January is far too early for most NBA fans to turn their attention towards the upcoming draft; but for those who follow the Charlotte Hornets, it’s long overdue after what’s been the most tumultuous season imaginable to this point.
Through 49 games, the Charlotte’s 13-36 record has them second-to-last in the East with the third-best odds to obtain the no. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery. The bottom-three teams each get a 14 percent chance at picking first, the fourth team gets a 12.5 percent chance and fifth gets 10.5 before the odds start getting painfully slim. If the Hornets want a (relatively) strong chance at winning the lottery, finishing the season with a bottom-three record is the safest route.
Nobody wished for this months-long stretch of horrendous off-the-court and injury luck, but at least it came at the right time. French sensation Victory Wembanyama and G League Ignite prodigy Scoot Henderson are the prized, generational prospects at the top of the 2023 class, and Overtime Elite’s Amen and Ausar Thompson aren’t too far behind. If the Hornets shoot for the moon and finish with the worst record in the NBA, they’ll still land amongst the stars even if the lottery balls don’t bounce their way.
At this point, most basketball fans have a grasp on what Wemby can be as a player; 7-foot-3 bigs that can handle the ball and move on defense with guard-like agility and pace, protect the rim and space the floor don’t grow on trees. He’s been a pro since the 2019-20 season and is currently leading the French league with 21.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game on 47.9/29.5/81.1 shooting splits. Oh, and he just turned 19 years old this month. If, for some reason, you live under the world’s largest rock and have never seen him play, search “Victor Wembanyama highlights” on YouTube.
Henderson, the consensus no. 2 prospect in the class, would be an easy choice at no. 1 if Wemby wasn’t born in the same year as him. In his second year with Ignite, Scoot is putting up 19 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists on 45/25/75.7 splits in the G League regular season (excludes the Showcase Cup) as Ignite’s first option. He’s an electrifying athlete in the halfcourt with the burst to blow past defenders and explosiveness to finish on top of bigs at the rim, along with the dexterity and touch to finesse his way around the trees. When Henderson’s Ignite squad and Wemby’s Metropolitans 92 faced off in Las Vegas twice last October, both players showed out and each of them got a win.
After Wemby and Scoot, the consensus no. 3 prospect is Amen Thompson of the Overtime Elite program. Not far behind him in some rankings is his brother, Ausar, though Ausar has more detractors at this stage than his twin. Amen is more of a lead guard, possessing impressive pick-and-roll command and quick decision-making with real ability to finish at the rim. On the other hand, Ausar has more fluid jumpshot mechanics (though shooting projection is a question mark for them both) and fits better as an off-ball wing.
Both twins play tenacious defense, often picking up full-court and have other-worldly athletic ability that directly translates on that end into perimeter and interior defensive playmaking. The knock is that the Thompson Twins play against a lower level of competition than the majority of prospects in this class and they’re about to turn 20 years old, but the potential for NBA stardom is evident.
There’s a strong chance that none of the top-three picks in the 2023 Draft are NCAA players, which would be the second time in NBA history that’s ever happened (In 2001, Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler both declared out of high school and Pau Gasol played in Spain). In my opinion, Cam Whitmore of Villanova and Brandon Miller of Alabama are the two best college prospects in this class.
Whitmore missed the first seven games of the season following a thumb injury but has posted 18.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per-40 minutes with a 45.9/34.5/73.1 split in 13 games (seven starts) since. Athletically, he profiles similar to Miles Bridges but with even greater strength and spot-up ability as an 18-year-old.
Miller is leading all freshmen in scoring at 19.8 points per game and is arguably the best volume 3-point shooter in the nation at 45.7 percent on 138 total attempts and counting. He’s a dynamite shot-maker from deep with a lightning-quick release and draws fouls at a reasonable rate. Both Whitmore and Miller could improve as situational passers and second-level creators, but getting prospects of this caliber outside of the top-three is a rarity.
The Denver pick acquired in the draft night trade that sent Jalen Duren to Detroit is unlikely to be higher than the mid-20s, thus rendering it much less exciting for the average fan, but basketball players are more talented than ever and there are always gems to be found. Taylor Hendricks, Jordan Hawkins, Rayan Rupert, Terrence Shannon Jr., Jalen Wilson and Arthur Kaluma are just a few names to look out for when scouring the depths of draft twitter. That’s before we even get to the mid-second round pick coming via Utah where prospects like Emoni Bates, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Reece Beekman and Tyrese Proctor might be available.
We’ll do our best at ATH to try and pump out a few more articles about the draft, trade season, contract extensions, etc. in the next month. It can get tough watching the Hornets pile up losing streaks that seemed inconceivable about seven months ago — it’s understandable to move on and talk about future events like the draft as opposed to a fifth loss in seven games.
It’s way too early to posit about who the Hornets could/should draft, but it’s never too early to dream up theories about which prospect archetypes fit best next to LaMelo Ball.