By Avi Tyagi

Tier 1: Franchise Definer from Day 1

Victor Wembanyama

What more is there to be said about Victor? Defensively, he does it all. In the last 20 years, only 2 prospects have drummed up a comparable amount of buzz: King James and Zion Williamson. He’s an elite future-MVP if everything goes well. I don’t consider it particularly fair to put expectations of LeBron James or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a 19-year-old though, even one as inordinately talented as Victor. His upside is clearly visible. Towering at 7 foot 5, Victor can touch the rim just with his standing reach. As a defender, he might be a top DPOY candidate by year 2. Rarely do bigs block shots and smartly contest ball handlers the way he does without fouling. Victor’s signature move in the LNB Pro A league is the elbow block. It’s ridiculous. Early on, MVP-candidate big men and power forwards will be able to back him into the rim with physicality and nullify some of his paint presence, but most mere mortals must be on the lookout when Victor roams the paint. With Mets 92, Vic would dictate entire quarters, as ball-handler after ball-handler finally created paint penetration only to quickly turn away from the rim because of the 7 foot 5 falcon hovering within a 10-foot radius. Offensively, he’s a highlight reel of gangly limbs and super skills. He crosses defenders over with the fluidity of a man 12 inches shorter and I appreciate his passing intention even if he’s not elite in that regard. Offensive self-creation is the swing skill that will determine just how high he can climb. I believe in his ability to generate pull-ups long term and his 82% free throw percentage bodes well. It’s his ability to attack off the bounce and cut north that would be the game changer. At his height and current weight, it will be difficult for him to beat his man in isolation, even with a reliable bag. As an athlete, he’s solid when considering his height, but his first step can only be so quick at that size. He’s not the instinctive passer that LaMelo, Giddey, Jokic, Haliburton, etc. are, so his passing value will increase exponentially as his driving game improves (as is the case for most players). If Victor begins burning down defenses with consistent paint penetration, it’s over. He’s the perfect fit for the Spurs and the Spurs need him to help maintain the culture they’ve established over the course of several decades. Since the Spurs established themselves in San Antonio in the 1973-74 ABA season, the franchise missed the playoffs a total of 4 times until 2019-20. 32 out of 36 seasons! All hail (the underrated) George Gervin, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan! Since then, they’ve had 4 straight seasons of missing the playoffs and sustained periods of losing can often damage the culture of an organization. The handling of the Josh Primo situation and the interview process behind acquiring Anthony Lamb did not publicly come across as well orchestrated. The positives: the Spurs continued to play hard and as a team even through some pitiful stretches after the All-Star break and the organization did an excellent job of developing Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, Jeremy Sochan, Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl, and Dejounte Murray over the past few seasons. If winning fixes all, Victor can help rejuvenate the Spurs and help this organization become a big-market international draw. They’ve marketed matches in Mexico, were the first team with a well-established culture focused on broadening perspectives and bringing people from different walks of life (as highlighted by Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker among others), and have expanded their footprint into Austin with regular season games. Victor brings it all. Now we just need him to follow the footsteps of The Iceman, The Admiral, and The Big Fundamental by earning an iconic nickname.


