2013 NBA Draft: Predicting the Biggest Late-Round Steals
The NBA draft’s second round is typically filled with uncertainty and low expectations. Prospects slated to go picks 30 through 60 generally lack upside or a redeeming quality that leads coaching staffs to believe they’re a strong candidate to contribute.
But every so often, someone slips through the cracks.
Whether it’s a physical flaw or poor setting, certain convertible skill sets can be masked at the college level, making some prospects difficult to seek out and identify as a potential contributor.
The following players may not generate much first-round buzz, but pack serious value if left available at the back end of the draft.
Rodney Williams, Minnesota
Rarely is drafting a prospect based solely on athleticism a justifiable decision. This is one of those rare cases.
While most finish on the way up to the rim, Williams finishes on the way down, making the basket seem like it’s set at nine feet instead of 10. Because of his ability to take off from out to 10 feet from the hoop, he makes it difficult for defenders to establish position and contest without looking foolish or committing a foul.
The openness of the NBA game will be a fitting setting for Williams, who’s most effective after gaining momentum and steam with the ball or without it.
While he’s widely considered a second-round prospect due to his lack of offensive polish, he averaged 19 points a game over the team’s last six contests, leading the Gophers to the NIT Championship game.
He won’t be asked to create much offense at the next level, but Williams’ physical attributes would immediately grant him access to the NBA’s most electrifying athlete’s club. It could be scary to think what would happen if he started finding ways to get himself points.
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame
Jack Cooley has the name of a movie star with the game of a production assistant.
Cleaning the glass, tracking down loose balls and handling the dirty work inside are a few of the responsibilities Cooley is capable of efficiently fulfilling. Strong rebounding typically translates from level to level because of the instincts and nose for the ball that's required to be effective.
He averaged 12 points and nine rebounds on 62 percent shooting, rarely leaving the paint while providing the Irish with a consistent interior presence and reliable source of production.
While not the sexiest athlete in terms of style, flash or haircut, Cooley could provide frontcourt depth as a physical banger down low.
Michael Dixon, Missouri
While most see him as an undersized off-ball guard playing alongside Phil Pressey, Dixon’s strengths should allow NBA teams to classify him as a point guard prospect.
Dixon’s quick first step allows him to beat his defender at will, creating five-on-fours and driving lanes for him to either attack the rim or create open looks for teammates.
His numbers as a junior are telling when you consider he played secondary ball-handler in a rotation with other NBA talent. In just 26 minutes, Dixon averaged 13 points, 3.3 assists and 1.6 turnovers while getting to the line almost four times a game. He’s shot more than 35 percent from three in all three years at Missouri, and presents a balanced offensive package as an aggressive, versatile guard.
He enters his senior year as one of the most undervalued guard prospects in the country, and should start to generate some NBA buzz as conference play gets underway.
Kenny Kadji, Miami
Some flaws are just not meant to be fixed.
Though 6’11'', Kadji lacks the comfort level to regularly play down low. But instead of harping on his deficiencies, why not focus on his strengths and recognize how they translate to the next level?
Kadji's range, accurate shooting stroke and picturesque mechanics make him a qualified candidate as a pick-and-pop option or floor-spacer on the perimeter. He nailed 41 percent of his three-point attempts, and looks confident and comfortable as a catch and shooter out to 23 feet.
The fact that we know Kadji’s limitations before he steps foot on an NBA court could save him and prospective teams all sorts of time trying to figure out how to use him. It took a guy like Channing Frye years to realize his identity as a stretch forward instead of a power one.
Teams looking to improve spacing should be in the market for Kadji's services as perimeter big who can stretch the floor with his jumper.
C.J. Wilcox, Washington
Teams looking to fill gaps in their rotation might want to take a look at C.J. Wilcox, whose perimeter scoring prowess could blend nicely with ball-dominant guards and bigs who attract attention in the post.
Wilcox sports one of the most fluid jumpers you’ll see, with catch-and-shoot rhythm that could put a crying baby to sleep. He’s shot more than 40 percent from downtown in back-to-back years on 4.8 and 5.7 attempts, respectively, eliminating any notion that his pinpoint accuracy has been fluky.
He also has the poise, patience and handle to use fakes, put the ball on the floor and shoot it off the dribble—a valued NBA skill.
