clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NBA Draft 2023 grades: Analysis, reaction for every team’s first-round pick

Chinmay Vaidya provides his pick-by-pick grades for each prospect selected in the first round.

2023 NBA Draft
Victor Wembanyama arrives prior to the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 22, 2023 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

The 2023 NBA Draft is here and it is poised to be one of the more exciting draft nights in recent memory. A large portion of the league is in flux about the future, which means this is the night where plenty of moves could be made. Of course, there will still be teams making selections at their draft spot and taking players they believe will be the best fit for their franchise.

We’re tracking each first-round pick as it happens and providing instant reaction with draft grades.

2023 NBA Draft grades

First Round

No. 30: Los Angeles Clippers - Kobe Brown

Grade: A

There’s some bias here, as Brown is a fellow Mizzou alum. If his three-point shooting jump is real, he holds some value as a bigger forward who can space the floor. Brown took a leap as a leader as well, which is important when he attempts to hold his own in this loaded wing rotation. We’ll see if he can get some playing time with the main club or if he gets assigned to the G League squad for developmental minutes.

No. 29: Denver Nuggets, Julian Strawther

Grade: B

This is a bit of a reach for the Nuggets considering Strawther was likely going to be available when they picked again. However, he does fit the mold of a player who can succeed with the Nuggets. Strawther can hit the triple at a decent clip and his size makes him intriguing as a switchable defender. We’ll see if he can make an impact for the defending champions.

No. 28: Utah Jazz - Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State

Grade: A

There have been some great pickups late in the first round, and Sensabaugh qualifies. He’s going to form a fearless offensive tandem on the perimeter with George in Utah. There are some concerns given he only played one season and broke out, but the three-point shot is real. Sensabaugh should have an immediate role with the Jazz as a rookie.

No. 27: Charlotte Hornets - Nick Smith Jr.

Grade: A

This could be one of the steals of the draft. Smith Jr. was a lottery pick at one point, before an injury hobbled him at Arkansas through the end of the season. He’s a high IQ guard who can score in bunches, but needs to be more consistent on that end of the floor. That’s something everyone on Charlotte needs to do, so Smith Jr. is going to fit right in here.

No. 26: Indiana Pacers - Ben Sheppard

Grade: B

Sheppard’s improvement as a three-point shooter is awesome to see, but he’s now entering a muddled wing rotation in Indiana. The Pacers are going to have to find a way to get him some playing time, since he can stretch defensives and open up more driving lanes for Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin.

No. 25: Boston Celtics - Marcus Sasser (traded to Pistons)

Grade: C+

It’s hard to see how the Pistons are addressing needs in this draft. Sasser is going to be behind both Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, which doesn’t really help his development. It’s been an interesting draft for Detroit so far.

No. 24: Sacramento Kings - Olivier-Maxence Prosper (traded to Mavericks)

Grade: B

Prosper has a chance to play right away, largely because he can defend on the interior. His creation skills need some work but he fills a big need for the Mavericks. We’ll see if him and Lively can work together in due time.

No. 23: Portland Trail Blazers - Kris Murray

Grade: C+

The positional fit is interesting, especially if the Blazers bring Jerami Grant back. Murray’s shooting regressed with additional volume, which is a bit of a concern for Portland in this current setup. If he can improve defensively and prove his shooting slump was a fluke, this grade will improve.

No. 22: Brooklyn Nets - Dariq Whitehead

Grade: A

This is a great pick for the Nets, who need shooting. Whitehead didn’t wow the fans at Duke, but he did hit the triple at a high clip. If Seth Curry leaves in free agency, Whitehead will be thrust into a bigger role and should thrive in this offensive setup.

No. 21: Brooklyn Nets - Noah Clowney

Grade: B

Center is not a huge need for the Nets, but it is one they can address with a player who has good upside. Clowney should immediately help on the glass, and he can become a strong rim protector with time. We’ll see if he can get consistent minutes in his rookie season, or if he takes a backseat to Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe.

No. 20: Houston Rockets - Cam Whitmore

Grade: A

After going for the upside early with Amen Thompson, the Rockets are able to land a player who was once considered a top-5 pick in Whitmore. He needs to develop his offensive game, but he can be a strong defender immediately. Whitmore also fills a need on the wing, and the Rockets might have gotten the steal of the draft with the 20th pick.

No. 19: Golden State Warriors - Brandon Podziemski

Grade: A

Podziemski fits well with Golden State’s offensive system, largely because he is lights out from behind the arc. He slots in as a guard, which is suddenly a bit of a need for the Warriors with Jordan Poole being traded. The team got much less costly, and Podziemski could eventually follow Poole’s developmental path. This is a strong move for new GM Mike Dunleavy Jr.

No. 18: Miami Heat - Jaime Jaquez Jr.

Grade: A

“Heat Culture” strikes again. Jaquez Jr. has improved in every season at UCLA, and he took big strides last year to improve as a playmaker. He was rising up draft boards throughout the process but this was around the range he was going to go in. He fits the positional versatility Miami wants, and the Heat believe they can make him a contributor in their system.

No. 17: Los Angeles Lakers - Jalen Hood-Schifino

Grade: B+

Hood-Schifino could have a big role right away for the Lakers, who are unlikely to bring D’Angelo Russell back at the point guard spot. Hood-Schifino’s pick-and-roll game is excellent and he should work well with Anthony Davis, but he needs to become a more consistent shooter to truly unlock his potential. Learning under LeBron James and Davis can’t hurt, and Hood-Schifino did fall a bit in the draft so there will be some motivation here.

