ARE THEY FIRE, or are they ice?
Robert Frost might’ve posed that question if he were sitting in a conference room in preparation for the 2023 NBA Draft. It’s a logical inquiry for every fan paying attention to this incoming class led by Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, and the Thompson Twins, Amen and Ausar.
Fire or ice? It’s asked every draft, and in the spirit of looking back at takes, well, here are ours.
MEYER FIRE: Cason Wallace, PG, Kentucky
I love Cason Wallace. He’s a 19-year-old freshman point guard from Kentucky who projects as a two-way combo guard who can shut it down defensively early in his career and develop an offensive game that makes teams pay in the years to come. My highly productive PKP Draft Model has almost never failed, and Wallace is the next big hit. Wallace is 6’3.5” with a 6’8.5” wingspan and should be able to guard multiple positions. He is going to blow people away with his all-around game and untapped talent. He is an excellent on-ball defender and defensive playmaker which raises his floor quite a bit. Wallace is the complete type of guard teams crave who should be able to show more parts of his game at the next level like so many Kentucky players before him have.
MEYER ICE: Nick Smith Jr., SG, Arkansas
There are so many red flags here in his stat profile, even if it’s one season at Arkansas. NSJ is only 19 so, of course, you never know but consider me concerned. That’s why I’m giving him the ICE, ICE, ICE (Thibs voice, yelling to defend the sideline pick and roll) treatment. This is Smith Jrs.’ Tankathon's profile, littered with stat weaknesses. I would pass on him.
LEO FIRE: Jordan Miller, SF, Miami (FL)
The odds the Wolves remain at 53 in today’s draft is high. The chance of them landing a superstar-level talent at that stage in the draft is low. Those are facts. As a result, I filtered my nominal “research” of prospects to who are realistically available at that spot and would best fit Minnesota’s needs. Look no further than the 6’5” forward who boasts an impressive 7-foot wingspan. He’s a great athlete who’s engineered with an insane motor that would make Jarred Vanderbilt smile. The 23-year-old super senior honed his three-point shot to a respectable 35.2% while maintaining a sterling 60.2% average on two-point attempts. He’s your classic, “Makes winning plays” type of prospect who makes smart reads on both ends of the court. He finished 1st in the ACC in offensive win shares and offensive rating, ending his college career with a Final Four loss to the eventual champion UConn Huskies. He was the Hurricane’s best player, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block.
You may call this recency bias, but there sure are a lot of similarities between Miller and 2023 NBA champion, Bruce Brown Jr.
Jordan Miller has great defensive upside in the NBA being ~6'5 with a 6'11.75 wingspan, outstanding defensive footwork, and a good motor that allows him to guard multiple positions. He's also extremely efficient at the rim and doesn't turn the ball over. Easy role player outlook pic.twitter.com/tam6iY5oY9— Mavs/Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) June 13, 2023
LEO ICE: Emoni Bates, SF, Eastern Michigan
I’m all about second chances and reclamation projects. Just look at some of our favorite Wolves players. Naz Reid was the 22nd best high school prospect from the high school class of 2018 before he had a disappointing season at LSU. Gersson Rosas scooped him up immediately following the 2019 draft on a summer league deal. Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels were ranked 3rd and 7th in the high school class of 2019, but each had college seasons that left scouts with respective question marks about their desire and maturity. Rosas rolled the dice on them with the 1st and 28th picks of the 2020 draft.
Emoni Bates ranked 5th in the high school class of 2021.
Though it seems like I’m painting a potentially positive outcome for Bates, that narrative may be one of the few redeeming reasons for taking a flyer on him. A low-risk, high-reward swing. The 17-year-old had a tumultuous season with the Memphis Tigers riddled with injuries and poor performances before transferring closer to his home to play with Eastern Michigan. He averaged 19.2 points, but it was on below average shooting splits against weaker competition. Bates also had an off-the-court issue with a concealed weapon. You keep digging past all that and you’ll still just find a player that is perhaps the biggest offensive black hole of the draft (65 assists to 118 turnovers), has negative physical attributes (Tall, but unathletic, frail, and a tiny wingspan), and would be a waste of a valuable second round pick.
WIDDER WILDFIRE: Sidy Cissoko, PG, G-League Ignite
We are entering a draft where a supersized 6’7 playmaker with excellent disruptive defense is going to go in the top five. I see no reason why another player with similar strengths and playstyle is getting buried in draft boards. Comparing Amen to Sidy is not a slight to Amen (whose scouting report can be found here...), but instead should illustrate the value player they could both become. I’d argue that Sidy will be one of the best defensive mismatches coming out of this class with his ridiculous combination of length, athleticism, instinct, and intelligence that should help him to find playing time as a specialist even if he never figures out the offense.
