Ranking the Biggest Under-the-Radar 2014 NBA Draft Sleepers
The 2014 NBA Draft is expected to be loaded with All-Star names. But some of them might be more recognizable than others—at least at this point before the season.
In this edition of under-the-radar sleepers, we're talking about the guys who can make some serious first-round noise.
These rankings are based on upside versus national attention—the top prospects in the country who aren't getting the recognition they deserve.
The following guys might not stand out as preseason can't-miss prospects, but I'm willing to bet they'll finish the year wearing that exact label.
8. Dez Wells, Maryland, 6'5'', SG, Junior
NBA Draft Ceiling: Late First Round
After a strong year at Maryland following an ugly departure from Xavier, Dez Wells is now in position to break through into NBA draft conversations.
He looked like a first-round pick at various points of last season, particularly against Duke late in the year, when he dropped 30 in an upset over the No. 2 team in the country.
Wells stands 6'5'' with a strong 215-pound frame he uses to bully defenders on the way to the rim. Unlike most scoring guards, Wells is a slasher. His first instinct is to attack his man and the hoop, as opposed to pull up on the perimeter for a jump shot.
He shot 57 percent inside the arc last season, showing the ability to finish in traffic and score in the lane.
Wells also showed off some vision and dribble creativity, averaging three assists per contest.
Given his quickness, strength and agility, Wells is nearly automatic in the open floor, whether it's hitting a driving lane or getting out on the break. He's got awesome scoring instincts around the rim, where he can finish after contact or by contorting his body.
If he can pick up his 33 percent three-point stroke and become more reliable as a shooter, Wells should have the chance at earning first-round interest. With so many 2-guards nowadays fixated on perimeter scoring, Wells can offer a team a different dimension of backcourt offense.
7. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, 6'7'', SF, Sophomore
NBA Draft Ceiling: Mid-First Round
He won't blow you away with high-flying acrobatics or explosive athleticism, but Sam Dekker has the skill set to excel in the pros at his particular game.
There isn't any star potential to squeeze out of Dekker. He projects as a reliable scoring complement to stick between your more ball-dominant players. At 6'7'', 220 pounds, he's your prototypical stretch small forward with a lights-out outside stroke. Dekker knocked down 1.4 threes at a 39 percent clip in only 22 minutes a night.
He's an extremely bright and efficient player. He moves well without the ball, showing an understanding of how to recognize space and occupy it as a shooter. Dekker also uses off-ball movement to free himself up for backdoor cuts and open layups.
With terrific instincts and excellent vision, Dekker is one of those mistake-free players you hope can balance out a lineup.
His upside might be limited, but teams looking for trustworthy role players will want to give Dekker a look somewhere in the first round.
6. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College, 6'4'', PG/SG, Sophomore
NBA Draft Ceiling: Mid-First Round
Last year's ACC Rookie of the Year hasn't gotten much respect on the NBA draft front, though I'd be shocked if that didn't change by January.
A scoring guard with a handle, Olivier Hanlan's NBA appeal stems from his offensive playmaking ability. He averaged 15.4 points as a freshman, lighting up teams from behind and inside the arc.
He's crafty off the dribble, which he uses to weave his way between the defense and score on the move. Hanlan also shot 39 percent from downtown with a good-looking natural stroke.
At times last season, Hanlan was able to lift you out of your seat by scoring points in bunches. He went for 41 points on 14-of-18 shooting in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
Hanlan isn't an explosive athlete and lacks ideal size for a 2-guard, but his offensive talent and maturity is difficult to ignore. I'm expecting him to be in play for teams looking for backcourt depth and firepower in the mid-to-late first round.
5. Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'9'', SF/PF, Freshman
NBA Draft Ceiling: Late Lottery
Noah Vonleh will step right into Indiana's starting lineup and the NBA draft spotlight. While his short-term outlook is questionable, his long-term upside is clear. At around 6'9'' with an insane 7'4'' wingspan and rock-solid 240-pound frame, Vonleh is a combo forward who can face the rim on the perimeter or play down low in the post.
Though his handle is a work in progress, Vonleh has that feel for the game that allows him to shake and bake with his back to the rim. On the wing, he's got the stroke and confidence to pull up and knock down a jumper with a man in his face.
