Not every team in the 2015 NBA draft will have an opportunity to select a marquee talent.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor will be gone in the blink of an eye, then D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow. Plenty of other top-notch prospects will join the night’s procession across the stage, shaking NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand and officially joining the ranks of the Association.
If you’re lower in the proceedings, you have to find steals. Draft-day gems can be the difference between being good and great a few seasons down the road, and unearthing them is a sure sign a team is headed in the right direction.
During the 2014-15 season, K.J. McDaniels made a big impact for the Philadelphia 76ers before he was traded to the Houston Rockets, and he was selected two spots after the final pick of the first round had come and gone. Jordan Clarkson went from being No. 46 to making the All-Rookie First Team. Langston Galloway wasn’t even drafted, and he was on the second team.
This year, similar stories will surely unfold for a few teams, and that’s why we’re getting an early jump. The following players are the ones whose production could outshine their draft-day positioning by the widest margins, which is why you won’t find any potential lottery picks listed.
Prospects like Cameron Payne, Stanley Johnson and Mario Hezonja—among others, of course—could indeed turn into steals. But they can rise only so high.
2014-15 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 18.7 PER
DraftExpress Mock Draft Position: No. 49
NBADraft.net Mock Draft Position: Undrafted
You can never have enough shooting. Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes detailed that quite nicely after the NBA’s last four teams standing this postseason were squads that consistently lived by the three-ball:
The most notable rule changes in NBA history—widening the lane, outlawing goaltending, the elimination of hand-checking, the addition of the offensive foul—were designed to inhibit the biggest, most physically dominant players.
Quietly, the league has always preferred skill, precision and smarts over strength.
Now, a handful of teams are showing that same preference. And one of them is going to win a ring.
This plays right into Michael Frazier’s hands.
As DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony showed in a shooting breakdown for Yahoo Sports, the Florida 2-guard ranked among the top five prospects this year in a number of categories:
- No. 2 in three-pointers attempted per 40 minutes, behind only Tyler Harvey (more on him later)
- No. 4 in free-throw percentage, trailing just Joseph Young, Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones
- No. 5 in catch-and-shoot points per 40 minutes, behind Daniel Diez, Mario Hezonja, Pat Connaughton (more on him, too) and Kristaps Porzingis
Frazier isn’t a tremendously versatile prospect. He’s mediocre with the ball in his hands and will need to overcome his slightly below-average size in order to make an impact on defense.
But the NBA is in love with spot-up shooters who thrive moving around screens or showing off proper mechanics, and justifiably so. That’s Frazier in a nutshell, and he shouldn’t have any trouble making the transition to the next level, so long as he finds himself on a team that can make the most of his biggest talent.
International Team: Pinheiros/Sky
2014-15 Per-Game Stats: 2.5 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.6 PER
DraftExpress Mock Draft Position: No. 41
NBADraft.net Mock Draft Position: No. 58
George de Paula’s draft stock* isn’t dependent on his production prior to declaring for the selection process. The 19-year-old (and he only recently celebrated that birthday) played sparingly for Pinheiros in Brazil’s top professional league, and there isn’t much evidence he has the tools necessary to compete in the Association.
There isn’t much evidence he doesn’t have them, either.
In fact, as Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders tweeted in the middle of May, “NBA prospect George Lucas is a 6’6 PG with a 7’0 wingspan. That’s the longest wingspan ever measured for a PG in @DraftExpress’ database.”
No, that’s not a typo. De Paula is a freakishly large point guard who will be able to use his size to see over virtually any defender and length to wreak havoc on the defensive end. For the sake of comparison, Shaun Livingston measured in with an extra 1¾” on his frame and an inch less from fingertip to fingertip back in 2004.
This Brazilian guard is by no means a polished player yet. But what prospect is at 19 years old?
If he develops a jumper, he’ll be even more intriguing. But for now, his ability to back down smaller defenders in the post, show off some impressive dribbling skills and feature his intense defensive attitude gives him a rather promising outlook. Even if he’s only able to serve as a one-way contributor while he develops, his point-preventing game is already further along than it should be.
Much like Bruno Caboclo last year, de Paula may as well be two years away from being two years away. But when he arrives, he could prove he was a lottery-level talent.
School: Eastern Washington
2014-15 Per-Game Stats: 23.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.9 PER
DraftExpress Mock Draft Position: No. 60
NBADraft.net Mock Draft Position: Undrafted
It’s not easy to score like Tyler Harvey.
