2019 NBA Draft's Best-Kept Secrets
NBA teams will enter their war rooms with sleepers to watch relative to where they're drafting.
I pegged the best-kept secrets to consider in each tier, including one who could be left over and available after all 60 picks.
Scouting departments are all well aware of the following five prospects. These are just the potential value picks or steals who deserve to be considered earlier than what the consensus projections forecast.
Top-10 Secret: Goga Bitadze (Georgia, C, 1999)
NBA teams know about Goga Bitadze's breakout. It's put him firmly on the first-round map. The idea that he's one of the draft's top 10 prospects isn't as widely acknowledged.
Had Bitadze averaged 20.0 points (54.8 percent FG), 10.6 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes in college basketball, his numbers would have matched or surpassed the other NCAA bigs competing for looks in the lottery. But at 19 years old, he put up those numbers in Euroleague against pros.
To validate that 13-game sample size of production and efficiency, he's also been dominant against weaker competition. He averaged 14.0 points in 23.3 minutes with Mega Bemax and Buducnost in the Adriatic League. And just this month through fives games in the Serbian KLS, he's scoring 19.8 points in 23.4 minutes.
The center took a step forward with his finishing versatility off post-ups, rolls and drives, showing improved footwork, timing and hands. His shooting has been equally exciting, as Bitadze is a combined 30-of-76 from three-point land, showing persuasive shot balance and fluidity.
Questions over his athleticism, particularly his lateral foot speed, cause the most hesitation when evaluating Bitadze. And it's possible he's never a plus defender able to switch or lock down in space. He isn't completely stiff, however. And he offers enough shot-blocking to hold value as a rim protector.
With 6'11" size, some mobility and budding inside-out skill, Bitadze deserves to crack the draft tier that includes Texas' Jaxson Hayes, Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke and Kentucky's PJ Washington. Team need and situations will make it tough for him to go top-10. But the Charlotte Hornets (No. 12) and Boston Celtics (No. 14) should be giving Bitadze a look in the lottery.
Lottery Secret: Chuma Okeke (Auburn, PF, Sophomore)
Bad luck that struck Chuma Okeke's ACL could lead to good fortune for an NBA team that might now be able to draft him later.
He's a borderline lottery pick in my book, full strength or not, though it wouldn't surprise if Okeke goes in the 20s or 30s after tearing up his knee.
Depending on the team doing the evaluating, his injury shouldn't impact his draft grade too much, assuming doctors reveal no permanent damage. When healthy (presumably to start the 2019-20 season), Okeke could be a valuable frontcourt player for his potential to stretch the floor and effectively guard multiple positions.
The 6'8", 230-pound big shot at least 38.0 percent from three in both seasons at Auburn. Aside from shooting, he also ranked in the 87th percentile on cuts and the 92nd percentile on post-ups, showing the ability to capitalize as a scorer off movement or moves.
Defensively, the advanced scouts will love his 3.6 steal percentage, typically a positive indicator. Okeke covers ground with quick feet for reacting and switching.
Despite being used on just 20.0 percent of Auburn's possessions, he finished No. 7 in the country in box plus-minus.
Even without All-Star upside or the health to play next season, Okeke deserves looks in the top 14. He's a textbook fit based on certain skills and strengths that appear likely to translate.
Late First-Round Secret: Louis King (Oregon, SF, Freshman)
Louis King still seems like more of a secret than an obvious first-round name, particularly after he skipped five-on-fives at the combine.
Early signs during his slow start hinted that King would need more than one season in college. But he quietly started regaining juice in the knee he'd hurt the previous season. After Jan. 1, he averaged 15.0 points on 39.8 percent shooting from three and finished strong by hitting 11 threes during Oregon's three NCAA tournament games.
With 6'8" size and a 7'0¼" wingspan—NBA measurements for a forward—King's mix of positional tools and shot-making is the draw for scouts. He made 2.5 threes per 40 minutes and showed the ability to rise for jumpers off the dribble, converting 19 of his 46 pull-ups. King has an advanced perimeter-scoring game, plus the height, length and fluidity to execute against NBA wings.
It could be worth using a first-round pick to find out how he'll look after years strengthening his leg, confidence and skill level.
King should ultimately earn consideration from teams in the 20s and 30s.
Second Round: Darius Bazley (USA, SF/PF, 2000)
After he skipped college and backed out of the G League, Darius Bazley won't have a first-round case. However, teams shouldn't just forget about him, especially once the draft moves into the mid-second round.
Still 18 years old, the 2018 McDonald's All-American has value-pick potential for a patient franchise.
He measured 6'9", 208.4 pounds with a 7'0" wingspan at the NBA combine, where he impressed during scrimmages with flashes of scoring versatility.
In two games, Bazley combined to go 8-of-13 on his field-goal attempts, which included an acrobatic reverse layup, a three-pointer, a fallaway from the post, a floater and a pull-up. With power forward size, he demonstrated handles tight enough to shake and create off the dribble, and he showcased the specialty shot-making skill to convert off different moves and angles.
While his shooting mechanics and upper body need work, he made some jumpers and used his quickness to defend in space.
Some question marks will make Bazley unattractive to certain teams. He looks far from ready after taking the year off. He's missing a signature strength or attribute to bank on, which creates bust potential. Some may even question his mentality and competitiveness after he decommitted from Syracuse, wrote a Players' Tribune piece about going to the G League and then backed out of that plan, as well.
He's still a 5-star recruit with talent shaped in the mold of a modern combo forward. Most teams likely regret docking Mitchell Robinson for pulling the same stunt as Bazley before the 2018 NBA draft. To the right organization, he should look more appealing than the upperclassmen left in the Nos. 45-60 range.
Undrafted Secret: Terance Mann (Florida State, SG/SF, Senior)
Certain numbers work against Terance Mann's draft stock. He's 22 years old and coming off a season in which he scored just 11.4 points per game and made only 1.0 threes per 40 minutes. He won't be a lock to hear his name called on June 20. He could be among the first undrafted players to receive a summer league invite or two-way contract offer.
The right team could optimize Mann's role-player potential, which is created from versatility, efficiency, defense and unselfishness. It popped in Chicago during G League Elite Camp and the NBA combine without Mann attempting more than five shots in any of the scrimmages. He simply made the right reads as a driver, cutter and passer while adding value as a rebounder and defender.
Through four seasons at Florida State, Mann finished with a career 60.2 true shooting percentage. His jump shot has always been the question mark, but he made the open looks this season (30-of-77 on three-pointers) and backed them up by converting 79.0 percent of his free throws.
The 22-year-old's upside may not be anything exciting, but he's going to check enough boxes (for the right team) to play a glue-guy role between superior scorers and playmakers if he can continue to build on his catch-and-shoot game.