The June 26 NBA draft is rapidly approaching, and some of the lesser teams in the league are hoping the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid will turn their fortunes around quickly.
However, the 2014 class is absolutely loaded, which means there are plenty of under-the-radar prospects who will make an impact right away at the next level.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few of them in particular who will thrive as rookies.
Jarnell Stokes, Forward, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in his final season at Tennessee behind 53.1 percent shooting from the field. In the process, he was named to the SEC All-Conference First Team and the SEC All-Tournament Team.
Stokes is a double-double machine who scores the majority of his points around the rim and provides excellent interior defense.
What’s more, he is a durable contributor and played more than 32 minutes a night for the Volunteers.
Stokes has the potential to be a mismatch nightmare for opponents as an athletic power forward. He is only 6’9,” but the fact that he brings a 7’1” wingspan to the table will more than make up for his lack of height.
However, it is Stokes’ ability to crash the boards that particularly stands out, as DraftExpress noted:
At 5.5 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Stokes was one of the best offensive rebounders in college basketball and ranks as the #1 offensive rebounder among our top-100-prospects. He is a tireless worker who chases nearly every missed shot, securing many rebounds that were out of his immediate area. He is great at converting second chances, shooting 61.6% on such chances, according to Synergy Sports.
Elfrid Payton, Point Guard, Louisiana Lafayette
There was only one player in all of Division I basketball who averaged at least 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals a night last season, and that player was Elfrid Payton.
Elfrid played at Louisiana Lafayette, so he is something of an unknown to many college basketball fans, but he will impress at the next level. He is a one-man fast break who thrives in the open floor thanks to his ball-handling and game-changing speed.
What’s more, he can play above the rim at 6’3”, which is ideal because he gets there regularly with an explosive first step.
Despite his incredible athleticism and ability to score and find open teammates, it may be Payton’s defense that stands out the most. He won the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year Award and darts into passing lanes with his lengthy wingspan.
His anticipation and lateral quickness make him an excellent perimeter defender who can challenge shots and elude pick-and-rolls.
C.J. Wilcox, Guard, Washington
Sometimes there is nothing wrong with finding a three-point deadeye in the draft and letting him gun it from the outside as a rookie.
C.J. Wilcox shot more than seven threes a game last season at Washington and shot nearly 40 percent from behind the arc. He averaged 18.3 points a game because of it and is nearly automatic from the free-throw line at better than 87 percent.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN noted that defenders will have a difficult time getting high enough to challenge that shot:
Arizona guard Nick Johnson, who himself is something of an under-the-radar prospect, discussed Wilcox with Mike Helfgot of the Deseret News:
He’s a deadly shooter, but I think he’s more than that. At Washington, he was only looked at as a shooter because that’s what they needed him to do, but he has a little game to him.
He is athletic, he is a great competitor and definitely one of my toughest covers of the year. Every time we had to play Washington, even if they didn’t have as good a year, I was like, Man, I got to guard C.J.
If we are to project ahead, Wilcox would thrive on a team with a superstar creator like LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
Just look at what playing in Miami’s offense has done for so many perimeter shooters in the past couple of years. Wilcox can come in right away and take advantage of all those open looks when the defense collapses on penetration.
While he is an excellent catch-and-shoot guy, he is also capable of shooting as he comes off screens and pulling up off the dribble as well. Look for Wilcox to drain plenty of threes during his rookie campaign.
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