NEW YORK — It's a full year until the 2023 NBA draft, but the players projected at the top five are like no other draft class in the past. Usually NBA fans tune into the NCAA men's tournament to get a first glimpse of the future NBA stars set to hit the draft stage three months later, but next year will be different.
Projected atop the draft is a player from France playing in the EuroLeague (Victor Wembanyama), a teenager dominating the G League for the G League Ignite (Scoot Henderson) and a set of twins playing in Overtime's OTE league (Amen and Ausar Thompson). There are possibly only a couple of college players who could filter into the top five next year — Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr., Villanova guard Cam Whitmore and Texas forward Dillon Mitchell.
It's a very unusual draft with four non-college players projected toward the top, since 2005 when the NBA prohibited players from jumping straight from high school.
To put it in perspective: In the past 10 years, there have been only six non-college players selected in the top five total.
European players have usually made the jump to the NBA with high draft selections. Luka Doncic was the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft by the Dallas Mavericks, and Kristaps Porziņģis was drafted by the New York Knicks with the fourth overall pick in 2015.
Wembanyama, the 7-foot-2 point-forward out of France, is the runaway favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA draft. His skills are like no other player, and he is the best prospect in the world now, regardless of class.
There hasn't been a European player selected No. 1 overall since 2006 when the Toronto Raptors took Italian forward Andrea Bargnani. Wembanyama is different than any other European player, past or present, and could be a generational talent.
"Right now, it’s Wembanyama and everyone else for the 2023 draft," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "There’s always concern about someone so good so young, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of Wembanyama from getting better over the years. He’s the closest thing to a transcendent talent the draft has seen since probably Zion [Williamson], and even then the feelings throughout the league were much more mixed compared to where things stand right now with Wembanyama."
Right behind Wembanyama is Henderson, who signed a two-year, $1 million contract with the G League Ignite at just 17 years old. In the 2021 draft, Jalen Green was the first top-three draft pick to come out of the G League Ignite program, and Jonathan Kuminga was also a top-10 pick. Henderson is the next elite point guard coming up and had NBA scouts excited last season when he was dominating grown men in the G League. He also pulled this dunk out of his pocket after a summer workout that is worth watching more than once.
Which brings us to the Thompson twins out of Overtime's OTE league. The 6-foot-7 guards are two of the most athletic guards in this draft class and will potentially be the first players drafted in the lottery since OTE launched in 2021.
"The Thompson twins fit the mold of the NBA and the way the game is being played really well," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "Long, athletic playmakers with a high basketball IQ. You would expect one to be better than the other, but I could see them going one right after the other next year. They're that good."
The G League and OTE are new, lucrative options for young, talented players wanting to make their path to the NBA outside of the NCAA and college basketball. The G League Ignite team allows the opportunity for players to adjust to the NBA game one or two years earlier and go against professionals and players who have been in the NBA or are trying to work their way to an NBA roster. OTE has a state-of-the-art facility in Atlanta where the young players get top-notch training and nutrition as well as a paid contract.
The old path to being a top pick in the NBA was the blue-blood, one-and-done path. Five-star recruits go to either Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina or Kansas and then position themselves to be a high draft pick. Times are changing, and NBA scouts and executives are fine traveling to wherever the top basketball is being played.
If the draft were tomorrow and all four non-college players went in the top five, it would be the first time in draft history that only one college player was selected in the top five. We're still a year away from the 2023 draft, but Wembanyama and Henderson are close to a lock at Nos. 1 and 2. If NBA fans want to study the top players coming up next year, it's time to start paying attention to the EuroLeague, G League and Overtime Elite games.