Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Boozer, Dennis Rodman, Gilbert Arenas.
What do those five names have in common?
Aside from being some of the best players in the NBA during their primes, each of them was a second-round draft pick, and this is just a very small portion of the list of great players (Do Willis Reed and Hal Greer ring a bell?) who have come through the adversity of falling to the second round.
This year, there are several multi-talented players who will likely fall to the second round, but could also make significant impacts in the league if they land in the right place. Let’s take a look at a few players who fit this criteria, and are legitimate “sleepers” in the 2013 Draft.
Phil Pressey, Guard, Missouri
We kick things off with Phil Pressey, the electrifying, pass-first point guard from Missouri. The lists of strengths for Pressey is pretty long, and he averaged an impressive 7.1 assists per game this season with the Tigers. He’s extremely quick, and seems to be very confident and comfortable with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, this comfort level leads to issues for Pressey, as it leads to significant shot selection concerns for the point guard. At just under 6-feet, he needs big-time room to get his shot off, and because his jumper lags behind the rest of his game, his field goal percentage suffered in a big way in college, finishing at just 37.6% in his final season.
Obviously, he can’t succeed at a high level in the NBA while shooting that poorly, but there is reason to believe that he could alter his game as more of a role player to find a niche in the league. I’ve always liked Pressey, and if he landed in the right system that didn’t ask more of him than to be a distributor, he could really flourish. However, there are multiple published mock drafts that have Pressey going undrafted (NBADraft.net is the most high-profile), and he’s really plummeted in some circles.
Jeff Withey, Center, Kansas
This selection is a bit of a cheat. After all, Withey has been considered a fringe 1st-round player for much of the draft process, and there is a real chance that he could land in the bottom-half of the the opening round. With that said, Withey is a divisive player, and most mocks (both ESPN and Draft Express) have him landing in the 2nd round.
He has one big-time skill, and that is in his shot blocking prowess. For reference, Withey averaged 3.9 blocks per game under 31 minutes as a senior at Kansas, and he demonstrated the ability to change the entire game with his rim protection. In addition, he has pretty good mobility around the rim, allowing him to show on pick-and-rolls, and that gives him a boost in the NBA game. The negatives around Withey are also plentiful, however.
His offensive game lags well behind his defense, as he has no post game to speak of, and while he improved both around the rim and in the mid-range as a senior, he is far from a finished product. Also, Withey is already 23 years old, and while that seems young in most circles of life, that is ancient by today’s NBA “prospect” standards. If Withey falls to the second round, I firmly believe that teams would be crazy to pass on him, and even if his offense never arrives, he can be a rotation big man in the league simply based on his defensive abilities.
CJ Leslie, Forward, NC State
I honestly can’t believe that CJ Leslie has fallen this far. He has the college production (15 points, 8 boards a game last season), the high-level size (6-foot-9, 210 pounds) and athleticism, and even has the major-college pedigree out of NC State. I think Leslie’s drop on draft boards has been a result of “too much tape” on him, and the ability of scouts to pick him apart a bit. There are weaknesses in Leslie’s game, as he is a dreadful free-throw shooter who doesn’t score well on the box, but the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. If we took a rewind to about 10 years ago, Leslie would be a top-10 pick just on his “upside”, and as a result of that, he should go in the 1st round.
Why wouldn’t an NBA team want a guy who knows how to play, can run the floor, can handle the ball, and can shoot it with range at 6-foot-9? If you can’t tell, I’m all-in on Leslie, and if he lasts this far, an NBA team will have a steal in round two.
Mike Muscala, Center, Bucknell
Wait, a big man from Bucknell!? Really? Yes, I really, really like Muscala. His stock has risen in recent days and weeks on the back of some impressive workouts, but Muscala’s play on the court at Bucknell was tremendous as well. He averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game as a senior, and while the competition levl was admittedly suspect, Muscala also produced against big-time opponents like Missouri (25 points, 14 rebounds), George Mason (16 points, 15 rebounds), and Purdue (14 points, 10 rebounds).
