The 2023 NBA Draft class has received a massive amount of hype heading into the season. Headlined by names like Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, expectations are high. But there are some more unheralded players, who may not be the favourites with the highest odds of winning Rookie of the Year on NBA betting sites, who could also make some noise.
These ascending talents have a very low perceived likelihood of being the top rookies this season, with odds that would provide massive payouts if they surpass expectations. Let’s look at some unlikely rookies who could far exceed expectations.
Keyonte George was taken 16th overall by the Jazz, a move seen as a potential developmental pick. George has upside, but the combo guard struggled his first year at Baylor with his shot selection and looked like something of a tweener. The expectation has changed a little since the Summer League. George was electric in Summer League, showcasing the shotmaking and athleticism that made him a Five-Star recruit out of high school. The Jazz’ backcourt is not settled at all, and George could see minutes early. He has the upside to break out as a starter or spark plug.
It seems every year, a Kentucky guard gets drafted who far exceeds expectations after being restrained by the school’s system. Could Cason Wallace be next? Wallace had a strong year at Kentucky and earned a lot of fans with his ferocious defense. The OKC Thunder made him the tenth overall pick, and he’ll fight for minutes early. The Thunder have a hugely crowded rotation, but expect them to make room for Wallace thanks to his defense and reliability. If he is given a chance, Wallace can be a beast for the team. He can pester opposing guards, shoot, and attack the rim.
Derrick Lively was a hugely touted recruit at Duke but didn’t have the year many expected. The Dallas Mavericks still made him the 12th pick in the draft after he averaged 5.4 points and five rebounds at Duke. However, there is one clear thing Lively brings to the table, and it is elite defense. He is a massive rim deterrent who averaged 2.3 blocks in college. The Mavericks are thin at center, and Lively could earn his way into a massive role for the team. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he was starting for Dallas and operating as the center of their defense by the end of the year.
Jaime Jaquez Jr.
After an NBA Finals run, Miami wasn’t looking to add a developmental prospect. They wanted someone ready to contribute straight away. They found that with Jaime Jaquez Jr., who they took with the 18th overall pick. Jaquez had a massive year in his senior season at UCLA and showcased himself as a prototypical player who can make an impact straight away. Jaquez can defend, rebound, and pass. His scoring is unconventional, and he has struggled with his three-point shot. But he is a player who understands winning basketball, and he will likely come in and be an asset on the wing straight away.
Cam Whitmore had a disappointing draft slide following a great freshman year at Villanova. He fell all the way to the Rockets at the 20th overall pick after being projected as potentially top five. The explosive forward is already making teams regret that after earning the Summer League MVP. Getting minutes might be hard for Whitmore with a jumbled Houston roster, but the athletic Whitmore will be difficult for coach Ime Udoka to keep off the floor. Expect him to attack the rim with ferocity and create some astonishing highlights this season.