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2023 NBA Mock Draft: Never-too-early lottery picks as Rockets win Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes

CBS Sports logo CBS Sports 7/5/2022 Kyle Boone
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 29: McDonalds All American Dariq Whitehead (0) brings the ball up court against Amari Bailey (10) during the 2022 McDonalds High School All American Boys Game at Wintrust Arena.(Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) © Provided by CBS Sports

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 29: McDonalds All American Dariq Whitehead (0) brings the ball up court against Amari Bailey (10) during the 2022 McDonalds High School All American Boys Game at Wintrust Arena.(Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs traded All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for significant draft compensation last week, positioning (potentially) a consistent contender that has only three losing seasons this century (!) to tank into next year. So prepare yourself now when I offer this reading of the tea leaves: This might be the new norm for the next 11 months in the NBA.

With so much star power at the top of the 2023 NBA Draft, teams typically in the playoff hunt -- like maybe the Spurs, Indiana Pacers and many others -- could easily fall back from their position to set themselves up in a spot to win the No. 1 pick. And that doesn't even account for teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets or Orlando Magic -- rebuilders -- desperate to grab franchise-changing talents and could also be in the mix for the No. 1 pick once again. So even with many months until the start of the 2022-23 season and nearly a year out from the 2023 NBA Draft, it already seems like the race to tank to the top (or bottom) of the draft standings could be a competitive one.

Does this happen every year? Yes, yes it frequently does. But the prize at the top of the 2023 NBA Draft -- Victor Wembanyama -- is considered an all-time talent. The French prodigy has for years been considered the best basketball prospect regardless of classification. He'll be mentioned as the best prospect since Anthony Davis, and when you watch his game, you won't think it's hyperbole one bit. 

Winless for Wembanyama.

No Victories for Victor.

I'm still workshopping it, but the catch phrases will absolutely be a thing this season for a worthy gem. He's worth the shameless tank job.

So who will win the sweepstakes? 

Our first mock draft of the 2023 cycle has projections by SportsLine that give the Rockets the early edge over the Thunder and Magic. But this won't be a normal draft cycle. Tankers will come out of the woodworks. Teams expected to be contenders may slump to the finish. Of course, there's always a lot that can and probably will change in the coming months -- players will rise and fall, as will teams and their standing -- but the closer we get to next summer's lottery, the more ready, I predict, the tankers will be to blow it all the way up for just a chance to steal the top pick.

It might just be worth it.

Let's jump into the mock. Before we do, note that because the lottery is far from set and much will change between now and the lottery, team need is not taken into account. 

2023 NBA Mock Draft

1

Victor Wembanyama (Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92)

A 7-foot-2 center, Wembanyama has for several years now been considered one of the most prized prospects in all of basketball. He's a game-changing defensive prospect similar to this year's No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren -- only with more length. His offensive versatility allows him to score it anywhere on the court.

2

Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)

Henderson ranks No. 1 among non-Wembanyama prospects in this class. He starred this past season as a 17-year-old with G League Ignite and has the passing and scoring arsenal to be one of the most polished offensive prospects in the draft.

3

Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite)

One-season stints with Overtime Elite did not do particularly well for the draft stock of Jean Montero or Dom Barlow -- two players with first-round potential who went undrafted -- but Ausar and twin brother, Amen, are so obviously lotto talents that competition they face over the next year won't matter. Ausar has great positional length and amazing defensive potential.

4

Nick Smith (Arkansas)

Smith has always been considered an elite talent but has really ascended the last year, going from a sub-25 level recruit to the No. 3 player in his class. He's a smooth combo guard who can handle and score on an Arkansas team that features backcourt talent as well as any team in college hoops.

5

Amen Thompson (Overtime Elite)

Amen, the twin of brother Ausar, is a lotto talent as well with the positional size and length to be a difference-maker at the guard spot. He flashed some really impressive playmaking skills over the last year and could give his brother, who right now is seen as the better prospect, a run for his money as he continues to develop.

6

Cameron Whitmore (Villanova)

Whitmore didn't finish his high school career as a top-10 talent, but he's already making his case as a top-10 pick in 2023 after a strong summer with Team USA. Good-sized wing who has a slasher's mentality and plays with an edge. Perfect fit with Villanova -- and fits the archetype of a wing the NBA values.

7

Cason Wallace (Kentucky)

Wallace is an elite prospect who finished his high school career as a top-10 recruit in his class. He is expected to be a plug-and-play starter at Kentucky and should be considered a top-10 talent in the 2023 class because of his defensive skills and all-around scoring ability.

8

Dariq Whitehead (Duke)

Whitehead finished as the No. 2 player in his high school recruiting class in the Composite rankings. He has ideal positional size, bursty athleticism and defensive versatility that Duke -- and soon, an NBA team -- will really value.

9

Anthony Black (Arkansas)

The appeal here with Black lies in his versatility as a combo guard with great size capable of playing both on and off the ball. He's spent most of the last year transitioning to playing point full time, a role which at Arkansas could help him shine for NBA decision-makers. There's not a ton of explosiveness to his game, but he has the finesse, positional size and passing that reminds of Cade Cunningham.

10

Keyonte George (Baylor)

A McDonald's All-American who has for several years been considered a one-and-done lottery talent, George is an impressive scoring guard who should be in line to put up big numbers right away at Baylor. Grooming his all-around offensive game will be key, but he's a sniper with range who can get a bucket from anywhere.

