Men’s college basketball coaches react to the 2023 NBA draft

Jeff BorzelloESPN staff writerJune 26, 2023, 10:00 a.m. ET4 minute reading

Unlike the 2022 NBA draft, where the top three picks changed positions constantly in the hours before the Orlando Magic were officially on the clock, there was absolutely no drama with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 edition. Victor Wembanyama’s name had been written in pen on that spot for years.

Where there was a level of debate was with No. 2 choice. Yet in reality there was no tension; Charlotte had zeroed in on Alabama’s Brandon Miller, favoring him over G League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson for most of the process.

Was it the right choice?

After what was ultimately a fairly straightforward NBA draft, we reached out to a dozen college coaches around the country to get their take on good picks, bad picks and everything in between. They were pretty split in Miller vs. Henderson debate, but there was little doubt that Miller was the top NBA prospect in the men’s college game last season.

“He made shots at an elite level. Played with tremendous poise, impacted the game. A big part of that is he doesn’t force things. He can go four or five minutes without getting a shot or a touch and then score six or eight points pretty quickly,” said one coach. “Early in the year, he struggled going left, but did a really good job of finishing with his right. Then he got better in that area. He’s a three-level scorer, a high free-throw attempt guy.

“He needs to improve on the defensive end of the floor. But on the offensive end, he should be able to come in and make an impact right away. He needs to continue to get stronger, but that will come with time.”

Another coach familiar with both players’ games thought Henderson might have been the slightly better prospect, but Miller was simply a better fit for the Hornets — though there are some concerns about his ability to get his own shot.

“Scoot is potentially a more dynamic player with his athleticism and physicality at a position that is so important in the NBA these days,” he said. “I really think he could have a Russell Westbrook kind of impact in his career at some point. In a vacuum, he’s probably the No. 2 pick. [But] with [LaMelo] When Ball is there and the way the guard is built, it makes sense to go with Miller. He has great size, great shooting – something that everyone really appreciates. A guy who is going to be a cornerstone player for them.

“To be a primary scorer — guys who can get 18 to 22 points a game — you have to have some offensive versatility, some ability to put it on the floor a little bit. That’s not really part of Miller’s game — guys can get under him and pressure him and bother him. His biggest impact on the game is his ability to shoot it. Catch and shoot it. Offensively, he can be like a Paul George or a Khris Middleton. George has more diversity to his game , but I think that’s the kind of vision they have for him. And with a great passer like LaMelo, he’s going to make the game easier for everybody else.”

A coach who watched Henderson in high school believes his fit in Portland — on a roster that still includes Damian Lillard — will help him early.

“I think Scoot will be in an ideal situation next to guards like [Anfernee] Simons and Dame; it will allow him to focus more on specific tasks and a role rather than trying to do everything at once,” he said. “His immediate impact on winning will be seen on day one. He’s also the type who, despite being a rookie, can help on the defensive end thanks to his motor skills, length and instincts. As long as he can show potential as an off-ball threat and a willingness to be that guy, he’ll have a chance to be special.”

A coach who scouted Miller in high school and faced him this past season echoed some concerns about Miller’s ability to handle defenders who bothered him with physicals and also raised questions about Miller’s consistency and motor before he came to Alabama.

“It’s going to be about how athletic he is and how good he is at playing through contact and through the middle of the body,” he said. “Can he show consistency at the NBA level against bigger athletes and length and size? I think he’s the perfect plug-in guy who can make shots and start offense, but he’s been riddled with consistency issues throughout his life and didn’t exactly make it big in the NCAA tournament. So was Alabama a one-man or is he a new man?”

Here are college coaches’ observations of some of the other big stories from Thursday’s draft:

The biggest news in the first round was Whitmore’s fall from a projected top-10 pick — and top-five pick earlier in the draft process — all the way to Houston at No. 20. A five-star prospect coming out of high school, Whitmore was hampered by injury to start his Villanova career and then battled inconsistency in what was ultimately a disappointing campaign for the Wildcats.

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