Potential NBA Draft Sleepers
by Robert Ferringo - 05/30/2008
Rodney Stuckey. Raise your hand if you knew whom Rodney Stuckey was coming out of college. Now raise your hands if you had any idea who this guy was prior to the NBA playoffs.
As I scan through the crowd I don't see many hands up. Which is fine. Because unless you're a huge Eastern Washington University or Big Sky fan I wouldn't really have expected you to recognize the 6-feet, 5-inch swing guard. But then there he was on Wednesday, front-and-center in the final five minutes of the biggest game the Detroit Pistons have played this year. And at that point it didn't matter if you knew he was the Big Sky MVP in 2006, that he was an honorable mention All-American in his two years at EWU, or that he played on one of the most disappointing teams on the West Coast his sophomore year.
It also didn't matter that Stuckey was drafted after rookie non-factors like Corey Brewer, Jo Noah, Spencer Hawes, or Acie Law in the 2007 NBA Draft. Nope. As he was staring down History and the Ghosts of the Boston Garden, all that mattered is that he could ball.
Rodney Stuckey will not be the best player to come out of the 2007 NBA Draft. However, his skill set and the team that he was able to latch on with outside of the Top 10 all created a reality in which he was one of the most valuable rookies to come out of that class. He slid through the cracks a bit, like Danny Granger and Rodney Carney in recent drafts. You see it every year - players from a small school with a low profile or players from a marquee school but with questionable "transitional skills" to the pro game - that manage to find the right team at the right time and develop into solid NBA players.
Below I've created a list of 10 guys that right now I feel are a bit undervalued heading into the June 26 NBA Draft. Some of these names you will recognize and some of them you may not be as familiar with. But these are 10 guys that, much like Stuckey, Granger, and Carney, I feel will fall outside of the Top 10 but have the opportunity to make and immediate impact for their new employers. They can't be considered "sleepers" because it's not as if you had never heard of Kevin Love before. And not all 10 will make it in The League. But these are 10 players that I think are polished and ready to play, and one of them just may be staring you through your flat-screen next May while his team makes a playoff push.
So here, in a loose order, are 10 players that you should want your team to draft on June 28:
1. D.J. Augustin, PG, Texas
He's the best point guard in the draft. Period. No doubt in my mind. In five years he may not be better than Derrick Rose, but today, right now, he is the best amateur point guard in the country. Augustin's speed is already at an NBA level and his decision-making isn't far behind. Augustin was unguardable in his two years at Texas and - I know some people will scoff at this blasphemy - he was the true go-to guy for the Longhorns when both he and Kevin Durant were doing it for Texas.
2. Chris Douglas-Roberts, SF, Memphis
Sleek, savvy, and sensational, CD-R is a straight-up baller. The smooth lefty is adroit with either paw and gets up-and-down the court like a gazelle. He can defend at an NBA level and if he slides to an up-tempo team in the first round (are you listening Phoenix?) he can step in and contribute right away. The knock on CD-R is his jump shot, but he worked on it between 2006 and 2007 and increased his 3-point percentage from 32.8 percent to 41.3. That right there shows you the type of work ethic and attitude that this kid has. He's going to have a long and successful NBA career, yet somehow he's currently projected to go in the bottom one-third of the first round.
3. Kevin Love, PF, UCLA
I'm a believer. Stop me if I'm wrong, but as we wind down the NBA Playoffs isn't the thing that separates winners from losers the ability to execute in the half-court at the end of games? Love isn't going to win many foot races, but there is nothing on the court that he can't do. He rebounds, has excellent court vision and savvy, he can shoot and he is a ferocious competitor. Love dominated the best conference in the country, including a sweep against the Lopez Twins - who should also be first-round picks - while averaging 15 points and eight rebounds against the twin seven-footers.
4. Joe Alexander, SF, West Virginia
Alexander was the best player in the country in the month of March (not named Stephen Curry) last spring and is a unique talent in this draft. He's a 6-feet-9 forward who can post up, face up, and knock down the three when he needs to. Alexander was a bit of a one-year wonder, but there's no denying his 23.9 points per game during March against the top competition in the country.
5. Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina
Tyler Hansbrough received all of the accolades - and deservedly so - for the Tar Heels last year. But as UNC's top perimeter threat, there's no doubt that Wayne Ellington was just as much of a reason for the Heels' success last year. The 6-4 guard has a sweet stroke and buckets of athleticism. He averaged nearly 17 points per in 2007 while knocking down 40 percent from deep. He won't be ready to produce right away, but within three or four years I won't be surprised if he's a productive starter in The League.
6. Jeremy Pargo, PG, Gonzaga
I contend that Pargo was easily one of the Top 10 point guards in the nation last year, if not in the top seven or eight. Pargo is a physical triggerman that could take over games late for Gonzaga. Pargo struggled a bit with his outside shot last year and has had some turnover issues. But he excelled against top competition, highlighted by a 25-point effort against Derrick Rose and Memphis. Also, his brother, Jannero, was lightly regarded coming out of college but has fashioned a solid NBA career for himself. That said, I think Pargo makes the right decision and returns for one more year of seasoning.
7. Kyle Weaver, SG, Washington State
Weaver clearly needs to bulk up. But the do-it-all perimeter player has a Swiss Army Knife game and could develop into an excellent role player on a winning team. Weaver can pay immediate dividends because he can defend at the NBA level right now, he has a polished mid-range game, and he doesn't get rattled under pressure. His outside shooting clearly needs work, but I think he could be an excellent second-round pickup on a veteran team.
8. DeMarcus Nelson, SG, Duke
I know that Duke players have a checkered history when asked to make the transition out of the bubble that they get to play in at Cameron Indoor to the hard knock life of the NBA. However, Nelson is a better play at this stage than Chris Duhon was when he left Duke and Duhon has carved out a solid niche in The League. Nelson has an NBA body, excels at getting to the hole, and shoots well enough from the perimeter to keep a defender honest. He hustles, can defend one-on-one, and may be athletic enough to make the jump.
9. Davon Jefferson, F, USC
Like Pargo, I think the odds are that Jefferson will find his way back to campus before the June 16 Early Entry Deadline. However, if he stays in the pool he could be an early second round steal. The 6-8 freshman was old for his class (he's 21) but still has a lot of upside mainly because of his leaping ability and overall athleticism around the basket. However, the thing that intrigues me is that while he doesn't handle the ball well and has limited range he did show a nice mid-range touch and the ability to shake-and-bake from 12 feet and in. He may have more upside than his more highly touted Trojans teammate, O.J. Mayo.
10. Marcellus Kemp, SG, Nevada
Kemp was a big fish in a small pond at Nevada. But the 24-year-old has the physical tools and the leaping ability to mix it up in the NBA. He can score in bunches, and actually coasted a bit last year against inferior opponents. His former backcourt buddy, Ramon Sessions, saw some burn in his rookie year for the Bucks and he was not as well-rounded a player as Kemp is coming out of school. However, one knock on Kemp may be that he is so much older than the rest of his class and that he might have a limited ceiling. Regardless, within a year or two he could be a quality scorer off the bench, much like Stuckey is to the Pistons.