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NBA Draft Big Board: Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson Top 2023 Rankings

While the 2023 NBA draft seems destined to go down as the Wembanyama draft, here’s an early look at the top prospects on our draft expert's radar.

We’re two months removed from the 2022 draft and hurtling straight into 2023, where Victor Wembanyama lies in wait atop an intriguing group of incoming freshmen, college returners and international prospects. Now that I’ve had sufficient time to watch film, do research, canvas some early opinions around the NBA and clear my head (and not necessarily in that order), our first Big Board for the 2023 draft class is ready to go.

While it’s important to keep in mind that this is more of a watch list than anything else, given how far away we are from June and how quickly things will shift as soon as the season starts, I actually feel more optimistic than originally expected about next year’s draft. I’ve had an opportunity to see most of these players live at various junctures during their careers to this point and spent a lot of time digging back into old games to try and make this list as responsibly as possible. Projecting most things with certainty this early in a draft cycle is often folly, but it’s still fun to think about.

While this thing seems destined to go down as the Wembanyama draft, here’s an early look at the top prospects on my radar as we move toward the fall. Keep in mind, again, that this is not a mock draft, but an objective exercise to look at these players relative to one another in a vacuum, which is driven by my personal process and preferences. So, here’s some food for thought.

Victor Wembanyama

Victor Wembanyama is currently the No. 1 prospect on SI's early 2023 NBA draft big board. 

1. Victor Wembanyama, C, Metropolitans 92 (France)

Height: 7'3" | Weight: 230 | Age: 18

Well, here’s the guy everyone wants: Wembanyama has been driving quite a bit of excitement in NBA circles for some time, with teams having already done quite a bit of homework in anticipation of his arrival. This is a potentially transformational player who’s earned his status around the league as a near-unanimous No. 1 prospect, which doesn’t happen as often as you think, nor does it usually happen this early in the process. Wembanyama is foremost an exceptional defensive talent, with the size, reach and instincts to cover quite a bit of area by himself, and a knack for bothering shots. He’s been listed with a 7'9" wingspan, and also has above-average mobility and foot speed for someone his size. On the offensive end, Wembanyama is still kind of scratching the surface, but he’s efficient around the basket, has flashed jump shooting ability and operates with a type of fluidity atypical for a 7-footer, which gives him room to grow creating his own offense. Of course, Wembanyama will need to remain healthy at his size to deliver on his promise. But the bankable value offered by his defense and shot-blocking coupled with considerable room to grow as a scorer could make him one of the better bigs in the NBA pretty early in his career. When we see teams start to quietly tank in January, this will be why.

2. Scoot Henderson, PG, G League Ignite

Height: 6'2" | Weight: 195 | Age: 18

Henderson needs little introduction following a successful first year in the G League, during which he turned 18 midseason and fully established himself as a highly advanced prospect for his age. He has every physical tool in the box, good leadership traits, and offers a pretty high floor as a starting-caliber point guard, not to mention a star trajectory. Henderson can get into the paint when he wants, knock down shots off the bounce, and already has terrific pick-and-roll acumen. There’s also tons of room left for him to improve: He’s not a good catch-and-shoot player yet, can be a more consistent defender, and is still learning the ins and outs of point guard play. The simple fact he not only held his own, but often excelled as the youngest player facing quality competition last season bodes exceptionally well. At this point, it will likely require a massive shooting leap for Henderson to have a chance at leapfrogging Wembanyama in the top spot, and that may not necessarily be likely. Regardless, he’s an excellent prospect and could be the first guard off the board, and scouts are eager to see what he adds to his game with Ignite before making the jump to the big leagues.

3. Nick Smith, G, Arkansas | Freshman

Height: 6'5" | Weight: 185 | Age: 18

Smith holds the early crown as the top incoming college guard prospect as an unusually gifted improviser and energy-bringer who should be able to play point guard full time in the NBA. He was particularly outstanding at the Jordan Brand Classic in April and established himself as arguably the top incoming freshman in college hoops. It’s worth noting that his listed height is a bit generous, but that’s sort of beside the point: he’s a great athlete who plays with remarkable pace and shiftiness off the dribble, and doesn’t take plays off. Smith will have to continue working on making plays for teammates, but his ability to play fast, put pressure on the rim and draw defensive attention should translate, and he has the right tendencies to be a full-time lead guard in the pros. He’s also a competent shooter and positional defender. The upside here is pretty substantial, and Smith should be appointment viewing in the early going at Arkansas. He’s already built a large contingent of fans around the NBA.

4. Amen Thompson, G/F, Overtime Elite

Height: 6'7" | Weight: 200 | Age: 19

Thompson’s playmaking and live-wire movement skills give him a chance to eventually initiate offense in the NBA, and a slight nod over his twin brother in these early rankings. Overtime has been developing him as a point guard, and while his handle and jumper have to improve quite a bit for him to realize his full potential, Thompson’s athletic profile remains tantalizing. At 6'7”, his speed and passing gives him a bit of a failsafe if his shot doesn’t come all the way around, as he should be a threat to play downhill in the halfcourt and generate offense in transition. He also projects as a plus defender, with great foot speed, a long stride and plus shot-blocking ability for a wing. The fact the Thompsons turn 20 in January and are older than their peer group is a factor, but their sheer athletic gifts and all-around talent should help transcend some of the questions about their competition. The bigger determinant in where Thompson ultimately falls will hinge primarily on his skill and shooting progression come spring.