11

Dillon Mitchell (Texas)

Mitchell was one of the lowest-rated four-star prospects less than two years ago, but has blossomed into a bona fide five-star who finished as the No. 5 player in the 2022 recruiting class. The Montverde Academy product is a top shelf athlete with great length and defensive chops. He will need to improve his scoring to validate lottery standing.

12

Dereck Lively (Duke)

This is a little low for Lively, the No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings, in part because in a vacuum I value wings and guards over centers. (Did you watch the NBA Finals? I rest my case!) Nevertheless, Lively could and should slip into the lottery. At 7-foot-1, he runs the floor at a high level and has the motor to be a difference-maker at and around the rim.

13

Arthur Kaluma (Creighton)

Kaluma finished his freshman season at Creighton on a high note and has continued on an upward trajectory this offseason, where he's shining for Nigeria in FIBA play. He's in line for a breakout sophomore season where his size and scoring could make him a lottery pick.

14

Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)

Miller tested the NBA Draft and had some first-round buzz before ultimately withdrawing and committing to the G League Ignite, where he will spend the next season. The size, left-handed stroke and ability to create from his position are all interesting tools, though he is still a very raw prospect at this stage.

15

Kel'el Ware (Oregon)

Less than two years ago, Ware was not a top-100 talent -- now he's positioned himself as a potential top-10 NBA pick. His 7-foot frame carries immense potential even as he develops his game. At his size his movement and ball skills are talents worth betting on.

16

Terquavion Smith (NC State)

There was some real momentum for Smith in this year's NBA Draft after a strong showing at the combine where his athleticism flashed before he ultimately came back to school. He'll have a big chance to build on that next season at NC State as the focal point for Kevin Keatts' team.

17

Julian Strawther (Gonzaga)

Strawther emerged from bit player to solid starter on a No. 1-seeded Gonzaga team last year and is now set to make another leap as a junior with the Zags. With Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard gone, he'll have a chance to take on an expanded role playing on the ball and should see a healthy increase in production across the board.

18

Jarace Walker (Houston)

Houston is bringing in a gem in Jarace Walker, who could be one of the most impactful freshmen in college hoops -- and for a Houston team that should be viewed as a contender. Big, strong and physically mature, Walker is a true four who could be a small-ball five at the next level because of his physicality.

19

Amari Bailey (UCLA)

There's a ton of expectations surrounding Bailey, a McDonald's All-American who was the No. 7 player in his class. I'm just a little skeptical he's ready to totally validate his lottery credentials. He'll need to prove he can consistently score it while developing his potential as a playmaker -- but first he'll need to be sound defensively to earn Mick Cronin's trust.

20

J.J. Starling (Notre Dame)

Notre Dame is getting a stud in Starling, a combo guard who can create off the bounce, get to the hoop and -- most importantly -- scores at a really high level. His inside-out game makes him an interesting projection to the NBA as someone who may be able to function as an score-first initiator.

21

Kyle Filipowski (Duke)

Duke will have a loaded roster next season and Filipowski figures to be a major piece of that in Year 1. He's a 6-11 center who has scoring range that extends beyond the 3-point line.

22

Jordan Walsh (Arkansas)

A bouncy athlete who is one of *several* likely first-rounders from the University of Arkansas, Walsh has ideal size for a wing and a smooth jumper to boot.

23

Julian Phillips (Tennessee)

At 6-8, Phillips has a great frame for a wing and has the length and athleticism to be a potential lottery pick in next year's draft. Good slasher who can make things happen with or without the ball in his hands. Rick Barnes is going to love his game.

24

Gradey Dick (Kansas)

Dick is a deadeye shooter who can be a killer spot-up threat from anywhere on the court. At Kansas he'll need to show potential of adding off the bounce as a creator for himself and others, something that has popped on his high school tape in spurts and makes me think he's more than just a shooter.

25

Harrison Ingram (Stanford)

Ingram had a one-and-done-caliber season with Stanford, but came back to school to improve his draft stock. A big-bodied wing, he has very interesting playmaking skills at his size and projects neatly as an NBA wing if his shot can continue to improve.

26

Kris Murray (Iowa)

Keegan Murray had a breakout season for Iowa last season, and Kris Murray will have a breakout season for Iowa this season. The 6-foot-8 combo forward may have been draftable this year but came back to school and will be able to assert himself as a potential No. 1 option at Iowa next year.

27

Chris Livingston (Kentucky)

Armed with an improved jumper and a big opportunity, Livingston is one of the true wild cards in the 2023 NBA Draft. Could be a lottery pick, could go late first. Definitely has the physical tools and athleticism to be a prototypical wing the NBA covets. He'll need to put it all together on a consistent basis to earn John Calipari's trust.

28

Marcus Sasser (Houston)

Sasser was tracking toward All-American status at Houston last season before an injury derailed his season. He then really flashed at the NBA Draft Combine, making it a tougher-than-expected stay-or-go decision from him. Coming back to school he'll be the star of a top-10 Cougars team with his elite ability to score.

29

Nolan Hickman (Gonzaga)

There's a big opportunity awaiting Hickman with the departure of Andrew Nembhard to take the reins of Gonzaga's high-powered offense. Hickman isn't an elite athlete, but he's a solid lead guard who could really make a leap in Year 2 under Mark Few.

30

Matthew Cleveland (Florida State)

Cleveland was someone I really liked coming into last season at Florida State, and now he's in a position to potentially fulfill his expectations as a sophomore. His shot needs to improve dramatically, but he has the frame and rebounding I value in wings.

Order determined by SportsLine 2023 projections 

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