In fact, it’s so difficult that not a single player in the entire NCAA basketball landscape could match his output for Eastern Washington in 2014-15. He led the nation with 23.1 points per game, doing so with healthy doses of marksmanship, agility in the half-court set and the ability to create open looks both on and off the ball.
Oh, and this wasn’t the first time Harvey put up big numbers.
He shot 46.9 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, but last year he was throwing up 21.8 points per contest and drilling his looks from the field and downtown at respective clips of 44.3 and 43.3 percent. Only seven players in the country had a higher scoring average in 2013-14.
“What will help Harvey is the fact that he only needs a small amount of space to get his shot, as he has a lightning quick release and a high release point that will make it difficult for taller defenders to block. His form doesn’t look all that conventional, but it works…” Josh Riddell wrote for DraftExpress.com.
Harvey isn’t an athletic phenom, and he’s a bit undersized as a shooting guard (6’4″ with a 6’5½” wingspan). But his release and body control allow him to make up for those deficits, and he’s drawn a rather interesting comparison from one notable draftnik.
As ESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote in early May, “He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a young Stephen Curry, and I think his backstory points to a young man who, like Curry, will keep working on and improving his game to the point that he can be something special.”
Not bad for someone who probably won’t be coming off the board until late in the second round.
School: Notre Dame
2014-15 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.4 PER
DraftExpress Mock Draft Position: Undrafted
NBADraft.net Mock Draft Position: Undrafted
Pat Connaughton may not be considered a first-round prospect at this stage of the process, but he certainly has the tools necessary to emerge as a second-round gem.
The fact that he soared 44 inches into the air during the vertical leap portion of the combine, posting a mark that left him tied with Shane Larkin for the No. 2 score ever, helps. It’s obviously not the only reason he’s a potential steal, however. Plenty of uber-athletic prospects have flopped out of the league rather quickly.
First, he’s consistently shown he can stroke in jumpers from beyond the arc. He did exactly that during each of his four seasons with the Fighting Irish, as you can see below:
|Season||3PA per Game||3P%|
It’s the improvement that’s so impressive. Not only did he get increasingly accurate while taking more shots as a sophomore, but he also maintained his percentage as a junior despite another uptick in usage. And then, during his final season with Notre Dame, he basically couldn’t miss.
If elite athleticism and high-quality marksmanship aren’t enough, how about a bit of lockdown defense for good measure? That’s probably more relevant than Connaughton’s skill on a baseball diamond, even if the Baltimore Orioles did take him with the 121st pick of last year’s draft.
He’s an energy guy with enough length to make an impact in passing lanes. But he’s also a smart defender who understands positioning intuitively and makes the right reads in both on- and off-ball situations.
Don’t be dissuaded by his age.
2014-15 Per-Game Stats: 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 4.5 blocks, 29.4 PER
DraftExpress Mock Draft Position: No. 25
NBADraft.net Mock Draft Position: No. 52
If Robert Upshaw can show he has what it takes between the ears, he could prove to be the second coming of DeAndre Jordan. He’s that talented, and it helps that three parts of his profile mesh rather nicely with what the Los Angeles Clippers star does on the basketball court.
For now, we’ll look past the putrid free-throw shooting. That’s obviously a big downside that will need to be shored up rather quickly once he hits the professional ranks, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker for a prospect this talented.
Upshaw is just about as good as it gets when it comes to swatting shots. Those 4.5 blocks per game are impressive enough, but this 21-year-old center spent only 24.9 minutes on the floor during his average contest. Yes, that means he was rejecting 7.2 looks per 40 minutes prior to leaving the Washington program.
Upshaw was also a stellar finisher around the hoop and an athletic cutter on pick-and-roll plays. That’s a major reason why he shot 59.3 percent from the field.
“I feel like I can add a lot of offense to a team…In college, I was a role player—I blocked shots, ran the floor, rebounded,” Upshaw toldBleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, mentioning LaMarcus Aldridge as a player he tries to emulate. “But over the past three months, I’ve been able to work on my game and tighten up a few things.”
The big man will certainly draw red flags for his character heading into the draft. That’s the inevitable byproduct of being kicked off both the Fresno State and Washington squads for violations of team rules. But he’s been open about his past and has shown signs of significant reform, which should allow him to start realizing the true extent of his on-court talent.
Upshaw is certainly risky.
He’s also quite good at this whole basketball thing.