Happy Holidays! What are we celebrating? NBA Draft season of course! The NBA Playoffs have been tapering off in excitement by the round, and with the NBA Draft Lottery past usand the draft order locked in stone, all the fun begins. The mock drafts are rolling out faster than Auntie Anne’s pretzels on a Friday night at the local mall. The top three picks will be the hottest storyline, but that’s not where I focus my eyes on this draft. This is one of the deepest pool of players in recent history for a reason, so I’m focusing on the 2014 NBA Draft’s biggest sleepers.
The huge debate concerns the order of the top three picks with Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Andrew Wiggins likely going in some order. That discussion will go on until the No. 1 pick is announced on draft night and Bill Simmons flips his s*** again. Speaking of Embiid, check out his pre-draft workout.
With such a heralded draft class, people forget other names are in the draft outside of the lottery. Here at Dime, we are equal opportunity people so let’s get to 10 of the biggest sleepers in the 2014 NBA Draft Class.
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This sweet-haired guard from the small school of Louisiana Lafayette has a bright future ahead of him in the NBA. In an interview at the NBA Draft Combine with DraftExpress, Payton considered himself the best point guard in the draft. Watching him on tape makes it’s obvious why Payton believes he’s elite. The first thing to jump out about Payton is his size. He’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-8 wingspan. While his size helps Payton in multiple areas on the court, this is especially true for his defense. Payton is a tenacious on-ball defender and is able to guard positions one-through-four due to his length; Payton guarded Doug McDermott several times during their matchup in the NCAA Tournament. Being able to step on the court on day one and guard almost every position on the floor should bode well for Payton’s draft stock.
In his junior campaign with Louisiana Lafayette, Payton averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 26 percent from deep. Payton is a terror in transition, where 24.1 percent of his offense comes. According to DraftExpress, Payton scored 1.13 PPP in transition. Being able to score, facilitate, and rebound at the point guard position is a luxury, one teams should get if they select Payton.
One of the more intriguing things about Payon is his age, considering he completed three seasons at the NCAA level. Payton entered ULL at the age of 17 and is only 20 years old. He’s only a few weeks older than Joell Embiid and Marcus Smart, and just six months older than Tyler Ennis, while having three years of college experience.
If a comparison for Payton existed, it would be Michael Carter-Williams, the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year. Both guards have a less-than-favorable jumpshot (Payton has named his jumper as the top thing he’s working on); both can still impact the game due to their size and length. Just like MCW, Payton crashes the boards, which is a great attribute for a point guard to get into transition early and often.
Elfrid Payton shooting the ball so well. Killing guys in 3-on-3 on both ends. Special player.
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 22, 2014
Elfrid Payton is flying up draft boards and impressing in group workouts. Worst case scenario is he comes in and busts his ass on the defensive end — an area some players will largely ignore. Payton spent four years at a mid-major, but he’s destined to be big time in the NBA.
Besides having a pretty stylish mustache, Spencer Dinwiddie is an impact player. The reason he’s been slept on is the fact Dinwiddie tore his ACL in the beginning of the season while playing for Colorado. Before the injury, Dinwiddie was averaging 14.7 points , 3.8 assists, and 3.1 rebounds on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. While being listed as just a “guard,” Dinwiddie was adamant he was a point guard in his NBA Combine interviews with DraftExpress. However, Dinwiddie also tracked back to say he’s willing to play any position from point guard to small forward — whatever it takes to win. Versatility is his game.
Dinwiddie joins the ranks of the new breed of point guards in the NBA. He’s a part of the new breed of taler point guards, standing at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan. Once again, I’ll bring up Michael Carter-Williams to point out the immediate impact taller NBA point guards can have. There are also players like Shaun Livingston who had a second straight bounce-back year after a horrific knee injury earlier in his career. However, unlike Carter-Williams, Dinwiddie possesses a deadly stroke from deep, which is represented by his 40-plus clip from three during his three seasons at Colorado. He only shot less than 40 percent from deep during his sophomore season. Besides his shooting, his size makes him deadly in the pick-and-roll game; he’s able to use his length to easily get to the rim or nail a shot from beyond the arc. He can shoot, attack, or distribute. There isn’t a weakness for Dinwiddie in any of those categories.
