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Fast Five: 5 Biggest Sleepers In The NBA Draft

Every other Wednesday, we’ll be assessing how the top prospects of the 2014 NBA Draft are faring in college and overseas. Stick with us each week for assorted thoughts, including the biggest risers and fallers, the standouts, the sleepers and what we know and don’t know about the next NBA Draft class…

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Not much separates the top three prospects right now on the Big Board and there is an array of talented prospects making waves in both directions. The 2014 NBA Draft is still a long ways away from taking its true form, but most of the characters are fitting into their roles.

Here is the NBA Draft Fast Five.

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ONE: What Do We Know?
Basketball Purgatory has always been that middle part of the standings where a team is not quite bad enough to fall into a great pick and not good enough to truly compete for a championship. That area in the standings, between picks tenth and say 17th, has not produced a ton of franchise changing NBA talent over the course of the last five years. Those teams are perpetually in that spot too because they cant get over the hump or are just good enough to justify not blowing it all up to start from scratch.

2008: Brook Lopez, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, Brandon Rush, Anthony Randolph, Robin Lopez, Marreese Speights and Roy Hibbert
2009: Brandon Jennings, Terrence Williams, Gerald Henderson, Tyler Hansbrough, Earl Clark, Austin Daye, James Johnson and Jrue Holiday
2010: Paul George, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson, Larry Sanders, Luke Babbitt and Kevin Seraphin
2011: Jimmer Fredette, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Iman Shumpert
2012: Austin Rivers, Meyers Leonard, Jeremy Lamb, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Moe Harkless, Royce White and Tyler Zeller

Ironically the dubious 2011 NBA Draft had a very nice middle and produced some of the better role players in the league today from Leonard with the Spurs to Vucevic with the Magic.

Every year, teams that are middling around .500 are looking to land the next Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Michael Carter-Williams or Kawhi Leonard. Most do not. It is rare to change the fortunes of a franchise with a pick here in any draft because the data, scouting and information is readily available for every team to process.

TWO: What Do We Not Know?
How will this year’s middle look? In 2003, a great draft by all accounts, the middle was highlighted by Nick Collison and low-lighted with Reece Gaines, Troy Bell and Zarko Cabarkapa. Go back to 1996 and there are four future All-Stars taken between 10-17, showing that even in a great class of talent, there is the potential to find a gem or two, but more realistic to draft a future role player at best.

THREE: Stock Rising
With basketball becoming increasingly more about playmaking, athleticism, versatility and size, there are very few point guard prospects that can stake a claim to being all of those intangibles more than Jordan Clarkson of Missouri. Coming into the season he was a relative unknown, a transfer from Tulsa, but has shown the ability to be a weapon on the offensive end. He is not a pure point guard–who is anymore?–but creates athletic advantages for his team and can make plays with the ball. Right now he is being looked at as a mid-to-late first-round pick and could move higher in time.

FOUR: Stock Falling
Prospects on fringe tournament teams that might not make it beware… NBA decision-makers might forget about you during all the big games with the bright lights on in March during the NCAA Tournament. High-level talents like Marcus Smart, Isaiah Austin, Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown, Cory Jefferson and Keith Frazier are all at risk of suffering that fate.

Hit page 2 for a look at the biggest risers in the draft…

FIVE: Quick Hitter
Last week I went in-depth on the lottery odds and what they mean by the slot a team is in, the odds, how far they can fall, and what that looks like in terms of the prospects on the Big Board. For all the teams tanking out there, be aware, there is only one No. 1 pick, one No. 2 pick, and so on and so on…

Even for a team like Milwaukee, in the driver’s seat for the worst record in the NBA, they have a better chance of falling to fourth overall than they do of actually receiving the top pick. That is how the system is weighted. Watching teams like Lakers, Magic and 76ers fall all over themselves to try and get into a position to win the lottery is a dangerous game because there are always more in favor of those teams staying in their slot. Crazy things happen at the Draft Lottery, but one thing remains the same: One team gets the No. 1 pick, one team gets the No. 2 pick, and so and so on.

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Five Potential Lottery Risers To Keep An Eye On

1. Sam Dekker: 6-8, 220 pounds – F, Wisconsin
Stats: (In 30.4 MPG) 13.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 34.0 percent 3PT

The Badgers have a good shot of going to another Elite Eight and knocking on the door of the Final Four and Dekker would be a large part of that. Dekker is an all-purpose talent that shoots, rebounds, passes, and does all the intangible things to help his team. That looks better in bright lights.

2. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: 6-7, 215 pounds – SF, Arizona
Stats: (In 24.9 MPG) 8.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Clearly RHJ is the lesser valued prospect on the Wildcats in this freshman class, but he has been steady all year with his ability to defend multiple positions and rebound the ball. He is just scratching the surface on his abilities.

3. Zach LaVine: 6-5, 180 pounds – G, UCLA
Stats: (In 25.7 MPG) 10.7 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.6 RPG, 42.3 percent 3PT

The Bruins are a sneaky Elite Eight-caliber team with the athletic, high-volume perimeter they have. LaVine is a catalyst in that offense, scoring the ball in transition, from deep and with tremendous athleticism.

4. Adreian Payne: 6-10, 245 pounds – PF, Michigan State
Stats: (In 28.3 MPG) 15.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 41.9 percent 3PT

Being a senior in college is never a stock booster, but progression and winning are, both of which could be in line for Payne in March. He has gotten better nearly every year and is the prototype stretch-four/five at the NBA level.

5. Doug McDermott: 6-8, 225 pounds – F, Creighton
Stats: (In 33.2 MPG) 25.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 43.6 percent 3PT

Of all the mid-majors not names Wichita State, the team most likely to crash a Final Four party is Creighton. They have one of the best overall scorers in the country in McDermott, who has the ability to carry the Blue Jays for 3-4 games on his hot hand alone.

Whether it is a moment in conference play or the NCAA Tournament, there are always middle-of-the-pack prospects that rise into the lottery on an annual basis this time of year. That will not change this year–we are just waiting to see who those specific names are going to be.

Who do you think is the biggest sleeper in the draft?

Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @NBADraftInsider.

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