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
Amen Thompson, Houston Rockets. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images /

Round Five of the 23-and-under Draft

Our draft concludes in round five, as everyone feels the crunch of their past decisions and tries to field a well-balanced lineup while not sacrificing on talent and star upside.

Pick No. 33, Team Quinn – Amen Thompson, Houston Rockets

With my final pick, I will take Amen Thompson. He’s a really amazing playmaker and would slot well in with the lineup I already have. He’s not the best jump shooter yet, but he’s only a rookie so progression with his offensive game is expected. He’s also a solid defender, a theme with the picks I have made in this draft. He’s going to be the backup point guard behind Fred VanVleet, and also will probably be slotted behind Kevin Porter Jr., which could hurt his development. I still believe he’s a super-talented and fantastic prospect, and his potential is limitless.

Pick No. 34, Team Dan – Jarace Walker, Indiana Pacers

With my fifth and final selection, I’m taking Jarace Walker. Walker had a quality season at Houston, and with his skill level, strength and fluidity, at his size, he could be an ideal 4-man fit with Wemby long-term at the 5.

Walker flashed his share of shot creation and stretch big potential with Houston, and additionally, had 1.3 blocks and even 1.0 steals per contest in 2022-23. Similarly to Black, in a fast-paced approach with this group, Walker could assuredly thrive as an end-to-end player, defensive weak side playmaker and mid-post contributor.

Pick No. 35, Team Gibson – Moses Moody, Golden State Warriors

With my final pick, I’m going to go purely for fit and select Moses Moody. He’s a fantastic defender and more than capable of spacing the floor. He also has some untapped potential as a ball handler. In an increased role, Moody could prove to be one of the best three-and-d players in the league someday.

Pick No. 36, Team Matt – Gradey Dick, Toronto Raptors

As I round out my starting five, I’m looking for a shooting guard to pair with Josh Giddey in the back-court. A player that can score the ball with ease. With my fifth and final pick, I will select the rookie Gradey Dick from the Toronto Raptors. At 19 years old, Gradey would be the youngest player on my team. Gradey Dick and Josh Giddey both measure in at 6’8” – making them a formidable back-court for this hypothetical lineup.

Gradey Dick finished the year with an average of 14.1 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, as well as 1.7 assists. Gradey’s brightest potential shines in his shooting. The former Jayhawk shot 44.2% from the field last year, and even more impressively, his three-point shooting came out to 40.3%.

His elite shooting and ability to adapt in transition make him a great selection to grow into a future All-Star guard in the league. Gradey can also affect the game on the defensive side of the ball. In college, he put up 4.0 defensive rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Gradey can act as a practical team defender. With his size and speed, he has the capability to slide in at various spots and guard multiple positions on the court. Lifting some of the pressure from Mobley.

There is some concern that Gradey might struggle to add on some weight due to his frame, but his speed and athleticism can make up for that. Versatility has been the theme of my draft. I believe my lineup of Josh Giddey, Gradey Dick, Keegan Murray, Evan Mobley and Alperen Sengun creates a multifaceted starting five capable of adapting to various situations in the modern NBA.

Pick No. 37, Team Alex – Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks

At this point in the draft, my pickings are fairly slim to fill out the center spot but I will be selecting someone who is primed to emerge into a more prominent role over the next couple of seasons, Atlanta Hawks big man Onyeka Okongwu. Playing behind Clint Capela, Okongwu has impressed in limited minutes and looks likely to become the full-time starter very soon. He has been a consistent positive on the defensive end since he came into the league, something that is extremely difficult for young players to do, and last year took a noticeable jump. Although he’s not the most domineering center, Onkongwu is a smart defender who plays bigger than his size. He averaged 2.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes last season and his nimbleness makes him an effective switch defender as well.

On the offensive end, he is an efficient finisher with good touch and sneakily has become one of the best screeners in the league. Next to my star duo of LaMelo and Zion, Okongwu is the perfect gap-filler, whether it’s throwing a short roll pass or coming over for a weak side block, he simply makes life easier for the guys around him.

Pick No. 38, Team Caleb – Ochai Agbaji, Utah Jazz

To round out the squad, let’s take a look at the one that got away for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Selected 14th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, Ochai Agbaji was involved in the Donovan Mitchell trade package, sending the then 22-year-old prospect to the Utah Jazz. He was not instantly inserted into the Jazz’s nightly rotation, but throughout the season he earned significant minutes, eventually starting in 22 games.

His overall game progressed night by night, ending his rookie campaign with a 35.5 percent 3-point percentage and 7.9 points per game. Standing at 6-foot 5-inches, Agbaji is a taller shooting guard with an athletic build. While he is still a work in progress, he has shown flashes of a stud in the making. He can play the two guard and swap to the three when necessary. A player like Agbaji could to be the perfect glue guy for a contending squad.

Pick No. 39, Team Josh – Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets

The top remaining player on my board is Shaedon Sharpe, but I need more size. I’m considering lower-upside players like Quentin Grimes or Tari Eason, or the poor shooting of Ausar Thompson in a nuclear athlete. Ultimately, though, I’ll take none of them and maximize fit and star upside by taking Brandon Miller of the Charlotte Hornets. It’s fascinating that Miller and Scoot Henderson end up on the same team here, as they went 2-3 in this year’s draft. The fact that I took Scoot Henderson 29 picks earlier than Miller should illustrate the gap I see between them as prospects, but at this point the upside and fit of Miller are too good to pass up.

Miller has excellent size at 6’9″ with an absolutely killer jumpshot. He was lights out in college at Alabama and everything about his shot looks projectable to the next level. It’s very easy to see him as a movement shooter who can also shoot off-the-dribble as well. He is a great rebounder, and on a team with two small guards everyone else needs to rebound. He is a good passer and can grab-and-go in transition, something that fits excellently on my team. On defense he is length and excellent instincts. He is slight and will struggle to defend larger players early on, but he can also reasonably get to that point.

The reason Miller shouldn’t have been the third pick in the draft is that the path to him becoming an on-ball All-Star is more difficult; he struggles to gain separation in 1-on-1 situations and create his own offense. That’s not a problem on this team, where any on-ball creation is just icing on a cake being baked by Tyrese Haliburton and Scoot Henderson. Miller can focus on being an absolutely elite shooter and attacking in advantage situations, allowing him to be the most weaponized version of himself. Jeremy Sochan can be the lockdown defender and Miller is perfect defending the next guy down. This is an ideal fit as the last player on my 23-and-under team.

Pick No. 40, Team Izzy – Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

With my last pick, I am going to take Patrick Williams of the Chicago Bulls to give me more defense. Despite being stuck in mediocrity with the Bulls, Williams has developed into an elite defensive player over the past couple of seasons. He is very aggressive on the ball and does a really good job of staying out of foul trouble. His offense is also coming around as he shot 42% from three this past season. He is developing into the prototypical 3 and D player that is lauded in today’s NBA. Williams is one of those guys that can fit on any team in the league due to his skill set and he will only get better as the years go on.