Dinwiddie will slip in the draft due to his ACL injury, which will probably leave him as a second-round selection. There aren’t many guards in the NBA Draft and in the NBA for that matter, who have the length of Dinwiddie, which makes him unique. NBA team’s might have to be patient as he recovers from his ACL injury, but the wait will be worth the production when Dinwiddie steps on the court…
That’s a beautiful name, isn’t it? Cleanthony Early is one of my favorite prospects, mainly for his intangibles. When he was asked in his combine interview what his strengths are, he didn’t name shooting, passing, or any such typical answer. Early simply stated that his biggest strength was that he’s “hungry and will do whatever it takes to win.” Besides that determined attitude, Early is a beast on the court.
Cleanthony was one of the best scorers in college basketball this season, posting 24.5 points per 40 minutes. Early is projected as a small forward, but is willing to play whatever position will help his team win. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10.75 wingspan.
This season at Wichita State, Early averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 boards on 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep. He finished his college career at Wichita with a 31-point performance on 12-of-17 shooting and 4-of-6 from three, which really catapulted him onto the national radar. His true shooting percentage for the season was 64 percent, which ranks at No. 7 among top-100 prospects according to DraftExpress.com. Early is deadly in almost every area on the court and in every fashion. Cutting, transition, shooting, it doesn’t matter because Early can do seemingly everything. He has a knack for getting to the line, and he gets there over seven times per 40 minutes (via DraftExpress.com).
Simply put, Cleanthony Early gets buckets, a lot of them. He’s a proven winner, too, as Wichita State lost a lone game this season. Early doesn’t care what team he goes too, he just wants to win. Send him to a lottery team and he’ll turn them into a winner. While he’s projected to go in the end of the first round, Early would fit perfectly as a piece on a team like the Spurs. San Antonio is known for grabbing guys like Early and turning them into studs (hey, Kawhi Leonard). Wherever Cleanthony Early ends up, he’s going to shine.
Guards hailing from small schools will usually be considered sleepers and Deonte Burton is another one. Bleacher Report named Burton as the “point version of James Harden,” need I say more? On an extremely dysfunctional Nevada squad, Burton was one of the pieces that stood out. While his team often failed to run sets or any sort of offense in the half court, it was often Burton with the ball in his hands to make something happen. These factors explain his low assist numbers (4.4 apg last season which was a career high in his four years at Nevada), but don’t let that fool you.
[RELATED: DDD Deonte Burton Draft Diary Vol. 1]
Last season for Nevada, Burton averaged 20.1 PPG on 47 percent shooting and amassed 2,102 points in his four-year career at Nevada, continuing the tradition after scoring 2,000 points at Centennial High School in Compton, California. Burton improved his shooting from the field, from beyond the arc, and from the line during his senior season, proving it was the right decision to come back for his senior year. While it was a possibility Burton would go undrafted if he came out after his junior season, he’s a lock to get drafted after completing his senior season.
Burton only stands at 6-1, but has a 6-foot-6 wingspan that allows him to sky to the rim for some insane highlight reel dunks. The small school bias always seems to cause prospects to slip. Burton didn’t have the best showing at the NBA Draft Combine either, but placing measurements and 1-on-0 drills above actual game footage is ridiculous. Burton took advantage after staying all four years in college by improving on his game every season. He’s going to be special when he comes into this league, even if the world is still sleeping on him.
Once P.J. Hairston was dismissed from North Carolina, his name disappeared. Instead of giving up on his basketball career, Hairston signed on with the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League. To no one’s surprise, Hairston showed out in the D-League, averaging 21.8 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc. Hairston has an incredibly strong build at the shooting guard position, weighing in at 229 pounds, while standing 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan.
Hairston proved that he’s NBA ready while he was in the D-League, averaging 27 points per 40 minutes. He nailed 73 three-pointers in 26 D-League games, which shows how easy he was able to transition to the NBA three-point line. Hairston can shoot lights out and combined with his aggressive style of play, it makes him a unique prospect. He may be a more Dion Waiters-type player at the two — Hairston only averaged 0.8 assists in the D-League — but what he lacks in the facilitating department, he picks up with his ferocious scoring ability. He’s a great off-the-ball player and would complement an aggressive point guard.
