The Nuggets and Heat facing off in the NBA Finals illustrates perfectly the impact of shrewd drafting. Denver landing Nikola Jokić with the 41st pick in 2014 was franchise-changing and arguably one of the best draft picks in the sport’s history, but each team found multiple gems later in the lottery, or even further down the draft board, to help get them to this point.
This year’s draft has plenty of star power at the top, headlined by a transcendent talent in Victor Wembanyama widely expected to go No. 1. For teams further down the draft, there are some players with high ceilings that could pay off in a major way … if they live up to their potential. Here’s a look at some of the biggest boom-or-bust candidates in the draft.
Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite
There appears to be a consensus in NBA circles that the three best prospects in the class are Wembanyama, Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson. The “best of the rest” may well be Thompson, who has enormous potential but a lower floor than the top three in the draft. For starters, Thompson is the age of some college sophomores but spent the last two seasons playing against primarily high school competition with Overtime Elite. And while OTE has proved to be a solid developmental program early on, the play style of its games is still very casual and uneven in its competitiveness. Add the concerns about his shooting form, and you’re getting a somewhat risky bet for a likely top-five pick.
That said, if Thompson does hit, he’ll have All-Star potential. He’s among the most dynamic athletes in the class and has the unique combination of size and playmaking ability any team would love to inherit. If the shot clicks and he adjusts well to a much different professional game, Thompson could end up as a transformational piece for an organization.
Gregory “GG” Jackson II, South Carolina
Once the No. 1 player in the 2023 high school class, Jackson is instead draft-eligible this year after reclassifying to play for his hometown team at South Carolina in ’22–23. That move put him in this position one year earlier, but his draft stock was clearly hurt by a move to a rebuilding team not structured in any way to develop young talent. The result: an inefficient season averaging 15 points on just 39% from the field with more than three times as many turnovers as assists, all on a dreadful team that went just 11–21.
Jackson fits the archetype of player NBA teams covet. He’s over 6'8" without shoes and has nearly a 7-foot wingspan, a true big wing shotmaker if he hits his ceiling. Still, selecting Jackson with a first-round pick is a fairly high-risk endeavor, given how ugly the South Carolina tape is. Per Hoop-Explorer, the Gamecocks were actually far better on both ends of the floor with him out of the game than in. And while Jackson was once a touted recruit, he was certainly not without flaws when I evaluated him on the Nike EYBL circuit. Expect him to spend the majority of his time in the G League next season, regardless of which organization he lands with.
Keyonte George, Baylor
George had an uneven season at Baylor after entering college as a top-10 recruit. He put up impressive counting stats, averaging more than 15 points per game and winning Big 12 Rookie of the Year honors on a team that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Still, NBA personnel were left wanting more from one of the only prospects in the draft that profiles as a potential primary ballhandler at the highest level, with concerns about his approach to the game, inefficiency and conditioning.
His predraft process also hasn’t been smooth, electing not to participate in anything at the NBA draft combine and then switching agencies in early June. Once considered a surefire lottery pick, George has slipped some but still possesses major scoring upside at a highly coveted position for NBA teams.
Bobi Klintman, Wake Forest
Klintman is this draft’s mystery man, a potentially draftable prospect despite averaging a pedestrian 5.3 points per game on a Wake Forest team that missed the postseason in 2022–23. Investing a draft pick in Klintman is entirely a bet for the future: He fits the big playmaking wing paradigm that’s highly valued by NBA personnel right now, and the flashes you see on film from his time at Wake and with the Swedish U20 national team are highly appealing. There’s a path for Klintman to become the steal of this draft in the second round, but it’s also risky to invest any draft capital in a player who has rarely impacted winning at a high level in his career.
Dariq Whitehead, Duke
The potential for Whitehead to slip to the end of the first round would have been a shock a year ago at this time, but an injury-plagued season at Duke and a limited predraft process have dropped his stock. Whitehead never looked like his high school self with the Blue Devils, limited by foot and ankle injuries that cost him precious practice time to jell with a young Duke roster. He did shoot the ball well in Durham though at over 42% from three and displayed some playmaking chops while at Montverde Academy. He underwent his second foot surgery in less than a year recently but is expected to be ready by training camp for whichever team drafts him. If he regains his old form, this could wind up being a value pick in the late teens or 20s.