Continuing my look at the upcoming NBA draft, I wanted to do a deeper dive on some of those prospects that I think may be being overlooked, or who may have an upside that is worth taking an extra look at. I determined “sleeper” status by looking at players rated highly by my draft model, yet are not expected to be taken early in the draft.
First, I want to take a look at Ivan Rabb. Rabb is expected to be taken in the mid to late first round.
Rabb’s greatest strength is his rebounding, which is based on a combination of strong fundamentals as well as an athletic skill-set. Rabb averaged 10.5 rebounds per game last year in his sophomore season at Cal, with 3 of those as offensive boards.
Rabb is also a mobile big, with solid speed down the court. His lateral quickness is another subject, but his athletic frame combined with his length is an asset, especially in the modern NBA, where athletic bigs who can stretch and run the floor are favored more and more.
Rabb also has a fairly strong basketball IQ, a trait that should help him as he attempts to make the jump to the NBA. Additionally, he has shown some flashes of post offense that speak to his potential. His shooting hasn’t been great; he averaged 66% from the line and was pretty much untested from beyond the arc, going 8-20 this season.
Some of his weaknesses include his frame. Although he is 6’10″ with a 7’2″ wingspan, he needs to add some muscle to be able to defend bigs in the NBA. This, along with his mediocre lateral quickness, suggests he may be a bit of a liability defensively. He wasn’t a great rim protector in college, so he probably won’t be in the NBA, either.
Overall, there may be some untapped potential in Rabb. He is a raw, athletic big, who is already ready to contribute with his rebounding. He has some holes in his game, but if he can improve his shooting and defense to league average levels, could thrive in an up-tempo offense with good spacing that allows him to use his athleticism in the open court and in space.
He doesn’t compare well to many NBA big men, since he fits in with the modern game well, but he may be able to project on the path of Trey Lyles or a Bobby Portis, with a potential to blossom into a player like Thaddeus Young or Marcus Morris (if he can shoot from the outside). I could also see him being a nice role player like Marvin Williams, or he could just never figure it out and be the next Perry Jones or Adreian Payne.
Continuing on with another big man, I want to highlight Tyler Lydon. Lydon is expected to go in the late first round.
Lydon finished his sophomore season at Syracuse, and was an All-ACC honorable mention. Lydon, 6’10”, is another versatile four, but unlike Rabb, he has as sweet shooting stroke. Lydon is also deceptively athletic, and had a 34” max vertical jump, helping him grab lobs on the offensive end. However, he lacks the length and lateral speed, much like Rabb, to be a rim protector at the next level. Yet, showed solid defensive instincts in the Syracuse 2-3 zone, and those instincts could carry on to the next level.
As mentioned, Lydon is a gifted shooter, one that can stretch the four at the next level. His post game isn’t as polished, and he can’t bang with the power forwards in the NBA, but that’s not his game. He has room to grow with his shot off the dribble, but his ability to stretch the floor should help any team in the NBA. He also has solid awareness, on both offense as well as defense. His feel for the game allows him to be a solid passer and move well without the ball.
Although he has some weaknesses, Lydon could be an effective NBA player. He could be a Ryan Anderson-type that is more athletic and may be passable on defense. His downside might be a player like Perry Ellis who never fits in the NBA. In a much more likely scenario than becoming Ellis, he could wind up as an Anthony Tolliver, a solid role player.
Next I’ll move onto Cameron Oliver. Oliver is a sophomore out of Nevada and is expected to be taken in the late second round, if at all.
One of his biggest strengths is his physical makeup. Oliver is very strong and athletic, partly making up for his 6’8″ height, which is a tad undersized. He can score from the perimeter, and shot 38% last season from beyond the arc. He also has some refined post moves, allowing him to score from all over the court. Overall, if he can put it together, he has a potential to be a great scorer in the NBA.
He rebounded very well in college, averaging nearly 9 a game last year. Much of this is due to his athletic prowess, but his ability to rebound could be something that keeps him in the NBA.
Defensively, he has room to grow; yet, his ceiling is high. With his athleticism, he could develop into a player that could switch between all positions, but this is best-case scenario. His height may prevent him from ever becoming a rim protector, and his overall attention to defense is lacking.
Overall, his basketball IQ is lacking, which leads to some rough patches on offense with poor shot selection. Without a great basketball IQ, his ability to figure it out and grow on the court worries me.
Although he may have the tools to develop into the next Paul Millsap (who was also a second round find), his lack of IQ and understanding of the game may overshadow his physical skills and he may end up the next Anthony Bennett, who is still trying to figure out his role in the NBA.
