NBA Draft 2014: Prospects Who Are Much Better Than You Think

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NBA Draft 2014: Prospects Who Are Much Better Than You Think
Kiichiro Sato

Adreian Payne was one of the stars of the NCAA Tournament, yet there are plenty of mock drafts that have the athletic yet underwhelming Jerami Grant and the incredibly raw Clint Capela picked ahead of him.

Why?

Perhaps it's because Payne only scored a seven out of 10 in "leadership," according to NBADraft.net.

How do they possibly know that?

Perhaps it's because NBA general managers place much more value in young athletes with high ceilings than four-year college players without as much room for growth.

Or perhaps it's because draft analysts are just making educated guesses—albeit very educated guesses—like the rest of us.

Here are three players, including Payne, who are all being undervalued.

Whether they're projected to get drafted later than they should or have simply been mislabeled by basketball fans and pundits, they are all much better than you think.

 

Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

Young Kwak

Adreian Payne is arguably the safest prospect in the entire 2014 draft class.

The fact that he's 23 probably prevents him from being a lottery pick, but the experience he gained from his four years at Michigan State will benefit him greatly at the NBA level.

His extended stay in East Lansing also proved that he's a player who is never satisfied with his game and always looking to improve.

As a freshman, Payne took one three-pointer and missed it. As a senior, he took 104 and made 44 of them (42.3 percent).

His free-throw percentage improved from 48.6 percent to 79 percent over that same time period.

Adreian Payne's Career Statistics By Season
Year PPG FT % 3-PT Attempts/Game 3-PT FG %
Senior 16.4 79.0 3.4 42.3
Junior 10.5 84.8 1.2 38.1
Sophomore 7.0 69.7 0.1 50.0 (1 for 2)
Freshman 2.5 48.6 0.0 0.0

ESPN.com

At 6'10", 245 pounds, Payne could have remained the defensive-minded post player scouts labeled him to be coming out of high school, per Scout.com. Instead, he put in the work and became a threat offensively from inside and outside the paint.

During his 41-point performance against Delaware in the NCAA Tournament (highlights below) he demonstrated his refined interior game, while also knocking down four of his five three-point shots.

Imagine him on a Phoenix Suns team that thrived off big men who could stretch the floor this season (Markieff Morris, Channing Frye). He could fit that role while also defending the opposing team's center. 

Furthermore, imagine him in four years. If he was able to completely redefine his game and improve so dramatically over the course of his college career, how much better can he get in another four-year time span?

This is the kind of player you draft higher than his supposed "value" might suggest. 

 

T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The ACC was filled with potential top draft picks this year, but it was T.J. Warren who took home the ACC Player of the Year award. 

The race between Warren and Duke's Jabari Parker was fairly close up until the last week of the regular season, when Warren scored 41 and 42 points in back-to-back games. Here are the highlights from the first game against Pittsburgh:

Clearly, this guy is a unique talent. So why don't you know more about him?

The primary reason is because Warren has been unfairly labeled as little more than a volume scorer, due to the fact that he was on an N.C. State team with limited talent around him.

In other words, people look at his incredible scoring numbers coupled with the Wolfpack's mediocre season and assume that Warren was simply the beneficiary of a high usage rate. 

Well, they're right about the high usage rate but wrong about everything else.

Warren wasn't the beneficiary of anything. Rather, he was an absolute workhorse who was both efficient and consistent.

Compare the statistics of Doug McDermott—viewed by many as the model of efficiency and consistency—to those of Warren:

Warren vs. McDermott
Player PPG RPG APG FG % 3-PT FG % Usage Rate PER
Warren 24.8 (third in the nation) 7.2 1.1 52.5 27.7 28.0 (first) 32.06 (fourth)
McDermott 26.9 (first in the nation) 7.0 1.6 52.5 45.4 27.8 (second) 33.68 (first)

Sports-Reference.com

Aside from their three-point shooting numbers, they had almost identical seasons. And since no one views McDermott as merely a volume scorer, we shouldn't view Warren that way, either.

T.J. is currently projected to be taken somewhere in the middle of the first round.

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However, with teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (assuming Luol Deng walks) and the Detroit Pistons (assuming Greg Monroe leaves and Josh Smith slides over to the power forward spot) in desperate need of a small forward and expected to be in possession of the eighth and ninth overall picks, Warren could be a potential lottery candidate. 

 

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, G/F, NBA Development League

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Thanasis' younger brother, Giannis, has made quite an impression around the league as a 19-year-old rookie. In fact, he's displayed so much potential that both Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney and ESPN's Chad Ford agree that they'd draft him No. 1 overall in a 2013 NBA Draft do-over. 

Due to such high praise being given to his brother, the exposure that Thanasis has received leading up to the 2014 draft could very well be taken with a grain of salt.

It would be fair to believe Thanasis' last name is the only reason he's even being considered as a potential second-round pick.

However, this couldn't be further from the truth. 

While Giannis is a superior athlete and has far more potential, Thanasis is actually much quicker. This will enable him to defend guards in the NBA and use his 6'7" frame to much greater advantage. 

Thanasis also possesses a very smooth shooting motion. Fast-forward to 9:28 in the following video to get a look at his stroke:

Though he only shot 30 percent from three-point rage this past season, possessing such a smooth motion and high release point is a great start. Consistency from a mechanical standpoint will come with time.

If Thanasis is given an opportunity as an NBA player, he won't just be following his brother's path. He'll be paving his own.

The NBA draft will produce its gems and busts. That's just the nature of the beast. And for the majority of prospects, it's very difficult to determine whether they'll be one or the other.

However, certain players do make it easier to predict success for them, whether it be their physical tools (Antetokounmpo), their natural scoring ability (Warren) or their experience and past history of improvement (Payne).

We'll see how it all plays out, but every team should have these three guys on its radar.

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