Welcome back! Now the excitement jumps up a few levels. No long introduction this time, just a reminder that this class does have many prospects who seem to have great potential and this top 10 would be where the Pistons should want to land if they continue to build primarily through the draft.
Once more, BECAUSE this is a Detroit Pistons specific preview of the 2023 NBA Draft, I will be leaving out Kel’el Ware and Dereck Lively II. Since the Pistons already are very much invested in Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren, I think the absolute only way either Lively or Ware enters into the conversation is if they show top-5 talent.
Up the ladder we climb!
10. Amen Thompson
6-foot-7, 202 pounds
I have an INCREDIBLY hard time ranking Amen and the No. 8 prospect on the list as both appeal to different senses of my basketball obsession. Amen to my “Size/Skill” philosophy where you bet on guys who display a skillset you don’t normally see in a player of their size—AND Amen also is a fantastic athlete who can jump out of the gym and out run most of his competition.
Amen plays like a point guard who only has two goals in life: put everyone on a poster and get teammates as many open shots as possible. Amen has a good handle with a solid bag of tricks to shake free in isolation that he will use to proceed to get into the paint and drop the hammer using his long arms and great leaping ability. He also makes some fantastic LaMelo-like passes that make me say AMEN THOMPSON IS A POINT GUARD. This offseason has seen him dish out 19 assists in the TBT tournament, against Mega MIS, SC Derby, and the Adelaide 36ers.
Amen also loves to get after it on D. He will get low in a stance, slide his feet, and make life as uncomfortable as possible for the guys he is guarding. He still has some technique work to do on defense, but the way he approaches playing defense and how he understands how to use his #Tools is fantastic and gives him a big advantage in terms of his defensive potential. In the data I could find, he did post a defensive rating of 88.5, which is REALLY good so there are statistical indicators of his impact here.
The jumper is the absolute No. 1 concern for Amen. Mechanical and stiff, Amen also turns down open threes and looks like he does not want to take them. He is also missing a midrange game. No runner or floater or push shot or anything to help provide some spacing. As I asked with Ausar, if a player cannot shoot threes, does not have any consistent skill in the midrange, then what exactly is their role on offense? I also think the Pistons timeline COULD be a factor in this as year 3 Cade is most likely going to be when the team expects to be pushing for the playoffs. Do they really want to bring in a player that might take a long time to develop into someone that can help the MotorCade win? And if you think this is something not that big of an issue, in the data I found, Amen shot 13% from three and 37% from the free throw line. This needs major improvement.
Amen’s amazing passing skills will keep him higher, however, and I absolutely understand if you wanted to make the case for him at No. 3 just based off of upside and taking a home run swing. He is starting to drain free throws going 19/24 (79.2%) in four games this offseason, and that ability to generate and make free throws might ultimate end up meaning more in the long run.
Scouting Rapport video against Mega MIS from OTE’s Overseas Tour
9. GG Jackson, PF/C South Carolina
6-foot-9, 215 pounds
A very late addition to the 2023 NBA Draft Class, Jackson was able to reclassify and then land immediately at South Carolina. Explosive with film that has flashed almost every kind of skill on the basketball court, it is easy to see why South Carolina’s 2022 Gatorade player of the year have many excited to see what he can do this upcoming season.
Jackson is a lob finisher, dunker spot dynamo, and tip dunk enthusiast. I have no idea what his ACTUAL percentage of shots are dunks, but watching his film it feels like about one-third. He also has a solid jump shot that he displays from distance and in the midrange. It has a high arch, and in the film I watched, he always worked to get his feet set before releasing his jumper. His EYBL stats from Team CP3 show shooting splits of 49.5% from the field, 35.1% from three-point distance. This gives a good glimpse into GG’s overall scoring efficiency potential. GG also has a solid handle that is most apparent in transition where he loves to grab a rebound and outrun the opposition for a easy two points. He also is a good rebounder who loves to grind that glass between his teeth on either end of the court. That was on full display this past summer in the FIBA U18 America’s championship where he pulled in 16 rebounds in just two games.
Defense and as a screener is where Jackson will have to show more in order to maintain a lofty draft position. While he did play some small-ball five with Team USA this past summer, it was only two games, and he was mainly out there chasing blocks. He bites on just about any kind of shot attempt when asked to be the rim protector, so if this is a role teams want him to continue then he will have to work on this a lot more. Jackson has to get better as a screener if he wants teams to buy more into his potential. While Jackson does flash an array of offensive skills, I think the most important one he has shown the least amount on film is as a screener. When he does screen, they don’t last very long, and Jackson sometimes leans into guys rather than making himself a wall. And lastly, he will try to pass every now and then, but his accuracy on said passes is not fantastic. The actual read is right most times, as he can find the open guys most times, but he is either late or off target.
