Each year, the NBA draft produces star-quality players that were not rated as such in pre-draft lists of prospects with talent to contribute to the table right away. In some cases, that talent doesn't appear until several seasons of NBA duty has been completed, while others prove rankings to be faulty right away.
Although many "sleeper" prospects come to light as second-round picks and undrafted free agents, there's a place for first-round prospects in that category, too, especially when you look at the ledger over the past couple of seasons.
Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Jimmy Butler were mid-to-late first-round prospects in the 2011 NBA draft who are bordering on stardom, and little-known Weber State guard Damian Lillard was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft; he joined fellow first-rounders Evan Fournier and Festus Ezeli in the "sleeper" category.
Expect the 2013 NBA draft to produce a number of talented guys who weren't on anyone's radar before the selection process is over in June.
While some of the names below may make you groan as a fan, don't discount the chance that the NBA brain trust of your choosing might know a little bit about development, talent and which players will be steals when we revisit this draft in a few years.
Here's a look at a fresh 2013 NBA mock draft, with an emphasis on guys who have the biggest potential to be sleepers when we are getting ready for this process again next summer, or when we take a look at the first 30 picks in five years.
*This mock draft does not account for trades that might or might not happen on draft night.
**Sleeper prospects will be italicized below (as such*).
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Speculation about what Cleveland will do with the No. 1 pick will mirror the decision that the Kansas City Chiefs had about their first overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft.
When it's all said and done, the potential of Kentucky center Nerlens Noel as a shot-blocker, player who can get above the rim on offense with some more development and a long-term starter at his position will be too hard to ignore with the No. 1 pick.
Otto Porter Jr. might be a better fit right away, but Noel helps Cleveland on defense and provides insurance at center should Anderson Varejao either get injured or be dangled by management in a potential trade.
2. Orlando Magic: SG Ben McLemore, Kansas
Orlando could do any number of things with the No. 2 pick, including but not limited to taking McLemore, Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo or Porter.
While the Magic might be holding out for Noel to fall to the No. 2 spot, there's a good chance a starter will be found with this pick, and Kansas' McLemore is a strong-shooting 2-guard with potential to turn into an All-Star at the position when the current collection of 2-guards starts to die off.
3. Washington Wizards: SF Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown
Porter is the key to this draft if you look at the top five picks, as he could fall anywhere in those first five picks and affect the entirety of the draft by being in a different spot.
As it falls right now, there's little chance he gets past Washington at No. 3.
A core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter would be a nice start for Washington's "we're back" campaign with respect to the Eastern Conference next season. With veteran talent like Trevor Ariza, Nene and Emeka Okafor providing leadership and young forwards Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely still improving, Porter helps bolster the starting lineup and a sneaky-good defense already in place in D.C.
4. Charlotte Bobcats: SG/SF Victor Oladipo, Indiana
The dial on Oladipo is moving to the right—more and more scouts, reporters and NBA personnel are keen on making him their top pick anywhere in the No. 2 to No. 6 range during this year's draft.
Greg Crawford of CSN Northwest calls Oladipo the best all-around player in the 2013 draft in a recent column, and it's a sentiment that many other analysts share when reviewing the tape on the three-year standout from Indiana.
There's very few players who had the offensive efficiency that Oladipo did in college, and there's a feeling that once his game expands even more in the NBA, he won't be just about playing defense and shooting long three-pointers.
The Bobcats might want Ben McLemore first, but Oladipo as a second-place prize wouldn't be such a bad thing, Charlotte fans. As the team transitions into a new era of young blood, a lineup anchored by defensive stars Oladipo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would have promise in a few years.
5. Phoenix Suns: SF/PF Anthony Bennett, UNLV
It's hard to project another 3/4 combo guy to the Suns after both Morris twins now reside in Phoenix, but Anthony Bennett is a special talent who shouldn't be ignored with respect to the top five picks in this draft.
