Top NBA Draft Prospects: The 10 Best Freshmen
Part 2: Players 6 to 10 — five potential lottery picks
Around the NBA landscape, all kinds of folks — front office execs, scouts and draft junkies alike — are excited about the potential of 2023’s loaded draft class. From the G League (Scoot Henderson, et al.) to Overtime Elite (the Thompson twins) to Europe, which is home to the potential No. 1 pick, talented draft prospects are everywhere.
But as usual, most of the top draft prospects are to be found in college basketball, and particularly in the freshman class. Just six weeks ago, NCAA freshmen were the top three picks in the 2022 draft — including Jabari Smith, who a year ago was regarded as a potential lottery pick but not as a top-3 pick.
In other words, the list below contains five names that have the talent to move to the top of the draft.
Let’s look at Part 2 of my top 10 NCAA freshmen who should be among the top picks about 10 months from now.
6. Dariq Whitehead
Whitehead is expected to join a long list of Montverde Academy alums to be selected in the lottery. The powerhouse program, located 24 miles outside of Orlando, has produced more high-level talent than most blueblood college programs, with Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, RJ Barrett, Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes suiting up for Montverde over the last 10 years.
Whitehead is a tough, athletic, shotmaking wing who serves as a secondary ball handler and facilitator. He also projects to be a versatile defender and one of the top two-way players in this class.
When he’s on, Whitehead is a matchup nightmare, but he’s a streaky shooter who relies heavily on contested pull-up jumpers. He has the speed and first step to be a dominant downhill attacker but often settles for difficult jumpers instead of attacking the rim.
7. G.G. Jackson
The 2023 NBA draft class was already considered a talented group and got even stronger with the recent addition of Jackson when he announced he would be reclassifying and playing for the Gamecocks. Still 17 until Dec. 17, Jackson will be one of the youngest players in college basketball this season.
Jackson, one of the early favorites to be the top pick in 2024 before his decision to reclassify, is an uberathletic and skilled ball-handling 4 adept at scoring off the bounce. He’s also a promising shooter who can knock down pull-up jumpers, and his range extends comfortably to the 3-point line.
Jackson’s size, length and athleticism translate on the defensive end, where he has the lateral quickness to switch out and guard wings in space. His timing and vertical pop make him an intimidating shot blocker as well.
For younger prospects, reclassification has led to mixed results lately, as Shaedon Sharpe was drafted No. 7 despite playing zero college minutes, Jalen Duren played well enough at Memphis to go No. 13 and former top prospect Emoni Bates dealt with injury and ineffectiveness before transferring from Memphis to Eastern Michigan.
8. Dillon Mitchell
Mitchell, like Whitehead, is a Montverde Academy product who could find himself in the green room as a lottery pick next summer. As a top-tier athlete, the 18-year-old small forward impacts games with energy and effort plays. A large chunk of Mitchell’s points come at the rim, where he scores on dump-offs, putbacks and aggressive drives to the rim in transition.
The biggest area for improvement is his shooting, as he’s a reluctant shooter who rarely scores outside of the paint. One bearish sign is that he shot below 50% from the free-throw line both in the Nike EYBL and as a high school senior.
Despite his limited offensive game, Mitchell’s two-way potential and ability to be effective without dominating the ball make him one of the more intriguing long-term prospects.
9. Anthony Black
A backcourt standout listed at 6’7”, Black is a versatile, pass-first playmaker who fits the mold of the modern-day positionless player. Whether he’s the primary ball handler or playing as a connector, Black’s versatility, high IQ and unselfishness contribute to winning basketball.
Black draws comparisons to Dyson Daniels, who was selected No. 8 in June by the New Orleans Pelicans.
The biggest knocks on Black are his inconsistent shooting — though he’s a capable shooter who can make open shots — and lack of blow-by speed to break down defenses. Also, he’s regarded as a good but not great athlete who can be unselfish to a fault.
10. Cason Wallace
I’ve had the opportunity to watch Wallace’s development over the years, dating back to when I started my career as a videographer filming third-graders in the Dallas area. At the tender age of 8, Wallace was a jack-of-all-trades stat-stuffer, though he was not the best player on his team at the time.
Ten years later, Wallace has blossomed into a potential lottery pick and the headliner for Kentucky’s recruiting class. The Wildcats have a track record of producing high-level NBA guards, and Wallace could be next.
Wallace's biggest strength remains his versatility, as he’s capable of playing and defending both guard spots while racking up rebounds, assists and steals. Scouts have compared him to Jrue Holiday given his ability to lock down the opposing team's top offensive threat.
Although Wallace does a lot of things well, there are questions about what his best position will be and whether he’s a natural floor general. If not, that raises concerns about whether his shooting is consistent enough for Wallace to play off the ball.