Tier 2: The Future of Paint Dominating Guards

Scoot Henderson

I’ve been watching Scoot since he first joined the G League Ignite and he’s still unbelievable. His high school tape was already some of the most fun highlight reel material you could find, but the instant applicability of pillars of his game to the pro experience at the age of 17 was something different. Scoot’s athleticism makes him a walking paint touch. His bounce is superb and his first step is only a touch slower than a young De’Aaron Fox, despite weighing 26 pounds more than Fox at the same age (196 to 170). He’s crafty and fearless on drives to the rim, but he’s also wise enough to avoid jumping over shot blockers when he can power through or around them. While pure point guard play and the intersection between when to pass and when to shoot might not be as natural to him as it is for the best passers in the league, he can create windows with anticipation and placement when he toggles to “assist mode”. I don’t anticipate him being a knock-down shooter, but I think he’s closer on the scale to Luka Doncic’s shot than he is to Ja. His comfort working the midrange is intriguing, even if he settled for it too often in G League settings. Scoot’s 76% free throw figure over the course of his G League career is similar to other mid ranger scorers such as Doncic or Fox and his shot is far more orthodox than either of theirs. His motor isn’t Jose Alvarado’s, but it is above average for his age and he’s a selfless teammate more than willing to cut or work off of the ball to let others shine, a rarity among even future superstar guards at his age. As a person, he can step in and be an instant culture setter as a ferocious, precocious face of the franchise who cares about uplifting and supporting his community. Despite playing against pros across the pond, the only ball-handler able to consistently generate openings or finish past Victor was Scoot during the G League showdowns. His handle is tight for his age and he can get to his spot most of the time. I just can’t remember a guard being built the way he is with the game he has. Ja Morant is a better passer and can elevate further, but Scoot has a similar game despite being built more like Marcus Smart. It’s uncanny. Defensively, he’s got strong hands in passing lanes, but he has a lot of fundamental mistakes he must clean up to reach his potential on that end. He’s more bumper car than racecar when navigating around picks and he was far too upright in the post against height and weight mismatches. There were stretches of poorer attention to detail as the season wound down and the lack of stakes seemed to impact the team as a whole. I wouldn’t say he played with low energy, but there was definitely a gap between snarling Scoot and regular Scoot on defense at times. The right franchise can definitely help him develop and hone in on helping utilize his speed, size, and core strength to mitigate opponents out at the perimeter. I see no reason for him not to be a plus defender (for a point guard) by year 2 or 3. Scoot is incredible and clearly number 2 for me.


Tier 3: Flawed Self-Creators Tier

Before I get into this tier, there’s one name conspicuously missing here whom I realize I must discuss. Teams have more insights and resources to learn more about the terrible crime that cast a dark shadow over Brandon Miller and Alabama’s program and have been able to conduct interviews with him as they gather more details about all that occurred and who Brandon is as a person. I do not. I should mention that much of the noise coming out of draft interview season and from public reports published about case has specified that he was not at fault and was simply the driver unknowingly carrying a concealed firearm that had been planted in his car earlier. There was no clear evidence to prove Brandon guilty and warrant an arrest, but for teams, the most important thing is to determine the reliability, honesty, and trustworthiness of the person they’re committing to. I do not have that information. From what I know, he did receive the text “I need my joint”, although reports indicated he was already on his way when the text was received. In the aftermath, Brandon chose to do a pre-game warm up routine where a teammate emulated performing a standard pat down procedure on him. Pre-game warm up routines are interactions between teammates meant to hype each other up, stay loose, and have fun. The Alabama coaching staff quickly shut down the routine once it began making headlines. While that routine may have been an insistence on his innocence or simply Brandon’s typical routine all season, it did not feel very sensitive to the serious nature of the case. I don’t like having to make a choice here about whether to place him on this list or not, but ultimately, I just don’t feel comfortable doing so. 


Anthony Black

Anthony Black’s poise stuck out to me. The spacing around him at Arkansas was terrible and clogged many driving lanes, yet he kept his composure and never overdribbled or rushed into turnovers despite the chaos. On an NBA court, I think Anthony will be able to generate consistent paint touches and make easy outlets for 3s, laydowns at the rim, and opposite corner skips all with relative ease. He does everything well but shoot. He’s a massive point guard who defends, makes touch passes with the same as he passes in the PnR, and plays like a teammate and leader every surrounding player would gravitate to. His perimeter defense is excellent, only a notch below someone like Dyson Daniel last season, and I definitively prefer Anthony Black’s offensive game. Anthony’s handle is solid for an NBA guard, but his turnovers were high in college situations. I chalk that up to teams practically double teaming him in gaps due to the supporting cast. He will get to the line at will and his size will allow him to exploit smaller mismatches when his defender is level. Teams will continue to go under screens until his shot improves, but his baseline isn’t hopeless at the moment. If the shot clicks, I can easily envision a scenario where Anthony’s a two-way force and an All-Star. If not, I see the floor as a high-level sub-All Star in his prime, consistently contributing to winning basketball.

