My focus is to evaluate players from a NBA Draft perspective. Yes, the 2023 class is considered weak in terms of long-term NBA contributors compared to classes of the last 20-25 years and the McDonald’s All-American Game didn’t change that notion. However, there is plenty of room for improvement for this group and they also seemed to understand they had plenty to prove. This was the most competitive national all-star game in recent memory and that fact was a positive for the top prospects in attendance. Someone will emerge from this class to be a more productive pro than is projected right now. But whom will that be?
Isaiah Collier, Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 6-3 G
Although he missed some critical free throws at the end of the game, Collier led all scorers with 25 points. At 6-foot-3 or so, Collier has a unique combination of burst and force as a lead guard. He can blow past you or power his way to his spots. The important part is that Collier gets there routinely either way. And he also seems to be a natural playmaker. So in a class with very few “sure things,” Collier is probably about as close as it gets. However, if he can tighten up his outside shooting, it would open up the whole floor, providing him with even more upside. So count on me heading out to Los Angeles to see Collier at USC next season, early and often.
Cody Williams, Perry (Gilbert, Ariz.) 6-7 F
Sometimes you have prospects where it’s easy to see how they’d translate to the NBA because they’re closer to being finished products than others. For example, I see a 6-foot-8 point forward with a near-infinite amount of upside in Colorado signee Cody Williams. Sure, he needs to get stronger and be more efficient with his shooting. Still, considering his size and versatility and how the NBA values positionless multi-talented players like him, I think Williams’ potential is through the roof. Think about the success Scottie Barnes found early in his NBA career — and although they’re not exactly the same, Barnes is similar to what I’m hoping for with Williams. So now, it’s up to him to take care of business once he gets to Boulder. And I’ll be watching closely.
Ron Holland, Duncanville (Texas) 6-8 F
When I started evaluating Holland several years ago, I struggled to grasp who he was as a player. At first glance, he’s a little unorthodox and somewhat mechanical. I remember asking myself, is he fluid enough to be a wing or big enough to play inside? I’ve seen him a lot since then, and I think he’s improved his fluidity, giving me more confidence in his ability to play as a big wing. But probably even more importantly, I believe Holland to be one of those players where you probably shouldn’t overanalyze it too much because he’s just a player that gets it done. He’s a winner. After a great season in Austin, head coach Rodney Terry and the Texas Longhorns should be excited to get Holland to town. So is he going to be a one-and-done? I think so.
D.J. Wagner, Camden (N.J.) 6-3 G
Of course, we all know his name now; he’s Dajuan Wagner’s son. And he’s been categorized as one of the top players in this high school class for years. But I’ll admit, I have mixed feelings about Wagner. On the one hand, he’s super quick, great to the hole, and has a knack for getting buckets. And it’s also worth noting he seems to be a great, unselfish teammate that plays the right way. But on the other hand, he’s more of a scorer than a point guard, and he’s not that big; he has a slight frame. Wagner shot the ball well in this game, knocking down several threes. However, I’ve questioned the consistency of his outside shooting overall. For example, per Cerebro Sports, in 51 games, Wagner has shot just 28.8% from three-point range on 260 attempts, which worries me. So yes, I have some questions: Can he get stronger? And can he become a more consistent outside shooter? I hope Wagner does answer these questions, but only time will tell.
Aaron Bradshaw, Camden (N.J.) 7-0 C
I’ve watched Aaron Bradshaw for years, and tracking his progression has been interesting. He’s come a long way. At 7 feet plus, Bradshaw has intriguing physical tools, as he’s exceptionally long but also mobile. I can see Bradshaw doing many of the blue-collar types of things asked of big men in the NBA: rebounding, protecting the rim, finishing, etc. However, perhaps the most pleasant surprise at the McDAAG was seeing his progression as a shooter. If Bradshaw can add physical strength, be more consistent with his motor, and continue developing his shooting, I could see his value at the NBA level significantly rise.
Justin Edwards, Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.) 6-8 F
It’s easy to see why Edwards has been so highly touted. At 6-foot-8 and with an apparent long wingspan, Edwards possesses a well-rounded skillset; he does a little of everything. And although he needs to get stronger, I say that about most players at the same stage. So to put it simply, Edwards has all the tools necessary to become a big-time player at the next level, and there are not necessarily any glaring weaknesses. If Edwards can synergize all his tools and produce next season consistently, I don’t think he’ll be in Lexington for long.
Ja’Kobe Walter, Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) 6-5 G
Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend time with Walter at Damian Lillard’s inaugural Formula Zero Elite Camp. Lillard shared Formula Zero’s motto, “Character. Hard Work. Accountability.” And the thing is, Walter embodies those characterizations very well. He certainly has talent, but I wouldn’t say he does anything that blows you away. However, I’m not sure I’ve seen a player at the same stage with the motor that Walter possesses. He plays extremely hard every second he is on the floor — and that’s something special. Walter is a player that I would not bet against. Head coach Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears have a good one coming.
Omaha Biliew, Waukee (Iowa) 6-9 F
Although he didn’t have a standout game, I walked away from the McDAAG impressed by Billiew. At 6-foot-9 and a muscular 210 lbs., Biliew is an impressive and physical athlete that shows promise as a high-energy and versatile big man. I see some shades of likely 2023 NBA Draft prospect Jarace Walker or the Toronto Raptors’ Precious Achiuwa. Iowa State doesn’t typically sign McDonald’s All-Americans, but they have Biliew coming, and I expect him to make some noise next season.
Stephon Castle, Newton (Ga.) 6-6 G
Sometimes I feel like a broken record these days. The NBA has never valued versatility quite like it does currently. So Castle, who’s around 6-foot-6 with a solid and athletic build and seemingly can play three different positions on both ends of the floor, naturally intrigues me as a prospect. However, the NBA has never valued floor spacing and outside shooting like today. So Castle checks the boxes for size and versatility, but he has a lot of room for growth with his outside shooting. So to make a long story short, Castle needs to improve as a shooter. And if he does, watch out!
Bronny James, Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 6-3 G
Undoubtedly the most famous player at the McDAAG this year, the amount of buzz and media attention Bronny James demands is unprecedented. And although I don’t think the expectations set are necessarily fair for James, he keeps improving. At 6-foot-3, James is an undersized off-ball guard that has become a terrific shooter from outside, especially off the catch-and-shoot. He’s also an excellent on-ball defender and extremely explosive like his dad. However, I have questions regarding his lack of point guard skills and feel, and considering his size, it could create some long-term limitations, which is where I’m left thinking some of the lofty expectations from an NBA perspective might be a little much.