Drafting 23-and-under teams to build the ultimate core

Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images /
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NBA 23-and-under
Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings. Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images /

Round Four of the 23-and-under Draft

A number of intriguing players are still on the board as we enter the penultimate round. How do these teams come together and which steals will be found in Round 4?

Pick No. 25, Team Izzy – Keldon Johnson, San Antonio Spurs

With my next player, I’m going to take another Spurs youngster Keldon Johnson. He can play both the 3 and the 4 and I believe he’s one of the most underrated young players in the league. He’s coming off his best season yet averaging 22/5/3 on 45/33/75 splits and is a solid defender as well. People forget the shot in the arm he gave the US in the Olympics against Spain and he proved he belonged on the roster. I believe Johnson will continue to flourish with Wemby and all the other young talent next to him.

Pick No. 26, Team Josh – Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets

With my fourth pick, I’ll round out my front line with Jabari Smith Jr. The ideal big to pair with Jeremy Sochan is a floor-spacing rim protector, and that leads me to Smith. He had a slow start to his rookie season, but the development of rookie bigs is heavily reliant on point guard play, and the Rockets had some of the worst setup guards in the league.

Down the back stretch, Smith started to blossom, and that development appears to have continued since as he was one of the best players in Las Vegas Summer League. He has a smooth jumper and looks to have improved his handle to self-create. Defensively he can move his feet well and has great weakside shot-blocking ability. He’ll be a bit undersized on defense, but I’d rather play small, fast and skilled than take a more traditional center and lose the offensive versatility.

Pick No. 27, Team Caleb – Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz were seemingly entering a long rebuilding process at the end of the 2022 NBA offseason. By trading both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, their Playoff contention was likely gone for the foreseeable future. Alongside Lauri Markkanen, rookie center Walker Kessler outperformed every expectation put his way. Kessler was selected to the 2022-23 NBA All-Rookie team and has been a high point in Utah’s roster growth. Kessler came close to averaging a double-double in his first season with 9.2 points and 8.4 rebounds. The seven-foot big man has an inspiringly bright future in the NBA with his instant two-way production for the Jazz. Kessler can alter anybody’s inside shot defensively and instantly transition to a fast-paced offensive response.

Pick No. 28, Team Alex – Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs

With this next selection, I will be drafting Devin Vassell, another promising member of the San Antonio Spurs young core. A strong perimeter defender with excellent instincts off the ball, Vassell has showcased intriguing offensive potential, developing a versatile mid-range game to compliment his spot-up shooting. His offensive evolution is reminiscent of the development that Khris Middleton underwent, gradually transforming from role player to All-Star.

In 2022-23, Vassell posted a well-rounded line, putting up averages of 18.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, in addition to just over a steal per contest. Slotted into my backcourt alongside LaMelo Ball, Vassell will help insulate any defensive shortcomings while adding a strong second-side attacker on the offensive end.

Pick No. 29, Team Matt – Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

With my point guard and front-court established I was at a crossroads between completing the back-court by drafting a shooting guard or filling out the wing position and drafting a small forward. I decided to gamble and lean into grabbing a wing. Keegan Murray from the Sacramento Kings will be my fourth pick in the draft. Measuring in at 6’8” Murray usually plays power forward next to Domantas Sabonis in the King’s frontcourt. However, I believe he’s adaptable enough to play small forward for the team I’m building. Keegan Murray would fit nicely with Mobley and Sengun providing support down in the paint while Giddey runs point for the team.

During the regular season, Keegan Murray averaged 12.2 points per game, while shooting 45.3% from field goal range and 41.1% from the three-point line. He also ranked sixth in the Western Conference for the most catch-and-shoot jumpers. Giddey’s facilitating could unlock a new level for Murray’s shooting. Murray might not be reinventing the wheel on the court, but he’s finding his stride and providing meaningful contributions to his team. As one of the only rookies last year with a starting role in the NBA playoffs – Keegan Murray has the potential to develop a true competitor’s mentality, and that makes him a valuable fourth-round pick in my eyes.

Pick No. 30, Team Gibson – Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors

Having already established my backcourt and center positions, I’m in need of some forwards. Luckily, those are some of the deepest positions in the league. My ideal selection would have been the player picked with the last selection, but instead, I’ll select Warriors standout Jonathan Kuminga. The 20-year-old power forward is an elite defender with seemingly limitless potential. He features all the tools to be a dominant force on both ends of the floor and seems ready to take a big year-three leap.

Pick No. 31, Team Dan – Anthony Black, Orlando Magic

With my fourth pick, I’m betting on Anthony Black being a two-way difference-maker. Black has a ways to go as a shooter, but he was the heartbeat of Alabama’s team last collegiate season.

Black projects as a key playmaker going forward who can make a variety of passes, is incredible in the open floor and can get downhill with ease. And on the other end of the floor, Black is a tenacious perimeter defender who can set the tone for this group with his ball pressure, 6-foot-7 length and active hands.

While the shot is again a question mark for him, with the other ways he can make things happen, this youngster could carve out a long career as an impact two-way guard and energy contributor.

Pick No. 32, Team Quinn – Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards

With my fourth pick, I will take Deni Avdija. I was super high on Avidja’s stock going into the 2020 NBA Draft, and this year he looks like he’s going to have his biggest role for the Washington Wizards in his whole career. After Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis were both traded, it leaves a lot of room for Avdija to get his shots up, as well as being a primary playmaker and ballhandler. He is an underrated defender, and he would slot well in between Jaden McDaniels and Chet Holmgren, playing the power forward spot. He’s also a sleeper most improved player candidate.