• Paul Innocenti

NBA Draft: Sleeper Prospects

This time of year the top prospects in the draft get all the attention. Guys projected to go in the early lottery are talked about nonstop, while late first and second round prospects get overlooked. However, this is shortsighted as players selected after the top 14 picks can be extremely valuable to NBA franchises. In fact 7 of the 15 players to make an All-NBA team this year were drafted outside the lottery, a list that includes Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Isaiah Thomas. Here’s a look at five undervalued prospects that could turn out to be big time steals in the 2017 draft.

Frank Jackson-Point Guard-Duke

It’s rare for a player from a blue-blood school like Duke to be considered a sleeper prospect, but that is the case with Frank Jackson. After waiting until May 12th to sign an agent, it was uncertain whether or not Jackson would be returning to school, so that could have something to do with the lack of respect he’s been getting in the pre-draft process. Interestingly enough, Jackson impressed at the scouting combine early this month in the individual drills (a top 3 finisher in both the standing and max vertical) and during the 5-on-5 scrimmages. The freshman standout is viewed as a bit of a PG/SG tweener because of his low assists totals as he posted just 1.7 per game under Coach K. However, it’s not a bad bet to assume a 19 year-old will become a better ball distributor as his game matures. Jackson was an efficient scorer at Duke, shooting over 39% from deep and 54% inside the arc. Jackson’s quick twitched ability to score off the bounce is reminiscent of Cory Joseph and Dennis Schroder and he could be a steal in the second round this June.

Jonathan Jeanne-Center-France

Teams searching for the next Rudy Gobert would be well advised to roll the dice on fellow French standout Jonathan Jeanne this June. Like Gobert, Jeanne enters the league as a long and lean 7’2 shotblocker than can run the floor. Jeanne’s game oozes with potential as he has a workable jumpshot and it wouldn’t be totally unrealistic to think he will evolve into the coveted yet rare stretch 5. However, the French native has a long way to go before he can become even a dependable NBA rotation player. Jeanne is about 30 lbs lighter than Gobert was when he came into the league and needs to bulk up if he wants to be able to battle with physical post players; plus he is extremely raw on the offensive end. Still, Jeanne will be just 19 years of age when his name is called in June and will be able to be brought along slowly by whatever team drafts him. Rim protecting centers are always valued in the NBA; no one thought Thon Maker was going to be a lottery pick last year, but the Bucks snatched him up at 10th overall. So while most analysts project Jeanne to come off the board in the latter stages of the first round, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a team like Chicago or Atlanta selects him before pick number 20 comes around.

Terrance Ferguson-Shooting Guard-Adelaide 36ers

Ferguson isn’t your typical “sleeper” prospect because he has a legit chance to become a consensus lottery pick, but his background makes him one of the bigger unknowns in the entire 2017 class. Ferguson was a McDonald's All-American during his senior season at Advanced Preparatory International (a high school in Dallas, Texas unaccredited by the NCAA) and was initially committed to play college ball for Sean Miller at Arizona. However, Ferguson decided to go the “Brandon Jennings” route and play professionally instead, becoming a member of the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian National Basketball League team. It took Ferguson some time to adjust to professional play in Australia, but he carved out a rice role for himself in Adelaide. At 6’7, 185lbs, Ferguson is a wiry 2-guard with exceptional range on his shot and top-flight athleticism. His slender frame makes him a bit of a developmental prospect, but the former five-star recruit won’t turn 20 until after his rookie season is complete. Ferguson’s decision to play in Australia makes him seem like a risky draft choice, but his ability to defend coupled with his shooting stroke should allow him to at least blossom into a competent 3-and-D wing, even if he never puts it all together.

Josh Hart-Shooting Guard-Villanova

In his four years under Jay Wright at Villanova, Josh Hart piled up the accolades and is arguably the most decorated player in this draft class. Hart was named the Player of the Year in the Big East, as well the recipient to the Lowe's Senior CLASS award this season. He also took home Conference Sixth Man of the Year honors and won the Julius Erving Award, throughout his college career and was the best player on the 2015-16 National Title Team. However, despite his illustrious play for the Wildcats, most scouts view Hart as a second round pick. They point to his average frame and athleticism and see minimal room for improvement, failing to highlight his well-rounded skillset. Hart is a plus shooter from 3 (40% in 2016-17) and a pesky on ball defender (co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year) and fits the mold of a 3-and-D wing NBA teams so crave these days. The senior from Silver Springs, Maryland is also a fabulous slasher and rebounder, making him an ideal bench piece for any contender. Every year it seems like a big time college player goes undrafted and then excels in his rookie campaign, last season it was Malcolm Brogdon and this year it could be Josh Hart.

Cameron Oliver-Power Forward-Nevada

Casual college basketball fans have probably never heard of Cam Oliver and chances are a lot of NBA draft fans haven’t either. I guess that’s what happens when you play in the Mountain West Conference, but Oliver is a prospect that should not be overlooked. Sure, he’s a bit undersized for a power forward at 6’8, but Oliver spurned some of those concerns at the NBA combine where he showcased off his 7/2 wingspan and athleticism. The sophomore from Nevada impressed with a 3.16 three-quarter court sprint and 39.5 max vertical. As a member of the Wolf Pack, Oliver was known for his vicious dunks and relentless motor and at the very minimum projects to be an energy guy at the next level. However, his ceiling is much higher as he shot 38% from 3 in 2016-17 on 5 attempts per game and can be a force on the defensive end, evident by the fact that he recorded 5 or more blocks in 5 different games last season. You never want to throw out the Draymond Green comparisons, but Oliver shares some similar traits with the Warrior star. If you’re going to swing for the fences with a second round pick, then why not take a chance on Oliver.

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