Another big man I want to highlight is Thomas Bryant. Bryant is a sophomore center out of Indiana, and is expected to be taken in the early second round.
Bryant is a physical center who is able to hit jump shots outside of the paint. He even stretched it outside the arc a little this past season, where he shot 38%. Although he has shown some offensive flashes, he hasn’t quite gotten comfortable overall on the offensive end. His main offensive strength is his motor, meaning he could develop into a great offensive rebounder in the NBA. At nearly 6’11”, he has the size to be effective in the pros.
In terms of weaknesses, he may have trouble scoring at the NBA level outside put backs from rebounds. Although he has length, his defensive impact is still in question, and doesn’t have a great basketball IQ, and his overall feel is just not there.
He could develop into a nice player like Tristan Thompson, who is a force on the offensive glass, or a Trevor Booker, a player who is driven by his motor and makes a solid impact off the bench. With that said, if he doesn’t end up developing his feel for the game, he might not stick around too long in the NBA.
The next prospect I want to identify is Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo, 6’10”, has a similar skill-set to Bryant, but he is more athletic and can grow into an elite defender. For this reason, he is expected to go ahead of Bryant, sometime in the late first round to early second round. Just a freshman at Kentucky, he has a lot of potential based on his athleticism and strength. He is a great offensive rebounder and finisher, and most of his offensive comes off of drives from others and put-backs.
Defensively, his strengths are moving laterally, rather than as a rim protector. However, depending on his focus, he could develop into a very good pick and role defender and a player that could switch across multiple positions, a trait becoming more and more valuable in today’s NBA.
In terms of weaknesses, his main offensive weapon was just bullying past less athletic players in college. He is not polished at all, and forced bad post shots this past year. He also is not always engaged, which can hurt him on both ends.
Overall, he has an opportunity to develop into a similar high motor player as Bryant, and I like Abedayo better than Bryant. I think he has a chance at developing a midrange shot, and his most realistic comparison could be Clint Capela: a big that does not need the ball to be affective.
I’m now done with big men and will move onto guards. First, is Edmond Sumner. Sumner has struggled with injuries his entire college career, and is an old (21) sophomore from Xavier.
Overall, the biggest question for Sumner is his health, especially after a torn ACL this season. Because of this question, Sumner could be taken as early as the late first round, but more likely sometime in the mid second round. With that said, don’t be surprised if he goes undrafted due to concerns over his ACL.
His athleticism has never been questioned, being able to get to the rim at will in college. His length (6’5″ with a 6’9″ wingspan) adds to his overall physical skill-set, allowing him to be a great slasher who attacks the paint ferociously. He needs to get stronger, but his length gives him an ability to be a plus defender.
His main weakness is his shooting, which has yet to develop. His playmaking is improved, but still needs to get better, as does his overall scoring.
In the end, if Sumner is healthy, he can be an effective point guard like a Jrue Holiday, or a Darren Collison, but if he is never able to regain his athleticism or improve his shot, could end up like Michael Carter-WilliamsMichael Carter-Williams.
Lastly, I wanted to highlight Colorado Senior Derrick White. White is expected to be taken early in the second round, but could move up into the late first round.
White is the top senior in the draft, and was a great scorer for Colorado last season. He shot over 40% from three and over 80% from the charity stripe, will managing over four assists and rebounds a game in addition to his 18 points. At 6’5”, he has the height to be a combo scoring guard, and is deadly fast.
He can score off the dribble and gets to the line a lot, which are both necessary skills for his spot in the NBA. He was a good playmaker in college, and that can continue into the NBA. Additionally, he has shown defensive ability, but often had lapses that hurt his overall defensive stock.
White is a polished player, and pretty much has to be as a senior. He has the ability to be the next great senior player taken in the draft, but I don’t think he will reach to the levels of CJ McCollum or Damian Lillard. He may find a role as a good second unit player, like a Lou Williams, who can draw contact and hit from outside against poorer defenders. I don’t think he has the overall awareness to be a starter, not yet at least. It may take time, but he is already 23.
All of these prospects have a possibility of becoming the next great “steal” out of the draft. While Rabb has the biggest upside, I think Lydon has the best shot to become a solid role player. I like Sumner, if healthy, but there is too much hinging on the condition of the knee of the already 21-year old. I like White, and could see him becoming a nice bench player in the NBA. While I recognize the other prospects have solid upside, I think Adebayo is the only one out of the rest of that bunch to have a solid crack, playing as an athletic center who can switch across positions and rebound well. I don’t see him becoming any more than that.