He's slightly raw offensively, but his motor and relentless pursuit as a scorer help neutralize his lack of refined ball skills.
With the size to play the 4 and become an absolute mismatch at the 3, there's a foundation in place for stardom.
Vonleh might be more of a two-year college guy, but that doesn't change his future potential as an NBA forward. If he flashes enough of it as a freshman, the pros could be knocking this upcoming June.
4. Jerami Grant, Syracuse, 6'7", SF, Sophomore
NBA Draft Ceiling: Late Lottery
Jerami Grant made me a believer in just 14 minutes per game as a freshman, but I wasn't the only one. Grant was invited to play with USA's Under-19 roster that ended up winning Gold at the FIBA World Championships, though an unfortunate case of mononucleosis kept him from participating in game action.
Grant aces the eye test at 6'7'' with a ridiculous 7'2'' wingspan and high-flying athleticism. He's constantly active, whether it's following up misses, cutting through traffic or stepping into passing lanes defensively. An energy wing who makes plays without having his number called, Grant has also flashed promise with his mid-range jumper, as well as his face-up attack game off the bounce.
Grant is a high-ceiling, high-floor prospect. He's a safe play, given his defensive potential and ability to impact games as an off-the-ball playmaker.
His responsibilities will increase dramatically now as a sophomore, with Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland all out in Syracuse.
Grant should have the opportunity in 2013-14 to be a little more aggressive and take on a bigger offensive load as a scoring threat.
3. Semaj Christon, Xavier, 6'4'', PG, Sophomore
NBA Draft Ceiling: Late Lottery
Semaj Christon didn't get much play on the national airwaves in 2012-13, though NBA scouts took notice.
He went for 15.2 points and 4.6 assists per game as a freshman, abusing opponents in the lane with his strength, athleticism and playmaking ability.
As a point-guard prospect, his physical attributes are awfully appealing. Christon has excellent size and quickness, which he uses to break down and relentlessly attack the heart of defenses. He's got instincts to make the right play in traffic, whether that's kicking it out, dumping it off or scoring on the move with touch.
A tough assignment on both sides of the ball, Christon is a physical guard with loads of upside. An improved perimeter game would make him a more complete overall guard, and could eventually catapult him up into lottery conversations.
2. James Young, Kentucky, 6'6'', SG, Freshman
NBA Draft Ceiling: Top 10
James Young has quietly hid from attention in a year in which freshmen are the story. An elite recruit on a loaded roster, some questioned what his role would be in 2013-14.
There was never a question surrounding his NBA tools—just when he'd be able to showcase them. Based on the majority of reports out of Kentucky, Young appears ready to roll as a main cog in the lineup.
At 6'6'' with a 6'11'' wingspan, he's got solid measurements for a 2 or a 3. Offensively, Young has a smooth lefty jumper he can knock down off the dribble or the catch. Though not overly explosive, he seemingly glides around the court, picking up buckets in a variety of different ways, both stationary and on the move.
Young also has excellent defensive tools for locking down opposing perimeter scorers.
A smart player with an array of different strengths, Young's versatility and two-way upside could end up shining under the spotlight that will be focused on Kentucky. He's got a top-10 draft ceiling when it's all said and done.
1. Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0'', C, Freshman
NBA Draft Ceiling: Top Three
Combine his draft ceiling with the minimal national attention he's received, and Joel Embiid ranks as our most under-the-radar prospect in the country.
Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon seem to be the trendy freshmen names expected to follow Andrew Wiggins. But it's Wiggins' own teammate Embiid who might be the one to watch out for.
At 7'0'' with a massive 7'5'' wingspan and strong, 240-pound frame, Embiid is a space-eating machine with tremendous physical attributes. He's athletic and light on his feet, with the ability to play above the rim or dance around below it.
He'll immediately give Kansas a glowing target for finishes inside, as well as a defensive anchor and strong interior presence. But long term, Embiid will have the chance to offer much more.
With a few post moves in place and a promising outside jumper, Embiid's two-way upside is through the roof.
He'll have to work on refining and polishing his offensive game, as he's still on the raw side in terms of his development.
But assuming he's one and done, Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft as the top center prospect, along with a good chance to shoot up boards into top-three conversations.
There aren't too many centers projected in this year's field. Look for Embiid's draft stock to benefit.