Forget about finding the next LeBron James or Michael Jordan. Who's gonna be the next Tim Hardaway Jr. or Chandler Parsons?
In the past, so much weight was placed on the NBA draft lottery that if your team was outside the top 14 picks, you gave up hope that any player of value would be on the way.
This belief was backed up by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim when he spoke about how he tried to convince Tyler Ennis to stay with the Orange for another season, per Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv:
If you go 15th in the draft, you’re nothing. You might be out of the league in two years. It used to be a first-round draft pick you had a chance. That’s nothing. Those guys are out of the league. Half the guys taken in the first round the last three years are not even in the league. You gotta be in the top seven, eight, 10 picks to make sure you’re going to be playing in the NBA.
A few years ago, Boeheim's words might have had some truth.
However, the more savvy front offices are finding ways to maximize their draft value later in the first round and into the second.
Hardaway, drafted 24th overall in 2013, was one of the few bright spots for the New York Knicks last season. Mason Plumlee, who came two picks earlier, also had a very impressive season for the Brooklyn Nets.
Parsons had to wait until the second round to hear his name called, but he's since become one of the key figures for the Houston Rockets.
Sure, the teams outside of the lottery are unlikely to get a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, but that doesn't mean they can't find a solid starter who will contribute meaningful minutes every night.
Among those players who are bound to slip outside the top 14 picks, these are four of the most overlooked.
Cleanthony Early, SF/PF, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early is bound to be a first-rounder; it's just a matter of if he'll go in the top 20 or have to wait until a little later to hear his name.
At the very least, Early's long-range ability (he shot 37.5 percent from three-point range last year) will allow him to be a catch-and-shoot option. Although he's 6'7", the former Wichita State star can do most of his damage from the three-point line. His mechanics leave a little to be desired, but if Shawn Marion can carve out a role on an NBA team with his jumper, so can Early.
On the defensive end, Early has the length to be a hassle for opposing 3s. The doubt is whether he can find the consistency to be a solid defender for the entire game. He improved by leaps and bounds as a defender last season, and if he continues that in the NBA, he'll be perfectly fine.
Isaiah Austin, PF, Baylor
Isaiah Austin has plenty of marks against him, but somebody's bound to gamble on the 7-footer.
Like the Baylor team as a whole, Austin was a disappointment last season. His game didn't take the steps you would've expected during his sophomore year. Particularly frustrating was his inability to use his 7'1" size to bully opponents.
One of the biggest reasons for that is the fact that he's only listed at 215 pounds on ESPN.com. As a point of reference, 6'10" Serge Ibaka is listed at 245 pounds and LeBron James is 6'8" and 250. Heck, Austin's only got 10 pounds on Kobe Bryant.
The Bears big man is well aware that he must add muscle in order to fulfill his potential in the NBA, per Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune:
They want me to get stronger. But that's going to come with age and time. Once it's my job to wake up every morning and just play basketball and not have to worry about school .. I can start dedicated my life to my craft and everything's going to fall into place perfectly.
While Austin only shot 27.7 percent from three-point range, he can knock down shots from outside. He's got a shooting stroke and handling that belie his size.
Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said that Austin possesses the kind of game that can make him productive if he bulks up, per Paul Coro of AZCentral.com:
He's got good ball skills on the perimeter. That was one of the things that stood out (Thursday), just how he handles the ball and can make some plays on the perimeter that most 7-1 guys can make. He'll need to keep adding weight and getting stronger to be able to play in the post and handle the physicality of the game but he has a lot of natural ability and a lot of things you can't teach.
Drafting Austin would be a risk, and unless some team reaches for him in the first round, he could turn into a steal.
K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels is a freak of nature. Guys who are 6'6" aren't supposed to be shot-blockers. Yet, the former Clemson star averaged 2.1 and 2.8 blocks a game over his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively.
McDaniels is an elite defender, at least in terms of draft prospects. He's athletic enough to keep up with anybody, and his superior length (6'11.25" wingspan, per DraftExpress) and leaping ability will mean that his shot-blocking will translate at the next level.
Although McDaniels excels much more so on the defensive end, his offensive game has grown to a point where he's not merely a one-dimensional player. And if he gains a consistent jump shot, he could turn into an All-Star.
C.J. Wilcox, SG, Washington
Look no further than the Miami Heat to see how valuable a skilled shooter can be. The Eastern Conference champions rely on Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to space the floor and open up the paint for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. While Allen and Lewis' roles are limited, they have a part to play in the team's success.
Few shooters in this draft are better than C.J. Wilcox. He's got a good stroke, his height and wingspan (6'5" and 6'9.75", per DraftExpress) mean that he won't have his shot blocked, and he can hit a three from nearly anywhere within 25 feet (he shot 39.1 percent from three-point range in 2013-14).
Wilcox is well aware that shooters aren't going out of style anytime soon.
"I think it translates right away," he said, per Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "A lot of teams are looking for shooters. If you have the build and the ability to shoot, you can jump into a lot of teams and play right away. I think that helps me a lot."
At 23 years old, maybe Wilcox's ceiling is a bit limited.
Imagine, though, the impact that Wilcox would have on the Memphis Grizzlies or Charlotte Hornets, both of whom are strong defensively but starved of long-range shooting.