The 2022 NBA Draft ended Thursday night, but it’s a show that doesn’t have an offseason, and speculation about next year’s process has already begun.
Early projections indicate that the 2023 NBA Draft will be a major event for Kentucky basketball. And, even by John Calipari-era standards, next year’s draft could feature a remarkable number of Wildcats on the draft board.
Thursday night, Shaedon Sharpe went No. 7 to the Portland Trail Blazers, while TyTy Washington was selected with the No. 29 pick and will head to the Houston Rockets. Even if you don’t consider Sharpe a Wildcat — and that’s a talking point — it continued Calipari’s unbroken streak of 13 straight years with several Kentucky players having their names called on draft night. In total, Calipari have now had 45 British players drafted in those 13 years, and that streak will certainly continue in 2023, when several Wildcats are already considered likely picks.
The height of these cats will obviously largely depend on what happens over the next 12 months. And while there’s certainly lottery potential on this Kentucky roster, getting to the top of the 2023 draft will be a tough task.
The best picks in the 2023 NBA Draft
Asking questions at the start of the week, the clear consensus in NBA draft circles remains: the 2023 roster starts with Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, then comes everyone else.
Wembanyama – a 7ft 3in teenager from France – has long been touted as a generational talent, and he’s clearly one of the most intriguing NBA draft prospects in decades. He turned 18 in January, plays for a top EuroLeague franchise owned by former Spurs star Tony Parker, and boasts a level of skill, size and versatility that has had scouts salivating at the NBA.
Last month, ESPN released its first draft simulation of 2023. Wembanyama took the top spot, with longtime analyst Jonathan Givony remarking that he was the “best prospect I’ve personally ever rated”.
Next on nearly every list at the start of 2023 is Henderson, who was a five-star point guard in the 2022 recruiting class before moving to 2021 and moving to the G League last year. Because of his age – Henderson just turned 18 in February – he made this decision knowing he would have to spend two years in the development league before being draft eligible.
Henderson, who was on Kentucky’s recruiting radar before his career move, quickly showed a skill set that put him at the top of the 2023 draft conversation, and some analysts are even referring to him as a possible No. 1 pick if the 7-3 Wembanyama hits all the major hurdles in its development.
Beyond that, it’s a guessing game.
ESPN’s mock draft last month has Arkansas freshman Nick Smith Jr. at No. 3, Texas freshman Dillon Mitchell at No. 4, and the twin brother duo Overtime Elite consisting of Ausar and Amen Thompson, at numbers 5 and 6, respectively.
Other participants in the Top Five discussion include Duke freshmen Derek Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, Baylor freshman Keyonte George, and Oregon freshman Kel’ el Ware, a 7-footer who has quickly realized his potential in recent months.
Kentucky in the 2023 Draft
The British player most likely to enter the debate over the top of the 2023 draft is first-year goalkeeper Cason Wallace, who concluded his high school career as the No. 8 player in the 247Sports composite rankings (and No. 5 in total in 247Sports specific rankings).
Wallace is the type of top player who should have a major impact from the start of the 2022-23 season, and it would be a pretty big surprise if he wasn’t a first-round selection next year. ESPN projects him as the No. 12 pick in the 2023 draft.
He surely won’t be the only Kentucky player chosen next year.
According to ESPN’s first draft, the UK should have four players selected in 2023. If that happens, it would be the first time in five years that the Wildcats have produced so many picks in a single draft.
Fellow freshman Chris Livingston is projected to 22nd overall. He has draw potential, but he’s also struggled to stay consistent during his high school and AAU career, so there’s likely a high degree of variance as to where he might end up in the 2023 draft.
Returning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe is No. 36 on ESPN’s board, and he was projected to a similar spot had he remained in this year’s draft. Technically, Tshiebwe still has one season of eligibility beyond this, but he turns 23 later this year and the expectation for the 2022-23 campaign should probably be that he will turn professional at the end of it.
At No. 38 on ESPN’s board in 2023, Daimion Collins returns forward, who possesses unique athleticism and a huge upside, but has a largely unpolished game. As much as anyone on this Kentucky team, the next few months will be pivotal for Collins, who wouldn’t necessarily be surprised to go to the lottery or not be picked at all in the 2023 draft. will tell.
The UK roster will also include Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin and Sahvir Wheeler, three players who have tested the NBA draft process in earnest in the past before eventually returning to college.
Of these, Toppin seems to be the most intriguing draft option. He showed flashes of NBA-like ability in his two seasons at Kentucky and is likely to play a bigger role with the 2022-23 team. He turned 22 last month and is the younger brother of New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin, who broke out as a redshirt sophomore at Dayton, earning National Player of the Year honors that season. .
The young Toppin should have the opportunity to win NBA scouts this season, if his game continues to improve. And Kentucky looks set to have a particularly busy draft night a year from now.