There was a legitimate and reasonable debate up until the start of the 2022 NBA Draft about which player — Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith— would come off the board first. Next year, there should be no such debate.
The No. 1 pick will be Victor Wembanyama.
He's a 7-foot-3 18-year-old from France with a 7-9 wingspan who rim-protects at an elite level, has shown the ability to switch and guard smaller players in space and can play-make and shot-create on offense inside or outside of the arc. He's been described by some as one of the best NBA prospects ever, which is quite a statement but not hyperbole. On defense, Wembanyama is sometimes compared to three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. On offense, there are moments when he looks like a taller Kevin Durant coming off of screens and knocking down shots from all over the court.
Special. Special. Special.
So let the debate start at No. 2 — where Scoot Henderson, Nick Smith, Dariq Whitehead or any number of American-born prospects could go in the 2023 NBA Draft. That, of course, will be determined over the course of the next year. But the first name we'll hear come out of commissioner Adam Silver's mouth next June is maybe the easiest thing to predict this far in advance of an NBA Draft since LeBron James was getting ready to start his senior year of high school. The first name to be called will be Victor Wembanyama.
Let the tanking begin.
2023 NBA Mock Draft
| Victor Wembanyama (ASVEL)
Wembanyama projects as a franchise-changing talent who could be elite on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. His ceiling is non-existent and future could include Most Valuable Player trophies.
| Scoot Henderson (G-League Ignite)
Henderson averaged 14.7 points, 4.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game this past season as a 17-year-old professional with the G-League Ignite. He's a special point guard prospect with All-Star potential.
| Nick Smith (Arkansas)
Smith is an electric shot-creating guard who goes hard on both ends of the court in ways that NBA executives love. He should be the best player for an Arkansas team that on paper looks like a legitimate national title contender.
| Dariq Whitehead (Duke)
Whitehead is the latest elite prospect to come out of Montverde Academy. He projects as a switchable wing who should be able to make NBA 3-pointers reliably after starring in what will likely be just one season at Duke.
| Keyontae George (Baylor)
George is a big-time scorer who can and does make shots from all over the court. If he shows a better ability to make plays at Baylor, emerging as a top five prospect is very much possible.
| Dillon Mitchell (Texas)
No prospect improved his status in the sport during his senior year of high school more than Mitchell did over the past 12 months. He's a super-athletic wing who could go from being a sub-100 recruit as a junior to a lottery pick after one year of college.
| Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite)
Thompson is the star of the Overtime Elite program and is on track to become its first lottery pick. The 6-7 wing is a plus-defender and great athlete who is really only a reliable jumper away from leaping some of the prospects slotted above him here.
| Dereck Lively (Duke)
Lively is the top-ranked freshman entering college but a little lower here because he's a one-position player who plays a position (center) that's evolved in ways that could make him vulnerable when asked to guard in space. But that shouldn't stop him from being an elite rim-protector for Jon Scheyer's first team at Duke.
| Cason Wallace (Kentucky)
Wallace is a super-tough combo guard who plays with great energy on both ends of the court. He's the best prospect in Kentucky's latest recruiting class that has the Wildcats looking like a title contender.
| Jett Howard (Michigan)
Howard's consensus ranking among his high school classmates does not align with this slot in the 2023 NBA Draft. But he was the MVP of the Iverson Classic and left some evaluators insisting he was the most NBA-ready player at the All-Star game that also included projected lottery picks George and Wallace.
| Jarace Walker (Houston)
Walker is undersized for his position in a traditional sense but that matters less than ever in the modern NBA, where versatile forwards who can guard multiple positions are valuable. He's the type of piece that could lead Houston back to the Final Four.
| Cameron Whitmore (Villanova)
Whitmore raised his stock considerably by performing well on the All-Star game circuit following his senior season of high school. He's a wing who is more advanced defensively than offensively, at this point, but capable of being great on both ends of the court someday.
| Amari Bailey (UCLA)
The hype and celebrity connected to Bailey might not exactly line up with his potential as an NBA prospect. But he's still a legitimate top-15 talent who should be electric for a UCLA team expected to finish first in the Pac-12 and compete for another trip to the Final Four.
| Amen Thompson (Overtime Elite)
The less-heralded Thompson twin is still a possible lottery pick, which speaks to the talent in this family. As is also the case with his brother, shooting is the main area where improvement needs to happen over the next year to justify this projection.
Order determined by SportsLine 2023 projections prior to Thursday's NBA Draft