Averaging over 16 points and eight rebounds with UNLV during his freshman season, Bennett should be able to play both small and power forward at the next level. If Phoenix is disappointed that top targets McLemore and Oladipo are off the board, it also wouldn't be surprising to see someone trade up with the Suns for this pick and the rights to Bennett.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: PG Trey Burke, Michigan
Much has been made about the Greivis Vasquez debate in New Orleans, but a point guard like Trey Burke only comes around a few times in the course of the NBA draft cycle.
Sure, Vasquez was one of the lone bright spots on the lottery-bound Hornets (now Pelicans) last season, but New Orleans can use him, Austin Rivers or Burke as trade bait in later years and have a solid guard rotation with a healthy Eric Gordon in the lineup.
7. Sacramento Kings: C/PF Cody Zeller, Indiana
There are proponents of Sacramento taking a guard with this pick, and for good reason—the Kings could use a 2-guard that will stretch the floor from the outside alongside Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans (should he return) with Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins in the middle.
Without a player like that who fills the need and is in the current projection range without being considered a reach, the Kings would do well to add Cody Zeller, a center with huge upside on offense with a good motor in sending shots away around the rim. He would help the frontcourt rotation, and would be insurance for Cousins should the embattled big man struggle with his attitude again next season.
8. Detroit Pistons: PG/SG Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Critics of this move will be quick to point out that Brandon Knight has a firm grip on the point guard spot in Detroit, but with both marquee small forwards off the board and depth on the wing thoroughly lacking heading into next season, Michael Carter-Williams would contribute right away for the Pistons.
Although he's been better with the ball in his hands at Syracuse than as an off-the-ball player, he showed flashes of brilliance during the NCAA tournament and has the size (6'6") to contend with shooting guards at the next level.
Detroit is also losing Jose Calderon and Will Bynum in free agency, so adding depth at the guard position should not be taken lightly for Pistons fans during this offseason period.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves: C Alex Len, Maryland
With the crapshoot behind Nerlens Noel at center, there's no guarantee Len falls this far in the draft. After an up-and-down two-season stint at Maryland with more promise than disappointment, Len is considered one of the most interesting prospects at his position.
Len averaged 9.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks over two years with the Terps and showed a nice array of post moves in the process. He's still improving his presence around the basket and overall consistency, but the Timberwolves might have a spot for Len right away depending on what happens with Nikola Pekovic in free agency.
Either way, he's a nice addition to the Minnesota frontcourt and has too much potential to slip any further down the board than No. 9.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: PG/SG C.J. McCollum, Lehigh*
McCollum won't get a lot of press as the top scorer in this draft, but if you look at his performance at Lehigh by the numbers, there's a very good case to be made that he is built for scoring the ball at all levels of play.
An injury knocked McCollum out of action midway through his senior season, but he finished his time in college with averages of 21.3 points on nearly 44 percent shooting and a 37.7 clip from the outside.
Those are numbers, along with his height (6'3") and high basketball IQ (whatever the gauge is for that stat these days) make him a sleeper prospect to watch for during his rookie season and beyond in the NBA.
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports listed McCollum as a sleeper to watch going forward, saying he has George Hill-like potential as a combo guard who can play both positions.
Where better to use those skills than Portland, where the Trail Blazers don't have a clear-cut option off the bench behind Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews at the 2-guard. As a bench scorer, McCollum could carve a niche on a Blazers team with the talent to compete in every game next season.
He also adds depth at the position, a move that will allow Lillard to not be overused during the early stages of his blossoming career. After bursting on the scene during the 2012 tournament in Lehigh's upset win over Duke, McCollum has been on everyone's draft radar.
He left it after breaking his foot, but that doesn't mean he won't be a productive pro at the next level. Look for whichever team selects McCollum to be raving about his long-term potential as a scorer and his ability to contribute off the bench right away.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: C/PF Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
The Sixers will be in the market for a big man this summer if Andrew Bynum finds new employment elsewhere, and all early signs point to the oft-injured center using free agency to find a new home for the next season.
As such, the Sixers should look at both the draft and the free-agent market to find an impact center to help Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and the rest of the current young core continue to grow.
