Today marks one week until the 2023 NBA Draft as all 30 teams look to find their next star or draft steal.
The Athletic released their draft guide, written by Sam Vecenie, where the top-75 players were highlighted and put into eight tiers (or nine with draft darling Victor Wembanyama being in a class of his own).
Here is where former Michigan Wolverines Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard came in Vecenie’s rankings.
Kobe Bufkin - Tier 4 - Starter/All-Star Tool Swings, No. 11 Overall
One of the things highlighted about Bufkin being so high is his age, even as a sophomore. “He’s younger than Jett Howard, Amen and Ausar Thompson, Brandon Miller and Jarace Walker,” said Vecenie.
The talk of the town at Michigan throughout the season was the coaches’ son, Jett Howard, who dazzled fans early with impressive shooting from deep and scoring stretches where no one could stop him. However, Bufkin was likely the more consistent and well-rounded player in comparison throughout the year, despite being in the limelight on a team that struggled.
It wasn’t until late in the year when Bufkin started getting some attention as a potential first-round pick. Now, Vecenie has him as high as the No. 11 player off the board, which is higher than the consensus.
He loves his size at 6-foot-4 with an 8-foot-6.5 standing reach. This allows Bufkin to be an “elite finisher” for a guard and a “sharp defender” by creating steals and blocking jumpers. His presence both on and off the ball made him a weapon for the Wolverines this past season, and NBA teams are very likely taking notice.
The guide did have cause for concern though, including Bufkin’s less-than-elite athleticism and poor strength. Vecenie would also like to see improvements with his handle and ability to create a shot, something that will be necessary for him to reach the All-Star caliber he could project to be.
Still, the framework is there for Bufkin to develop into a quality NBA player who can be a difference-maker on the court if he can fill into his metrics and continue to develop as a scorer:
Bufkin is one of the guys on whom I will be highest compared to consensus this year. I love how well-rounded his game is and how many of his attributes figure to translate. I buy him as a shooter, and I really buy his feel for the game on offense. His passing is improving as he continues to gain experience. He knows how to play direct basketball off quick decisions. He has the size to not be hunted if the strength comes along defensively. And his ability to play both on and off the ball will allow him to play with stars at a high level. Bufkin has starter upside long term. And if he can develop a bit more game off the bounce to separate from his man, there is even a bit more upside beyond that in the highest-end potential outcomes. I’m comfortable putting my chips in on Bufkin as one of my guys
Jett Howard - Tier 5 - Rotation Players and Upside Swings, No. 25 Overall
There is one obvious pro for Howard — his ability to put the ball in the basket. He made 36.8 percent of his threes in Ann Arbor last season with what has proven to be an incredibly pure shot.
Strangely, Howard did not measure at the combine, but Vecenie suspects him to be 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, which is a great size for the small forward or wing role at the next level. He used that frame several times to shoot over defenders who were making good close-outs. He was one of the best catch-and-shoot snipers in college basketball last season, hitting at a 39 percent clip, per Synergy.
The Athletic was also impressed with his shot-creating, highlighting several things about his game.
If opposing teams run him off the line, he can hit one-dribble pull-ups from the midrange or relocation one-dribble 3s. Will stop and pop from a variety of different footwork – can plant first with his right then step in with his left or can just hop into a pull-up 3. Makes it hard for defenders to get his timing down when trying to contest and allows him to get cleaner looks. Can also hit stepbacks going to both his right or his left off a quick move. More importantly, Howard has become a legitimate weapon out of ball screens and dribble handoffs as a selfcreating shooter. Legitimate multi-level scorer from 3 and from the midrange. If you go under his ball screen or catch him flying up for a dribble handoff, it’s curtains. He’ll rise and fire.
This is why so many have Howard much higher in their rankings. He is one of the best pure scorers in this class and has the potential to replicate that at the next level.
The glaring need for improvement is on defense, where Howard will have to make leaps and bounds to not be a liability at the next level. He’s bad on the ball, where guys routinely drove right by him. He also gets lost off-ball with a lazy attention span that lets opposing shooters get open with ease. As Vecenie put it, “his defensive movements and mechanics need an overhaul.”
Playing too small for his size was another concern of Vecenie. Howard mostly stayed away from the painted area on defense, so he is not the rebounder he should be for his size, nor the defender. He just does not play the game of basketball physically.
In summary, Vecenie said Howard’s evaluation comes down to “how much improvement you think you can make in his defensive mechanics and what kind of scheme you plan on running.”
His fear is that scoring will be the only outcome on the box score that Howard will be able to impact. If that is the case, he will likely not get much opportunity to be a starter or beyond at the next level. However, if a team believes they can change his defensive woes and get him to play with more physicality, there is “a real chance to be an impactful starter.”