It is extremely easy to fall for Shaedon Sharpe. Just watch three minutes of him dunking, or five minutes of perfect footwork, or a few minutes of Sharpe cashing side-step three-pointers, and you’ll be able to write off the four or so minutes of video in which Sharpe gets lost to simple actions on defense. You will be able to string together outrageous combinations of comparative adjectives (taller, stronger, more explosive) and proper nouns (respectively, Jalen Green, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal), and if you are a fan of a sadsack team whose NBA Finals are happening this week instead of last week, you might have some form of the thought, My team needs Shaedon Sharpe. Then you will go looking for more highlights on YouTube and discover that those dazzling few minutes you just watched are all that exist. This is the crux of the Shaedon Sharpe quantum uncertainty problem: He is an incredibly tantalizing top-level basketball prospect who has also barely played any top-level basketball. Some team in the lottery is going to take a huge swing on Sharpe in Thursday’s draft, using a very high pick on perhaps the least tested elite prospect in recent NBA memory.
While players with limited tape like James Wiseman (who played in just three college games) and Kyrie Irving (11) have been selected early on in the draft before, they at least offered something to judge them on and also had a wealth of pre-college basketball tape to establish their bona fides. It’s difficult to find a prospect with a record as lavishly bare as Sharpe’s. The Canadian wing did not receive a single college scholarship offer two years ago, and he first announced himself as a prospect at the 2019 FIBA Under-16 Americas Championship, averaging 13 points and acquitting himself well in the final against a USA squad featuring three 2022 lottery picks. Sharpe transferred to a high school in Kansas for a sophomore season spent mostly on the bench, then moved again to another high school in Arizona for his junior year. The scholarship offers started to come in quickly at that point, though his stock as a recruit truly popped when he showed out at the 2021 Nike EYBL circuit. Sharpe racked up big numbers in his 12 games against a slate of 2022 and 2023 lottery picks, which earned him the status as the top-ranked 2023 recruit.
Instead of waiting, Sharpe enrolled early at Kentucky. He never played a single game for the Wildcats. Sharpe was eligible to suit up for Kentucky last season after arriving in Lexington in January, though as John Calipari repeatedly stressed over the course of Sharpe’s mysterious three months with Kentucky, Sharpe’s plan was not to play. There’s been a great deal of confusion over Sharpe’s season-long absence from the team—Was he truly eligible? Was Calipari simply holding him out? Was he nursing some secret injury?—but Sharpe confirmed this week that he chose not to play. Given that he was coasting into the draft lottery despite not having to prove himself at the college level, he decided that risking his perch as a sure top-ten pick wasn’t worth it. And so this locked-in lottery pick simply sat on the bench as Kentucky lost to Saint Peter’s and then declared for the draft one month later.
You can probably see why that choice of self-preservation over the chance to move up in the draft by showing out against college competition scares the hell out of NBA GMs. Michael Porter Jr. (three college games) and Wiseman and Kyrie had limited track records against college-level players; Sharpe has zero. He really did dominate the EYBL circuit, which despite the high level of talent, is a fundamentally different competitive framework. AAU basketball is a showcase, with the best recruits trying to rack up numbers and justify their status. SEC and NCAA Tournament games are, well, games; winning and losing is the prime factor. Picking Sharpe is essentially a bet that behind all that shiny physical talent and his glimmers as a highly skilled on-ball player is an actual gem of a player. How precious a gem it might be, and how much polishing it might require, is the question. In this sense, the possibility of picking Sharpe is both unusually scary and unusually enticing. The stuff Sharpe has shown has been electric, but there is also so much that he has not shown, and that virtually no one has even seen.
In terms of what we know, Sharpe stands 6-foot-6, weighs more than 200 pounds, and can leap with any player in any gym in the world. He is gobsmackingly athletic for someone that big, and when he gets to the rim, he’s a very gifted finisher with both hands. Most of the time, he just jammed it on the high school players trying to guard him, but he has real craft in the lane. Sharpe’s athleticism is not just twitchy first-step stuff, either; he’s well coordinated and displays elite footwork out on the perimeter. Wings this athletic who can fill it up from three-point range are the most important players in the NBA at the moment, and the model for a number-one option on a great team is still a three-level scorer with the physical tools to punish switches. This is precisely the sort of player Sharpe looks like.
He is not a natural playmaker, though he can throw a few nice passes on simple reads. He is also not much of a defender, and teams will have to consult the scant tape and scry whether that deficiency is a competition thing or a Sharpe-specific one. He also might have the highest vertical leap in NBA history (49 inches), though, because this is Shaedon Sharpe, all we have to go on is a grainy Twitter video. Like I said, it’s easy to fall for him. Why pick, say, a competent, known 22-year-old like Keegan Murray when you can go all-in on a dynamo like Sharpe who has the physical tools to be an apex-level wing destroyer?
It’s not a rhetorical question. The reason why not is because doing so presents an enormous risk. If a GM swings for Sharpe too early and he plays against NBA players and immediately shows that he doesn’t know where to stand or how to use his athleticism to do anything other than jam in transition, that GM is going to get fired. Say what you want about physical tools, the graveyard of busts is littered with players who couldn’t find ways to meaningfully channel jaw-dropping athleticism. A Loch Ness-ass 49-inch vertical leap does not by itself make a player Zach LaVine; it barely made Stromile Swift, for instance, a useful NBA player. Sharpe has been working out for teams all over the lottery, teams that have a vested interest in telling Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer that he was bad at those workouts and then telling the Athletic’s Shams Charania that he was good at those workouts. There is just no incentive in dispelling any of the mystery, for any team interested in picking him. Sharpe, for his part, has navigated these uncharted waters quite deftly, knowing that he guarantees himself a high spot in the draft by limiting his actual on-court time. It’s fair to be skeptical of such a move. I don’t really think you can make a compelling argument that doing so displays a concerning lack of competitive fire, but choosing not to play and instead offering nothing but theoretical tools does inescapably seem like a way of getting out having to prove anything in a five-on-five setting.
“This kid, we have nothing but YouTube video to go on,” a Western Conference exec told the Athletic. “I think you are just taking an absolute swing. And you (have to) have ownership completely behind you in that swing, as well as your head coach and that staff. You gotta be patient, and you better have a plan, and everybody’s on board.” Portland is reportedly high on Sharpe after Damian Lillard watched him work out, and every piece of draft intel points to Sharpe coming off the board somewhere between four and 10. Someone is going to plant their flag and take him, and the degree to which Sharpe hits may depend, as ever, on the sort of organization that takes him and what he’s asked to do. The most intriguing spot, in that sense, would be San Antonio at nine, although I think he’ll be gone by then. At any rate, the fog shrouding Shaedon Sharpe is burning off. After a year of only existing in theory, Sharpe is soon going to have to prove he can actually play basketball, so I suppose all he should hope for now is that the Sacramento Kings do not select him with the fourth pick.