The 2022 NBA Draft started with three straight one-and-done players taken. Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith flew off the board after standout freshman seasons. But as the 2022-23 NBA season comes to a close, it’s clear that some of the multi-year college players from the class were just as ready for the NBA.
Keegan Murray (No. 4, Sacramento), Bennedict Mathurin (No. 5, Indiana), Jalen Williams (No. 12, Oklahoma City) and Walker Kessler (No. 22, Utah) joined with Banchero to round out the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Meanwhile, Smith landed on the All-Rookie Second Team. (Holmgren missed the season due to injury.)
In the long run, Smith and Holmgren may turn out to be better players than the players picked below them who received better rookie accolades. But the postseason awards voting indicated they may not have been the most “NBA-ready” players in a draft class featuring some appealing options with more age and seasoning.
So who are the most NBA-ready prospects of the 2023 class? Most would agree it’s French phenom Victor Wembanyama. But for this week’s Dribble Handoff, we are eliminating him from the conversation and picking which other players on the board we believe are best-suited to make substantive contributions out of the gate.
I’m higher on Jaquez than most and have him going 21st overall in my latest mock draft. He’s a 22-year-old four-year college player who is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year after averaging 17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 33.2 minutes per game for a UCLA team that won a conference championship. He’s a good defender, an above-average passer, a better-than-you-think athlete, and a capable mid-range jumpshooter — though the 3-point shot remains mostly unreliable and in need of improvement.
Simply put, I think you could drop Jaquez into an NBA game tonight and he’d look and be comfortable. The 6-foot-7 guard doesn’t have the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft, but if he finds himself in the right situation, I won’t be surprised if he’s ultimately a First Team All-Rookie performer. — Gary Parrish
If Wemby wasn’t in this draft, purely from a basketball standpoint, I think Miller would be the No. 1 pick because of what he projects to be and how good he can be in the first few months of his rookie season. Miller was clearly college basketball’s best freshman last season, averaging 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and shooting 38% from 3-point range.
At 6-9 and with a 7-foot wingspan, his body type and skill set is the prototype for an NBA wing. He’s a good shooter, good cutter, can play with physicality and has the traits to be an impactful player immediately. I do think fit and culture will be an important factor here, but in terms of all-around basketball ability, Miller is second only to Wembanyama in terms of being able to produce meaningfully in his first season in the NBA. — Matt Norlander
The phrase “pro-ready” is already virtually synonymous with Walker in draft circles, so allow me to go out and stand on the most sturdy of ledges here to make my case for the Houston combo forward.
Let’s start with some historical data that will likely be in Walker’s favor: the last six Rookie of the Year winners have all been top-five NBA Draft picks. Walker is No. 5 in my latest mock to the Detroit Pistons and widely seen as one of the five most pro-ready prospects, even if consensus across the landscape isn’t (yet) that he will be a top-five pick.
There’s also this: Walker measured 6-6 (and change) at the NBA Draft Combine with a staggering wingspan approaching 7-3. At 249 pounds, he is about as muscled-up as one could reasonably expect for a player not just of his position, but also of his age. (This full-grown man is 19 years old!)
If you buy in to Walker as a top-five pick — and specifically as a potential Pistons pick — then all the more reason to believe he could be the most ready to contribute significantly in 2023-24. Detroit has a stellar backcourt comprised of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey and a frontcourt that would likely feature him heavily next to Jalen Duren. He’d be the energetic defensive glue that could hold this team in place while putting up big stats and equally big impact.
Wembanyama is the obvious pick to win this running away — both Rookie of the Year and to qualify as the most pro-ready player — but I wouldn’t sleep on Walker as being among the most likely to challenge Wemby next season as an immediately-ready prospect with major long-term upside. — Kyle Boone
As a 22-year-old rookie this past season, Kris’ twin brother, Keegan, started 78 games and averaged 12.2 points and 4.6 rebounds on 41.1% 3-point shooting for a Sacramento team that took the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors to Game 7 in a playoff series. Kris is not expected to be selected as early as Keegan, who was the No. 4 overall pick. But he’s likely going to be a first round pick and profiles quite similarly.
As a versatile 6-8 wing, Kris led Iowa in scoring and rebounding with 20.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per contest this past season. He can score at all three levels and defend multiple positions. Depending on where he is picked, he could be an immediate starter just like his brother and make substantive contributions to a playoff-caliber squad. In the long run, there are prospects with more upside in this class. But there are few, if any, who could be trusted more to play an immediate role for a team with aspirations of competing in the 2023-24 season. — David Cobb