5. Dillon Mitchell, F, Texas | Freshman

Height: 6'8" | Weight: 200 | Age: 18

One of the standouts on the All-American game circuit, Mitchell is an elite run-jump athlete who’s learning to take over games with constant energy. His size, versatility and low-maintenance style make him a pretty quintessential modern frontcourt player, able to play above the rim, operate in traffic and transition, and defend multiple positions. The growing frequency and efficiency with which he impacts the game as a rebounder and finisher has been impressive to watch over the past 18 months. Mitchell doesn’t create his own shot all that much and was an infrequent jump shooter in high school, which will be an area of interest for NBA teams in projecting forward. Factoring in his athletic profile, productivity and room for skill development on top of that, Mitchell has quite a bit of untapped upside to offer, and there’s a big opportunity for him to rise over the course of the season. He’s on an excellent trajectory at the moment, and while this may be higher than you’ll see him ranked elsewhere, don’t be surprised to see his draft stock spike early in the season.

6. Ausar Thompson, G/F, Overtime Elite

Height: 6'7" | Weight: 205 | Age: 19

Boasting electric athleticism comparable to that of his twin brother and a more aggressive mentality as both a defender and scorer, Thompson presents plenty of upside in his own right. He also shares similar weaknesses at this stage: His handle can get a bit loose going into traffic, and his jumper remains inconsistent despite a higher release point. Thompson is an elite mover with glide to his step and gets off the floor quickly, allowing him to impact the flow of the game with energy around the rim and making him quite difficult to score on in space. If the shot comes around, he profiles as a viable wing playmaker, with very high-end defensive potential regardless. Like his brother, Thompson’s progression as a ballhandler and jump shooter will ultimately dictate where he hears his name called on draft night. Both are special athletes with strong makeup, but there’s more for them to prove over the next 10 months to establish footing in what’s shaping up as a pretty strong draft class.

7. Dariq Whitehead, G/F, Duke | Freshman

Height: 6'6" | Weight: 190 | Age: 18

Whitehead has been on the NBA’s radar for some time and enters college as one of the youngest prospects in this draft class. While he doesn’t boast any one elite skill at this stage, he’s an advanced, well-balanced player who understands team basketball and has good-but-not-elite size on the wing. He’s also a plus defender, with good anticipation and quick lateral movement skills. Whitehead is more smooth than he is explosive, and he’s a pretty streaky shooter who can be over-reliant on tough jumpers. I think it’s important to temper some expectations at this early stage about his scoring efficiency in the halfcourt—and his star upside may ultimately be tied to that—but factoring in his youth and the NBA’s constant need for well-rounded wing players, Whitehead has a solid foundation to work with moving forward. His offensive progression should ultimately be what dictates his place in the lottery hierarchy, but assuming continued growth, he’s a pretty safe bet to play in the NBA for a long time.

8. Jarace Walker, F, Houston | Freshman

Height: 6'8" | Weight: 235 | Age: 19

Walker has taken an estimable step forward over the past year, and now couples his enormous frame and above-average coordination with an improved mentality and ball skills. He still needs to build better habits, but the NBA is always searching for huge players who are good at a lot of things, and Walker fits that bill: he’s an efficient, opportunistic scorer who doesn’t need his number called to be effective, he can function on the perimeter as a terrific passer and improving shooter, and he’s long and strong enough to potentially moonlight at center in smaller lineups. Walker also appears to have matured quite a bit in his approach over the past few seasons, and he’ll have a terrific platform to boost his stock at Houston, a contending program that hangs its hat on its toughness and commitment to doing the small stuff. His sheer size and feel to play should serve him well in college, and he very much fits the positionless frontcourt mold that the league tends to favor.

9. Cam Whitmore, F, Villanova | Freshman

Height: 6'6" | Weight: 235 | Age: 18

After a good spring on the All-American circuit, Whitmore broke out at the FIBA Under-18 Americas, where he paced Team USA on its way to gold. He’s a powerful athlete with a developing floor game whose name has gathered momentum in scouting circles this summer. However, I do think there are some yellow flags here. Whitmore relies on his strength and first step to get into the paint and attack the rim, but doesn’t excel at getting defenders off-balance with his handle. He’s on the young end for a freshman and has always had a physical advantage against his age group at a well-built 6'6”, but doesn’t have game-changing size or length by NBA standards. This places heavy weight on two growth areas: continuing his positive progress as a shooter, and turning up his defensive motor to help him play bigger than his frame. I think Miles Bridges (on the court only) at the same stage is a reasonable point of comparison for Whitmore, and if he tracks along the same path as an athletic combo forward who can space the floor and guard, he’ll offer some pretty useful baseline value in the pros.