With the First Pick: Postseason Mock Draft

By Luke Scotchie

The 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament ended with the Connecticut Huskies cutting down the nets. But they weren’t the only big winners of this year’s tournament. Several of college basketball’s brightest stars on all sorts of teams became household names in this tournament, giving NBA teams a reason to tune in to this year’s tournament.

Now that the 2023 NBA season has officially come to a close, I’d imagine that teams are going to pay much more attention to these prospects. Each team knows the range they’ll be selecting in, and they now have an entire seasons’ worth of footage of these prospects to go over. There’s still plenty of professional basketball left to be played, but it’s time to update our mock draft now that we have clarity on these prospects and selection order.

As always, this is not a big board, or even a list of best players in this year’s draft. This is a list of who I believe each team should take, given their draft position and players available. If the NBA Draft were to be held today, this is how I would conduct it.  

*Draft order is based on the reverse order of the NBA’s standings as of April 10, 2023. 

  1.      Detroit: Victor Wembanyama: Metropolitans 92
  2.      San Antonio: Scoot Henderson: G-League Ignite
  3.      Houston: Amen Thomspon: Overtime Elite
  4.      Charlotte: Brandon Miller: Alabama
  5.      Portland: Jarace Walker: Houston
  6.      Orlando: Cam Whitmore: Villanova
  7.      Washington: Cason Wallace: Kentucky
  8.      Indiana: Taylor Hendricks: UCF
  9.      Utah: Anthony Black: Arkansas
  10. Dallas: Ausar Thompson: Overtime Elite
  11. Oklahoma City: Rayan Rupert: New Zealand Breakers
  12. Orlando (via CHI): Gradey Dick: Kansas
  13. Toronto: Jalen Hood-Schifino: Indiana
  14. New Orleans: Keyonte George: Baylor
  15. Atlanta: Nick Smith Jr: Arkansas
  16. Utah (via MIN): Jordan Hawkins: Connecticut
  17. LA Lakers: Dereck Lively II: Duke
  18. Miami: Brice Sensabaugh: Ohio State
  19. Houston (via LAC): Jett Howard: Michigan
  20. Golden State: Kris Murray: Iowa
  21. Brooklyn (via PHX): GG Jackson: South Carolina
  22. Brooklyn: Kobe Bufkin: Michigan
  23. Portland (via NYK): Colby Jones: Xavier
  24. Sacramento: Julian Phillips: Tennessee
  25. Memphis: Dariq Whitehead: Duke
  26. Indiana (via CLE): Leonard Miller: G-League Ignite
  27. Charlotte (via DEN): Sidy Cissoko: G-League Ignite
  28. Utah (via PHI): Julian Strawther: Gonzaga
  29. Indiana (via BOS): Terquavion Smith: NC State
  30. LAC (via MIL): Maxwell Lewis: Pepperdine

You may notice that one of these names inside the Top 10 looks a little bit different from the rest. There’s a certain name there you might not normally see this high on other people’s mock drafts. But I think I’m just early. By the end of June, I’m very confident that UCF’s Taylor Hendricks is going to be a consensus top 10 selection.

That may seem like a bold prediction to make for a player who is near-universally seen as a late lottery pick at best. To be fair, those assessments of Hendricks’ games are accurate. He’s a jack-of-all-trades forward whose skill set serves best as a complementary piece on an NBA team, rather than its focal point. You wouldn’t rely on him to be your superstar player, but you’d kill to have him on your team if you’re just one piece away.

And that’s why I have Hendricks so high in this mock draft. Most of the teams in the lottery are just one or two pieces away from postseason contention. Most of the players that will be available in this range are guards, making Hendricks’s athleticism and versatility for his size in high demand. 

Teams like Indiana should be salivating over the thought of him, especially if they miss out on Jarace Walker. Hendricks slots right into that missing four-spot on Indiana’s roster, immediately improving Indiana’s defense and giving star player Tyrese Haliburton a catch-and-shoot partner. There are many ways the Pacers could go with this pick, and Hendricks should be near the top of their big board.

Speaking of Walker, I have him going to the Portland Trail Blazers at fifth overall. The Trail Blazers are in dire need of many things, two of which being defensive versatility and a future replacement for the aging Jusuf Nurkic. And after completing the tank of all tanks over the past few weeks, the Trail Blazers fumbled their way into Walker, a man who solves both issues. I’ve mentioned before how he has an argument for the best defensive prospect in this draft, which would be a great fit for the Blazers, who possess the third-worst defensive rating in the NBA. I don’t see a universe in where Walker gets past Portland.

The Trail Blazers fumbled their way into a top 5 selection by losing most of their final few games. The Dallas Mavericks fell into a top 10 pick through similar means, but not intentionally. The dynamic duo of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving did not make this year’s playoffs on a Mavericks team that was once the sixth seed in the western conference, thanks to what can only be described as a series of unfortunate events that would make even Lemony Snickett wince.

Granted, none of this failure was the fault of either Doncic or Irving. The Mavericks are 25th in the NBA in defensive rating, good enough for an analysis of “really, really bad.” But what separates them from teams lower than them, like Portland, is that the only players who can play even a shred of defense are liabilities on offense. Everyone else on this team is as defensively sturdy as a traffic cone in a hurricane. Losing Dorian Finney-Smith hurt this team badly.

So with the 10th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, why not select a potential replacement for Finney-Smith: Ausar Thompson. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders in this class, an expert at staying in front of his man at all times. Sure, there’s concerns about how his game will translate over from Overtime Elite to the NBA, but he has the athleticism and natural leaping ability to suggest that he’ll be just fine. If the shooting comes around, that’s even better. Doncic and Irving desperately need teammates that can stop other players from scoring, and Thompson is one of the best in this class at that.

You probably noticed that Dereck Lively II’s name is higher than it once was. I felt that Lively did enough in his two tournament games to prove that the consistent defensive versatility he showed all season is legit and will benefit any team. He can guard the pick-and-roll, perimeter and the rim with relative ease. This makes the Lakers a great fit for him, slotting him in as Anthony Davis’s backup/injury replacement. He dramatically boosts the defense of that second unit just by being there, and his presence in a starting lineup means that the Lakers wouldn’t lose too much on defense without Davis.

The Rockets are lucky to have Michigan’s Jett Howard fall into their lap at number 19. The Rockets don’t have many guys who can shoot off the ball, especially now that Eric Gordon is now gone. Howard is not only one of the draft’s best shooters, but he can also take charge of the offense whenever one of Houston’s shot creators goes cold. Of course, there are questions about Howard’s athleticism and defense, but adding a shooting threat to this Rockets team will work wonders for them.

Again, there’s still plenty of professional basketball to be played, but the draft process is about to start kicking off now. Teams will spend countless hours poring over their notes and footage of all of these prospects in an attempt to determine the best players and fits in this draft. Mock drafts like these offer insight, but we don’t know what these teams are thinking. All we know is that from now until June 22, they are determined to find the best player to select with their first pick.