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2023 NBA Draft according to YODA: First Round Wings

Boulogne Levallois v Le Mans - LNB Pro A
Bilal Coulibaly is YODA’s top wing in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

When we last checked with YODA (short for Ye Olde Draft Analyzer), looked at the guards in this year’s draft class, we did. At the wings today we analyze.

Will backwards run the sentences until stomachs churn? Onwards read, if dare you do.

Okay, I’ll stop.

To recap the key points about YODA:

  • stat-driven system using publicly available information
  • operates under the theory that a prospect’s on-court production is a reasonable way to assess how he applies his skills, size, athleticism and basketball IQ to competitive games
  • it accounts for level of competition, age, athletic tools, defensive prowess, injury history, and intangibles like off-court trouble, relevant exceptional achievements, etc.

History shows that in most cases, excellent players in non-NBA players tend to be the most successful at the NBA level. There are exceptions, but there aren’t many examples of players who went from a collegiate scrub to an even useful NBA player. It’s probably happened, but I can’t think of a single example off the top of my head.

Also worth reiterating: predicting the future of 18-21 year olds is an inexact science. Past performance by these prospects tends to forecast future performance, but there are sufficient exceptions to approach these kinds of rankings with acknowledgement that even the best and most rigorous of methods won’t do much more than modestly improve the guesswork.

One final reiteration: I use four positions when ranking prospects — guards, wings, forwards, centers. Here’s how I envision the groupings:

  • Guards = traditional point guards and shooting guards — think Bradley Beal, Delon Wright, Monte Morris and Jordan Goodwin. Some are more ball handler and distribution; some are more scoring and shooting. None are big enough to play against forwards or take more than spot minutes at wing.
  • Wings = traditional shooting guards and small forwards — think Corey Kispert or Will Barton. They can play as either SG or SF but don’t have the skills or aptitude to take full-time ball handling and distribution duties.
  • Forwards = traditional small forwards and power forwards — think Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura
  • Centers = the big guys who handle most of the rim protection, paint patrolling and interior work. Some can step outside and knock down threes. Others are more traditional behemoths and rim-runners. Think Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford.

Let’s get to those wings.

This is the position where I think the Wizards have the biggest need. I know most people would say PG, and I’m not saying they’re wrong exactly because I think they also need backcourt help. And help at forward.

While I don’t think teams should draft based on immediate need, Washington may have the opportunity to select the best player available who will also happen address the hole at wing.

Quick aside: Why should teams avoid drafting for need? Think back to the 2020 draft. Washington had a backcourt manned by Bradley Beal and John Wall (returning — at least in theory — from injury). Obviously, the team didn’t need a guard, and they had a need at SF. They picked Deni Avdija, who’s been below average, and passed on Tyrese Haliburton, who became an All-Star last season.

What do most observers think is Washington’s biggest need? The exact position that could be filled by Haliburton.

What do they still need? A SF.

(Note: In fairness to the Wizards, selecting Avdija may not have been entirely need-based. They apparently had him on their board as the best player available, and then-GM Tommy Sheppard reportedly tried to trade for fourth pick to take him.)

The point stands though. Needs change, often quickly, and nearly every prospect — no matter how impressive — takes some time to acclimate to the NBA.

Aside over. Let’s look at those 2023 wings. Overall, this isn’t a particularly impressive group. In YODA, one wing is in the top five, and just seven wings earned a first round grade.

  1. Bilal Coulibably, French LNB Pro A & Espoirs, 18 years old — Victor Wembayana’s teammate played solidly in a strong international league while also utterly dominating in the under-21 Espoirs games. And he did it as an 18-year — he doesn’t turn 19 until the end of July. What to like? He’s long-limbed, quick, and bouncy. He’s shot 61.6% on twos, and 34.2% on threes, though his shooting form is a little stiff and could improve with good coaching. He also rebounds and defends. Concerns: not much of a playmaker (more turnovers than assists), and his performance against grown men wasn’t as impressive as it was against competition closer to his own age.
  2. Gradey Dick, Kansas, 19 years old — Terrific shooter who rebounded decently but didn’t do much else. He shot 40.3% on threes and 85.4% from the free throw line...but just 48.4% on twos. Few turnovers and almost no assists. He generated some steals (1.8 per 40 minutes), but rarely blocked shots. The shooting has NBA value. This type of profile tends to get targeted on defense when the stakes go up.
  3. Colby Jones, Xavier, 20 years old — Jones is an interesting prospect who could end up being a bargain if mock drafts are accurate and he winds up in the late first or early second round. He finished well inside (56.3% on twos), shot 37.8% from three, and he was a strong playmaker (5.2 assists per 40 with a 1.9 to 1 ast/tov ratio). Of potential concern: just 65.3% from the free throw line, and the overall numbers aren’t mind-blowing for a 20-year old junior.
  4. Sidy Cissoko, G League Ignite, 19 years old — Positives: size, athleticism, playmaking (4.8 assists per 40 with a 1.8/1 ast/tov ratio) and disruptive defense (1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40). He also shot 55.2% on twos against good competition. Negatives: 30.4% three-point shooting, meh rebounding and loads of fouls (4.5 per 40).
  5. Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State, 19 years old — Terrific shooter from everywhere and strong rebounding. Lots more turnovers than assists, shockingly low steals and blocks, but plenty of fouls (4.1 per 40). The shooting has real value to NBA teams, if he can do enough of the other stuff to stay on the floor.
  6. Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA, 22 years old — Here’s a guy who, as Matt Modderno told me, will up the MFer factor of any team. I like that — I think every team needs someone willing to be the guy who will say things directly, even if it hurts a teammate’s feelings. And every team needs someone who hates losing and is willing to scrap for a win. Basically, every team needs some guys like those on the Miami Heat roster. In the late first, Jaquez seems like that kind of guy. Not a great shooter, and his combine measurements and times weren’t great, but maybe good enough. He rebounds, defends and competes — all traits the Wizards could use. Especially if he can learn to shoot.
  7. Julian Phillips, Tennessee, age 19 — Best athlete at the combine, at least according to times and vertical measurements. He was inefficient offensively with big questions about his shooting (just 23.9% on threes) and playmaking. He excelled on the offensive glass (Jaquez was the only wing beat his 3.0 offensive boards per 40 — Jaquez got 3.1), and his 82.2% free throw shooting suggests his shot isn’t broken. This is not a guy in play for Washington at eight.

Here are few wings that interest me in the second round or as undrafted free agents:

  • Julian Strawther, Gonzaga
  • Jordan Miller, Miami (FL)
  • Andre Jackson Jr., Connecticut
  • Dariq Whitehead, Duke
  • Jett Howard, Michigan
  • Ben Sheppard, Belmont (hat tip to Matt Modderno for bringing him to my attention)
  • Rayan Rupert, Australia NBL