Salman's 2023 NBA Big Board + Rockets Mock Draft (Tier 1)
It's lonely at the top
We did this exercise last year, but if you’re new, here’s a quick explainer:
I will rank all of the 2023 draft prospects in order of talent
I will then separate the players into tiers
I will also rank each player’s fit on the Rockets within each tier
The Rockets have two selections in this year’s draft: one in the 1-7 range and one in the top 18-20 range. While I’ve watched and taken notes on all of the prospects in consideration for the 1st round, I’ve yet to actually rank and separate them into tiers. Last year, I decided to stop the ranking after the 25th ranked player (Tier 4), but who knows where I decide to stop this one? Based on where the Rockets are selecting though, I don’t anticipate we’ll rank more than around 25 players again this year.
One quality that will differ drastically from last year: Tier 1.
Not only is the quality of this year’s Tier 1 higher than last year’s, it’s smaller. And when I mean smaller, I mean way smaller. Last year, Tier 1 contained three players: Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, and Jabari Smith. This year, Tier 1 contains one. The reason for this is this player has demonstrated that he belongs in a class of his own.
Regardless of what his ultimate NBA outcome will be, this player has cemented himself as one of the greatest basketball prospects of all time.
Age: 19 years old
Weight: 230 lbs
This probably wasn’t a surprise for the 99.9% of people reading this. Almost every diehard basketball fan on the planet knows who Victor Wembanyama is. And because the NBA has been very intentional about making his games widely available, they’ve likely already seen him play before. Whether it’s a full game, a highlight video, or even a single highlight, Wembanyama has received at least the same exposure that any generational draft prospect has ever gotten, if not more.
He’s a “freak” in every sense of the word.
Starting with his size, Victor Wembanyama has a larger frame than fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert. Wembanyama effectively uses this length by gobbling up airspace near the basket and blocking shots with either hand. Combine this with his impressive communication ability and he may enter the NBA as an above average rim protector out of the gate. Like Gobert, Wembanyama can also effectively switch onto perimeter players. This makes him one of the rare big men who’s effective playing in multiple defensive coverages.
His defensive potential might put him in contention for the number one pick alone, but his offensive ability makes the very question laughable. To start, his combination of size, screening ability, catch radius, and athleticism make him an an obvious lob threat. Whether it’s a monstrous dunk or a soft touch finish, Wembanyama’s efficiency as a scorer starts with his conversion around the basket. Then as a short roller, he’ll either get a look at the basket through some dazzling footwork or he’ll find a teammate with a quick touch pass.
In the post, he likes to:
-Leverage his soft touch for easy hook shots
-Shoot directly over the top of his defender
-Turnaround and shoot before his defender’s even ready,
-Fadeaway from his defender
-Pass to a shooter or cutter
Did I also mention he doesn’t even have to do any of that because he’s a ball handler? He doesn’t have to depend on teammates because it’s not uncommon for the possession to start with the ball in Wembanyama’s hands. He also regularly goes coast to coast with the basketball after securing rebounds. It’s almost like Rudy Gobert and Paul George had a baby.
Seemingly the only thing lacking from his offensive game is strength and three-point shooting consistency and strength. And honestly, concerns about Wembanyama’s shooting feel benign considering his aforementioned soft touch, his free throw shooting in international play (80%), and perhaps most importantly, his willingness to take three-pointers. Consider this: both Karl Anthony Towns and Dirk Nowitzki shot under 30% from three-point range the year before they entered the NBA.
Now those are the greatest shooting big men of all time so perhaps it’s unfair comparison. Wembanyama is unlikely to reach those heights and will probably struggle to shoot in his first 1-2 seasons in the league. However, his shot mechanics look good and his ability to shoot over people has been central to his game. He’s starting from a good baseline and it’s why people aren’t making a big deal of it yet.
The weight/strength issue is something else to keep an eye on.
Wembanyama is somewhat frail right now and will need to put on some weight if he’s going to play center in the NBA. He’s also your classic “I’m probably best used as a center. but I don’t want to play center” players. And honestly, it may not be a bad idea to start him off at power forward next to a traditional center before slowly transitioning him to the five. This approach offers him time to gain weight and learn how to play center via the second unit.
The Cavaliers are doing a great job of this with Evan Mobley.
However, these are not good reasons to avoid drafting him with the number one pick. He’s as close to a complete package as you’re going to get from an NBA prospect. Wembanyama’s in that rare class of prospects that includes LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Zion Williamson. Even if he never amounts to what those guys became as players, he’s certainly done enough pre-NBA to earn this billing.
Rockets Mock Draft:
In all honesty, Victor Wembanyama appears to be an odd fit on this current Rockets team. Houston already has a crowded frontcourt that includes Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith, KJ Martin, Tari Eason, Jae’Sean Tate, and Usman Garuba. The starting lineup that closed the season has three players that are all ostensibly big men. To accomodate Wembanyama, the Rockets would almost assuredly need to make a trade and after that, they would still have players out of their natural positions.
That said, none of this matters.
Wembanyama is a generational prospect and nobody from this draft class has done enough to warrant sharing this tier with him. It’s a cliche to say “Pick the best player available and figure the rest out later”, but it absolutely applies here. While the Rockets have a lot of talent in their frontcourt, they don’t have anyone that appears to be generational. This means they can afford to ship some of these pieces off to other teams for better fitting players around Wembanyama down the line.
Jae’Sean Tate is an obvious name to consider moving. KJ Martin has requested a trade in the past, so maybe you oblige him now? Houston doesn’t even have to make a decision right away. They can start their season, collect more data, and then trade whoever is perceived to be their weakest link. The Sacramento Kings proved that it’s completely possible to draft the best player available (Davion Mitchell) and then solve the positional logjam that comes from it (De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Davion Mitchell) later.
Even if the Rockets makes a determination that there’s a foundational talent in-house whose progress would be impeded by drafting Wembanyama, they can always trade Wembanyama himself. If Houston wins the lottery, they would immediately possess most valuable NBA draft pick since the number one pick in 2019 (Zion Williamson). They would be bombarded with offers from other teams and could have their pick of a bunch of attractive packages.
In conclusion, this is a no-brainer:
Tier 1 is Wemby with his very long legs stretched out.
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