Top NBA Prospects: Should They Play or Not?
Shaedon Sharpe showed a new way to approach the draft. Could other college prospects follow in his footsteps? NBA scouts and agents weigh in
Beyond the star-studded top of the 2023 NBA Draft — Victor Wembanyama (France), Scoot Henderson (G League) and Amen Thompson and his twin brother Ausar (Overtime Elite) — college freshmen dominate the discussion around next June’s draft.
But so far, this highly regarded freshman class has produced mixed results due to injuries and inconsistent play.
Villanova’s Cam Whitmore and Arkansas’ Nick Smith Jr., arguably the top two prospects in college basketball, missed all of November outside of Smith’s five-minute debut on Sunday night.
Smith had been sidelined by “right knee management,” while Whitmore underwent surgery to repair a thumb injury on his right (shooting) hand in mid-October and was expected to return to action in November.
As we enter December, I have been asked on several occasions, “Does it even make sense for them to play this season?”
(The same question has been raised in regard to Victor Wembanyama, who has chosen to continue playing a full schedule, at least for now.)
From the perspective of an NBA scout, a college coach and college fans, the answer is a no-brainer — you want to see players like Whitmore and Smith on the court.
But if you were an agent looking out for Whitmore’s or Smith’s future, you might see it differently. You might feel comfortable enough with their draft stock to sit them and not risk further injury or have their draft status impacted by poor play.
During the one-and-done era, we’ve seen prospects ride their rep from their pre-college exploits to the first round of the NBA draft with a very small sample size of college basketball action.
And in one of the most incredible cases yet, Shaedon Sharpe enrolled at Kentucky last season as perhaps the top incoming prospect in college basketball, in the top tier with Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero — and didn’t play a single minute.
The Portland Trail Blazers took Sharpe No. 7 in the draft, despite all the mystery and questions around his decision to suit up but not play for Kentucky. And now, less than six months later, Sharpe is a highlight machine for Portland, a regular in the Blazers’ rotation and one of the top long-term prospects from his draft class.
So … should others follow his path to the draft?
I talked to four NBA scouts and five NBA agents about the decision that college players will increasingly face.
Two scouts said Smith and Whitmore should play: