NBA Draft 2014: Highlighting Sleeper Prospects Who Can Make Early Impact

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMay 5, 2014

Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels (32) drives past Gonzaga forward Guy Landry Edi (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Old Spice Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

As the playoffs move along and teams continue to be eliminated from championship contention, more franchises continue to shift focus to the impending 2014 NBA draft.

Getting the right player or value for a pick is of the utmost importance to every NBA franchise—even more so than other major sports due to smaller roster sizes and limited starting roles.

This is where sleepers can play a major factor.

Sleepers aren't necessarily simply late-round picks: They are prospects with the ability to make an early contribution in the NBA ranks after previously being conceived as developmental or role players.

Let's take a look at a few prospects who fit this mold and determine how they will make an impact during their rookie seasons.


Thanasis Antetokounmpo, G, Greece/NBA D-League

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 15:  Thanasis Antetokounmpo #19 of the Deleware 87ers dunks over his brother, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks during the Slam Dunk Contest as part of the NBA Dream Factory presented by Boost Mobile 2014 at Sprint Ar
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

At 6'7" and 215 pounds, Antetokounmpo looks to have the same offensive skill set and versatility as his brother Giannis.

Already with a year of experience in the D-League under his belt, the 21-year-old Antetokounmpo has the ability to come in and contribute immediately.

He may not have immense length, but his ability to drive aggressively in the lane, along with a nice stroke from the perimeter, makes him a dangerous weapon.

Antetokounmpo is strong enough to go out on the wing but also quick enough to cover the point. This flexibility should allow him to flourish on the defensive end of the court and complement his offensive prowess.

This well-rounded player will see plenty of time on the court next season.


K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 9:  K.J. McDaniels #32 of the Clemson Tigers slam dunks the ball during the second half against the Syracuse Orange on February 9, 2014 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  Syracuse defeats Clemson 57-44. (Photo by Brett Car
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

McDaniels may be one of the most complete players entering this year's draft.

He's already electrified spectators with high-flying dunks and displayed his defensive prowess through three years at Clemson.

Over that span, his game has taken some significant strides.

Despite his smallish size at 6'6", McDaniels plays much bigger than his height indicates. Great length and leaping ability allowed him to become one of the best shot-blockers in the NCAA last season.

During his senior season, McDaniels averaged 17.1 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks per game. While he may not be able to duplicate those numbers early in the NBA, his solid fundamentals will help him find his way onto the court.

Expect McDaniels to flourish immediately on the defensive end of the court, blocking shots on the perimeter and using his speed and athleticism to become a threat in transition.


Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 07:  Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrates on the court after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This is a name everyone is familiar with by now.

Napier absolutely dominated the NCAA tournament. However, many believe his smallish 6'1", 180-pound frame may not be able to hold up early in the NBA.

That's not the case.

Sure, he probably won't find himself in a starting role during his rookie season, but Napier will be a huge asset as a third guard coming off the bench.

Napier has improved with each season at Connecticut. He's a smart player who's tougher than he looks and flourishes in big moments.

With a great jumper and ankle-breaking moves, Napier has the ability to create space for himself to get open looks. This should be highlighted even more in the NBA, as Napier won't be carrying a team on his own—rather, he'll play an important complementary role.

He isn't limited to making an impact solely with the ball in his hands. He's learned to facilitate nicely and can create opportunities for teammates.

Expect Napier to see up to 25 minutes of playing time next season, given the right scenario. That gives him plenty of opportunity to make a serious impact.