At 6’5'' with a developing NBA frame, Wilcox possesses classic shooting guard size and an outside touch that helps space the floor and complement his counterparts.
Elijah Johnson, Kansas
While Johnson’s consistency issues as a junior have hampered his NBA draft stock, he won’t be relied upon as a top-three scoring option on a nightly basis in the pros.
Johnson should be a lot more effective in a limited role, where he’ll be able to focus on his strengths without trying to overdo it.
His NBA tools are undeniable. At 6’3", he’s an explosive athlete who can handle the ball, attack the rim and knock down shots on the perimeter. More offensive freedom should be a nice perk for Johnson, whose consistency woes might be tied to the overly methodical nature of the college game.
While some might fear his lack of a true position, others might be enthralled by his versatility and balance as a scorer and playmaker.
Look for Johnson to emerge as a potential steal if more than 30 teams decide to pass the first time around.
Robert Covington, Tennessee State
Covington has added more inches and weight throughout college than I did during my entire adolescence. Initially considered a hard 3, Covington now has a legitimate NBA build while transforming from misfit to mismatch at the 4.
He averaged 17 points and nearly eight rebounds a game as a junior, lighting up slow-footed big men on the perimeter and small forwards inside. However, as an NBA prospect, his most appealing feature is his blend of size and outside accuracy. He knocked down an astonishing 45 percent of his threes in back-to-back years, a stat that will be made known to scouts during their evaluation process.
Considering most mid-major prospects get downgraded due to the inferior competition they face, Covington could go overlooked by dozens of scouts and decision-makers. It's a recipe for late-round thievery.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Those held up on Jackson’s under-6'0" label need to be reminded of the success others have had effectively using their athleticism and elusiveness to negate a lack of size.
Arguably the quickest guard in the country, Jackson’s ability to break down a defense and push the break make him an excellent candidate to land a job as a long-term backup point guard.
Jackson can also provide instant offense as a penetrator or perimeter threat, where his 40 percent three-ball makes defenders pay for going under ball screens. While his size does limit his upside, Jackson could provide a spark to a half-court team in need of life and tempo.
Remember, 5'9'' Isaiah Thomas out of Washington went 60th overall. He's now the starting point guard for the Sacramento Kings.
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair's instincts at the rim, versatility and overall efficiency quickly earned a role in Jim Boeheim's rotation. This was before his skill set expanded to NBA-caliber status.
At 6'8'' with long arms and quick feet, Fair has the ability to play both inside and out. A true combo forward who can man the 3 or the 4, he's an excellent finisher at the rim and sports a soft touch on the perimeter.
We've seen Fair adapt to his competition, using his high basketball IQ to recognize what needed to change, and what he needed to add. Word out of Syracuse camp is that his three-point stroke has been money, which would add another dimension to his already diverse repertoire.
Because he doesn't dominate the glass, score at will or trigger fear defensively, Fair remains under the radar and seemingly off the first-round radar. It's the ideal setting for a late-round steal if the secret remains kept.
Dexter Strickland, North Carolina
Strickland’s name will come with an asterisk after he tore his ACL last January, which only makes him a stronger candidate to play sleeper late in next summer’s draft.
North Carolina’s most effective perimeter ball-stopper, Strickland’s gritty style of play and “jack-of-all-trades” skill set will attract attention from coaches looking for depth, character and efficiency. Though his ceiling lacks height, he offers minimal risk and a high basement for a second-round prospect.
With NBA athleticism, secondary ball-handling capabilities and contagious unselfishness, Strickland could be a value pick as a long-term role player off the bench.
Amath M'Baye, Oklahoma
Amath M'Baye will have the athletic edge on 90 percent of his defenders at either forward position.
After transferring from Wyoming and red-shirting last year at Oklahoma, viewers will finally get a good look at one of the most underrated prospects in America.
At 6'9'' with the mobility of a small forward, M'Baye's physical stature is ideal for the combo forward position at the next level. He's shown a soft touch in the midrange and the ability to attack north and south from the perimeter, though isn't considered a post player or high-volume rebounder.
Whether M'Baye can add to his in between game (creating offense off the dribble) will dictate where he goes in June, as his athleticism and size are both extremely attractive features. Though still somewhat of a project, he's a project worth pursuing due to his rare physical attributes. If his ceiling is reached, he becomes a steal anywhere in the second round.