Kelly Olynyk is 7'0", had one of the best seasons of any big man in college last year and his performance did not slow down during Gonzaga's two-game stint in the NCAA tournament, proving that his stock as a first-round talent in this draft was safe.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via TOR): C Rudy Gobert, France*
Rudy Gobert measured in at 7'2" at the NBA scouting combine, a number that is almost as impressive as his 7'9" wingspan and 9'7" standing reach.
Simply put, this guy can alter shots without much effort.
As noted by SLAM magazine writer Jake Fischer, Gobert has potential oozing out of his body and has the frame to back up any and all claims that he is going to wind up being one of—if not the—best overall center when we revisit this draft.
The knocks on Gobert center around how raw he is as a young player and whether or not he will be able to handle the Marc Gasols and Roy Hibberts of the world in the NBA. Not to take those questions lightly, but how many guys can right now?
If Gobert adds strength to his frame and continues to improve his presence on offense, there's no reason he won't be a steady contributor in the next three years. That makes Oklahoma City, who has whiffed on Cole Aldrich and might be nearing the end of their rope with Kendrick Perkins, an ideal fit as the Thunder continue to stockpile guys who can contribute for years to come.
13. Dallas Mavericks: SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
My past few mocks have seen the Mavericks looking at Shabazz Muhammad with the No. 13 pick, of course, that's to say that Dallas won't stay the course and trade the pick like ESPN's Chad Ford suggested it would after the 2013 lottery.
After looking at more tape, though, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a guy that would help the Mavericks in the scoring department right away and wouldn't come with any of the baggage that Muhammad has attached to his name after one season in college.
KCP averaged over 18 points per game during his sophomore season, and did so while significantly increasing his field-goal percentage (39.6 to 43.3) and three-point percentage (30.4 to 37.3). He was also a good rebounder, picking up 7.1 per game during his second and last season with the Bulldogs.
With O.J. Mayo entering free agency and the Mavs desperate for playmaking around Dirk Nowitzki, KCP would compete with last year's first-round pick, Jared Cunningham, for immediate playing time if Dallas was to leave the position open post-free agency.
14. Utah Jazz: PG Dennis Schroeder, Germany
The Jazz enter free agency with uncertainty surrounding the center, power forward and point guard spots, with Mo Williams, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson all hitting free agency.
Needless to say, all spots are open at No. 14.
With most of the marquee centers gone in this range, the Jazz can make a splash at point guard by taking Dennis Schroeder, a player with a lightning-quick first step and an improving jump shot, with the No. 14 pick. Although turnovers and the speed of the American game are early concerns, Schroeder could be a starting point guard for an NBA team very soon—his ceiling is that high.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: SG/SF Tony Snell, New Mexico*
Tony Snell is an intriguing player. Coming out of New Mexico, he went up against some of the best wings in the country last year, playing against Jamaal Franklin and San Diego State, Anthony Drmic of Boise State and other talented wings in the process.
Some feel that Snell's potential falls in line with that of San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who was also picked in the No. 15 spot by Indiana and shipped to the Spurs in exchange for George Hill in 2011.
If the Bucks got something near what Leonard brings to the table, you'd have to think they'd be happy.
Snell played three years with the Lobos, increasing his shooting percentage from his freshman to sophomore season before seeing a dip later on during his junior campaign. Snell is also a good shooter from the outside, shooting near 39 percent from deep in each of his last two seasons on campus.
With a 6'7", 200-pound frame to work with, Snell could be an important player for the Bucks over the next few seasons. His defensive role and ability to stretch the floor would work well with Brandon Jennings and help the Bucks have a defensive stopper on the wing next year.
Just like Leonard, Snell is coming out of the Mountain West and doesn't have much prestige around his name. However, he's got the skills and the drive to make a name for himself where they pay players to put on a show and win games. Expect Snell to be an attractive sleeper pick throughout the middle of the first round on draft night.
16. Boston Celtics: C Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
Boston's biggest offseason acquisitions will likely be in the injury department, where getting back Rajon Rondo and 2012 first-round pick Jared Sullinger will add depth to a lineup that put up a good fight against the New York Knicks before bowing out in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
One area that Boston could choose to expand is in the frontcourt, where Fab Melo might get a chance to contribute to a rotation that currently includes Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett.