Those of you clamoring for someone to replace Jerami Grant should have GG on top of your watch list. He does many of the same things on offense: attack off the dribble, has a solid jumper, looks for contact to get to the free throw line. BUT, in addition to all this he also rebounds much better and is an actual lob threat. If you want the Pistons to start developing the upgraded version of Jerami Grant, then GG Jackson is a good one to bet on.
Scouting Video against Ecuador from the FIBA U18 Americas Championship courtesy of Cashiggy
8. Cason Wallace, PG/SG Kentucky
6-foot-4, 193 pounds
A guard who will smother you on defense then attack you in a variety of different ways on offense, Cason Wallace is someone I am higher on than the consensus at this point because of all he can do on the court. The Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas, he averaged 19.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in his senior season. Wallace is the next in a long line of talented Kentucky guards.
While Wallace is no slouch on offense, his defense is where I would like to begin because I think it can be special. Counting stats are not everything when it comes to defense, but Wallace averages of 2.4 steals and 1.5 blocks. That give you a good indicator show much he locks in on that side of the ball. This past summer, Kentucky went on a tour of the Bahamas playing pro teams along the way, and at every stop Wallace smothered the opposition’s best guard. He is an incredibly mature defender as he maintains a low stance, always slides his feet and does not cross them up to chase, and—most impressively—he defends with his feet and shoulders NOT his hands. He does not reach in for steals and get handsy on the opposition. He has long arms for his size that he keeps up or out when defending which leads to tipped passes and constant pressure when his opponents attempts a shot. Wallace is the definition of a point-of-attack defender.
On offense, Wallace comes equipped with Role Player Supreme starter kit with upside to boot. Cason can play the point and get easy shots for his teammates while also draining threes to maintain consistent floor spacing. He has a good handle and solid court vision seems to improve every time he steps on to the court. He also has sound mechanics on his jumper that seem to be less effected by pressure than those of his peers. On the Big Blue Bahamas tour Kentucky made this summer, Wallace showed both these playmaking and shooting chops as dished out 14 assists and was 6 of 15 from three-point land for 40.0% in four games.
Size and lack of explosiveness is what is going to keep Wallace further down on many boards. Wallace can dunk but only when running full speed in transition. This lack of explosion shows itself in the half-court where he does struggle to get his shot off over bigger defenders at the rim. And while he DOES have long arms, his lack of size does hurt. He FLASHES a floater, but is inconsistent with it right now, and sometimes seems to lack touch. Although recent Kentucky guards like Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, and TyTy Washington have come out year one with the floater refined like Hatori Hanzo steel, so Wallace might be the next in line (also if you are an upcoming guard recruited by Kentucky PAY ATTENTION TO THIS TREND!). Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the role this incoming freshman guard at Kentucky will play this upcoming season could negatively impact his draft stock. Sahvir Wheeler IS the point guard in this team so Wallace will get fewer reps there. In addition to this, Wheeler and returning 2022 Naismith Award winner, AP Player of the Year, and consensus All-American Oscar Tshiebwe are going to be the ones tasked with generating trips to the free throw line.
The more I see of Cason Wallace the more I think of a player like Jrue Holiday. 100% committed to every facet of defense, a guard with the size and length to play the 2 and the quickness and IQ to man the 1, along with a well rounded offensive game that fits anywhere. Wallace may have perceived #Upside questions and some may discount him due to his size, but I think he can be the next in a long line of Kentucky guards Coach Cal helps to develop in an NBA ready player.
Scouting Rapport video against Carleton from 2022 Big Blue Bahamas event
7. Jarace Walker, PF/C Houston
6-foot-8, 235 pounds
Wing athleticism with the skills of a power forward and the strength and length of a center, Walker is on the top of my list of “may end up way higher than where he was initially projected” because of this blend of #Tools and skills. He has already been described as “made of Lions” by our friends at the Draftdaq Podcast, and for good reason as he is ferocious.
