shots is still developing, but he's already an impact finisher and reliable spot-up shooter. As he continues digging deeper in his offensive bag, he'll cement himself as a top-10 prospect in this class.

Ben Sheppard Goes Top 20

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Ben Sheppard spent the past season putting up big numbers, but since he compiled them at Belmont—and never faced a ranked team—NBA teams were perhaps uncertain how much stock to put in those stats.

Then, Sheppard took a blowtorch to his competition at the combine, and it appears everyone is finally on board.

You could argue they should have been there all along. It's hard to sneeze at any Division I hooper going for 18.8 points a night while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from distance. But for those numbers to come from a 6'6" guard who can run pick-and-rolls, score on the move and defend multiple positions, you'd think this league would be all over him.

Maybe they will be after he cooked his competition at the combine. In his final scrimmage, he erupted for 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting (3-of-5 from range) with four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes.

He looks like a plug-and-play, starting-caliber 2-guard at the NBA level. Teams won't let a prospect like that sit on the board for too long.

You may not see Sheppard listed on every mock first round you'll find, but when the real event gets rolling, he'll be among the top 20 players selected.


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