Amen Thompson

Watching the Thompsons was fun from an audience perspective. The transition dunks and clear athleticism gap made games feel like superhero training montages more than competitive games. That being said, Amen Thompson is the ultimate ceiling-floor proposition. Amen is a dynamic athlete and might step in as the most athletic wing in the league (since Giannis and Zion are forwards). At the same time, he’s experimental and crafty as a finisher. Not everything he tries works, but I appreciate the freedom he plays with. In transition, he is a fearsome combination of passer and driver and will immediately generate easy points in the league solely off of that combination. In half-court settings, he’s a smart cutter and his two-foot jumps make him a true lob threat. He can play the pick and roll well and will find small windows. Unfortunately, his shot is beyond broken imagination despite best efforts. What do I do with a player like this. If he shoots, I’d love him. If he can’t, why would he get the ball enough to be a true shot creator? His defense is active, but felt relatively untested in the lower league environments of OTE. He was several years older than most of his competition and it’s not at all applicable to the league. I still maintain that his quick hands will be effective, but there will be a learning curve in terms of perimeter defense. I might have a greater focus on upside than most, which is why I still have Amen at 3. At worst, he will probably be a borderline starter or bench forward who gets played off the court in high-level playoff matchups because of his shooting. The upside: the right NBA franchise helps his shot become serviceable in 3 years and Amen trounces opponents on the way to All-Star status as a heliocentric creator on a fast-tempo offense.

Ausar Thompson

Everything I said about Amen applies to Ausar. Ausar was treated more as the wing and took larger defensive responsibilities while Amen ran the show on ball, but I don’t think Ausar is that off from Amen as a prospect. I view Ausar as a point wing, just like Amen, and would encourage him to focus on ball-handling and shot creation until his shot becomes passable as a spot up. The main difference between the two is explosiveness and creativity at the rim. Amen is more explosive and more skilled at using hang time to create layup opportunities than Ausar. Within transition settings, Ausar was a poor finisher at the rim due to suboptimal takeoff points and a lack of comfort finishing around size. I don’t see the gap as being drastic enough to have Amen far, far ahead of Ausar. The Thompson twins are complete outliers and difficult prospects to parse. I don’t feel confident, but as pure upside swings, the combination of explosiveness, handle, passing, and defense drives my choice to place both in my third tier.

Cam Whitmore

Cam Whitmore is an explosive scorer and acceptable defender with the upside to become a brick wall and stalwart on that end. Within this tier, Whitmore will have the easiest time generating rim attempts at will in pure isolations due to his combination of size and power. He’s only at 6 because of his passing. Cam is just miles away from being a first or second option on offense because he struggles to create scoring opportunities for others. Once he puts his hed down and picks up steam, he doesn’t yet have the vision to find teammates. I view high-level passing vision as one of the hardest skills to learn over time. He will learn simple reads and could easily become a passer in the mold of Jaylen Brown. I’m just not sure how much further up the ladder he could climb. He’s the most developed shooter of the bunch and will likely fluctuate between 35-38% from distance depending on the difficulty of his attempts. The step back is cash and the threat of his drive will open up plenty of shots from the perimeter. He’s a full-fledged scorer, but the upside might be capped by his vision. His baseline is the lowest of any prospect I can remember. It’s also easier to reach the floor of simple playmaker than it is to improve from that baseline. If 3-4 years of earned reps on ball results in him taking a leap to become a simple playmaker, an outcome similar to Jaylen Brown or the Brooklyn Bridges version of Mikal Bridges is certainly possible. In the meantime, whichever team drafts him must do their best to space the floor around him and to let him operate not just as an isolation scorer, but as a cutter and a screener capable of punishing defenses from several different options. He can be a starting caliber wing; he must take the leap to be more.


