NBA Mock Draft 2023: Where Jaime Jaquez Jr., Amari Bailey and other UCLA players could end up
UCLA men’s basketball guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. (left) dribbles with the ball. Guard Amari Bailey (middle) pivots in the post. Guard Jaylen Clark (right) rises for a layup. (From left to right: Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor, Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor, and Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor. Photo illustration by Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
UCLA men’s basketball had zero players drafted in the coach Mick Cronin era before Peyton Watson went in the first round a year ago, and now the Bruins are poised to send even more players to the professional ranks.
Guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and guard Amari Bailey will hear their names called in the 2023 NBA Draft on June 22, while guard Jaylen Clark will have a chance to go late in the second round. Guards Tyger Campbell and David Singleton won’t be drafted, but could latch onto NBA teams in some capacity in the days after the draft.
Daily Bruin Sports Editor Sam Settleman and senior staffer Jon Christon break down where they think the batch of Bruins will begin their professional careers.
The question is no longer if Jaime Jaquez Jr. will get drafted. It’s how high he’ll end up going when it’s all said and done.
The guard/forward has steadily climbed big boards and mock drafts throughout his senior year, and now is on the verge of being just the second first-round pick from UCLA in the past six drafts.
Jaquez may not be the most physically dominant player in the draft – though his top-six vertical leap at the combine impressed – nor does he ooze the potential of someone four years younger. But time and again, Jaquez has demonstrated a surefire NBA skillset, and teams would be silly to think there are 30 players better than him in this draft class.
The Pac-12 Player of the Year won’t be asked to play the same role as he did with the Bruins at the next level, but Jaquez did show a number of skills at the collegiate level that should translate almost immediately.
He has arguably the best footwork of anyone in the draft, making his inside-the-arc scoring an infallible skill even against better competition. His helpside defense, in addition to his rebounding, has been elite all four years in Westwood and could make him a rare rookie rotation player. And he showed just enough passing-wise out of the post to think he could eventually be a plus secondary playmaker in due time.
Jaquez is not a perfect prospect, though, with two areas in particular keeping him from being a guaranteed first-round pick.
First, he shot just 32.8% from deep in his college career, including a 31.7% mark his senior year. His free throw and midrange numbers last season – 77% and 40.5%, respectively – are solid enough, and he has a fundamentally sound jumpshot, so there is hope long-term that his 3-point stroke will come around.
But Jaquez would be the first to tell you that his shot has to improve soon if he wants to have a long-term impact in the NBA. Teams have to at least respect him from the outside for Jaquez to thrive in the painted area where he’s at his best.
Second, Jaquez’s on-ball defense will be tested against better athletes. Jaquez is not the quickest laterally, and while he is strong enough to guard bigger players in the post, he’ll have to show the ability to stay with wings on the outside to truly live up to his defensive potential.
Still, Jaquez is a relatively high-floor prospect who is good enough to make an impact as soon as next year on a number of teams.
The Indiana Pacers are one such squad. The Pacers could use an immediate-impact forward to go with their guard-heavy core, and they were Jaquez’s first individual team workout ahead of the draft. Indiana is not looking to win right away, too, giving Jaquez a low-pressure situation to improve his jumper.
The Pacers have two picks at the end of the first round, No. 26 and No. 29, and an early second rounder at No. 32. It’d be unlikely they let all three pass without nabbing a high-floor guy to help right away.
Christon’s pick: No. 29, Indiana Pacers
Amari Bailey is, without a doubt, the most talented UCLA player in this draft.
A five-star recruit out of high school that many guessed would be a lottery pick after one season with the Bruins, the guard has plenty of NBA potential. And even though he’s no longer considered a lottery pick, the 19-year-old will certainly get a chance to play in the NBA next year.
Bailey couldn’t quite find his rhythm early in his UCLA tenure, but he proved to be one of the Bruins’ most integral players come postseason. He missed time in December and January with a foot injury, but overall made 28 starts for UCLA and averaged 17.3 points per game across the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
When UCLA’s offense found itself in a rut, it could almost always count on Bailey to get a bucket, even on the biggest stage.
He’s an elite slasher and quality cutter, and his ability to also create off the dribble bodes well for his growth potential. Despite being slightly undersized at 6 feet, 3 inches and 191 pounds, Bailey is an above-average athlete and excels in transition. On the shooting side, while he lacked volume from the outside, the lefty was incredibly dependable in the midrange and shot 38.9% from deep.
But Bailey’s showing at the 2023 NBA Draft Combine last month showed he is much more than just a scorer.
In two scrimmages, he tallied 14 assists, showcasing a passing ability that didn’t get much attention at UCLA. In fact, he had more turnovers than assists as a Bruin.
The turnover woes persisted in the combine scrimmages, but Bailey’s development as a passer paired with his talent as a scorer and ball-handler create an intriguing prospect for NBA teams. He’s not a below-average defender, either, making him as complete of a prospect as one can expect from a one-and-done guard.