Walker is a lob threat, with a good midrange jumper, incredible passer for his position, AND has some ability to put the ball on the deck. His jumper has a high arch, and he gets good lift when he pulls up on the move. In addition, Walker has shot over 75% from the free-throw line at multiple events and circuits. With a reported 7-foot-2 wingspan, Walker’s defensive impact can be of the highest order as a big man in today’s NBA. He does show four-position ability to guard shooting guards through centers, whether or not he can guard the best-of-the-best point guards is yet to be seen—but this is a rare skills when coupled with his verticality. Across 96 games in high school, he amassed 155 blocks which averages out to 1.6 blocks per game so he remains a steady presence down low using those long arms and leaping ability to play taller than 6-foot-8. Oh, and he added 364 assists in those four years which averages out to 3.8 assists per game. His passing ability cannot be understated as you simply do not see a player his size at his position make the reads he does. While it is mainly out of the post and from a standstill, it is still an anomaly to see a big make these reads and outpace his guard teammates—he more than doubled his high school teammate Keynote George’s assist numbers in their senior seasons. This kind of passing coupled with shooting potential AND defensive versatility is why I think Walker is candidate number 1 for who could end up higher than where they are ranked at the beginning of the season.
As much as I love what Walker does on defense and believe it to make a big difference in wins and losses, I am not as sold on him being a primary offensive option. While he did socre 16.7 points per game in his senior year at IMG Academy, he did so by overpowering many a smaller opponent as well as taking advantage of the gravity created by his high profile teammate, Keyonte George. He also took very few three pointers, the data I could find on Walker’s senior season had him taking only TEN three-point attempts in 15 games. Walker, also, did not work as roll man or pick-and-pop guy in his film. This is the main area he will have to put in work on in my opinion as it could be the difference between being looked at as someone like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Tari Eason. JJJ was viewed as such a safe prospect not JUST because he could shoot and play defense, but HOW he could shoot. Being a top-notch screener that generates offense off those screens opens things up so much more for him and draws attention makes like so much easier for his ball handler.
Defensively he will ruin the opposition’s game plan pretty quickly with all he can do while being at the very least, someone who spaces out offers verticality that has to be accounted for on offense. All of which is much needed in the MotorCade.
Jarace Walker’s Defensive Impact by The NBA Draftdaq
6. Nick Smith Jr, SG/PG Arkansas
6-foot-5, 185 pounds
Quite possibly the most well-rounded prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft Class, Nick Smith has shot creation, playmaking vision, and lockdown ability on defense. This is a guy who averaged 26.5 points per game 8.0 rebounds per game, and 7.3 assists per game as a senior this past year so he comes ready to contribute in all facets of the game.
Smith knows how to get buckets in a variety of ways and is locked in on defense from the minute he steps on to the court. Smith has fantastic floater that he can release just about anytime he gets in the lane as he releases it up high and keeps a tall arch on it so it is hard it defend. He also shows off his touch on this floater as it goes in quite a bit and is not one of those shots that clangs off the backboard or rim. He also possesses a solid jumper that he uses off the dribble and in the midrange. He also pairs this with a good handle and great footwork on step-backs. To put it simply, you DO NOT average 26.5 points per game by being a one dimensional scorer. In addition to this, there are so many instances on film out there of Smith picking playing full court defense—even when the coach isn’t calling for a full court press. To say he loves playing defense might be an understatement.
Smith can get too handsy on defense (which you can see in the film below) and his ability to get to the rim is currently below average. While Smith is a fantastic effort defender, he does have technique work to do here as you cannot just get in guys faces and smother them all the time. Similar to how CP3 played Cade off the court in a matter of minutes, Smith could fall victim to that as he loves to use his hands to try and pry the ball loose. He’ll have to work on defending more with position and his feet, but I also think with the effort he already displays this is less of an issue than guy that don’t commit to the amount of energy Smith already gives in defense. Where he does have concerns is as a finisher. While his jumper and floater both look great, his ability to get to the rack is lacking. He does not get to the rim for someone who scores as much as he does, and his ability to handle contact comes into question as a result.
Having a game and body already similar in many ways to Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, Smith is someone who can fit just about anywhere due to his shooting, soft touch, defensive effort, and passing ability. While he is not the top-notch passer Haliburton is, Haliburton does not have the bag of scoring tricks Smith does either.
Scouting Rapport video against Orange 1 Basket Bassano from Arkansas’ 2022 European Tour
Thank you for taking time out of your day to spend here at DBB to read all of our great content! Come back for the final installment of this top 20 as we reach the mountain top and look at the guys in this draft who have the best blend of skills and potential here in the early stages of the 2023 NBA Draft.