Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins. Those three players have generated most of the headlines leading up to the 2014 NBA draft. It’s understandable, however, because those prospects are considered by scouts, analysts and league executives to be the best players in the draft.
But being a top pick doesn’t guarantee success at the next level, and, conversely, players picked outside the top five or the top 10 can become stars. Just ask Darko Milicic (second). Or Kobe Bryant (13th).
There are players in every draft who perform far better than people expected or their draft positions warrant. The 2014 draft—which is lauded for its talent and depth—figures to have a number of said players.
Let’s take a look at three underrated players who will have tremendous NBA careers.
Nik Stauskas is undoubtedly a very good player. He is projected to go to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 13, according to ESPN’s Chad Ford’s latest mock draft (subscription required). The Michigan shooting guard proved last season that he is not just a spot-up shooter; he can also score off the dribble and get to the rim. At 6’6”, he has great size and can play both point guard and shooting guard at the next level.
But one particular skill will allow Stauskas to exceed expectations: his ability to shoot the basketball. Arguably the best shooter in the draft, the ex-Wolverine will succeed in the NBA because his range is limitless. He shot 44 percent from deep through two seasons at Michigan.
That is extremely impressive, especially considering Trey Burke left for the NBA after Stauskas’ freshman year. Stauskas still shot at an incredible clip when opponents keyed in on him as the go-to scorer last season.
Stauskas’ shooting prowess is reminiscent of Stephen Curry coming out of Davidson. While it isn’t fair to expect Stauskas to become a top-10 guard in the league like Curry, he shares the distinction of being the best shooter in his draft class.
The Michigan sharpshooter will surprise NBA defenders with his range. He doesn't need much room to be open, and there is always a place on NBA rosters for an elite shooter. Whether Stauskas becomes a Curry-type player or a Kyle Korver-like specialist, he will make the team that has him happy it does.
Adreian Payne was a man among boys at Michigan State last season. At 6’10” and 239 pounds, he was able to dominate the paint whenever he wanted to. He averaged 16.4 points on 11.4 shots per game in an offense that featured a balanced attack.
The former Spartan—projected by Ford to go 16th to the Chicago Bulls—will make a lasting impact on whichever roster he lands on. He runs the floor in transition, uses his body exceptionally well in the paint and has great touch around the rim. He is strong and plays with toughness, which would be an ideal fit with the Bulls’ style of play.
Perhaps most important to the power forward’s future success in the NBA is his ability to shoot. Per Ford: “Payne is another elite shooter, though he's a big man who stretches the floor a different way. The fact that he can also play some 5 is another huge bonus."
Payne’s ability to play multiple positions presents huge upside, both for himself and for his potential employer. If an opposing team goes big, he can play his natural power forward position, but if a team goes small, he can play center.
This latter matchup would be especially useful, as he could extend the defense by forcing his opponent out of the paint in order to respect his jumper and an improved three-point shot he hit at a 42 percent clip as a senior.
If Stauskas is the best shooter in the draft, then Doug McDermott is the best scorer in the draft. The senior from Creighton increased his scoring output each year in college, maxing out at 26.7 points per game last season.
The 2013-2014 National Player of the Year and the three-time All-American scored 3,150 points in his collegiate career, which is remarkable considering only four college athletes have ever scored more.
Simply put, the 6’8” small forward knows how to score. He can score from distance—shooting at least 40 percent from three-point land all four years at Creighton—and he can score from everywhere else—never shooting worse than 52.6 percent from the field.
The NBA knows McDermott is a great player. He should be a top-10 pick, and Ford has him going ninth to the Charlotte Hornets. McDermott has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, whether it’s posting up in the paint, hitting a pull-up jumper, driving to the rim or nailing a three-pointer.
The ex-Bluejay isn’t overly athletic, but that didn't stop Paul Pierce from having a Hall of Fame career. McDermott knows where his sweet spots are on the court, and he uses his body well to get to his preferred scoring areas.
The team that drafts McDermott will get a player with instant offense, which is a valued commodity in this league. Scorers stick around in the NBA, and so will McDermott.
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter: @JesseMClark