If this month has given us any indication, the 2023 NBA Draft could be special.
Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson went head-to-head in two thrilling showcases to start October, exemplifying the potential greatness that could headline this prospect group.
Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock has Wembanyama atop his initial 2023 Big Board, with Scoot Henderson at No. 2. But they're just the headliners. Amen and Ausar Thompson, twin uber-athletes, are carving up the court with Overtime Elite. Then you get to the collegiate standouts, led by Villanova's Cam Whitmore and Arkansas' Nick Smith Jr.
Babcock broke down the top names to monitor as the scouting season gets rolling. He also dove into his own scouting process and the challenges that come with criss-crossing the globe to watch basketball's best young talents.
How much did Victor Wembanyama's dominance in Las Vegas change his reputation as a generational prospect compared to before the exhibitions?
In my role as an NBA Draft Analyst, I do my best not to go too high or too low on guys based on individual performances. But to be in Las Vegas in person, sitting courtside to see Victor Wembanyama, an 18-year-old that's 7-foot-4 and has an 8-foot wingspan do the things that he did — it was remarkable. The combination of his length, coordination, and skill level is unbelievable. I don't know if we'll ever see a prospect quite like Victor Wembanyama again. He's so incredibly unique and has about as much upside as possibly imaginable.
What do you want to see from Wembanyama over this next season before making the likely leap to the NBA?
Although this may seem obvious, I'd like to see Victor stay healthy and out on the court this season. Considering that he has such a unique body type, I think that is very important. He's such an incredible prospect, but he needs to get stronger and take care of his body to maximize his potential.
How does Scoot Henderson compare to some of the dynamic guard prospects we've seen over the past decade?
Suppose we look at the top-tier guard prospects from recent years' drafts. In that case, we'd be talking about guys like LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, Trae Young — and I guess you could put Luka Doncic in that group, too, since he's essentially a big point guard.
Well, I'm comfortable saying I'm just as excited about Scoot Henderson as I was about all those guys at the same stage. But, of course, Scoot needs to take care of his business to get to those players' levels. However, my point is I do think he has that type of talent and potential.
What makes Amen and Ausar Thompson special, and could the twins also be franchise-altering talents?
Although the Thompson brothers are identical twins, I do see differences in their games. For example, Amen seems to have better ball skills and a feel for the game, and Ausar is wired more as a scorer. However, they're both incredible athletes with so much versatility on both sides of the ball. Outside shooting is their swing skill, and their development in that area will likely determine how much career success they'll find. It seems as if both guys are about all of the right things and are serious about their craft, which tells me they'll continue to improve. I think they're both big-time prospects and worthy of being high lottery picks.
Wembanyama, Henderson and the Thompson twins come from unconventional pathways. How does that change your scouting process?
Well, first of all, I take a compartmentalized approach to evaluating prospects regardless of whether they take an unconventional pathway or not. Each evaluation presents unique challenges, so I don't think it changes things for me too much.
Players taking unconventional pathways sometimes allow me more direct access to them. For example, with these players, as mentioned earlier, it's been more advantageous for me because I have unique connections to them. Victor Wembanyama's agent, Bouna N'Diaye, is a good friend, and I collaborated with him and his agency, Comsport, for years when I was an agent.
Scoot's mentor in Atlanta, Desmond Eastman, aka "The General," has been my guy since I played high school ball in Atlanta. The General, Scoot, and his family invited me out to their family's gym, Next Play 360, a couple of years ago to watch Scoot work out, and I got a chance to spend some time with all of them. And I've kept in touch with them since then.
I've also had opportunities to spend some time with the Thompson Twins. Before Overtime Elite was publicly launched, I spent about six months as an advisor for them; I assisted in setting up their scouting operations. So naturally, I'm close with all of the folks out there. A little while back, Overtime Elite invited me to come to Atlanta to speak to their players about scouting, intel, and the business of the NBA. Of course, I'm not always connected to top prospects like I am with those guys, but my background and experience in hoops does tend to serve me well regarding access, which I certainly don't take for granted.
Which other 2023 draft-eligible players do you think have a chance at putting themselves in that Tier 1 prospect conversation?
I'm not sure if any other players will be able to crack that first tier. Still, I am excited to track some college freshmen like Cam Whitmore at Villanova, Nick Smith at Arkansas, Dariq Whitehead at Duke, Dillon Mitchell at Texas, and Keyonte George at Baylor, to name a few. I could list off a handful or so more, too, as I think the freshman class this year has a bunch of talented prospects.
We hit the Main Line for the #BIGEASThoops Preseason Freshman of the Year, @NovaMBB's Cam Whitmore!— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) October 18, 2022
Cam was the Most Outstanding Player on @usabasketball's FIBA U18 Americas Championship squad this past summer & was the Gatorade Maryland POTY at Archbishop Spalding! #LetsGoNova pic.twitter.com/s0JUUeqIPn
As a scout, how do you make sure you're being fairly critical of top prospects without overanalyzing their flaws?
My process for evaluating prospects is to ask questions constantly, whether by asking myself questions internally or blowing up my right-hand man, Derek Murray's phone, to ask him questions. A comprehensive evaluation or conclusion of the evaluation of a prospect before their draft ultimately comes down to the concept of the sum of all its parts.
Experienced scouts can gather comparable information on prospects, evaluating the players' on-court talent and gathering intel on their background, character, and personality. Generally, we all know a prospect's strengths, weaknesses, and questions that need to be raised at a certain point in the process. The most challenging part is how one weighs out all the different variables within the evaluation.
For example, maybe a player lacks physical strength, has character flaws, or is an inconsistent shooter. How big of a problem are specific players' "issues" compared to how much talent and upside they have, and how much could their issues limit their ability to maximize their potential? It's all about balancing out the risk versus the reward. It's certainly a juggling act, but you know what? I love it. I live for it. I wake up as a scout everyday seeking more information on prospects in hopes of figuring out the big puzzle, which is the NBA Draft.
Which top returning college players are you most excited to see make improvements in their games?
There are many returners I'm hoping will make a big jump in their development. Some players that come to mind first are Terquavion Smith from NC State, Marcus Sasser from Houston, Kris Murray from Iowa, Harrison Ingram from Stanford, Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins from Kentucky, Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Kalkbrenner from Creighton, Terrence Shannon and Coleman Hawkins from Illinois, and Caleb Love from North Carolina.
Honestly, I could list off a bunch of guys. I love to see guys return to school and keep grinding. Having a front-row seat to watch young players' stories unfold as they chase their dreams is perhaps the best part of my job. I love it!
Beyond Wembanyama, what does this year's international prospect landscape look like?
Of course, Wembanyama is the big name this year. Some other internationally-born prospects that are playing overseas that I'm excited to track are Rayan Rupert with the New Zealand Breakers, Nikola Djurisic with Mega in Serbia, and James Nnaji and Ousmane NDiaye with Barcelona and Baskonia in Spain, respectively.
How do you set a roadmap for the early scouting season — do you prioritize geography, teams or specific players at first?
I first get my initial player rankings and priority watch list together, which helps me prepare and organize who I need to see. Secondly, I identify "must-see" games and events. For example, early this college season, I plan to attend the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis, including Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan State. Then I plan to attend the Phil Knight Invitational and Legacy events in Portland, which include many talented teams. There are some other double-headers and unique matchups in neutral locations I have penciled in too.