Like every year, NBA teams welcome new prospects through the draft. This generation from the 2023 NBA Draft has shown plenty of talent, although it is overshadowed by the player with the most hype since LeBron James, Victor Wembanyama.
The Frenchman was selected with the first pick by the San Antonio Spurs and all basketball lovers have their eyes on a player who is already unique without even making his debut in the league.
Another important aspect of the draft are the so-called steals. Those players who, for a variety of reasons, are chosen in low positions (the end of the first round or throughout the second) or take a considerable drop from the mock draft projections based on their stock.
In NBA history, there have been historic steals such as Manu Ginóbili (57th pick in 1999) or the case of Nikola Jokic, who was picked 41st in 2014. For example, during the Serbian’s selection, the draft gala was not even tuned in, a Taco Bell commercial was being aired.
Nine years later, the Serbian has just been crowned NBA champion, has two regular season MVPs to his name and is, arguably, the best player in the world.
Check out the rest of the article to meet six of the potential steals of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Possible steals of the 2023 NBA Draft:
15th pick – Atlanta Hawks.
Height: 1,96 m // 6 ft 5 in.
Position: Shooting Guard.
2022-2023 statistics: 14 ppg; 4.5 rpg; 2.9 apg; 1.3 spg; 36% 3pt.
Out of Michigan, Kobe Bufkin was one of the revelations in the NCAA this season and many experts believed he could sneak into the top 10 of the 2023 NBA Draft. Bufkin ended up being picked by the Atlanta Hawks, where he will back up the backcourt formed by Trae Young and Dejonte Murray. For now, it looks like Bufkin will be a spark plug off the bench in Quin Snyder’s system.
Among the player’s strenghts, his dynamism with the ball and ability to attack the rim stand out. In addition, during this college basketball season, he has proven to be a solid threat from behind the arc, shooting 35.5%.
Bufkin will have an impact on both sides of the court thanks to his ability to steal and rebound the ball and defend one-on-one. His shot-blocking ability has looked impressive for his height and position.
On another note, the Michigan point guard lacks a clear role that Quin Snyder will have to find for him. Another weakness of Bufkin is a common one among players entering the league: he needs to improve his physicality as, despite being one of the players who attacked the rim the most, he struggled to go to the free throw line (2.6 attempts in 34 minutes of play on average).
NBA comparison: Derrick White.
20th pick – Houston Rockets.
Height: 2,01 m // 6 ft 7 in.
Position: Small Forward.
2022-2023 statistics: 12.5 ppg; 5.3 rpg; 1.4 spg; 43% off the ‘catch and shoot’.
Cam Whitmore was one of the biggest surprises of the 2023 NBA Draft. The Villanova forward could have easily slipped into the top 5 of the draft, but ultimately fell to the 20th selection.
According to ESPN analyst Adrian Wojnarowski, this was due to “a series of mediocre workouts and disappointing interviews.” Nevertheless, the forward has landed into one of the league’s best young cores in the Rockets and will have a chance to showcase his sky-high potential.
Whitmore stands out for his immense physical strength. He probably is the most powerful of his generation and has a polished offensive game with the ability to score off the dribble (63% of his possessions came from isolations) as well as catch-and-shoot, making 43% of his looks. In addition, his physicality allows him to be a versatile defender who can guard both perimeter players and big men.
His shot selection and mechanics are some of the facets to improve for the small forward. Another of his weaknesses is that he is a deficient passer. In fact, he registered the lowest assist numbers among perimeter players in the draft.
After Woj’s words, the player’s work ethic is also in question, something that must change immediately if he wants to get minutes in the NBA.
NBA Comparison: DeMar DeRozan.
22nd pick – Brooklyn Nets.
Height: 1,98 m // 6 ft 6 in.
Position: Small Forward.
2022-2023 statistics: 8.3 ppg; 2.4 rpg; 1 apg; 43% 3pt.
Whitehead was considered one of the best players of the 2023 class, but has had a pretty poor year at Duke. Several injuries have not allowed the forward to play with consistency, causing him to fall to the 22nd pick owned by the Brooklyn Nets.
A risky bet for the Nets who could land one of the best prospects of the draft if injuries are not too bad for him. His case could be compared to Michael Porter Jr’s.
The 18-year-old has outstanding athleticism and, above all, great shooting from the perimeter. In the NCAA he stood out as one of the best catch and shoot players. All things considered, we might be looking at a very exciting 3&D prospect in the league.
