As a Phoenix Suns fan, I was really mad watching the NBA Draft Lottery. I’m really disappointed that the San Antonio Spurs were the lucky ones in such a generational draft. Legendary coach Gregg Popovich said it himself before the ping pong drawing:
“We deserve no more luck ever in the history of NBA basketball.”
Nevertheless here we are. Here’s my knee-jerk “what would I do if I were GM of each team” mock draft for the first 14 picks (including any of my scouting reports I’ve already done), and spoiler alert: the top pick won’t surprise you.
1. San Antonio Spurs — Victor Wembanyama, 7-4 center, Metropolitans 92
I recently posted my closer look at Wembanyama over at Detroit Bad Boys (before they so tragically dropped from the top spot to #5 on lottery night), and my biggest takeaway was just how much time I spent laughing while watching the film trying to comprehend the prospect in front of me.
Now you factor in the emotional connection of France and the Spurs dating back to Tony Parker, who’s now the president of LDLC ASVEL, the French Euroleague club Wembanyama spent a season with.
"There's a special relation between France and the Spurs. ... The whole country wanted the Spurs to have the first pick."— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 17, 2023
(via @NBA) pic.twitter.com/PuPdb2KfaD
He averaged 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.0 minutes across 29 games for ASVEL, but averages 21.6 points and 10.5 rebounds in 32.3 minutes across 33 games this season for Metropolitans 92. In two games against ASVEL this season, he averaged 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in 31.5 minutes (1-1 record).
2. Charlotte Hornets — Brandon Miller, 6-9 wing, Alabama
He’s not the best player available on my board at this spot, but a lot of what Miller specializes in can open up LaMelo Ball’s game even more in terms of there being another true offensive threat alongside him. The drawback here would be that you’re leaning on two contact-averse offensive engines, but the potential spacing could be enough to make that a non-issue.
3. Portland Trail Blazers — Scoot Henderson, 6-2 lead guard, G League Ignite
One of my favorite players to watch in this class, pairing Henderson with Shaedon Sharpe would be enough for me to move on from Damian Lillard if I’m the Blazers. Portland would have a case for most athletic one-two punch in the league, and the two both have such high feel already with an even higher ceiling to reach, making for a fun development arc.
4. Houston Rockets — Amen Thompson, 6-7 playmaker, Overtime Elite
The Rockets are desperate for more sufficient playmaking, and the elder Thompson twin could be the perfect match due to his blink-and-you-miss-it processing in both half court and transitional situations. His shooting still needs some work, but that’s okay when you’re playing alongside players like Jalen Green or Alperen Sengun, who can manufacture offense on command, as well as budding forward Jabari Smith Jr.
5. Detroit Pistons — Ausar Thompson, 6-7 wing, Overtime Elite
The best way for me to explain Ausar’s game is to call it a more off-ball version of Amen’s, which is to say there are shades of Mikal Bridges there. Ausar is an elite cutter with a tangibly improving shot.
His three-point percentage shot up from 29.8% on 3.8 attempts in his regular season to 38.5% on 7.8 attempts per game in the postseason. The rest of his game is so good that if Ausar can even shoot 35% in his career, he’ll be a long-term mainstay in the league.
6. Orlando Magic — Keyonte George, 6-5 guard, Baylor
7. Indiana Pacers — Jarace Walker, 6-7 forward, Houston
8. Washington Wizards — Cason Wallace, 6-4 guard, Kentucky
9. Utah Jazz — Cam Whitmore, 6-7 wing, Villanova
10. Dallas Mavericks — Dariq Whitehead, 6’6 wing, Duke
11. Orlando Magic — Nick Smith Jr., 6-5 guard, Arkansas
12. Oklahoma City Thunder — Taylor Hendricks, 6-9 forward, UCF
13. Toronto Raptors — Leonard Miller, 6-10 wing, G League Ignite
14. New Orleans Pelicans — Anthony Black, 6-7 playmaker, Arkansas
Given how restrictive the new CBA will be against tax-paying teams like the Phoenix Suns, the 52nd overall pick — Phoenix’s only pick in this draft — feels increasingly high-stakes.
I like to think I have a pretty good handle on how James Jones sees prospects, but that could take on a new form when a new coach comes in. No matter the general philosophy, two positions stand out to me as needs: big and point guard. Take that how you will.
I’ve got my eye on a few different players to dive into early on in this pre-draft process that’s starting a little earlier than we would’ve liked it to following the second-round exit. There are two of each in play for me at #52:
- Colin Castleton (6-11 center, Florida)
- Ryan Kalkbrenner (7-1 center, Creighton)
- Jalen Pickett (6-4 guard, Penn State)
- Mike Miles Jr. (6-2 guard, TCU), whose scouting report will be out soon.
What do you all think the plan should be at #52? Who are the players I should add to my list?