The 2022-23 NBA season is officially over, and we're only a week away from the 2023 NBA Draft. Hope will spring eternal on draft night for franchises across the competitive landscape, and particularly for those with early picks as front offices try and identify players who can move their teams toward the top of the sport.
While those with picks inside the top 14 of the draft — lottery picks — are far more likely to end up with a future star than teams picking later, there is still reason for those outside the lottery to be optimistic. Look no further than 2023 NBA Finals MVP Nikola Jokic as an example.
Denver selected Jokic with the No. 41 overall pick in the 2014 draft and he's already won two MVP awards and appears to be a lock for the Hall of Fame at age 28. Jokic is an extreme example, but the 2023 All-Star Game rosters provide more evidence that future stars can be found outside the lottery. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Pascal Siakam were each selected outside the lottery in their respective drafts and were All-Stars this season.
Who are the players expected to be picked outside the lottery this year that could become All-Stars? Our writers are making their picks for this week's edition of the Dribble Handoff.
I personally think Howard should be a lottery pick and won't be surprised if he actually becomes one next week. That said, I seem to be in the minority; most people are not projecting the 6-foot-8 wing to go in the first 14 picks, which makes him eligible to be an answer in this Dribble Handoff.
I've long been a believer.
When I was on the sideline for the Iverson Classic in the Spring of 2022, every former NBA player I talked with -- J.R. Smith, Stephen Jackson, etc., -- labeled Howard as the most NBA-ready prospect at the event, and, it should be noted, Brandon Miller, Keyonte George, Anthony Black and Cason Wallace were also at the event. In the spirit of game recognize game, that registered with me. And Howard did nothing in his one year at Michigan that made me reconsider his potential as a pro. He has great genes as the son of a former NBA player, incredible positional size for a wing, and he's a reliable shooter from three-point range. That's a terrific foundation and why I expect Howard to ultimately outplay many of the guys selected before him and eventually find himself as a member of an All-Star team. -- Gary Parrish
I guess I'm left to play the historical odds here, right? Truth is, I was never big on Smith in terms of seeing him as a top-five talent in the Class of 2022. That aside, consider this: Historically, players ranked in the top five of their high school class (and even more so, in the top two, as Smith was in the eyes of many evaluators) have a healthy chance of making it long-term in the NBA. Injuries set Smith back, but it's not as though he missed most of the season. Smith played in 17 of Arkansas' 36 games. He averaged 12.4 points and shot 34% from 3-point range. He's slight, but he's a scorer. His offensive upside and natural stroke make him one of the most pragmatic All-Star maybes of anyone projected outside the top 15. -- Matt Norlander
Bilal Coulibaly, Mets 92
If it were easy to identify All-Star talents outside the lottery, the truth is that -- to state the obvious -- that these prospects would go inside the lottery with ease. So this is obviously a bit of a projection. But Coulibaly if things break right for him has all the physical tools to develop in time into a potential All-Star piece. Playing alongside Victor Wembanyama in France, he has asserted himself down the stretch of the pre-draft process as one of the most exciting, toolsy talents in the class with length, size, skill and an improved jumper, though questions remain about how sticky the shot improvement is. If he's a consistent shooter and can marry that with his straight-line driving ability and defensive tools, there's a real shot Coulibaly goes from a pick in the teens or 20s and grows into a top-10 player in this class. -- Kyle Boone
Sensabaugh flew under the radar during the 2022-23 college basketball season because the Ohio State team he played for struggled to a 16-19 (5-15 Big Ten) record. His relatively modest No. 86 ranking from 247Sports in the Class of 2022 also served to deflect hype from the 6-6 forward. But Sensabaugh exceeded expectations and stood out as one of the only bright spots for the Buckeyes by averaging 16.3 points per game on 48% shooting from the floor in just 24.5 minutes per game. He's built like a tank at 235 pounds but has the strength and athleticism needed to create space for shots. He hit 40.5% of his 3-point attempts — a mark that remained relatively stable even through the grind of Big Ten play — and drilled an impressive 83% of his free throws.
Sensabaugh's defense left a lot to be desired at Ohio State, but he has all the physical tools needed to develop on that end. His combination of size and shooting touch make him unique among the projected post-lottery contingent. It's easy to imagine him shining as a scorer early in his career and competing for an All-Star bid as the rest of his game rounds out. -- David Cobb