NBA Draft Q&A: Matt Babcock on early takeaways from scouting trail

NBA Draft Q&A: Matt Babcock on early takeaways from scouting trail

College basketball season is off and running, and several NBA Draft hopefuls have already boosted their stock with meaningful performances.

Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock recently updated his 2023 NBA Draft Big Board. While the top four candidates remain the same, Alabama freshman Brandon Miller has jumped up to the No. 5 spot as the top-ranked men's collegiate player. 

It's still early in the scouting season though, with plenty of time to slide up and down in the eyes of pro teams. I checked in with Babcock to get some of his early takeaways so far and ask a bit about his process as an analyst.

1. The top-four remain the same in this Big Board update. Specifically, with the Thompson twins, what makes you confident that they remain above the collegiate talents?

Matt Babcock: It's early in the process. There's a part of me that would prefer not even doing big boards this time of year because there is so much work to do between now and the draft, and naturally, I'm expecting my big board to look very different by the end of the season. Regarding the Thompson twins specifically, I'm very high on both of them. Like most scouts, I prefer Amen over Ausar, but I think it's close. But I'm still trying to figure out just how close. So like I said, I have a lot of work to do, and I will be heading back out to Atlanta to see them again.

2. What strengths does Brandon Miller possess to propel him to No. 5?

Babcock: I was in Portland over Thanksgiving for the Phil Knight Invitational, and that first night versus Michigan State, Brandon Miller was terrific! He's 6-foot-9 and is such a smooth shooter and scorer. I was also impressed with his ability to put the ball on the floor. He needs to get stronger, which I think will help him finish better at the rim and defensively, but he has a lot of offensive talent and upside, regardless.

3. With no centers in the top 10, how wide open do you think the hierarchy is at that position?

Babcock: Traditional big men have continued to lose value in recent years, so that's a big part of it. And our top prospect this year, Victor Wembanyama, is 7-foot-4 with an 8-foot wingspan, but is not generally categorized as a center because he has much more of a perimeter-oriented game. The top big men prospects this year are true freshmen Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively from Duke, Kel'el Ware from Oregon, and Adem Bona from UCLA. It's early in the season, so we don't need to come to conclusive stances on prospects right now because there's plenty of time for these players to develop and progress throughout this season.

4. Which draft prospect has wowed you most as an in-person viewer so far?

Babcock: This is an easy one: Victor Wembanyama blew me away. His combination of length and skill is exceptional. Victor is a generational talent, and I expect him to become the No. 1 pick in the 20223 NBA Draft.

5. Which prospects have gotten off to a slow start but should not raise serious concerns?

Babcock: Some of the freshmen are starting slow. Dereck Lively at Duke and Chris Livingston at Kentucky have started slow. And then Dariq Whitehead, also from Duke, and Nick Smith at Arkansas are just getting back from injuries, so they haven't done much yet. It's early, though; all these guys have time to rewrite their narratives.

6. What is most valuable about scouting games in-person vs. watching film?

Babcock: It's about seeing all the little stuff. I do my best to ensure I have a good seat for games. The closer to the court, the better. I want to learn about players' physical tools and movements, and figuring out a player's skill set is easier in person. However, the main reason for making such an effort to see prospects in person is to learn about players' personalities, attitudes, and coachability, for example. When evaluating players, I ask myself questions like: Is he a leader? Is he competitive? How does he handle physicality? Is he soft? Is he selfish? I could list off thousands of things like that, but the main point is that to get a firm grip on who prospects are as people and what makes them tick, you need to see them in person.

7. Emoni Bates captivated social media with some of his early games — do you think he could return to first-round pick status?

Babcock: I've never questioned that Emoni had high-level talent; it's always been there from that standpoint. The biggest questions are his maturity and reliability. I saw some attitude issues in high school, and he has shown that he lacks composure and maturity at times. On top of all that, he's gotten in real trouble. So essentially, it comes down to the same question when evaluating prospects for the draft, are they a good investment for a team? I'm still trying to calculate the risk/reward ratio with Emoni. So we'll see how it goes.

8. What are you most excited about in the final weeks of nonconference action?

Babcock: I hit the scouting trail hard in November, so I'm shifting gears here the next couple of weeks by attending some high school events, including HoopHall West in Arizona and the City of Palms Classic in Florida. But I look forward to seeing some specific teams soon, including Arkansas, Creighton, Houston, and South Carolina.

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