Long, strong and down to get the (defensive) friction on…here are 10 of the top defensive wings in the 2023 NBA Draft.
In a league that is obsessed with big switchable wings who can guard just about any position on the court these players will have added value on draft day. And these prospects are more than just defenders. One thing that stands out about this group is that many of them are likely lottery picks who excel on both ends of the floor. A number of these guys are big time prospects, not just defensive specialists.
Fans love to focus on offense and often equate scoring with stardom but NBA scouts pay just as much attention to the defensive side of the ball. Defense, after all, does win championships.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper – SF – Marquette – O-Max was the biggest winner of the recent draft combine and projects as a possible late first to early second round pick in this year’s draft. He’s an excellent run/jump athlete with awesome length (7-1 wingspan), good size and the type of energy and intensity that impacts winning, even if he’s not filling up the scoring column. He can guard all over the court and projects as a switchable, versatile menace on the defensive end at the NBA level. While he’s not much of a rim protector he does have the size to guard most 4’s and excels at being able to switch everything on the perimeter.
Jordan Walsh – Arkansas – Walsh has a gangly 6-7 frame with a pteranodon-like 7-3 wingspan. He’s a lock-down defender, plain and simple. Walsh gets low in his stance, uses his length to overwhelm ball-handlers and is like a one-man trap with his size and length on the perimeter. He can be a bit too aggressive at time and pick up unneeded fouls (NBA players will be even better at drawing fouls against him) but I’d rather have a super aggressive and intense defender than one that is too laid back!
I would have loved to see Walsh spend one more year in school developing his outside shot and overall offensive game but there’s nothing wrong with developing in the G League or in spot minutes with a NBA team.
Jaylen Clark – UCLA – The 6-5 Clark had a breakout year for the Bruins thanks in large part to his tenacious D. but then he tore his right Achilles in early March. He has decided to stay in this years draft but will be out until (most likely) early 2024.
Clark was a steals machine this year and a major impact player on that end of the floor. He reads passing lanes extremely well, showing a keen awareness off the ball, while also being a stout on the all defender. Even before the injury I was seeing Clark as more of a second round or UDFA prospect who will earn his living as a defender while taking some time to round out his offensive game.
While he might not be the most alluring prospect out there he projects as a player who can lock up the opposing teams best guard/wing player – that’s a really valuable skill-set that he can eventually bring to a NBA team.
Ausar Thompson – City Reapers (OTE) – Ausar is a pesky on the ball defender with exceptionally quick hands and a propensity to strip ball handlers. At 6-7 with good length the ultra-athletic Ausar is a menace guarding on the wing and can switch 1-3. He plays passing lanes well, turns defense into offense in a hurry and is a blur in the open court.
His brother Amen is right there with him as a defender but he’s more of a pure point guard so I’ll leave him off this list.
Rayan Rupert – New Zealand Breakers (France) – Rupert might not be the most polished defender or overall prospect on this list but he’s got special tools and has a chance to be special on the defensive end. Unfortunately he missed some of the season in the NBL due to a wrist injury so his development was held back a little – but with basketball in his bloodlines and a solid understanding of the game for a young player he’ll be just fine.
His massive 7-2 wingspan and solid frame allow him to guard up and down the lineup. If his offensive game comes around enough for him to earn minutes he could have a nice impact in the league as a wing defender.
Jarace Walker – Houston – This list feels like it would be incomplete without Jarace Walker. He’s not a pure wing and will play a lot of 4 and perhaps some small-ball 5 in the league but he can guard all over the court and is an overall defensive menace. He’s got incredible strength, plus nimble feet and quick hands.
Anthony Black – Arkansas – Black is a primary ball handler on offense but can guard 1-3 on D and is a really feisty and aggressive defender. He’s got a unique blend of agility plus size/strength and also has very quick hands. He’s one of my overall favorite prospects in this class and might be my favorite defender. Black and Jordan Walsh combined to form an imposing defensive duo for the Razorbacks this past season. Black does a really good job of moving his feet and guarding with his chest. He’s got a strong build and will be able to hold his own against NBA size on the wing.
Bilal Coulibaly – SF – France – While his skills are raw his tools are truly, truly elite. There’s not a smoother, more graceful athlete in the whole draft (and that’s even counting the awesome abilities of Amen Thompson). Coulibaly has all the tools to be an elite defender and already shows really good flashes, at just 18 years old playing against pros. His lateral movement is exceptional and he does a really nice job of fighting through screens and being physical at the POA. His stock has been on a meteoric rise and he’s looking like a likely lottery pick.
Brandon Miller – Alabama – While Miller doesn’t necessarily project as an elite defender he’s really solid and versatile on that end of the floor and is very much a standout two-way player. As he matures and fills out his frame he’ll gain even more versatility and ability to hold his own down low. Miller is pesky on the ball and slides his feet well on the perimeter, allowing him to stay in front of smaller guards. He’s also a solid weak-side rim protector. Combining this with his incredible offensive talents makes him one of the elite talents at the top of the draft.
Julian Philips – Tennessee – Philips is another player that I thought would benefit greatly from another year in school but has decided to stay in this draft. He fits the mold of a 3&D wing who is a bit more advanced on the defensive end than the offensive end. He’ll likely be an early to mid second rounder, with a small chance he rises into the late first.
Keyantae Johnson – Kansas State – The burly, broad-shouldered 6-5 forward plays a complete game and is a smart, mature and reliable defender. He’s not a big steals and blocks guy but plays good team defense, can lock-down 1 on 1 and doesn’t make a lot mistakes.
He’s got the strength to guard bigger 3’s and even 4’s and can also guard in space. He’s been cleared medically and could land in the mid to late second round on draft day.
Andre Jackson – UConn – Jackson is a standout all around player who excels at guarding multiple positions and as a defensive playmaker, using his elite athleticism to make plays all over the court. He’s feisty as hell, loves to pressure the ball and generally causes havoc for opposing teams. While his scoring game is still developing, Jackson is an exceptional passer with an awesome feel for finding teammates. If his 3pt shooting continues to develop he’s going to have a very long, successful NBA career.
Jordan Miller (Miami), Jamie Jaquez Jr. (UCLA), Jalen Slawson (Furman)