NBA Draft 2012: Who Will Be the Isaiah Thomas of This Year's Draft?

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NBA Draft 2012: Who Will Be the Isaiah Thomas of This Year's Draft?
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The mark of a great draft is being able to find late-round sleepers like Sacramento did last season with point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas turned out to be a big value pick, going from being the last player picked to a contributor for a young Kings team. Thomas averaged 11.5 points and 4.6 assists in 65 games with Sacramento last season, 37 of them starts.

The ability to find gems late in the draft is what helps build contenders. As much credit as Miami's Big Three get for being an integral part of winning it all this season, they got solid contributions from guys like point guard Mario Chalmers. Chalmers was taken with the fourth pick in the second round in 2008.

Another good example of a team using the second round to find key pieces to build their dynasty is the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio struck gold in 1999 by using the 28th pick in the second round to take a lanky guard out of Argentina named Manu Ginobili. Ten years later, they got lucky in the second round again when they used the seventh pick in the second round on undersized Pittsburgh forward DeJuan Blair. Stephen Jackson, another key member of the Spurs, was also a second-round pick.

Tomorrow night, teams will hope to replicate Miami and San Antonio's good fortune by finding the next Ginobili or Blair or Thomas.

That brings us to why we're here. In what appears to be a pretty deep draft, who will be the Isaiah Thomas of the 2012 NBA draft?

For me, the player who comes to mind just so happens to have gone to Thomas' alma mater, the University of Washington. That guy is guard Tony Wroten. At 6'5 and 205 pounds, Wroten is a big guard who can play both positions in the backcourt. In his only season with the Huskies, he averaged 16 points, five rebounds and nearly four assists per game for the Huskies. He also averaged 1.9 steals.

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Wroten is a freakish athlete and gifted scorer, but he's not without his faults. He averaged nearly four turnovers per game at Washington, as he tends to get a bit reckless with the ball. For someone who scores like he does, he doesn't do much from behind the arc. Wroten shot just 16 percent from the three three-point line last season.

It's those weaknesses that has moved him down draft boards. In the six mock drafts I've read, only three had Wroten going in the first round, and only one had him higher than Golden State at No. 30. Wroten is a poor man's Tyreke Evans who can develop into a solid starter with some good coaching. His quick first step will be his bread and butter until he develops a more consistent jump shot.

If a team like Charlotte, who needs help everywhere, snatches up Wroten with the first pick of the second round, I think the Bobcats would have one of the draft's biggest steals. He's only 19, so he has time to get better, and he could have an immediate impact on a Bobcats team that needs scorers. He'd also benefit from learning from one of the game's best combo guards in the recently acquired Ben Gordon.

Another prospect who teams will regret letting slide in the draft is Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger. Sullinger looked like a sure-fire lottery pick when he came back to start his sophomore season this year, but issues arose as the season progressed. Recently, teams "red-flagged" Sullinger because of concerns over his back.

In mock drafts, I've seen Sullinger go 19th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd. That's pretty low for a guy who averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds per game last season and averaged 17 and 10 as a freshman in the Big Ten. Adding insult to injury, Sullinger wasn't even among the prospects of whom were invited to the draft. It's slights like this that drive winners like Sullinger.

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Yes, the bad back is a legit concern. They said the same thing about DeJuan Blair's knees. Yes, Sullinger is a bit undersized and has questionable athletic ability. The same can be said about Carlos Boozer, an All-Star forward whom Sullinger has drawn comparisons to. He was also the best player on a Buckeye team that narrowly lost to Kansas in the Final Four.

Every year, teams over-analyze prospects or get too enamored with individual workouts or highlight reels. It's why guys like Sullinger and Wroten will fall to teams that know how to utilize them properly, and scouts will look back and kick themselves.

The good teams take chances on kids who are a little rough around the edges and mold them into solid players. Occasionally, a team like the Thunder make it to the NBA Finals with three lottery picks as their core. They are the exception to the rule. Behind every great team is a guy who went under-appreciated in the draft and made the doubters pay.

Tomorrow night, Jared Sullinger and Tony Wroten will join the long line of underdogs who beat the odds and made believers out of all of their skeptics.

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