Unpredictability is the calling card of the NBA draft. While we’ll have a pretty good grasp on the top 14 selections when June draws near, the draft order is still wide open, and a lot will change between now and draft day.
Stars like Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett and Marcus Smart have done everything they had to in order to secure a top selection in June. Barring unforeseen circumstances, each player stands to find a home in the top 10 picks.
Lottery order will have an impact on where mid-round prospects are eventually selected, but there’s a lot of talent to be had in this draft class. Given the limited number of lottery selections, some quality prospects are going to drop past No. 14 to a playoff squad.
Not being selected in the lottery doesn’t guarantee NBA failure, but there’s a reason the top-14 picks are so highly coveted. The following players may find themselves still waiting to hear their name when non-playoff squads are finished selecting in the first round.
Mason Plumlee, F, Duke
Senior forward Mason Plumlee has been projected anywhere from No. 10 to No. 20 in most recent mock drafts, and given the availability of talented big men in this class, there’s a good chance he ends up closer to the lower end of that range when all is said and done.
The biggest obstacle for Plumlee in the draft is his age. At 23, NBA teams would like to see a little more refinement in his offensive game at this point. As it stands, Plumlee still has a lot of work to do in order to be a true scoring threat in the paint.
Athleticism is one of his best attributes—and one that translates well to the NBA level—but the lack of a consistent mid-range jumper and questions about his toughness may scare off some teams interested in the Duke big man.
Every prospect has areas that need improvement, and Plumlee is certainly more talented than a lot of players in this draft class. But being a senior without NBA polish is always going to be a detriment that could facilitate a slide down the draft board.
If the 6’11” forward falls past Dallas and (potentially) Phoenix towards the bottom of the lottery, expect him to find a home with a team like Chicago that won’t be forced to rely on him heavily in his formative years.
C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh
Sometimes it’s all about perspective.
Lehigh combo guard C.J. McCollum is going to experience one of two things on draft day: a prolific slide down the draft board or surprisingly high selection in the lottery. It’s hard to find a middle ground for a player who typifies being in the middle.
At 6’3”, McCollum is too small for the traditional 2-guard position, but his skill set translates well enough to warrant further consideration. The senior is a prolific shooter who has an innate ability to create his own shot and separate from defenders.
That won’t be as easy in the NBA, and a transition to point guard may ultimately be in his future. But to do so, McCollum will have to work on his ability to create opportunities for his teammates.
The Canton, Ohio native isn’t a particularly explosive athlete, and his ability to penetrate and score in the paint is largely dependent on how well he is shooting from behind the arc on a given night. There’s just so much uncertainty as to how he projects to the NBA level.
Still, there’s a lot to like about McCollum’s game, and he won’t make it past the 20th pick. I just don’t anticipate him finding a spot in the top 15, either.
Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Louisville senior Gorgui Dieng had an up-and-down college career, never fully reaching the potential he showed as an athletic freshman big man.
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Dieng is still extremely athletic (with tremendous length to match), but there are some inconsistencies in his game that warrant a closer look. Those inconsistencies may also facilitate a slide down the draft board in June.
At 6’11”, Dieng has the size to be a terrific defender at the NBA level. Already a strong rebounder and shot-blocker, the 23-year-old fits the mold of several athletic centers to come before him in recent years.
What he lacks, however, is a consistent offensive game that is essential in strong NBA contributors. Dieng’s athleticism and mobility make him a prime pick-and-roll partner, but the true post moves that define NBA big men just aren’t there at this point.
Like Plumlee, age will factor into Dieng’s draft stock. Paired with his unpolished offensive skills and the availability of more offensively refined big men in this draft, the Louisville product may ultimately have to wait until the late-teens to hear his name announced.