With uncertainty surrounding Garnett and a potential retirement and center as an area of concern in the long-term picture, Boston can address the position with Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, who made his presence felt in the middle during Louisville's impressive defensive performance en route to the NCAA title.
17. Atlanta Hawks: C Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
The Hawks can draft a center and move Al Horford to power forward if they so desire, and there's few left on the board with the upside of Pittsburgh freshman Steven Adams.
Although he's very raw, Adams has impressed scouts with his athleticism and willingness to work toward improving his overall game, two areas of strength that will come in handy during the early part of his NBA career. With two straight picks here, Atlanta can afford to take players of need—a necessity given that only a handful of players remain on the Atlanta roster heading into next season.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via HOU): SG/SF Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
The free-fall of Muhammad ends with pick No. 18, when Atlanta takes the young wing from UCLA and immediately inserts him into its starting lineup for next season.
Although Muhammad showed very little command of the overall "team" concept of the game and struggled down the stretch, he's an accomplished scorer in the mold of James Harden who should improve as his body and game adapt to the NBA over the next few seasons.
At No. 18, Muhammad's talent is simply too much to pass up, and Atlanta makes sense given the current collection of players on the roster.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (via LAL): SF Dario Saric, Croatia
Saric is considered a lottery pick by some mock draft standards, and he certainly has the highlights to back up that claim. A smooth, 6'10" forward with great ball-handling skills, Saric is a forward who can create his own shot and wreak havoc when the floor is spaced correctly.
He's also a very young prospect and might need a couple of years to fully realize his potential with an NBA club. While the Cavs need help at small forward right away, taking Saric at No. 19 wouldn't be a stretch at all. Should they choose to let him develop over the next couple of years, Cleveland could have a starting-caliber SF to surround Noel, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters very soon.
20. Chicago Bulls: SG Allen Crabbe, California
Chicago will likely be in the market for guard help this offseason, as playoff heroes Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli hit the free-agent block when the period open.
Should Chicago choose to keep cap space alive for a new contract for Luol Deng and avoid any big free-agent signings (something that's a certainty unless Chicago amnesties Carlos Boozer), picking up a shooting guard in the first round is a necessity.
That's where Allen Crabbe, an accomplished Pac-12 scorer who bolsters Chicago's bench behind Jimmy Butler and Deng, comes in. With Derrick Rose this team's biggest offseason acquisition, small tweaks to the bench to add offense will go a long way in helping Chicago get back near the top of the East.
21. Utah Jazz (via GS): SG Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
With point guard already addressed via pick No. 14, the Jazz have a choice here. My sneaking suspicion is that Utah will find a way to keep either Millsap or Jefferson with a new contract, and that will leave Utah with a three-man rotation filled with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.
That in mind, Utah can create more depth at the guard position with Mountain West standout guard Jamaal Franklin, who has the athleticism to make an instant impact with the current outfit of Utah players.
Franklin crashes the boards hard, unlike other 2-guards in this class, and is a capable defender at his position. For both short and long-term goals, he's a fit in Utah's hard-working scheme and has good value at this point in the draft.
22. Brooklyn Nets: C/PF Mason Plumlee, Duke
Mason Plumlee is considered a lottery pick by some, but you know what you're going to get when you take him off the board—an energetic, highly skilled big who will pound the glass and play tough defense on every play.
That's not to say he won't improve in the NBA, but Plumlee doesn't have the upside that some of the other bigs in this class do. That being said, Brooklyn would benefit from a hard-working player like Plumlee in its rotation behind Brook Lopez next season.
23. Indiana Pacers: PG Shane Larkin, Miami
Although Shane Larkin could go much higher than No. 23, there's little doubt he would be a valuable asset to the Indiana Pacers as a backup point guard next season.
The Pacers are only a few pieces away from turning this current collection of players into a long-term dynasty, and one of those pieces is being starting point guard George Hill. With Larkin in the fold, the Pacers can let D.J. Augustin walk and hand over the reins to the second-team offense to one of the most exciting players in college basketball last season.