Speaking of which, the question with Cissoko will be his shooting (woah, just like Amen). The good news: he shot above 40% from three over the first couple months of the year and was able to attack close outs as people respected his shot. The bad news: he finished the season shooting 11% from three over the last month of his play and that kind of tanked his offense. In a draft where someone is going to draft someone like Bilal Coulibaly and stick him in the corner and watch as the prototype 3 and D wing falls apart because they misunderstood who he was. I feel like something similar may happen to Sidy, but until we see where he will be developing, I’m all in on the fast break bottlerocket who literally played one through five on offense and defense to be a huge homerun swing that could pay off.
WIDDER WINTER ICE: Brandon Miller, SF, Alabama
Considering I am named after a former Crimson Tide basketball legend in Latrell Sprewell, this should be hard for me to do, but it really isn’t. Miller has already fallen behind Jarace Walker in the race to be my favorite forward in the class and may get beaten out by Ausar Thompson as well. I have worried about every “jack of all trades” type player since Evan Turner tricked me however many years ago. I was not on board with Stanley Johnson. I was out on Jarrett Culver. And I will not be fooled again (Josh Jackson will remain my last do it all disappointment.)
In order to be really good at an NBA level, you need at least one skill where you are far and away above your peers. Some might argue that for Miller that means his shooting at his size. His defense will be above average but not elite. His shot creation will need to improve immensely for him to be an offensive initiator. His shot making will have to carry his offensive output until he develops as a dribbler and passer. I won’t argue that he has a high floor as a wing scorer and shooter, but this peak as a three level scorer that people see in his future is so much further than reports make it seem. I had trouble trying to convince myself that Deandre Hunter was worth his draft slot for the Hawks in 2020. It’s even harder when he’s set to go in the top two or three picks.
Oh, also here’s one of my favorite under the radar defenders and potential UDFA acquisitions in Leaky Black just absolutely stonewalling Miller for a minute and a half.
More Leaky Black since we’re just 2 days away from the #NBAdraft— Armandoavenue (@armandoavenue) June 21, 2023
Leaky shared the floor with top prospect Brandon Miller a total of 48 minutes back in November and held him to just 4/21 shooting.
Your favorite prospect probably isn’t defending like this. pic.twitter.com/Q7NBtxak7D
JARED FIRE: Julian Strawther, SG, Gonzaga
I love Julian Strawther’s mentality and skillset. He was the second-leading scorer and rebounder for Gonzaga this year, a 6-foot-7 barrel-chested wing that plays with the confidence of a number one option. His shot form is the second coming of Kevin Martin, funky but beautifully repetitive and efficient. The senior shot 43.7% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers — and an even better 44.9 mark on guarded ones. He’s not going to wow you with creation skills, but when he touches the ball in the right spot on the floor he’s probably making the shot. I think if Strawther fell to the late first round or early second, one of those contenders is going to love him (looking at you, Denver).
JARED ICE: Leonard Miller, PF, G-League Ignite
Lengthy forward projects oozing with potential seem to be dominating the draft inventory in recent years. Leonard Miller is definitely one in that group, a 6-foot-9 transition beast. What I like is that he doesn’t settle for the tough offense; watch his fast break clips and it’s easy to see the attraction. His jump shot leaves a lot to be desired, but it still went in enough to be wary of. Most of my reservations here are about which team actually needs a guy like him, or wants to take the time to develop how raw he is.
Contenders don’t need him except in a specialized case as an energy guy. Most of the rebuilders already have plenty of similar archetypes to work on (think Orlando, Oklahoma City, and maybe Charlotte or Houston to an extent). Ultimately the flashes he showed with Ignite, including some really impressive defensive instincts, will tag him as a top-20 pick. I just wouldn’t need to risk it when there are other more polished, play-in-an-important-game wings available behind him.
METCALF FIRE: Jarace Walker, PF, Houston
Jarace Walker has been one of my favorite prospects in this class going back to last summer. Whenever you throw out a Draymond Green comp, you’re bound to look like a fool. With Walker, though, he may be the closest thing yet. Walker’s defensive versatility is through the roof. He has the strength to battle in the post, agility to defend on the perimeter, and the IQ to defend the weak side on by himself. There have been questions about his offense given his role at Houston, but there is so much more upside than he was allowed to show. At IMG, Walker was essentially a point forward. He has the handle of a guard, tremendous passing vision, and the shot has taken major strides in the last two years. He is easily someone I’d be thrilled to build a franchise with.
METCALF ICE: Brice Sensabaugh, SG, Ohio State
Brice Sensabaugh is one of the best shooters and pure scorers in this class. He may very well be that in the NBA too, but he’s just not my cup of tea. For how good of a shooter he is, he is equally awful as a defender. His footwork and motor defending on-ball are mediocre at best, and his awareness off-ball is nonexistent. Defensively, there are a lot of similarities to James Harden. He’s strong and can hold his own in the post, but other than that... yikes. Sensabaugh is also a below average passer and typically a black hole on offense. He’s an insanely impressive tough shot maker, but that’s because every shot he takes is tough. He really struggled to create space against mediocre college athletes/defenders and rarely got to the rim. There is a good chance Sensabaugh could be a lethal shooter at the next level, but everything else about his game just screams red flag.