The 2012 NBA draft is four days away!
Sleepers. Dark horses. Diamonds in the rough. Call them what you may, but every draft has them: players who exceed all expectations—against all odds—and succeed after being chosen in the depths of the draft.
This draft is no different. Listed here are five prime players who are projected to fall into the late first round or early second round. I believe their talent level exceeds their projection, and they will become great players in the NBA.
I know Jared Sullinger isn't the prototypical "sleeper," but after disconcerting measurements at the combine and a medical red flag, he has slipped on everyone's draft boards. Even after averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per outing in college.
I don't buy into the fact he was given a red flag on back issues, seeing as it's a minor musculoskeletal problem because of his intensely strong quad muscles.
And, for the scrutiny given him on his measurements, just look at his game. He's undersized, but he's a true basketball player. His talent, skill, and basketball IQ outweigh the miniscule physical shortcomings by far.
Sullinger will fall in the draft, but the team who steals him will get a Carlos Boozer-type player with ferocious basketball skills and a fiery passion for the game.
Fab Melo has the most upside of any player on this list, and was a force down low for the Syracuse Orange this past season.
His collegiate numbers of 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game don't do him justice, as he is a very talented basketball player with a lot of size and athleticism. Melo is already an excellent shot-blocker, though, at 2.9 rejections per outing in 2011-12.
Expect him to be drafted in the middle of the first-round or just outside of the lottery. I imagine him to be a Marcin Gortat-type player with a better upside and more athleticism.
This lengthy guard from France is slowly rising up draft boards.
Unlike most international players, Paul Lacombe plays with toughness and a constant drive to dominate when he gets the ball. Along with that toughness, Lacombe is a consistently smooth player with crafty ball handling skills and explosiveness around the rim.
His shooting form is perfect, and he's a deadly shooter from deep. Lacombe's mid-range skills could stand to be improved, though.
Paul Lacombe's game is clearly European modeled, but you can sense the tenacity and fearlessness in how he performs that is so sought after in the NBA.
If you compare him to Evan Fournier, another French prospect who is projected to be drafted above him, you immediately get a feel that Lacombe is the more NBA-ready player.
He reminds me of a combination of Andrei Kirilenko and Manu Ginobili—two great international players with sterling careers in the league.
Look for him to have a quiet start in the NBA, with an eruption at the end of his rookie season or beginning sophomore season—all depending on the team that selects him, of course.
Hollis Thompson is one of those players who played in a system where it was difficult to stand out and garner attention. He posted great numbers at the draft combine, though, and made himself known there.
Thompson has a truly beautiful touch on the basketball and a graceful stroke from deep. Any team who needs a talented shooter with size and a fair amount of upside shouldn't think twice about snatching up Hollis Thompson.
His college averages for Georgetown last year were 12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists per game.
I'm absolutely in love with Scott Machado's game. The NCAA leader in assists in 2012 at 9.9 per game, Machado is a much better passer than any other point guard prospect in the draft, including UNC's Kendall Marshall.
Machado's court vision is simply jaw-dropping. He doesn't usually go for the "flashy" pass, but his simple passes still amaze you.
Most point guards can hang their hat on being either a half-court facilitator or a floor general in the transition game. Machado is both, at no expense to one or the other; whereas, Kendall Marshall is definitely a half-court player with an OK feel for transition.
Machado has a great shooting stroke, as well, and can hit a shot or score when needed. He's a terrific defender and is active in passing lanes. On top of those 9.9 assists, he averaged 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds (wow!), and 1.6 steals while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.