Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid will dominate the airwaves leading up to the 2014 NBA draft, but don't let that distract you from the deep end of this talented class.
Lottery picks have made themselves known throughout the college basketball season—and even a few internationally. It's shaping up to be a deep class, but it won't stop with the lottery picks. NBA-caliber talent is seeping through into the second round of this draft, so much so that a few noteworthy players with NBA game will almost certainly be passed up on entirely with the 60 selections.
There are sleepers across the board in this class, but these guys will make themselves known above the rest and make their teams feel awfully fortunate for selecting them.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, G, Greece/NBA D-League
Thanasis Antetokounmpo is a few years older and not quite as lanky as his brother Giannis, but if he plays anything like him—which it looks like he does—he will immediately be productive at the NBA level.
At 21 years old, Antetokounmpo already has a year at the NBA D-League level under his belt with the Delaware 87ers, and he even competed in the 2014 NBA D-League Slam Dunk Contest.
The Greek Freak looks to have an offensive game that will make an impact in the NBA. His three-point shot is on point, and with improvement, his perimeter dangerousness will only increase. At 6'7", 215, he is quick enough to cover the point, but he's also long and strong enough to go out to the wing. And his length makes him a shot-blocking menace, whether it be on the perimeter or in the open court.
Of course, brother Giannis Antetokounmpo was selected 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks last draft and developed into one of the few NBA-ready players in the class.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo doesn't have as much of a wingspan, but he's still long for a guard and uses that to be not just an elite, but also a versatile defender that teams will covet for his flexibility in changing positions.
Prediction: Mid-second round, premium bench player as a rookie
Jordan McRae, G, Tennessee
If you've been around college basketball enough, Jordan McRae should be a familiar name. The past two seasons at Tennessee, he's been one of the nation's best guards. In 2012-13, he finished runner-up for SEC Player of the Year behind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and during the Vols' 2013-14 Sweet 16 season, McRae averaged 18.7 points.
But he's not getting nearly as much love as teammate Jarnell Stokes, who announced his decision to leave early for the draft in April. And he should, because McRae has the type of offensive game that will translate seamlessly into the Association.
Most of the shots that the 6'6", 190-pound slasher puts up are of NBA-caliber. In seemingly every game for Tennessee, McRae would swish off-balance, fadeaway jumpers, pull up for deep threes and use his Inspector Gadget wingspan to avoid defenders and finish at the rim.
Oh, and did I mention he throws down among the best in college basketball too?
McRae's aerial game is so fierce that he was asked to compete in the dunk contest, but he opted to put the draft first, per 247Sports' Wes Rucker:
#Vols' Jordan McRae was offered a spot in the college slam dunk contest but declined. Said he wants to relax before working out for draft.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) March 31, 2014
In three years under Cuonzo Martin, McRae has developed from a troubled youngster with untapped potential into one of the most polished players in the nation. He's grown into a solid defender, and with a massive, 7'0" wingspan, according to DraftExpress, his all-around game will become very good with a few years of pro experience.
But the best part for whoever drafts him is that he's 23 years old. With two years of leading one of the nation's more prominent teams under his belt and plenty of experience, he will be able to come in and be a great scorer off the bench right away. Any growing McRae will do can come with bench minutes early on.
Prediction: Mid-to-late second round, solid rotation player as a rookie
LaQuinton Ross, F, Ohio State
LaQuinton Ross has always had the size and the skill set to make a lot of money in the NBA, but it wasn't until this past season that everything clicked together.
Ross' freshman year, he hardly played. As a sophomore, he came off the bench for 16 minutes a game, but that wasn't enough to get him into double figures in scoring.
Which player will be most successful as a rookie?
With Deshaun Thomas leaving school for the draft last offseason, Ross had the chance to prove his worth as the team's go-to guy. And he did. He averaged 15.2 points with 5.9 rebounds and hit over 35 percent from three-point range. Thad Matta did everything with Ross from running him in isolation on the block to having him come off screens to hit threes.
The Buckeyes star, who opted to come out of college before his senior season, may not be able to help right away as much as a McRae or an Antetokounmpo, but he should be able to crack the rotation as a rookie better than most second-round prospects. And in a few years, the sky could be the limit for the 6'8", 220-pounder if he gets into the right system.
Prediction: Mid-to-late second round, sparsely used rotation player as a rookie