7 Early Predictions for the 2023 NBA Draft
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Christian Liewig – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
Twenty-three years after good fortune and a 20-62 season landed them Tim Duncan at No. 1, the San Antonio Spurs will pick first in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Anyone who’s paid attention to the league over the last several months knows what that means: The Spurs have the right to select generational prospect Victor Wembanyama.
And, to a slightly less consequential extent, it also means we also know where everyone else will pick.
The final results from the 2023 #NBADraftLottery presented by State Farm:
3. Trail Blazers
Don’t let that seemingly concrete order fool you. It’s concealing a network of potential surprises, ripple effects and probably even a few trades. That’s why now is the perfect time for B/R’s Grant Hughes and Dan Favale to lay out draft-related predictions.
Which teams could move up or down? What veterans might be on the way out to make room for incoming rookies? Are we sure Tim Duncan won’t come out of retirement at age 47 to mentor Wemby like David Robinson did for him all those years ago?
OK, sure, we have a pretty good idea about that last one. But otherwise, anything can happen. Here are a few less outlandish possibilities to prepare for.
Wemby Won’t Be Traded
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Christian Liewig – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
Most of these predictions are too early, too speculative and complicated by too many variables to move past, say, the 60-percent confidence threshold.
Not this one.
Call it a cop out if you want. We’re going to bolster our prediction success rate by laying out a dead-certain, caveat-free lock: There is no chance whatsoever that the San Antonio Spurs trade the top pick prior to the draft.
ESPN’s Jonathan Givony noted Wembanyama’s “supernatural physical tools and talent” would give him “a chance to become an MVP candidate and possibly one of the best players we’ve seen in this generation.” And that counts as conservative analysis. Executives haven’t shown nearly that level of restraint.
Sean Highkin @highkin
A front-office person told me today at the combine that if Victor Wembanyama had an Embiid-like multiple-season injury before the draft, not only would every team still take him #1, they’d be willing to max him out on his second contract without seeing him play.
This is not what a man looks like when awarded a prize he might not keep.
NBA on ESPN @ESPNNBA
Let’s imagine the counterfactual, in which San Antonio considers trading the right to select Wembanyama. What would it even take? Are we talking Luka Dončić and multiple future first-rounders (which the Dallas Mavericks don’t really have)? Giannis Antetokounmpo as a starting point in negotiations with the Milwaukee Bucks? The barest outlines of a Wemby trade are too ridiculous to comprehend.
Which is why it’s not happening.
Charlotte Takes Brandon Miller at No. 2
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Brandon MillerJeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
When you really think about it, the draft begins at No. 2, where an existential dilemma awaits the Charlotte Hornets: Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller?
Let’s go ahead and assume they take the latter.
Pairing LaMelo Ball with another explosive creator has real appeal. The Hornets offensive ecosystem doesn’t have much from-scratch invention beyond him. Gordon “44 to 52 Games” Hayward isn’t part of the bigger picture or nearly durable enough to count on long term. And neither P.J. Washington (restricted) nor the unsigned/suspended Miles Bridges is much of a slowed-down maestro.
Still, Charlotte needs wings. At 6’9″, Miller has the size to leave his mark at both ends of the floor. He’ll provide enough scoring oomph to offset some of the “You passed on Scoot?!” unease.
Skeptics will point to a crummy showing in the 2023 NCAA Tournament as evidence that the Hornets should skew toward Henderson. That’s fine. But Charlotte isn’t your typical rebuilding team, in that they don’t even plan to actually rebuild for very long—or at all.
When the margins are this thin, I’d expect them to prioritize both talent and fit.
Blazers Will Shuffle Up Their Backcourt
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Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
The Portland Trail Blazers enjoyed some luck when they leapt to third in the draft, and perhaps a little more when the Charlotte Hornets landed at No. 2. If we assume Charlotte doesn’t draft Scoot Henderson, who could, theoretically, take the rock out of LaMelo Ball’s hands, that means the top guard in the draft could slip to Portland.
The boldest possible prediction would involve the Blazers trading Damian Lillard and building a next-gen guard combo with Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe. But we can’t quite get there.
Anfernee Simons, though? He seems like a trade candidate in this hypothetical.
One could note that the same logic surrounding Charlotte not taking Henderson (duplication of backcourt resources) would apply to Portland and Lillard. But Dame is over a decade older than Ball, and we’re assuming Miller is off the board. That makes Henderson the logical pick from a pure talent standpoint—and as a possible successor to Lillard a few years from now.
That leaves Simons as the odd man out. The Blazers like undersized backcourt duos more than most, but retaining Simons as a part of a diminutive trio is a bit much. At 23, coming off last year’s 21.1 points per game and toting a career three-point hit rate of 38.7 percent, Simons should have significant appeal to young teams seeking a lead guard to run the show.
We’re getting too many steps down the speculative path now, but if Portland can’t come to terms with Jerami Grant on an acceptable new contract, dealing Simons for his replacement would be a solid backup plan.
Dallas Trades No. 10
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Luka Dončić and OG AnunobyCole Burston/Getty Images
I mean, do the Dallas Mavericks have any other choice?
