Kentucky basketball players projected for the 2023 NBA Draft

Kentucky forward Daimion Collins throws down a dunk against Robert Morris on Nov.  12, 2021.

Kentucky forward Daimion Collins throws down a dunk against Robert Morris on Nov. 12, 2021.

aslitz@herald-leader.com

The 2022 NBA Draft was completed Thursday night, but this is a spectacle that has no offseason, and speculation regarding next year’s process has already begun.

The earliest projections say the 2023 NBA Draft will be a major event for Kentucky basketball. And, even by the standards of the John Calipari era, next year’s draft could feature a remarkable number of Wildcats hitting the board of selections.

On Thursday night, Shaedon Sharpe went No. 7 to the Portland Trail Blazers, while TyTy Washington was selected with the No. 29 pick and will be headed to the Houston Rockets. Even if you don’t consider Sharpe a Wildcat — and that’s a subject up for discussion — it continued Calipari’s unbroken streak of 13 consecutive years with multiple Kentucky players hearing their names called on draft night. In all, Calipari has now had 45 UK players drafted in those 13 years, and that streak is sure to continue in 2023, when several Wildcats are already considered likely picks.

How high those Cats go will obviously largely depend on what happens over the next 12 months. And while there’s certainly lottery potential on this Kentucky roster, breaking into the very top of the 2023 draft will be a difficult task.

Top 2023 NBA Draft picks

Asking around early in the week, the clear consensus in NBA Draft circles remains: the 2023 list starts with Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Hendersonand then comes everybody else.

Wembanyama — a 7-foot-3 teenager from France — has long been billed as a generational talent, and he’s clearly one of the most intriguing NBA Draft prospects in decades. He turned 18 years old in January, plays for a top-level EuroLeague franchise owned by former Spurs star Tony Parker, and possesses a level of skill, size and versatility that has had NBA scouts salivating.

last month, ESPN posted its first 2023 mock draft. Wembanyama held the No. 1 spot, with longtime analyst Jonathan Givony remarking that he is the “best prospect I’ve personally ever evaluated.”

Next up on pretty much every early 2023 list is Henderson, who was a five-star point guard in the 2022 recruiting class before moving to 2021 and jumping to the G League last year. Due to his age — Henderson just turned 18 in February — he made that move knowing he’d need to spend two years in the developmental league before he’d be eligible for the draft.

Henderson, who was on Kentucky’s recruiting radar before his pro decision, quickly flashed a skill set that put him at the top of the 2023 draft conversation, and some analysts are even talking about him as a possible No. 1 pick if the 7-3 Wembanyama hits any major roadblocks in his development.

Past that, it’s a guessing game.

The ESPN mock draft from last month has Arkansas freshman Nick Smith Jr. at No. 3, Texas freshman Dillon Mitchell at No. 3, Texas freshman Dillon Mitchell at No. 3, Texas 4, and the Overtime Elite twin-brother duo of Ausar and Amen Thompson at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively.

Others in the top-five early discussion on will include Duke freshmen Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, Baylor freshman Keyonte George, and Oregon freshman Kel’el Ware, a 7-footer who has been quickly realizing his potential in recent months.

Kentucky in the 2023 draft

The most likely UK player to break into the debate regarding the very top of the 2023 draft is freshman guard Cason Wallace, who wrapped up his high school career as the No. 8 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings (and No. 5 overall in 247Sports’ own rankings).

Wallace is the type of high-floor player who is expected to make a major impact as soon as the 2022-23 season begins, and it would be a pretty big surprise if he’s not a first-round selection next year. ESPN projects him as the No. 12 pick in the 2023 draft.

He sure won’t be the only Kentucky player chosen next year.

According to the early ESPN mock draft, UK is projected to have four players selected in 2023. If that happens, it would be the first time in five years that the Wildcats produced that many picks in a single draft.

Fellow freshman Chris Livingston is projected at No. 22 overall. He has lottery-pick potential, but he’s also struggled with consistency during his high school and AAU career, so there’s likely a high degree of variance on where he could end up in the 2023 draft.

Returning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe is No. 36 on ESPN’s board, and he was projected in a similar spot had he stayed in this year’s draft. Technically, Tshiebwe has one more season of eligibility remaining beyond this one, but he’ll turn 23 years old later this year and the expectation going into the 2022-23 campaign should probably be that he’ll turn pro at the end of it.

At No. 38 on ESPN’s 2023 board is returning forward Daimion Collins, who possesses unique athleticism and tremendous upside but has a largely unpolished game. As much as anyone on this Kentucky team, the next few months will be crucial for Collins, who wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise to go in the lottery or not be picked at all in the 2023 draft. Time will tell.

The UK roster will also feature Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin and Sahvir Wheelerthree players who have seriously tested the NBA Draft process in the past before ultimately returning to college.

Of those, Toppin seems like the most intriguing draft option. He has shown flashes of NBA-type ability in his two seasons at Kentucky and is likely due for a larger role with the 2022-23 squad. He turned 22 years old last month and is the younger brother of New York Knicks forward Obi Toppinwho broke out as a redshirt sophomore at Dayton, winning national player of the year honors that season.

The younger Toppin should have the opportunity to win over NBA scouts this season, if his game continues to progress. And Kentucky looks like it’s in a spot to have a particularly busy draft night a year from now.

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football, horse racing and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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