No. 16: Utah Jazz - Keyonte George

Grade: A

If the Jazz made a questionable selection at No. 9, they hit a home run here. George is a daring shooting guard who doesn’t shy away from letting it fly. His aggression fits this team’s offensive identity, especially if he ends up sharing a backcourt with Collin Sexton. This is great value too, as George was projected to go as high as the middle of the lottery at one point.

No. 15: Atlanta Hawks - Kobe Bufkin

Grade: B

The pick doesn’t fill a big need for the Hawks, barring a big trade involving one of the backcourt stars. Bufkin should be a competent role player as a backup in his rookie season, and he has the chance to put up solid numbers in this offense. If his growth as a shooter is real, he’ll be a great player in this league.

No. 14: New Orleans Pelicans - Jordan Hawkins

Grade: B+

Hawkins can spread the floor, but the Pelicans remain in the market for a point guard. New Orleans was unable to move up in the draft and has to stick with the 14th pick. Hawkins isn’t a consolation prize though; he’s a good pick. The national championship winner should be able to have a nice bench role right away.

No. 13: Toronto Raptors - Gradey Dick

Grade: B+

Dick doesn’t exactly fill a need for the Raptors, but this team struggled a ton from behind the arc last season. That’s one skill the Kansas forward can perform at a high level, and he should see a ton of playing time because of it. He has enough creation chops to carve out a nice role in this Toronto rotation.

No. 12: Oklahoma City Thunder - Dereck Lively (traded to Mavericks)

Grade: B

The Mavericks needed a big man and they got the best one outside of Wembanyama. Lively didn’t do much in his lone season at Duke but he should have more openings playing alongside Luka Doncic in Dallas. The Mavericks will expect him to be a force on the interior eventually, and he fits a need. It’s a good pick, and this grade jumps up significantly if Lively pans out.

No. 11: Orlando Magic - Jett Howard

Grade: C+

This is a bit of a reach for the Magic, although Howard does fit what they’re trying to do with their roster. This is the part of the draft where things start to get interesting, and Howard does have some upside despite inconsistencies at Michigan last year. However, there were more safe options for Orlando that also had developmental upside.

No. 10: Dallas Mavericks - Cason Wallace (traded to Thunder)

Grade: B

This is certainly an interesting move for the Thunder, who already have a few guards in place with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. Wallace needs the ball in his hands to make an impact, and he might not have it much in Oklahoma City. The Thunder can afford to take a chance on his upside so this isn’t a total throwaway but it’s an odd selection.

No. 9: Utah Jazz - Taylor Hendricks

Grade: C

Unless there’s a trade coming, this is a questionable pick for the Jazz. Utah already has a stretch forward in Lauri Markkanen who just won the Most Improved Player award. It’s hard to see how Hendricks fits in the long-term plans for this group, especially if Markkanen and Walker Kessler keep developing as they did last year. This is a tough one to figure out.

No. 8: Washington Wizards - Jarace Walker (traded to Pacers)

Grade: A

The Pacers are getting some second-round picks to take the player they would’ve taken at 7 anyway. This is a strong move for Indiana to fortify the interior with a defensive menace who can also chase some small forwards around the court. Walker has fallen a bit in the draft, and he’ll have a chip on his shoulder heading into his rookie season.

No. 7: Indiana Pacers - Bilal Coulibaly (traded to Wizards)

Grade: B

We’ll see who Indiana ultimately picks up in this deal with the Wizards. Washington is going all-in on players with high upside. Coulibaly might not play much in his rookie season, but he projects as a great defender and could eventually develop into a passable offensive player.

No. 6: Orlando Magic - Anthony Black

Grade: A

Black has been climbing up draft boards and hopes to eventually solve Orlando’s long-standing point guard problem. He’s an excellent defensive prospect and works well in the pick-and-roll, but will eventually need to develop a passable outside shot. His PnR game with Wendell Carter Jr. could potentially be lethal.

No. 5: Detroit Pistons - Ausar Thompson

Grade: B-

This is the first real surprise of the draft. The Pistons somewhat fill a need with Thompson and are going for the upside, but he does have some real offensive concerns. Detroit is getting an athletic player who can become the team’s best defender in time but his lack of scoring might hurt the team down the road when it is ready to compete.

No. 4: Houston Rockets - Amen Thompson

Grade: B-

The Rockets missed out on the top three picks, and they are going for the upside with Thompson. He is a great athlete and projects as a strong switchable defender, but his offensive game is lacking and he may never be a good shooter. Houston is passing on the hometown kid Jarace Walker for Thompson, so there might be some upset fans with this pick.

No. 3: Portland Trail Blazers - Scoot Henderson

Grade: B+

Henderson is a great prospect for Portland, and this likely means some sort of trade is coming for the Blazers. This grade is factoring in some sort of deal, because Portland cannot possibly keep four high-usage guards on the roster. Henderson is going to feel a bit slighted, and he should learn a lot from Damian Lillard over the next few seasons.

No. 2: Charlotte Hornets - Brandon Miller

Grade: B+

Miller is an excellent prospect for the Hornets and is a better fit alongside LaMelo Ball than Scoot Henderson, who was also in consideration here. The forward can score at every level, and he’s got a higher floor than Henderson. The Hornets could’ve gone for the player with the higher ceiling, but Miller is no pushover here. He should be an All-Star.

No. 1: San Antonio Spurs - Victor Wembanyama

Grade: A

There’s never been a prospect like Wembanyama, and there’s few places in the league that develops players better than San Antonio. This is the perfect place for Wembanyama to launch his NBA career and also finish it out, assuming he does what everyone thinks he’s going to do. Health is a concern, which is not uncommon for a player of his height. Outside of that, he should be an All-Star in no time.