NBA Draft 2014: Ranking the 5 Biggest Sleepers in the Class
There are a few guys every year who end up slipping through the cracks. I picked out five prospects who should be offering maximum value relative to where their projected draft range is heading into June.
The rankings were based on a combination of upside and the promise they've flashed with regard to reaching it.
I left off players like Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton and Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, who should no longer be considered "sleepers."
5. Josh Huestis, Stanford, 6'8", SF, Senior
Projected Draft Range: Second Round/Undrafted
There isn't much flash to Josh Huestis' game. He hit the 20-point mark just four times in four years at Stanford, and he rarely generated much NBA draft buzz.
But if you can overlook his lack of upside and accept the potential he offers in a supporting role, Huestis could very well end up returning "sleeper" results as a glue guy.
And it starts on defense, where he has excellent physical tools—6'7" size, 7'1" wingspan, 213-pound frame—for the wing. He has the foot speed and length to guard either 2s or 3s, and depending on matchups, he should be able to handle some hybrid 4s.
His instincts, timing and motor are also top-shelf—he blocked 140 shots and averaged at least 8.2 boards a game over his last two seasons, which are awfully high numbers for a projected small forward. That might have something to do with the fact that Huestis played center in high school.
"What gets you on the court, especially someone in my position, is defense first," Huestis told reporters following a recent workout with the Utah Jazz, via KSL Sports. "Being a defender, rebounder—no teams are looking for superstars to come in and score for them, they've got that already. I just want to be somebody that can come in, make an impact right away and help the team win."
Though limited offensively, he's one of those mistake-free forwards who looks to make the extra pass before taking the forced shot. Huestis isn't going to wow one-on-one, but if the ball finds him in scoring position, he's capable of capitalizing off drives, finishes and open jumpers.
A key for minutes will center around Huestis' shooting ability—he hit close to 34 percent of his three-pointers in back-to-back years, showing he's capable. But he never made more than one trey per game in a season.
Huestis is a reliable jumper away from completing the NBA's glue-guy requirements. And with sound mechanics and some evidence of accuracy, there's reason to believe this is an area he can continue to improve in over time.
Whether he goes in the second round or goes undrafted, Huestis should still have a legitimate chance of sticking somewhere as a utility forward who can help balance out a lineup.
4. Jordan Clarkson, Missouri, 6'5", PG/SG, Junior
Projected Draft Range: Late First to Second Round
Jordan Clarkson hit the radar during his junior year at Missouri after flying under it as a freshman and sophomore at Tulsa.
He averaged 17.5 points and 3.4 assists per game as the Tigers' primary playmaker and ball-handler. And given his 6'5" size and smooth athleticism, he stands out when viewed through the NBA's microscope.
The biggest thing that's kept him from generating lottery buzz has been his questionable feel for the point guard position. Not only was his 1.27 assist-to-turnover ratio mediocre, but Missouri's disappointing record didn't exactly reflect favorably on its ball-dominant lead guard.
However, without any big guys to go to for offense (Johnathan Williams III was Missouri's top-scoring big man with just 5.8 points per game), Clarkson found himself trying to do a little too much with the ball.
He sure has the physical and fundamental strengths necessary to run the point at the next level, at least in a secondary role. And Clarkson did tell me at the NBA combine he plans on selling himself as a point guard, which is the position the NBA guys grouped him in during drills and testing.
He's quick and shifty off the dribble, with the ability to penetrate the perimeter and make things happen within the defense. Most of the damage Clarkson does comes on his way to the rim, where he can drive-and-kick to shooters, drive-and-dish to big men and score in the lane through or over the top of traffic.
Clarkson's shooting numbers as a junior were easy to knock—he made just 28.1 percent of his three-pointers. But he did hit 37.4 of them as a sophomore at Tulsa, and he tied with Rodney Hood as the fourth-most accurate shooter at the combine.
He's gotta become more consistent, but there's no doubt he's capable of connecting from outside.
Given his size and skill set, Clarkson could still find a role as a scoring guard off the bench if the point guard experiment doesn't work out. But if he's able to improve his efficiency as a facilitator—something that should be easier to do in the pros with better offensive options around him—we could be talking about a mismatch at the point and a steal in the late first or early second round.