Tier 4: Upside Secondary Creator

Kobe Bufkin

He’s just solid at everything and profiles as a quality shooter in the future. He’s longer than you think and the ideal combo guard, able to switch between guarding like a conventional 2 and passing like a point guard. He’s athletic enough to stick with most NBA guards and he’s still physically maturing. I could see him switch to point guard full time if teams feel uncomfortable about having a slenderly built 6-foot 4 shooting guard, but I do feel his passing would be best served in an on-ball role anyways. Bufkin’s not the dynamic level of athlete that the names above him are, hence why he’s in his own tier, but he’s a smart, crafty player who takes little off the table. He’d be a perfect fit for a team with a bigger wing or lanky shooting guard initiator.


Tier 5: Well Rounded Power Forwards

Jarace Walker

Taylor Hendricks

Jarace and Hendricks are two-of-a-kind in this draft. I prefer Jarace’s passing, rim finishing, and switch ability on defense to Taylor (even though Taylor is currently the better shooter), but it’s a matter of taste. We’re looking at potential 1-4 switch options who can anchor small-ball lineups against the right matchups. While Hendricks can shoot, I don’t feel particularly threatened by either when they’re simpler spacers occupying a corner. Each provides excellent secondary rim protection; I don’t believe in either as self-creators. Nuggets’ Aaron Gordon would be a fantastic outcome for either and I suspect that appeal will rate highly with teams.


Tier 6: Multi-Faceted Force on One Side of the Ball

Dereck Lively II

If Dereck Lively gave me anything to work with on offense aside from his passing, he would be so much higher on this list. There were many bigs in my top 20 for last year’s class and I view as Lively as a better defender than any of them. His ground coverage is superb, and he’s truly switchable. Some bigs are comfortable out at the perimeters, others welcome it. Lively profiles to me as a big who could potentially welcome it down the line. He swallows shots with his athleticism and boasts a monstrous 12.8% block rate. He was the driving factor behind Duke’s resurgence, as Dereck’s aggressiveness on the glass and the team’s choice to let him switch more often created the perfect environment for a more frenetic defense to swallow up opponents. He fouls a lot on defense, but almost every great defensive big cuts down on their defensive foul rate with experience and improved core strength. On offense, Lively has good vision making reads off of offensive rebounds and is an excellent roll threat finisher. Unfortunately, that was about it. While his workout reviews sound wonderful, on tape, that’s practically all we got. His jumper didn’t fall and neither did his free throws (60%). Even on layups, Lively was a meager 48.8% at low volume. In short, Dereck can roll, he can pass, he can defend like almost no other, but to be a special center, he must improve his scoring volume, particularly by being more aggressive off of putbacks and developing at least some 1 or 2 dribble finishes.

Marcus Sasser

Sasser will give you 2-level scoring and quality guard defense. He has the best pull-up jumper in this class and he can finish when he does manage to squeeze into the paint. As a smaller guard without super-athlete burst who sometimes overdribbles, the paint touches are infrequent enough that he can’t be earmarked as a 3-level scorer, but Sasser can create. He’s a scoring guard by nature, even if he is an acceptable passer so his game will ultimately come down to the pull-up shooting. In a breakout year, Marcus shot 84.8% from the line and made 38.4% of his 3s on incredible volume (12.5 3s per 100 possessions per Bart Torvik). The 3s he took were a mix of C&S and pullups and he was relatively effective in either category. I believe in his ability to be an average point guard defender capable of generating steals through quick slides to cut off driving lanes and smart hands to pry the ball away. In total, at worst, I see him as a backup bench spark plug. At best, he might be juuuust fast enough and shifty enough to generate the paint touches needed to make him a starting point guard.