Sure, they could try selling Luka Dončić and free agent Kyrie Irving on the merits of playing alongside a 19-year-old like Taylor Hendricks or Gradey Dick or Cam Whitmore. Good luck with that.
Dallas’ window is right the hell now. That won’t change even if Kyrie bolts in free agency.
Never mind prospective targets. The Mavericks need defense everywhere, shooters to orbit Kyrie and Luka and just general defensive upgrades at the wing and center spots. They needn’t be too choosy, mostly because they can’t afford to be ultra-selective after throwing in the towel to keep this pick.
Whether they have the ammo to swing a bigger acquisition is debatable. They can pair No. 10 with one additional first-rounder (2026 or 2027) and some combination of Josh Green, Jaden Hardy and salary-matchers. That’s nowhere near enough to enter (hypothetical) Mikal Bridges sweepstakes. Is it enough to get them into OG Anunoby discussions?
They can, and will, and must find out.
Pacers Will Wind Up with Two Lottery Picks
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The Indiana Pacers are in prime position to get major value with their No. 7 pick. Villanova’s Cam Whitmore looks likely to be on the board in that range, and he’d bring wing versatility, defensive oomph and loads of athleticism. His shaky shot also wouldn’t cripple the offense with Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner bookending the first unit at point guard and center.
The good news doesn’t stop there. Consider this a bet that Indy finds a way to land a second pick in the top 14.
The Pacers also have the 26th and 29th selections in the draft, assets that may not quite represent enough value to move all the way up into the lottery on their own. But combine them with sharpshooter Buddy Hield’s $19.2 million expiring contract, T.J. McConnell’s $8.7 million deal with only $5 million guaranteed in 2024-25 or even stellar 2022-23 rookie Andrew Nembhard, and Indiana could get the attention of trade partners.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are slotted at No. 12, and they’ve already got a glut of young players who need minutes—and that’s before introducing last year’s No. 2 pick, Chet Holmgren, into the mix.
Perhaps Hield could uncramp the offense, and OKC could continue trading down or hoarding assets for further down the line. The Toronto Raptors, who pick 13th, might value Hield as a replacement for a potentially departing Gary Trent Jr. For that matter, McConnell could be a stopgap 1 if Fred VanVleet leaves in free agency.
What about the New Orleans Pelicans at No. 14? They’ll need spacing, which Heild could provide, if Zion Williamson is ever healthy enough to resume rumbling down the lane.
It’s too early for specifics, but the Pacers have the tools to join the Orlando Magic as two-time lottery pickers.
Utah Consolidates First-Round Picks
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Utah Jazz CEO Danny AingeAlex Goodlett/Getty Images
Armed with picks No. 9, 16 and 28, the Utah Jazz are good-to-great bets to consolidate first-round selections.
Indeed, they have the roster spots to use and keep all three. But they’re also caught in this weird rebuilding-but-not-really space after tearing down the previous era’s core and spending much of 2022-23 flirting with play-in contention.
Utah no longer has the look and feel of a team bent on slow-playing its reinvention. It would not be surprising to see team CEO Danny Ainge and general manager Justin Zanik package some combination of these picks, in addition to other future first-rounders, as part of a buy-now proposition.
Of course, the most likely endgame is more conservative: turning two of these selections into a singular choice.
Do Nos. 16 and 28 get the Jazz another lottery pick, perhaps from Toronto at No. 13 or New Orleans at No. 14? Or from Oklahoma City at No. 12? Or from Orlando at No. 11? Could they attach No. 16 to No. 9 and climb further up the top of the lottery?
Everybody after No. 3 seems like they could be open for business.
Whatever the scenario, go ahead and pencil in the Jazz for some type of draft-pick shakeup.
Utah won’t be holding onto all three of these spots come Jun. 22.
Houston Takes Amen Thompson at No. 4—and Keeps Him James Harden Joins
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Amen ThompsonChris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images
There’s an element of “Well, duh” to this prediction. Amen Thompson is almost universally considered a top-four prospect, and the Rockets, more than most teams, can use a 6’7″ caps-lock ATHLETE who majors in playmaking sorcery and moonlights in defensive disruption.
And yet, the James Harden-rejoins-Houston scenario looms large.
The Rockets remain interested in bringing Harden back, according to NBA Insider Marc Stein. Though they have the cap space to sign him outright without making any additional changes, we know that’s not how this works.
Harden’s return to Houston won’t happen in a vacuum, if it happens at all. The Rockets will consolidate some of their youth and other first-round equity into another big name once he arrives—or even just to get him signed on the dotted line.
Virtually every player and asset under their purview will be up for grabs. That’s how urgently (it seems) they want to win. Two of their next three first-rounders are controlled by Oklahoma City (with top-four protection), and the Rockets must start thinking about next contracts for some of the kids after this season.
Many, in turn, might assume Houston shops this pick. Perhaps it does. Others may default to the Rockets drafting someone and moving him later, potentially during the middle of the season. That’s possible, too.
I’m betting against both. Houston will take and keep Amen Thompson—even if Harden is already in the bag. Any subsequent blockbusters are more likely to feature Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. or Alperen Şengün.