He is an extremely efficient player, as he posted a college PER (player efficiency rating) of 36.34, and shot 51% from the field with 79% from the free-throw line. The #1 attribute that has scouts excited about Muscala is his basketball IQ, and he seems to always be in the right place at the right time. I have a soft spot for smart players, and he fits the bill. I don’t see any scenario where he becomes a flat-out stiff in the NBA, and while his defensive ability could be average at best based on his failure to cover a lot of ground, there is definitely a place for Muscala in the league.
Deshaun Thomas, Guard/Forward, Ohio State
This one is incredibly simple. Deshaun Thomas has one elite skill, and that elite skill is in supreme demand in the NBA. He can flat-out score. He averaged 20 points a game in the grueling Big 10 as a junior, and he did so using his good size (6-foot-7) and ability to score in various ways. I believe that Thomas’ ceiling is that of a 6th man (you’ll see why in a moment), but if his scoring ability translates like it should, he’ll be valuable. The negatives around Thomas are severe. He has motor questions (to be kind), shot selection issues, and basically doesn’t possess another NBA skill aside from scoring (unless versatility counts).
He will be a boom-or-bust player, which, in short, is why he’s fallen this far, but in the right system where a team can hide his weaknesses, there is upside.
Archie Goodwin, Guard, Kentucky
Archie Goodwin can’t shoot. Plain and simple. When he came out of high school as a huge prize for Kentucky, there was reason to think that he would an NBA lottery pick, or at least a first-rounder after a year at Kentucky. However, it is very tough to take a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who can’t shoot. For reference, Goodwin shot 44% from the floor in college, and an abominable 27% from the college 3-point line while tanking to 64% from the free-throw line.
For all of the positives about Goodwin, if he can’t fix the jumper, it isn’t going to matter. Those positives are numerous, as he is very athletic, has big-time skills, and seems to genuinely play hard, but it all comes back to the jumper. He will never fall past the middle of the 2nd round simply because he has huge upside, but the team will need to hire a shooting coach.
Brandon Paul, Guard, Illinois
This is the definition of a deep sleeper. Neither DraftExpress or NBADraft.net currently has Paul being drafted at all, but I like him. Paul produced at the college level to the tune of 17 points a game at Illinois, and he’s an explosive athlete. As the game moves more toward analytics, Paul is taking a big hit for his lack of efficiency. There are big-time shot selection concerns, but in my opinion, those can be fixed by removing him from the responsibility of carrying the entire offense, as he was forced to do in college.
He has very, very long arms (6-foot-4 height, 6-foot-10 wingspan) which allows him to make up for lack of height, and he can get to the rim at ease. Much like Goodwin, he could use a jump-shooting coach, but the athletic ability and pedigree is there, and teams picking in the 50-60 range could a lot worse than Paul.
Glen Rice, Jr., Guard/Forward – Georgia Tech/NBDL
Rice took a long, winding road to the NBA Draft. He parted ways with Georgia Tech before last season by being kicked off the team, and a result, he ended up in the NBA D-League for last season. However, due to a unique rule, Rice has entered the draft, and subsequently shot up draft boards. Chad Ford has Rice all the way up at #24 among his “Top 100″, and NBADraft.net has snuck Rice into their 1st round.
He lands on my 2nd-round sleepers list, because that is still his general expectation, but Rice is rising. He plays big-time defense, and at 6-foot-6, has the size and ability to become a stopper at that end in the NBA. Hilariously, Rice’s pedigree as Glen Rice Sr.’s son has not translated into an above-average jump shot, and he’ll need to improve his game in that area to reach rotation status in the NBA. While the off-court issues are troublesome, this is also a player who, at age 22, has been through life, and he has already succeeded in professional hoops as he blew up the D-League. I like Rice a lot, and if he falls into the 2nd (he may not), that’s a value.
There you have it! As many sports fan turn their televisions off and close their laptops at the completion of the first round, NBA general managers dig in to find “their” sleepers. Picks like the aforementioned Manu Ginobili can revolutionize a franchise (see Spurs, San Antonio), and while none of these players will likely ever reach that level, they could make a tremendous impact.