24. New York Knicks: C Lucas Nogueira, Brazil
Considered one of the best shot-blockers in this class behind only Noel, Nogueira is considered by some to be in the mold of wiry rim protectors like Marcus Camby, Ryan Hollins and Samuel Dalembert.
Nicknamed "Bebe" in Brazil, Nogueira is very raw as a center prospect, but behind Tyson Chandler, what reliable options do the Knicks have? Better yet, what reliable options will the Knicks be able to find on the free-agent market and stay under the cap?
Nogueira certainly isn't as polished as some other options at this spot, but his long-term potential is high if he can adapt to the NBA and add some weight to his frame as he continues to develop.
25. Los Angeles Clippers: C Jeff Withey, Kansas
Speaking of centers, Kansas star Jeff Withey is still on the board, and the Los Angeles Clippers have managed to get by the past few seasons without a legitimate option behind DeAndre Jordan.
Withey would give the Clippers the same kind of shot-blocking and effort on the glass that Jordan currently provides while not having to rely on small ball down the stretch against bigger teams like Memphis and San Antonio.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (via MEM): SG Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
Minnesota addressed a need a center by taking Len with pick No. 9, but the gaping hole on the wing alongside mostly point guards and combo forwards leaves Minnesota in a dicey spot with pick No. 26.
Tim Hardaway Jr. would help assuage those concerns right away, as he established himself as one of the country's most athletic players at shooting guard for the Wolverines this year. He can also play above the rim and shoot the ball from the outside—all characteristics that would thrive around Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love in Minnesota.
27. Denver Nuggets: PG/SG Lorenzo Brown, North Carolina State
The Nuggets might be losing both Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer this summer, meaning that there could be guard spots to be filled in the Denver lineup next season.
Additionally, the Nuggets will eventually have to come to grips with the idea that Andre Miller is slowing down, although the veteran point guard didn't look like he was slowing down during Denver's short postseason stint.
Lorenzo Brown has the versatility to contribute at both guard spots, and Denver is nothing if not heavy on keeping versatility in mind when adding players to its roster.
28. San Antonio Spurs: SF Sergey Karasev, Russia*
The reviews on Sergey Karasev are simple—he's a smooth-shooting guard-forward from Russia who can light it up from the outside and is a willing passer when his team needs to create a shot.
If that reminds you of another left-handed international star currently on San Antonio's roster, then you're either an NBA guru or a Spurs fan—it's Manu Ginobili.
The Argentinian lefty is one of the best players in franchise history, but injuries cloud his production each year and the Big Three in SA isn't getting any younger. By taking Karasev, the Spurs could find a replacement for Ginobili and do so without having to make a big move in free agency or with a trade.
They might also find a steal out of the deal.
Karasev is mature for his age, has legitimate size (6'7") and as ESPN's Fran Fraschilla notes on Twitter, was an Olympian when most teenagers his age were just coming off the highs of senior year, prom and graduation from high school:
When it comes to European prospects, San Antonio does its fair share of finding out which ones can play and which ones can't. We'll defer to their judgement each year until a pick doesn't pan out in the pros, and Karasev is a guy who makes a lot of sense for San Antonio if he's there at No. 28.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: SF Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greece
Don't believe me? Check out his highlights from the past season in Greece.
With the Thunder in no position to draft for need and prospects already stashed in the form of Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III, Antetokounmpo could be a project drafting for the Thunder while the current roster continues to star on a national stage.
30. Phoenix Suns (via MIA): SG/SF Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
With the Suns missing out on Victor Oladipo with pick No. 5, getting some help on the wing will be part of the process with the other picks in this draft.
Since Phoenix owns the final pick in the first round, adding a wing player to the interesting core in town is a smart move for management. Bullock had a productive three-year career at UNC, increased his shooting percentage each season and finished up in Chapel Hill pouring in over 13 points and grabbing six rebounds while shooting over 43 percent from the outside.
If that mark stays constant in the NBA, Bullock will be a nice addition to a team looking for spot-up shooting on the perimeter—something Phoenix certainly would love to have in its current system.
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