The 2023 Draft class has yet to take to the hardwood for their first official NBA game. And while there is no Victor Wembanyama in sight for next year’s draft hopefuls, there are still plenty of young players who can have an impact on an NBA franchise.
Whether they play in the NCAA, the NBA G-League, or Overtime Elite, sixty young men will hear their names being called across the stage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next June.
Of those sixty players, the following fourteen are the most likely to be among the first-round lottery picks (listed by name, not predicted draft order). While it is far too early to predict where each player is going to be drafted, we can take into consideration what each NBA team needs and which ones will be in the lottery.
As it is a fairly weak draft class, compared to the last couple of years, don’t be surprised to see a number of picks moving teams.
Aday Mara: UCLA Bruins
Potential Draft Team: Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets have one of the pillars of their franchise already set in place with LaMelo Ball running the point. They are hoping that the second overall pick from the 2023 Draft, Brandon Miller can fill the role on the wing. Adding a young and talented big man who can space the floor on both ends is the next step.
7’3″ / 240 pounds with a 7’7″ wingspan certainly fits the bill for a big man. Add to the fact that the Spanish center is a talented inside scorer, capable passer, and mobile defender and the Hornets might have just found their third pillar.
Alex Sarr: Perth Wildcats (NBL France)
Potential Draft Team: Portland Trail Blazers
It’s inevitable that All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers will be parting ways, it’s just a matter of time. When that day comes, the team will turn the keys over to their youth, guards Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, and forward Shaedon Sharpe. All that is missing is someone in the paint.
For the second straight year, a seven-footer from France will be one of the more intriguing players in the draft. While he doesn’t have the skillset of Wembanyama, Sarr does have the athleticism to run with the young Blazers backcourt and the shot-blocking presence to potentially be Portland’s focal point defensively.
D.J. Wagner: Kentucky Wildcats
Potential Draft Team: Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are in a state of flux. They lost their starting point guard to the Houston Rockets with nothing in return (although they filled the role with Dennis Schroder). Their best players are often part of trade rumors and they have yet to turn the keys of the franchise over to forward Scottie Barnes.
Wagner is projected to spend just one season with the Wildcats, playing both backcourt positions. Standing just 6’3″, Wagner brings questions as to whether he will be able to physically match up with other NBA shooting guards. A strong finisher at the hoop, Wagner uses creativity and confident ball handling to get to the basket.
Donovan Clingan: Connecticut Huskies
Potential Draft Team: Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers have slowly been putting the puzzle pieces together and are close to once again becoming a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Standing 7’2″ / 265 pounds, Clingan is a mountain of a man, who uses his natural gifts on both ends of the floor.
While he isn’t the most athletic, Clingan does run the floor well and uses his size to be an effective rebounder and shot-blocker. A throwback to the old-school big man, Clingan has a soft touch in the paint and likely won’t roam too far away from the hoop. With Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin in need of a pick-and-roll partner, the Huskies sophomore would be a great backup or even running mate to Pacers’ current center Myles Turner.
Elmarko Jackson: Kansas Jayhawks
Potential Draft Team: New Orleans Pelicans
While he will have to battle a number of other Jayhawks for the spotlight in both stats and minutes, Jackson is projected to be one of the elite young point guards in the 2024 draft class. Although like many young players, his jumper remains a work in progress, Jackson has the ability to get to the rim using his speed, length, and athleticism.
The Pelicans are one of the biggest question marks entering the NBA season. Brandon Ingram should have been one of the leaders for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup but found himself playing a minimal role. If Zion Williamson is healthy, the Pels are a contender for a playoff spot. If both of these former Duke Blue Devils fail to live up to expectations, a trip to the lottery is in the team’s future.
Isaiah Collier: USC Trojans
Potential Draft Team: San Antonio Spurs
Yes, the Spurs lucked out this past summer with the addition of predicted franchise savior Victor Wembanyama, but the team is still likely to struggle as the phenom from France figures out the NBA game. And since every good big man needs a point guard, look no further than USC’s Isaiah Collier.
A pass-first point guard, Collier is a great pick-and-roll instigator. While he is built more like an NFL running back at 6’4″ / 205 pounds, Collier can either use his speed to play the finesse game or size to slow the game down and play some bully ball in the halfcourt.
Izan Almansa: G-League Ignite
Potential Draft Team: Dallas Mavericks
With MPV candidate Luka Doncic and All-Star Kyrie Irving occupying the backcourt, the Dallas Mavericks can use some help in the paint.