Tier 7: Upside Play (If Medical Reports are Favorable)

Cason Wallace

Cason Wallace’s back will be one of the most important medical reports this draft cycle. He was clearly stiff as a plank in the second half of the season and the lack of lateral agility clearly immobilized his greatest strengths as a defender. He’s the next in the mold of Delon Wright or Jevon Carter as a clear difference making defensive guard. A freshman guard with a combined block and steal rate exceeding 5% and with a readymade 35% jump shot profiles well for instant contribution. I don’t envision Cason as a future creator because he struggles to create separation out at the perimeter and can also often struggle to drive into the paint to generate consistent paint touches. I envision him as a spot starter and useful player for contending teams searching for excellent complementary guard play. Cason’s an acceptable shooter who will have to be guarded in catch and shoot scenarios and a solid complementary passer but his calling card, if healthy, will be his strong perimeter defense.

Dariq Whitehead

At this point in the draft, I’m scouring for potential high upside creators. Dariq is the riskiest player in this draft. Coming into the year, he had built a strong profile at Montverde Academy as a driver, pull-up shooter, and anticipatory passer. As an underclassman on the famed Cade Cunningham-Scottie Barnes-Moses Moody Montverde juggernauts, Dariq built a strong portfolio of a supporting cast player. As the supremely talented upperclassmen began to trickle into the college and pro ranks, Dariq stepped into the spotlight and was well equipped to play on-ball as a shot creator and off-ball as a catch and shoot threat and cutter. He was explosive in transition, although not the sort of bursty athlete who could function as a dunker spot lob threat in half court settings. Dariq’s freshman year at Duke was the complete antithesis to the high school Dariq Whitehead experience. A preseason foot injury in training never healed properly and required a second surgery at the conclusion of the season. Midway through the season, he suffered a lower leg strain that sapped his explosiveness further. The Dariq we saw in college was not a first-round pick. He showed flashes of his pullup game and still made wide open 3s, but on the whole, he struggled to create and could not slide with opposing ball handlers. The hope here is that Dariq’s medical reports turn out positive and the burst returns. When Dariq feels comfortable, he might be a completely different player. As a forward, there is a chance he becomes a 3+D option capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating for others when given the opportunity. Over time, he might even be able to develop into a top option in certain lineups. It’s just too hard to call. We don’t have a sample size of healthy Dariq in college and extrapolating from high school to the NBA is far more difficult than it is from college (Side note: It’s why high school rankings often seem so off a few years down the line). It’s hard to determine just how effective a healthy Dariq would be, but at this point on the board, I would be willing to draft him if my staff gave the all-clear.


Tier 7: The Wild Card

Bilal Coulibaly

Bilal Coulibaly is an interesting test case. In January, when Coulibaly was cutting through the lower divisions with massive scoring performances and was most memorable for a 25-point performance against Bronny James and California Basketball Club, I was ready to rank him in my top 10. Now Bilal has entered lottery conversation after earning minutes in the bright lights of Mets 92, and I’ve probably dropped him a spot or two if anything. Coulibaly’s strengths are his on-ball defense, his explosive above-the-rim exploits, his driving ability on stampedes, and his long-stepped Euro. In the half court, Coulibaly can cut and make the right read from time to time, but that’s about it. He’s just very unpolished as a high-level offensive player. His 14% usage with Mets 92 was indicative of his limitations. At the youth level, Bilal could knife through defenses against peers otherwise helpless to keep up with footspeed. Against higher level competition, the first step advantage vanished and Coulibaly struggled to find ways to remain threatening on offense. He’s a mediocre spot-up shooter and not particularly eager to score. With his head down on drives, Bilal can often struggle to see the court and create opportunities for others. At the NBA level, teams are unlikely to send closeouts his way and will instead prevent any half court straight line drives. There’s a chance Coulibaly runs into the offensive issues that Isaac Okoro is currently facing with Cleveland. For Coulibaly to reach the ceiling of a 3+D wing capable of slashing to the hoop, he will have to join the right franchise with the time, patience, and minutes to devote to his development. The athleticism is real, his Euro is un-guardable, and his defense is plug and play. It’s a fun upside play, but there’s enough for him to improve on that I feel most comfortable placing him here.