After his departure from UNC, Hairston’s character will definitely be rigorously questioned in interviews leading up to the NBA Draft. All of these factors will see Hairston’s stock dropping a bit, but he still looks to be a lock for the first round. At the end of the day, Hairston is a scoring role player who can contribute from the jump. Look out for him as he makes his way to the NBA.
K.J. McDaniels is slowly rising up mock draft boards, but he’s still an unknown name to many. Truth be told, he might be the best athlete in this draft not named Andrew Wiggins. Watching highlight film of McDaniels, you’ll see it pumped full of insane slams and blocks on the defensive end. The growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo bodes well for McDaniels, who is also no stranger to growth. In 2013, at the LeBron James Camp, McDaniels measured a wingspan of 6-foot-9.5. At the NBA Draft Combine, McDaniels wingspan measured in at 6-foot-11.25, which is incredible leap. His new found length should help his NBA career, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
McDaniels was exceptional this season at Clemson, especially for a squad who averaged around 60 points per game as a team. K.J. averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. Averaging 2.8 blocks per game are expected numbers from a rim protecting center, not a wing player like McDaniels. McDaniel’s shot 46 percent from the floor, which was up three percent from his sophomore season. He also hit 84 percent of his attempts at the line, a 14 percent increase from the previous season. He possesses an excellent frame which explains his elite athleticism. McDaniles is a hard nosed defender and has great length to help him out on that side of the ball.
His jumper needs work, as he only hit 30 percent of his attempts from three last season. However, McDaniels is able to hit open shots when space is available. Does McDaniel’s have things that need to be worked on? Of course, all prospects do. However, when you see this kid’s highlight film it’s obvious that he can develop into a special player.
Marcus Smart is garnering all the hype for Oklahoma State in the NBA Draft, but Markel Brown deserves some attention, too. To start off, Brown was measured with a max vertical of 43.5 feet, but exclaimed in interviews that he reached 46-feet before his senior season. Brown took the same amount of shots from the field and deep between his junior and senior seasons, however his field goal percentage rose from 44 percent to 47 percent and from 36 percent to 38 percent from deep. Because of his increased efficiency, Brown upped his scoring from 15.3 points to 17.2 points per game. Brown also grabbed 5.3 rebounds, tossed 2.9 assists, while averaging a steal and a block per game. Besides his improved statistics, his insane max vertical makes Markel Brown a highlight reel in the making.
While Marcus Smart was the main player in OKSU’s offense, it was very interesting to see the uptick in production from Brown when Smart was serving his three-game suspension. This chart shows how much better Brown fared without Smart (via DraftExpress.com):
Brown averaged 23.3 PPG during Smart’s three-game absence. From watching film of Brown, it was obvious that he takes a ton of difficult shots, but has no problem knocking them down at a consistent rate, which is evident by his shooting percentage. He needs work on the defensive side of the ball, creating his own shot and improving his ball-handling abilities. At the very least, Brown is going to be able to create some insane highlight reels in the NBA that could easily swing the momentum in a pivotal game. He might be more of a project, which is concerning because he’s already 22, but it’s a risk worth taking in the latter portions of the second round.
A 6-10 big man with a 7-4 wingspan who can stretch someone out all the way to the three-point line? You should be sold already. That’s exactly what Adreian Payne can do, except there’s more to his game. Besides being able to shoot from beyond the arc, Payne has no problem taking a defender in the post and bullying him for an easy bucket. His decision to return to Michigan State was a smart one, even if he didn’t win an NCAA Championship. Payne improved his scoring and shooting statistics by a large margin: averaged 16.4 points (10.5 his junior season) and 7.3 rebounds on 50 percent shooting and 42 percent from deep. That 42 percent mark from three isn’t an aberration; Payne can consistently hit shots from deep. He launched 3.4 three-point attempts per game in his senior year, which was the highest of his four years at MSU. Payne had a true shooting percentage of 61 percent which was ranked 13th among the top-100 prospects according to DraftExpress.com.
