Glen "Big Baby" Davis was a player that I suggested was a steal at No. 35 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. Rajon Rondo was an afterthought - a reach even - at No. 21 in 2006. Daniel Gibson (No. 42), Kyle Lowry (No. 24), Von Wafer (No. 39) and Delonte West (No. 24) were other players who either went in the second round when no one was watching or were picked in the first round where no one else would've wanted them.
I think it's safe to say that these NBA Draft sleepers have worked out pretty well.
An NBA Draft "sleeper" doesn't have to be some obscure two guard from a small school in the Ohio Valley or Southwestern Athletic conferences. Sometimes players that you've watched play and develop for years at Big 6 programs - guys like Davis (LSU) or Rondo (Kentucky) - slip through the cracks and are steals outside of the lottery. Other times it's that "random dude" that's a big scorer in college and brings his game to The League. You never really know when or where you're going to find an unpolished gem, and that's why they are sleepers.
With a host of experienced players on the list of players entering the 2009 NBA Draft I think there is a strong chance that we'll see four or five late first or second round picks burst onto the scene over the next few years. And come playoff time and pre-draft time in 2011 I'm sure I'll be referencing them as "See, It Can Happen" stories for teams that dig deep on draft day. So with that in mind, here is a list of potential NBA draft sleepers:
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Earl Clark, SF, Louisville
Terrance Williams was the face of last year's Louisville team but Clark was really the silent assassin on that Cards crew. When he entered his name in the 2008 draft I thought it was a joke. But watching him last year he really showed a lot of polish and the ability to effortlessly score both inside and out. He needs to get stronger but could be a nice value pick if he slips into the 20s.
Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke
It's hard to consider Henderson a "sleeper" since he was one of the leading scorers on THE public team in college basketball. But if you mention Henderson's name as a potentially solid pro most fans will simply roll their eyes out of spite. Henderson can play. And he's the most athletic player to come out of Duke in awhile. The Blue Devils don't get railed for not producing top NBA talent. But Henderson has the potential to be the best perimeter player from Coach K's stable in a decade.
Jeff Teague, PG, Wake Forest
Much like Lowry, Teague is just a bulldog. This kid has serious hops and serious scoring ability. And in a draft that is loaded with point guard talent (Lawson, Flynn, Evans, Mills, etc.) I think that Teague could get lost in the shuffle. He needs to work on his in-between game but he could be a solid energy/scorer guy off the bench.
Eric Maynor, PG, VCU
Ditto for Maynor. A lot of people seem to think he's just some guy that punked Duke a few years ago. But what they don't realize is that Maynor was one of the most dominating players at the college level the last two years. His supporting cast at VCU was garbage last year, but Maynor still almost single-handedly led them to an upset of UCLA in the first round. Another big plus for this kid is that he's already a great defender. But he seems to play a little too slow sometimes and his laid back demeanor can be seen as aloof.
Sam Young, SG, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has been terrible about producing NBA players but Young is a guy that I can see becoming a very good NBA player. If you can knock down the 18-footer consistently, you can play in the NBA. And that is exactly where Young excels. He is a shaky ballhandler and isn't a creator, at all. But I think that he can work on his handle and I believe that his seemingly herky-jerky, awkward style on offense can be effective. Think Tayshaun Prince, but just on offense.
Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU
After all, the kid was the SEC Player of the Year. Thornton is a little light and really didn't come on that strong until his breakout senior season. But I actually feel that - athletically speaking - the SEC was a very underrated conference this season. Those boys couldn't play smoothly, but they were strong, fast, and active. And Thornton was the best of the bunch. Not a very good playmaker for others, and that's something he'll have to work on. But I could see him as an Eddie House-type.
Jermaine Taylor, SG, Central Florida
All this kid did was drop haymakers while maintaining his perch as one of the country's top scorers over the last two years. He is just a pure scorer and a sweet slasher going to the hole. Think Von Wafer, actually. Taylor has been raising eyebrows at the pre-draft workouts and his athleticism is clearly a cut above a lot of other players. Don't be surprised if his name ends up bumping up into the end of the first round or the beginning of the second.
Robert Vaden, SG, UAB
Don't forget that Vaden was a stud all-around player at Indiana before he followed Mike Davis to UAB. He was surrounded by clowns while with the Blazers and some injury and academic issues really sabotaged what could have been a good team. But even playing with glorified walk-ons couldn't dampen his play. Vaden's stock will be low because of his nightmare game against Memphis this year. But he is a pure scorer and can do all of the little things that an NBA could need.
Jeff Adrien, PF, Connecticut
Like I said: if you can knock down 18 footers you can cash checks in the NBA. Adrien can do just that and I think he'll be a valuable player and eventual NBA starter for a good team. Adrien is as tough as nails and is as strong as any player in the draft. But the most underrated part of his game is his jumper, and he has a deft touch between 15-18 feet. He isn't as skilled as Big Baby but he is more rugged around the hoop and has similar touch.
Jerel McNeal, PG, Marquette
All McNeal did at Marquette was average double digits all four years that he was there, including around 20 points per game last season. And he did that while performing as one of the top perimeter defenders in the country. McNeal is more athletic than he lets on and has a great attitude to go with his all-around game.
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DeMarre Carroll, PF, Missouri
Carroll's strength is his athleticism and he has the type of body where he can step right in and bang for 25 minutes a night in the NBA. He also has an underrated face-up game and I think he's the type of energy guy off the bench that a good team could find some use for.
Tyrese Rice, PG, Boston College
Rice was, in my opinion, the most underrated college player in the country over the last two seasons. He was another guy that played with a bunch of schlubs at B.C. but always carried them when the Eagles needed it. This kid almost single-handedly beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill this year and he was virtually unstoppable one-on-one. I think he compares favorably to someone like Jason Terry.
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