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Who is the most underrated player in the 2023 NBA Draft?

Credit: Cason Wallace

The NBA Draft is on Thursday, and while all the focus is on VIctor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson, as we all know, some players will emerge later in the draft who end up being stars.

So, who is the most underrated player in this draft?

Our college hoops writers Zac Krull and Jake Faigus, as well as Aaron Torres selected one player, that they believe that will be selected outside of the Top 10 who will turn into a star.

Here's their pick:

Jake Faigus: Nick Smith Jr., G, Arkansas

Smith was a highly touted freshman coming into this past season at Arkansas, but he got his knee injured and he was sidelined for most of the season. Still, the glimpses and flashes he showed when he was playing for the Razorbacks are too hard to ignore. His shot making is elite and is up there with the best players in this draft. He also has a very good floater he can use when he attacks and gets downhill in the lane.

In his 17 games that he played in, he averaged 12.5 points, two assists, and two rebounds, including a pair of 20+ point games prior to his second shutdown in December. He also averaged 34 percent from three-point range.

He didn’t quite live up to the big expectations that he had coming into the college season, but he still has talent that would be hard for any team to pass up in the back half of the first round. His potential is still great, especially with his size. He’s 6-foot-5 and weighs 185 pounds, which is a big difference for him at the guard spot, where he can play either point guard or shooting guard.

Watch out for Smith in the later half of the first round because he could still have a great NBA career based on his skillset and physical attributes alone.

Zac Krull - Jordan Hawkins, G, UConn

In today’s modern-day version of the NBA where it is all about space and pace, there is nothing more valuable than a big-time wing, who can play both ends of the floor. The interesting thing about this 2023 NBA Draft Class is outside of Brandon Miller at the top, there aren’t a ton of guys who can shoot the basketball consistently. One of those players and arguably the best pure shooter in the draft is Jordan Hawkins of UConn. The Gaithersburg, Maryland native is currently projected to go near late in the lottery or the back end of the teens.

Looking at the big picture, Hawkins has two qualities right off the bat that should appeal to any NBA team trying to win games as soon as possible.

Primarily, he is already 21 years old and has two full seasons of college basketball under his belt.

As we just saw with the NBA champion Denver Nuggets, Christian Braun was drafted 21st overall and was able to crack the rotation right away as a rookie. Braun was also a member of the 2022 National Champion Kansas Jayhawks just like Hawkins was with UConn. This should appeal to NBA Teams, knowing right off the bat you are drafting a winning player. Hawkins also has nice size for an NBA wing at 6 '5'' 195 pounds and is the best pure shooter in the draft according to many pundits.

If I was any team selecting in the back end of the Top 10 or lottery, Hawkins is the one guy that stands out compared to the others. A guy with great size, who can shoot the basketball and has plenty of experience playing in the biggest games, Hawkins is someone who is “Under The Radar” to be one of the best players in this draft.

Aaron Torres - Cason Wallace, G, Kentucky

I'm not kidding when I say that when I began thinking about this exercise, there were three players who were immediately undervalued in my opinion. No lie, the two listed above - Nick Smith Jr. and Jordan Hawkins - were the first two on my list.

So with it, I'll default to No. 3 - Cason Wallace. Kentucky guard.

To be blunt, when the NBA Draft process started I thought I was misreading draft boards seeing him ranked in the mid teens to 20's. Now, a day out of the draft, I still don't get it.

The bottom line is, that as a freshman, Wallace put up impressive numbers in the SEC, averaging just under 12 points, 4.3 assists and nearly two steals per game.

What's wilder though is that he did that, all with his role completely changing in the middle of the season. Early on he was a complimentary scorer, a guy off the ball, asked to attack when his opportunities came. Then, following a Sahvir Wheeler injury, the ball was put in his hands and overnight he turned into Kentucky's point guard. And it was at that time, that the Wildcats season completely took off.

Once the ball was in his hands, the stat lines speak for themselves: A 24-point, five assist, three steal and two block performance against Arkansas. A 19-point, nine assist, four steal game against Auburn. A 21-point, nine rebound, four assist game in the Wildcats NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas State.

Bottom line, Wallace has the pedigree, as a Top 5 high school prospect, that was thrown into the fire in his one year in college. If anything, I think it's being held against him that he was under the constant spotlight of Kentucky, rather than playing in games few watched, or where the stakes weren't high.

Add in the fact that pretty much every high-level Kentucky guard pops at the next level - did you watch the NBA Playoffs? - and this is no doubt to me.

Pass on Cason Wallace at your own risk.

Follow Jake on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus

Follow Zac on Twitter - @ZacKrull_


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