Franchises will be kicking themselves after watching a prospect, who they could’ve selected, single-handedly take them down during the season.
Steals are always a part of the NBA draft. A front office underestimates what a prospect is capable of at the next level and decides to pass on him. Then that player turns into one of the game’s top stars.
B/R’s Adam Fromal recently looked at the top 50 steals of the last 25 years if you want to see some examples.
Which prospects in this year’s draft class have what it takes to be a steal and make major contributions to their teams immediately?
Here are three players who might not be getting the hype they deserve, but once the season starts, will be putting together great performance after great performance.
Glen Rice, Jr., Forward, D-League
Glen Rice, Jr. isn’t like you’re prototypical draft prospect. That’s because when he hears his name called on Thursday night, he’ll be drafted out of the NBA Development League instead of a college or university. It’s not every year that happens. In fact, only three players in the history of the D-League have been taken in the NBA draft—and none have gone in the first round.
So, why is Rice in the D-League? Well, he was kicked off the Georgia Tech basketball team after a shooting incident that led to criminal charges, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). He was later drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 D-League draft by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Rice averaged 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 42 games with Rio Grande this past season. He also played a big role in helping the Valley Vipers win the league championship.
NBA director of scouting operations Ryan Blake thinks Rice made the correct decision going to the D-League, according to the Associated Press (h/t NBA.com):
I think he took the correct route because you’re playing in a league with NBA coaches, NBA systems and an NBA environment so you get a great teaching tool. Most athletes have to pay their dues. They don’t just become top athletes in the world without paying their dues. But think about it. Here’s a guy that didn’t play much till the latter part of the year, but he worked hard and he got that opportunity. It can only help him.
A small forward, Rice will make an immediate impact wherever he goes in the draft. While it’s likely he gets taken toward the later parts of the first round, he has lottery talent. He needs to work on a few things, but has had just as much experience as nearly every other prospect in this year’s class. He’ll be a key bench player in 2013-14.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., Guard, Michigan
Tim Hardaway, Jr. was one of the key players on Michigan’s team that went the NCAA championship game this past college basketball season. He played alongside several other players who are expected to get taken in this year’s draft, most notably Trey Burke, who could go in the top five picks.
Hardaway played three seasons for the Wolverines, and averaged 14.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 38 games during his junior year. He shot 43.7 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from downtown. He isn’t a sharp free-throw shooter, though, as he hit just 69.4 of the uncontested shots a year ago.
Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the New York Knicks are one of the teams who could select Hardaway. New York has the 24th overall pick in the draft.
Someone with knowledge of New York’s draft strategy told Berman that the Knicks will likely go with a swingman with their first-round pick:
They are looking for help on the perimeter. A small forward would be nice. They lost to Indiana and got outrebounded, but Tyson Chandler wasn’t right. They feel they can get a big man in free agency.
The decision to draft Hardaway would also make sense considering the Knicks will need help in the backcourt next year. Jason Kidd is now a coach, Pablo Prigioni is a restricted free agent and J.R. Smith is an unrestricted free agent. That leaves Raymond Felton as the only guard. Hardaway could end up starting for the Knicks.
C.J. McCollum, Guard, Lehigh
C.J. McCollum didn’t go to one of the powerhouse collegiate programs, but he still made his name known throughout his time at Lehigh. McCollum spent four years at Lehigh and scored 23.9 points per game during his senior season. He is a great shooter, hitting 49.5 percent of shots from the field and 51.6 percent of shots from three-point land.
Many people didn’t start paying attention to Lehigh until it went up against Duke in the 2011-12 NCAA tournament. As many people remember, Lehigh took down the Blue Devils by five points in one of the biggest upsets of all time. In that game, McCollum had 30 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Here’s what McCollum told Mark Schlabach of ESPN after the victory:
We didn’t have anything to lose as a 15-seed. We just wanted to battle back and play as hard as we could. They were the team under all the pressure. They were the team everybody had in the Sweet 16.
McCollum goes on to talk about his height, which is the main reason so many people have doubted him in the past. Now, he stands at 6'3" and will likely go within the first 10 picks of the draft. Yes, a guard from the Patriot League is going to be lottery pick.
In my most recent mock draft, I had the Pistons drafting McCollum. Detroit is going to lose several guards to free agency, and Brandon Knight hasn’t shown that he can be a top guard for them. He only scored 13.3 points per game last season. McCollum has the potential to run the point for Detroit next season.