People might be sleeping on Payne because of his age: 23 years old. The new fashion in the NBA is to get prospects at a young age, like the 19-year-old Andrew Wiggins or 18-year-old Aaron Gordon. However, both of those prospects are considered extremely raw, no matter how high their ceilings might be. Payne can come in from the first day and give a team solid bench production. He might not ever be a 35-minute starter, but he has the ability to come in and immediately stretch opposing big men out of their comfort zone.
Payne can’t be left open on the perimeter, which causes problems for the defense the moment he steps on the court. His release is a bit slow, but when he’s knocking them down — and at 42 percent on the year, it’s not rare — he’s a threat. Then again, he can easily take someone off the dribble and straight to the rim with his 240-pound frame if someone closes out on him too quickly. At this stage, he might not have that much growth potential, which makes his stock a little lower than it should be. Honestly, Payne has all the tools to be a dangerous stretch four in the NBA. Taking a flyer on Payne in the mid first round is something no team will regret.
Kyle Anderson played high school ball at the esteemed St. Anthony’s, so the future was already written for the UCLA Bruin star. Anderson was able to increase his scoring from 9.7 points his freshman season to 14.6 his sophomore year, while only taking two more shots from the field. His field goal percentage rose from 42 percent to 48 percent. His three-point shooting went from 21 percent to 48 percent; however, he was taking less than two three’s per game. Teams would rather have him shoot 48 percent even if it’s only around one three-point attempt per game, so it’s still a positive improvement. Besides his scoring, Anderson also grabbed 8.8 rebounds and dished 6.5 dimes per game.
Kyle Anderson plays the game at a painfully slow pace, think Andre Miller. Still, it’s hard to hate when it’s been so effective. Point guard, two guard, small forward, who knows where Kyle Anderson’s best fit at the NBA level might be. Kyle primarily handled point guard duties for the Bruins this season, but it doesn’t matter where he plays, just get the kid on the floor. He’s extremely long at 6-9 with a 7-2.5 wingspan. The best thing about Anderson is his versatility. Being 6-foot-9 provides him tremendous passing angles; Anderson averaged 7.4 assists per 40 minutes, which was top mark among the top-100 prospects according to DraftExpress.com.
His extremely slow nature and lack of lateral quickness has caused his stock to drop some; he’s projected as a late first-round selection. Except Anderson’s versatility on the court and the ability to play every position besides center is intriguing and unique. His position-less skills hold some value and they’re keeping him in the first round. His ability to play off the ball is questionable, so if he isn’t named a starting point guard, it will be interesting to see how he fares. His feet-stuck-in-concrete pace makes him impactful with the ball in his hands, but it’s a question mark when it’s not. I would hate the bring Evan Turner comparisons into this piece because Anderson is better than that. Can he adapt? That questioned will be answered in the coming months and years, but Anderson is still destined for the NBA.
Isaiah Austin is a legit 7-foot talent that’s been neglected by draft prognosticators like crazy. Austin possesses a 7-4.5 wingspan, but weighs in at a lean 220 pounds for his height (7.5 percent body fat). He played two seasons at Baylor, and he’s only 20 years old. His numbers dropped from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, which probably explains why he’s not close to the top of mock boards. Austin was smart to come out after two years and not suffer the monstrous drop James Michael McAdoo suffered every season he stayed at UNC. Even though Austin’s scoring (11.2 PPG) and rebounding (5.5 RPG) took a dip, his shot blocking has improved to the tune of blocking 3.1 per game compared to 1.7 in his freshman season.
Besides his shot blocking, Austin has a unique skill set for a 7-footer. He can stretch all the way out to 1518 feet, even though he only hit 27 percent from deep last season. He’s more comfortable with the mid-range jump shots, something big men like Ibaka, Bosh and Garnett have made their bread and butter during the different stages of their careers. Austin isn’t the best around the rim due to a more finesse skillset, but he still has the ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor.
He needs to pack on some weight in order to take the bruising of an 82-game schedule in the NBA. There wasn’t a ton of improvement between his freshman and sophomore seasons, which is a concern in some scout’s eyes. At the end of the day, Isaiah Austin has a great amount of potential for a legit 7-footer, something that’s hard to come by in the NBA these days.
(Stats and measurements provided by DraftExpress)
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