Bailey is expected to go late in the first round of the draft at best, but don’t expect him to slip past the early stages of the second round. There are plenty of teams in the 31-40 range that could take a shot on Bailey with a second-round pick.
One of those teams is the Charlotte Hornets, who hold picks No. 27, No. 34 and No. 39. Charlotte lacks depth at guard behind LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier and is expected to pass on guard Scoot Henderson with the No. 2 overall pick.
If the Hornets don’t pick Henderson at No. 2 and opt for a wing in Brandon Miller instead, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they picked up a high-ceiling guard like Bailey early in the second round.
Settleman’s pick: No. 34, Charlotte Hornets
It’s not out of the question that Jaylen Clark will join Jaquez and Bailey in getting drafted, despite injuring his Achilles in March.
The junior guard was a near-guarantee to be picked before the injury, and he certainly is one of the 58 best prospects in this draft class based on talent alone.
Clark was the best defender in college basketball last year, winning the Bruins’ first Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award. And while he won’t have nearly the same effectiveness against bigger, more athletic players, he is still projected to be a high-impact player on that end of the floor.
Clark has the ability to be a true Swiss army knife on that end of the floor like he was at UCLA. He’ll primarily match up with opposing guards because of his 6-foot-4 build, though his sturdy frame and long wingspan should allow him to switch one through four with relative ease. That level of defense cannot be taught.
The one worry with Clark on that end of the floor will be the impact of his injury. Achilles injuries are among the hardest to come back from at full strength, and even a subtle decrease in lateral quickness could sap Clark’s on-ball abilities.
The other worry for Clark is on the other end of the floor. He vastly improved as an offensive player his junior year, but there are still questions about what his role will be in the professional ranks.
He’s at his best offensively when he’s slashing to the rim, ending his junior season in the 94th percentile among guards in finishing under five feet. That’ll be harder to do against better rim protectors in the NBA, especially if he’s not at the same level of athleticism as he was before the injury. And that’s without factoring in his subpar jumper.
But Clark is entering the NBA at a time where coaches are getting more and more creative in integrating slash-first, shoot-second guards into their offenses – à la Bruce Brown with the Denver Nuggets.
Like Brown, Clark is an elite cutter, screener and rebounder for his size. Even when he’s not scoring, Clark is always doing something on that end of the floor – and modern coaches will welcome that with open arms.
A smart team will look past Clark’s deficiencies as a shooter and unlock him as a do-it-all type of player on offense, in addition to his defense.
We already know the Nuggets are smart, and they have a good enough team to not rush Clark and let him rehab his injury for the entire year. They’ve shown an affinity for long-term projects in the past, too, with the Peyton Watson selection a year ago being a key example.
The Nuggets don’t have a second-round pick in this year’s draft, but many prospects favor going undrafted to choose their own situation. This is especially true for Clark, who will likely want some control over where he’ll be rehabbing his injury.
And there are few situations better for Clark than Denver.
Christon’s pick: Undrafted, two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets
G Tyger Campbell
2022-2023 stats: 32.1 MPG, 13.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 37.8/33.8/85.6%
Official measurements: 5’11.00”, 184.4 lbs, 6’2.25” wingspan
Rookie Scale consensus big board: N/A
Based on his size alone, Tyger Campbell has a very slim chance of being selected in the 2023 NBA Draft.
The 5-foot-11 guard is undersized and a mediocre athlete, single-handedly stopping him from being a highly-touted NBA prospect. But there’s no reason to believe Campbell won’t be able to find a home on an NBA Summer League roster in July.
Campbell ranked third in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio a season ago and has as much game experience as anyone, starting in all 133 of his games with UCLA. He’s a nifty passer and a capable shooter, connecting at a 41% clip from behind the arc in 2021-2022.
Unfortunately for Campbell, he leaves lots to be desired elsewhere. He’s a competent defender, but can be picked on given his stature. And he’s far from a special finisher at the rim, converting on just 38.3% of his shots in the paint last season.
Campbell could make some noise in the Summer League this year, but it’s unlikely he ever makes it on an NBA roster.
Settleman’s pick: Undrafted, Summer League contract with the Los Angeles Lakers
G David Singleton
2022-2023 stats: 28.2 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 42.7/42.4/84.9%
Official measurements: N/A
Rookie Scale consensus big board: N/A
Like Campbell, David Singleton’s NBA future looks a lot less promising than his other former UCLA teammates.
That’s not to diminish Singleton’s collegiate career, though. He was one of the best sixth men in the country a season ago, and has consistently been one of the very best 3-point shooters in the country over the last five years.
But Singleton is a one-dimensional player. He rarely creates his own shot, he’s an average defender at best and his efficiency waned considerably as a starter last season. So while he’s shot above 42% from 3 in four of the last five seasons, Singleton has little appeal as an NBA prospect beyond as a catch-and-shoot specialist.
The NBA is a make-or-miss league, so some team could definitely take a shot on Singleton for his shooting ability alone. If not, his professional basketball career could definitely take him overseas, too.
Settleman’s pick: Undrafted, Summer League contract with the Detroit Pistons