Tier 7: Offensively Oriented, Efficient Bench Options

Gradey Dick

Jordan Hawkins

Seth Lundy

Kris Murray

I can’t say I see some overwhelming upside with any of these 4 prospects, but I feel relatively confident in their ability to slot in as a role player at the NBA level. Gradey, Jordan, and Seth are all supremely effective shooters. Between the 3, Gradey’s defense is the best (although it’s not a clear strength for any of them). In half court settings, Gradey’s feel for cuts and relative athleticism compared to players in this tier will help create additional scoring opportunities even when he’s not positioned at the line. Jordan Hawkins will be an excellent movement shooter whose value would be best maximized on a team that focuses on running actions such as Zoom or Iverson to create space for him. Hawkins is far more limited as a half court threat within the arc and doesn’t appear to have the requisite athleticism or shot making capacity to self-create. Seth Lundy is the worst shooter of the bunch, but he’s physical and a solid defender so long as he’s not in space against the quickest guards. His vision is somewhat myopic when he has to put the ball on the deck, so he will be best served as a 3+D catch and shoot bench option, but he could easily carve out an effective career in that role. Kris Murray is just a smart savvy offensive player who can face up or back opponents down to create scoring opportunities. Keegan brings most burst, more effective second-side shot blocking, and a more reliable jumper to the equation than Kris, but this far into the draft, I feel comfortable counting on Kris to be a solid option off the bench. It would not surprise me if Kris cleaned up his mechanics and straightened out his shot to improve his jumper to an above average shot within his first few seasons.


Tier 8: Excellent Defenders with Fledgling Offensive Skills

Jaylen Clark

Sidy Cissoko

Jaylen Clark is the best perimeter defender in the class. He is absolutely shutdown on and off ball (with a monstrous 5.1% steal rate and 1.1% block rate to show for it). He rarely fouls and is the best screen navigator in the class. His lateral quickness is best in class and I would comfortably have him defend every guard in the NBA. He should be nicknamed “Glue” because of he sticks to perimeter players and because of the nature of his game. He can’t self-create any shots, but he’s a superb cutter and can read defenses well enough to one-touch out to the perimeter. Offensively, his game is otherwise extremely limited. Even Bruce Brown and Gary Payton II were point guards in college. Clark plays more as a small wing and doesn’t yet showcase the vision that either of his predecessors did at this time. Given the ball, Clark’s one move is a dribble drive left followed by a spinning floater to the right. It’s extremely reliable, but that’s about it. A career 66% from the line and 30% from 3, Clark will have to make massive improvements as a spot-up shooter to earn NBA minutes. I’m just willing to draft him here because of how fervently I believe in his defensive fundamentals and upside.

Sidy Cissoko is a foul-prone but otherwise effective defender capable of sliding with most athletes and with the hand-eye coordination required to generate turnovers. Offensively, he’s a similar driver in transition situations to Bilal Coulibaly, although his experience as a point guard at lower levels actually results in better distribution and laydowns to teammates sprinting alongside him. In half court settings, Sidy does not show the flashes necessary to build the repertoire of a consistent slasher. He doesn’t have any real go-to move and while his jumper is passable in catch and shoot situations, it’s not a true threat. Cissoko is similar to Clark, only I feel more confident in Clark because of slightly more translatable cutting and defensive playmaking. On the right team that focuses on improving screen navigation, standardizing his variable catch and shoot mechanics, and cutting down on fouls per game, Sidy Cissoko can easily become a defensive option for spot starts and a regular rotation role.