The 7 Best 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Nobody Is Talking About
With the Final Four set and guys like Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kentucky's Julius Randle hogging all of the NBA draft attention, a few others have started to slip slightly under the radar.
These are the prospects whose names seem to come and go without ever really sticking. For some, a lousy team is to blame. One prospect has seen an injury seemingly wipe him off the map.
Another prospect is making draft waves from the D-League, where there's just not enough exposure.
Keep an eye on these seven as the predraft process approaches.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, 6'8", SF, Senior
After scoring 24 points against Louisville in the 2013 Final Four, Cleanthony Early returned as a senior to lead Wichita State in scoring—a team that ran the regular-season table and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Early then went for 31 points against Kentucky's NBA-caliber front line, but his performance was overshadowed by the loss, which saw a No. 8 seed take down a No. 1.
His game against Kentucky should have helped move the needle, as the only thing missing from his resume was consistent production against power-conference competition.
At 6'8", he has the size and athleticism for the NBA wing, along with a 37.5 percent three-point stroke. He also finished with the top defensive rating in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.
Early has officially entered the first-round conversation as a name to watch during predraft festivities. We've recently moved him to No. 19 in our latest 2014 mock draft.
Deonte Burton, Nevada, 6'1", PG, Senior
Deonte Burton averaged 20.1 points per game this year for Nevada, although you rarely hear his name tossed in with some of the top guards in the country.
He has his flaws, but it's easy to admire the gradual progression he's made since his freshman year.
He's up there with some of the most explosive guards in the country, something Boise State found out the hard way when Burton unleashed what looked like the dunk of the year in my book.
He has a tight handle to match the jets, which makes it tough to keep him from getting to the hole and finishing around the rim. He even runs the pick-and-roll well, which is a promising sign for a point guard prospect.
Defensively, he has the quickness, strength and athleticism to harass opposing ball-handlers as well.
The knock on Burton is that he's more of a scorer than a facilitator, giving him a tiny margin for error at 6'1". But to his credit, he didn't have many weapons around him at Nevada, and he did average a career-high 4.4 assists per game this season.
If Burton can improve his shooting consistency and show he can run an offense at the point, he could be a sneaky pickup late in the first round or a steal anywhere in the second.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Delaware 87ers, 6'7", SF
Thanasis Antetokounmpo aces the eye test at 6'7" with an athletic frame and long arms, as he's stood out in his one season with the Delaware 87ers of the D-League.
And he'll be draft-eligible this June.
His numbers won't jump out at you, averaging 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, but his play in flashes will.
The 21-year-old finishes from high above the rim in the open floor and half court, where he has explosive springs and a live motor.
He's limited offensively—he rarely creates his own shot unless he's attacking an open lane, but he's the type of athlete who can make things happen without the ball in his hands.
Defensively, he projects quite favorably, given his foot speed, length and quickness for a wing. Antetokounmpo should be able to guard up to three positions if he can stay above water in an NBA offense.
He doesn't have younger brother Giannis' upside, who was a top-15 pick from 2013, but he will come up in the first-round and sleeper conversation.
Jordan Adams, UCLA, 6'5", SG, Sophomore
Jordan Adams had a monster sophomore year at UCLA that didn't get much national attention.
He finished with the highest player efficiency rating of anyone in the Pac-12, after averaging 17.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting and 35.6 percent from downtown.
He doesn't stand out as a high-flier or showtime athlete, which limits his upside and the buzz around him. But Adams is one of those guys who just knows how to get buckets, whether he's finishing awkwardly in traffic or pulling up for jumpers in the mid-range.
He shoots 55.1 percent inside the arc—a better percentage than Kentucky's Julius Randle, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins.
Defensively, he averaged 2.6 steals per game, good for No. 4 in the country.
Adams has been putting up some impressive numbers against top-notch competition lately—he shot 7-of-15 for 17 points against Florida in the NCAA tournament after going for 19 points and four assists on 8-of-16 against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament title game.
At 6'5", 220 pounds, he has the size and strength to man that 2-guard position at the next level. Adams could probably go anywhere from No. 20 to No. 40 and would be a bargain after No. 30.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado, 6'6", PG/SG, Junior
Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL back in January, leading many to write him off and drop him from the conversation.
But before going down, he was having a terrific season, already establishing himself as a legitimate first-round prospect.
ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman recently reported that he was leaning toward entering the draft, and that an NBA general manager told him: "I don't think his stock changes. Guys come back from torn ACLs all the time -- and it's not as if he was super-athletic."
Dinwiddie, a scoring point guard with excellent size (6'6") and skills, had made noticeable improvements to his decision-making and shot selection prior to the injury. His field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists were up, while his turnovers were down.
He was also getting to the line seven times per game for the second straight year. Dinwiddie is slick off the bounce and a crafty finisher around the rim despite lacking the explosiveness to finish above it consistently.
Though more of a shoot-first guard, he's evolved into a heads-up passer and facilitator—particularly in the drive-and-kick game.
It's tough to say whether a team will give him guaranteed money this June, but if Dinwiddie slips into the second round and fully recovers from his injury, we could be talking about draft-day robbery a few years from now.
Markel Brown, Oklahoma State, 6'3", SG, Senior
Marcus Smart got most of the attention at Oklahoma State, but Markel Brown's development deserved a bit more recognition.
He averaged more than 17 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting and 37.9 percent shooting from downtown as a senior. Productive, consistent and efficient, he's no longer just a highlight-reel dunker and high-flier—Brown can create his own shot on the perimeter and in the mid-range with pull-up and step-back jumpers, where he gets the elevation he needs to rise and fire over his defender.
Skeptics will tell you he doesn't have a natural NBA position as a 6'3" shooting guard, and they're right. But I have a feeling his max vertical leap at the combine will make some scouts overlook the inch or two he's lacking in height.
An elite-level athlete who can pass (2.9 assists per game), defend (No. 2 in the Big 12 in defensive win shares) and knock down shots from outside, Brown should be able to earn some first-round consideration.
C.J. Wilcox, Washington, 6'6", SG, Senior
C.J. Wilcox's season ended pretty early, but he finished with a darn good one. He averaged 18.3 points on 45.3 percent shooting while lighting up the perimeter as a deadly three-point threat.
He nailed 90 triples this season (2.8 per game) at a 39.1 percent clip. And when he ends up getting drafted, that's exactly what he'll be asked to do in a specialty role.
With excellent 6'6" size and athleticism, he has a quick release and deep range. And though his scoring game isn't likely to translate, he has the offensive skills and instincts to finish plays opportunistically inside the arc.
Wilcox offers minimal upside as a senior and specialist, but teams that are looking for a sniper can probably get one for cheap by taking him in the draft.
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.