By Luke Scotchie
The 2023 NBA Draft is closer than we realize. Only two months separate today from draft day, and we’re less than a month away from the NBA Draft Lottery. We’ve had months to scout these prospects and evaluate team fit, and through all that time studying, our perceptions of these players and teams are bolder and stronger than ever before.
Even though we’re firmer in our opinions, none of them are ubiquitous. You and I may disagree over the potential of a certain prospect, where he might fit best in the NBA, and even where he ranks among his peers. And that’s okay. Part of what makes draft speculation fun is the difference in opinions scouts have from one another.
But there are some opinions that almost no one shares with us. The ones that we firmly believe in that other people would laugh at. Some would call them brave, others would call them attention-seeking, but to everyone, they are hot takes. Everyone has them, myself included. I have four hot takes that many people would not agree with or would consider outrageous. But I’m not looking for a headline. These opinions were bourne out of months of studying film, watching prospects and tracking their growth over time.
Open the windows, because it’s about to get hot.
- Cason Wallace should be in the conversation for a Top 5 pick.
Wallace doesn’t get nearly the recognition he deserves. He’s the best defensive guard in this draft, and probably its best perimeter defender. He may be inconsistent on offense, but his 75.7% free throw percentage tells me his shot is legitimate. At bare minimum, he is going to be a reliable spot-up shooter that can carry a team’s defense. That may not be a superstar, but it is a difference-maker and a winner. Those types of players are very, very hard to come by. And in a league where most teams already have their star to build around, adding a player like that would seem like the next logical step.
I should clarify that there are plenty of guys in this draft who are worthy of top 5 consideration, and Wallace is by no means the first guy on that list. He should still be in that conversation though, since Wallace adds skills that players like Jarace Walker and Cam Whitmore do not. But most people seem to disagree with me. I’ve seen Wallace as low as 16 on recent boards despite the clear value he provides. I think he’s unquestionably a top 10 pick, and a team with adequate offensive firepower in need of guard defense and spot-up shooting should absolutely look into Wallace, even with the fifth pick.
- Dariq Whitehead will fall on draft night.
This is not a slight on Whitehead or his ability. I really like his game and I think he’s a lottery talent. But there are a lot of lottery talents in this draft class, more than the 14 players that will be taken there. At least one of those players is going to slip out of the top 20. In my eyes, Whitehead will end up in that unfortunate position.
Whitehead is a very good scorer. He’s really good at getting to his spots and separating from defenders. That’s what made him a top recruit when he was in high school. He has a remarkable three-point percentage (42.9%) with a beautiful form and free-throw percentage (79.3%) that suggests it will translate to the NBA. But this draft class is loaded with guys who can get you buckets, plenty of whom can do so than Whitehead. Both Gradey Dick and Jordan Hawkins are better shooters. Jett Howard and Brice Sensabaugh are better shot creators. And those guys were significantly healthier than Whitehead was this past season. In addition, Whitehead doesn’t have any other surefire NBA-level skill. The only things he does substantially well are score and shoot, and he’s not a top-three prospect in either category.
Whitehead will still be a first rounder, and I think he’s going to make a playoff team very happy. But I just can’t see him climbing ahead of the guys who do what he does a little bit better.
- Taylor Hendricks is going to be drafted much higher than you think.
I’m not entirely sure what position that will be, but I’d bet good money that he’s going, at the absolute lowest, in the top ten. He’ll certainly be gone before the late lottery, where many analysts think he’ll stick around for. He will be one of the first people to walk on stage, and if his stock doesn’t rise after the combine, I think he will be drafted high enough to surprise a lot of people.
Hendricks has the opposite effect that Whitehead does. He’s a jack of all trades at the four position who gets stops, shoots and protects the rim at an NBA level. He’s not the type of guy to create shots on his own, nor is he a primary option on a playoff team. But he has the upside of an elite role player on a championship team, and those guys do not come around often. Because of how rare players like Hendricks are, especially in this draft, I think he will be taken very, very high, despite not being that go-to scorer that most teams would look for in a top ten pick.
It all depends on who gets what selection, but if the draft order mirrors the NBA’s standings, I think he goes as high as sixth to the Magic and as low as 10th to the Mavericks. No matter where he ends up though, he will make any team better. That’s the type of player you take with a top ten selection, especially when you won’t players like that in the rest of this draft.
- Julian Phillips is a first-rounder
I’m not entirely positive if this is a hot take, but Phillips has always been in the first round or near the first round on my big board all year. His perimeter defense is just that good. You’re not gonna find guys this good at getting stops, this versatile, this switchable and with as good physical attributes as Phillips in this draft. He’s tall, has long arms and athletic as they come. He has the upside of a first team All-Defense selection, and outside of Victor Wembanyama and Jarace Walker, he’s the likeliest player in this draft to receive a defensive player of the year nod.
The issue with Phillips, and why many people don’t view him as a first-rounder, is his poor three-point shooting. And they’re not entirely wrong. He shot an atrocious 23.9% from the field this season, one of the worst marks for a perimeter player in this draft. But that’s probably not because he’s a bad shooter. His free-throw percentage of 82.2% suggests that ability and form is not the problem at all. I think his numbers could be explained by him just not being involved in Tennessee’s offense enough for him to really shine on that end, especially since the SEC Tournament, when he attempted more than six field goals only once.
I do think Phillips could consider withdrawing his name from the draft and return to Tennessee, or possibly even transfer to a school that gets him more touches. If he gets those numbers up and proves that his shooting is more than just theoretical, he’s easily a lottery pick in next year’s comparatively weak draft class. But I still think he’s a first-rounder if he chooses to stay in. That defense is scary on his own. Just wait until that shooting comes around.