This past summer 6’10” Spanish forward Almansa launched his name up the NBA draft boards by winning a gold medal and MVP at the FIBA U19 World Cup. A year earlier Almansa captured a gold medal and MVP at the FIBA U18 European Championship as well as a silver medal and MVP at the FIBA U17 World Cup. While his shooting range isn’t that of a prototypical modern North American big man, he does have a soft finish at the hoop and is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. All of which the Mavericks are in need of.
Ja’Kobe Walter: Baylor Bears
Potential Draft Team: Atlanta Hawks
Rumors of All-Star point guard Trae Young leaving Atlanta for brighter lights have been spreading for the last couple of years. Why the Hawks would want to trade their only star player is slightly baffling, but sometimes change is a good thing. Whether Young stays or not, the Hawks can use some backcourt depth.
Standing 6’5″ with a 6’10” wingspan, Walter is a silky smooth shot maker, basically a hybrid of Young and current Hawks shooting guard Dejounte Murray. With the Bears losing three of their top three scorers to the NBA, graduation, and transfer, Walter will be asked to carry a significant part of the scoring load in his predicted one-and-done season.
Justin Edwards: Kentucky Wildcats
Potential Draft Team: Chicago Bulls
For the last couple of years, the Chicago Bulls have been good enough to make the playoffs, but they didn’t make much noise, bowing out early. Saddled with a trio of high-priced players who are on the downside of their respective careers, the Bulls need to look to the future.
A well-rounded 6’8″ combo forward who could potentially hear his name called first overall, Edwards can create for himself or others, score in transition with a highlight reel dunk or pull up from downtown for a long-range bucket.
Matas Buzelis: G-League Ignite
Potential Draft Team: Detroit Pistons
If anyone in the 2024 Draft class can compare to Wembanyama, it would be the Lithuanian big man. Similar to the San Antonio Spurs prized rookie and Oklahoma City Thunder rookie phenom Chet Holmgren, Buzelis, who weighs in at just 195 pounds is in need of putting on a significant amount of weight to battle bigger NBA opponents.
Projected to be a point forward, Buzelis has impressive handles for a player his size. With the ability to grab the ball off the glass and kickstart the offense, Buzelis is also a versatile offensive threat, finishing at the hoop with either hand and thanks to his size, his high-release jumper will be hard to block.
Ron Holland: G-League Ignite
Potential Draft Team: Washington Wizards
Standing 6’8″, 200 pounds, Holland is currently listed as a small forward for the G-League Ignite, but by the time he reaches his full growth and potential in the NBA, he could likely play either forward spot.
An amazing athlete, Holland combines an explosive rim attack with a soft touch for floaters and midrange jumpers. With continued work on his ball handling and perimeter shooting, Holland’s constant motor provides him with one of the highest ceilings in the draft.
Stephon Castle: Connecticut Huskies
Potential Draft Team: Utah Jazz
At 6’6″, Castle is a big-time talent who can get to any spot on the floor. While he may not have the speed or explosiveness of his draft peers, his size allows him to be an interchangeable backcourt player who can either run the show as a point guard or play off the ball.
The Jazz were one of the surprise teams in the NBA last season. While most assumed that they were in a full rebuild after trading stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, they started 10-3 and finished just three games out of a “play-in” spot.
Tyrese Proctor: Duke Blue Devils
Potential Draft Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
Likely more of a combo guard than a pure point guard, the 6’4″ Australian will be given every opportunity as one of the members of the Blue Devils starting guards. As the team’s second-leading scorer, Proctor finished the season as Duke’s leader in assists.
As current Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley is in the twilight of his career, adding a player like Proctor, who can not only score in a variety of ways but also pilot the offense, the Wolves would be an ideal landing spot for the twenty-year-old.
Zacchaire Risacher: JL Bourg (LNB Pro A)
Potential Draft Team: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are a team without a true identity. After blowing up their roster to rebuild through the draft, the team added a trio of veterans to their roster during the offseason who will likely get a significant amount of minutes under new coach Ime Udoka.
Standing 6’10”, Risacher is a prototypical European player, filled with more skill than flash. A great playmaker and passer, Risacher does not have much explosiveness but has a great basketball mind thanks to his father, Stephane, who helped France win the silver medal at the 2000 Olympics. Despite his lack of hops, Risacher’s size helps him get to the basket offensively and contest shots on the defensive end.