At the very least, he should establish himself as an excellent shooter, but if he can reach his potential, he could even reach All-Star status.
His main shortcoming is the uncertainty of how much his physicality will hold up. At the beginning of last season, he broke a foot, heavily delaying the start of his collegiate career. In addition, he has recently undergone surgery again and will not be available for preseason.
NBA Comparison: Reggie Bullock.
33rd pick – San Antonio Spurs (later traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves).
Height: 2,06 m // 6 ft 10 in.
Position: Power Forward.
2022-2023 statistics: 16.9 ppg; 10.1 rpg; 1.6 apg; 0.8 bpg.
Leonard Miller is the first player we touch on selected on the 2023 NBA Draft’s second round. The power forward is one of the new Canadian prospects arriving in the NBA after a stint in the G League. Selected by the San Antonio Spurs (but quickly traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves), he was expected to go in the top 20, so his drop to the second round makes him a serious candidate for a steal in this draft.
Miller’s main strengths are his versatility and good ball handling, which allows him to be a dynamic player in transition.
For a big man, a lot of his possessions come from isolations (22%) that he seizes either driving or pulling up from mid-range. Defensively, Miller has a high ceiling, thanks to the combination of height and agility that allow him to quickly get out of the paint on defensive duties.
As for the Canadian’s weaknesses, they are similar to many of the 2023 NBA Draft prospects. A jump shot that, while not bad on paper, is questionable due to his fairly poor mechanics. On the other hand, improving his physique is another of his pending tasks. Last season, he averaged few blocks and was an easy target in the paint for opposing attackers.
NBA Comparison: Tari Eason.
43rd pick – Portland Trail Blazers.
Height: 1,98 m // 6 ft 6 in.
Position: Shooting guard / Small forward.
2022-2023 statistics: 5.9 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 0.9 apg; 0.7 spg.
Rayan Rupert is the third French player picked this draft behind Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly. His selection was expected at the end of the first round, but he was taken with the 43rd pick by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Part of the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL (Australian league), Rupert arrives on a team whose aspirations depend on Damian Lillard’s decision, but he could be an interesting complement to Portland’s brand new acquisition, Scoot Henderson.
Rupert’s main strength is undoubtedly his defensive intensity that could shape him into an elite defender in the future. He has the ability to defend point guards, shooting guards and small forwards thanks to his height and athleticism. In addition, although scoring is one of his areas to improve, he has shown flashes as a shooter and playmaker.
In spite of that, Rupert still has a lot to work on in both areas. Offensively, he must increase his outside shooting percentage (23% on three-pointers), especially on lightly guarded moving shots. He also struggles to create his own looks.
Defensively, his intensity is his greatest virtue, but he must improve his rebounding production, blocks and in on-ball actions. Thankfully, he is a very young prospect who survived in a competitive league like the Australian one.
NBA Comparison: Thabo Sefolosha.
49th pick – Cleveland Cavaliers.
Height: 2,06 m // 6 ft 10 in.
Position: Small forward.
2022-2023 statistics: 19.2 ppg; 5.8 rpg; 1.4 apg; 33% 3pt.
This is undoubtedly the riskiest draft steal prediction, and it is a very personal one. Emoni Bates arrives in the Cavaliers with the 49th pick as a player who will have a tough time finding opportunities in the league, but his story is an interesting one. During his collegiate stint, he averaged 29 points per game at Lincoln (Michigan) and in 2019, Sports Illustrated compared him to LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, tough to beat that.
Bates is a brutal offensive threat, with the ability to score from any position and in multiple ways. An offensive output he displayed during his sophomore year at Eastern Michigan where he recorded 19.2 points per game and shot at a 33% clip on three-pointers. He also has great on-ball skills and many NBA franchises were pleasantly surprised with his workouts at the Draft Combine.
While he may be a player who struggles to get into the rotation, he may have tremendous upside if he lives up to the expectations of his high school years.
But while he can contribute on the offensive side of the court, his defensive deficiencies are a major concern, and his mediocre physique for his height does not help him. In addition, his off-ball IQ is far from the best in the class.
We will see what Bates shows during the Summer League. On paper, it will be really hard for him to make a start-of-the-season roster, although he could always turn his career around and get closer to what he once looked like.
NBA Comparison: Lawrence Moten.
Translated by Nuño Alonso.
Main image: @NBAspain.