3. Mitch McGary, Michigan, 6'10", PF/C, Sophomore
Projected Draft Range: Late First to Second Round
Despite every general manager being aware of his ability, Mitch McGary is still likely to fall deep into the first or second round.
And when we look back five years down the road, we might consider it a crime.
A back injury will be the primary reason for his fall—McGary missed most of the year after choosing to undergo surgery to fix a pain he'd been feeling since his freshman year. He also would have been suspended for a year from college basketball after testing positive for marijuana.
And quite frankly, this is a good enough reason to slip. It would seem a little risky to hand a guaranteed contract to a big man coming off back surgery—especially when you consider the depth of this draft and the strong, alternative options that will likely be available to choose from.
But if it turns out the procedure was successful, and McGary is able to get back to doing what he does, some team will find itself a valuable interior specialist.
Every rotation could use a guy like McGary, whose strengths center on his size, rebounding instincts, finishing ability and motor. He's a janitor around the rim, where he cleans up messes on the offensive glass thanks to soft hands and a nose for the ball.
He also runs the floor, passes well for a big man and provides that constant activity at both ends of the floor. Worst comes to worst, a team is getting an energy guy who can make things happen in the paint.
Of course, everything will ride on his health and durability, but for a projected late first- or second-round option, the potential reward is certainly worth the risk.
2. Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", PF, 1995
Projected Draft Range: Late First to Second Round
Nobody expected the 18-year-old Kristaps Porzingis to declare in 2014, and though he still has time to withdraw, his long-term potential might be big enough to draw first-round looks from teams interested in drafting and stashing.
A standout at the Nike International Junior Tournament a year ago, Porzingis has gotten extensive playing time for Cajasol Sevilla in the Spanish ACB, where he's averaging 6.7 points and 0.9 blocks on 47.6 percent shooting in 14.9 minutes (14.8 points, 2.6 blocks per 40).
Porzingis' appeal ultimately stems from the upside tied to his blend of size, athleticism and skill set.
At 7'0", he's extremely light on his feet. He can fly up and down the floor or lift off high above the rim. Offensively, he's got the foot speed and body control to put it on the deck and attack the rim. And he can knock down shots in a variety of different ways from all over the floor.
Porzingis has three-point range (16-of-48 from downtown), along with the shot-making ability to convert off the dribble or over the shoulder. Off the ball, he moves and presents himself as a glowing target for lobs and transition buckets.
Defensively, given his size, length and agility, he has the potential to guard forwards on the perimeter and the rim as a roaming protector.
At around 220 pounds, Porzingis needs to bulk up in order to man the post at each end of the floor. But if we're talking about long-term upside, there aren't many prospects in the field with more to offer than him.
Assuming he does choose to keep his name in the draft, consider Portzingis a late first- or second-round pick with a lottery prospect's ceiling.
1. Jordan Adams, UCLA, 6'5", SG, Sophomore
Projected Draft Range: Late First Round to Second Round
Had Jordan Adams returned for his junior year, he'd probably be gunning for the lottery in 2015. Instead, he'll offer that same lottery potential in 2014 as a likely late first- or second-round pick.
As a sophomore, Adams hit everything on his checklist—he was productive, consistent and efficient. He averaged 17.4 points on 48.5 percent shooting—not too bad for a below-average athlete.
And that's what's kept his stock in check. Adams plays below the rim due to an uninspiring 29.5" max vertical.
But you just can't teach instincts, and Adams has some pretty strong ones at both ends of the floor. Despite his lack of explosiveness, he finished 66.9 percent of his shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math.
Adams is a strong attacker who can finish after contact. He got to the line 189 times in 2013-14, making an excellent 83.6 percent of his attempts.
He can also knock down shots from all over the floor. Adams finished with a solid 60.3 percent true shooting percentage and a respectable 35.6 percent three-point mark.
Defensively, only five players in the country averaged more steals per game. He's not the most disciplined defender, but his 6'10" wingspan and anticipation allowed him to force plenty of turnovers.
Adams recently slimmed down to 209 pounds after being listed at 220 by UCLA. Though he didn't test well athletically at the combine, he was a standout during drills, specifically in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. He also finished as the No. 2 spot-up shooter among 2-guards.
His lack of athleticism is probably going to keep him from cracking the top 20, which should make Adams one of the best values late in the 2014 draft.
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