Ranking the Top 10 NBA Draft Sleepers Outside the Lottery
NBA scouts don't seem to have a lot of confidence in the star potential of the 2020 draft's top prospects. It wouldn't be surprising if many of the class' best players wind up being taken outside the lottery.
Along those lines, we identified our top 2020 sleepers—value picks we expect to outperform their draft slots.
They're ranked based on a combination of value (relative to where they're projected to go) and potential.
10. CJ Elleby (Washington State, SG, Sophomore)
B/R's projected outcome for CJ Elleby: Bench scorer
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 45-60/undrafted
CJ Elleby isn't a lock to get drafted after testing the waters last year, failing to generate significant interest and then returning to shoot 39.6 percent from the field. However, inefficiency could wrongly overshadow the skill level he showcased to average 18.4 points as a 19-year-old sophomore (now 20).
The eye-test results looked better than his percentages. Elleby operates as a 6'6" guard with advanced shot-creation moves to separate into dribble jumpers and drives. He's not explosive, but he compensates with footwork, change of speed, handles and three-level shot-making.
Washington State also didn't have one rotation player (minimum 10 minutes per game) shoot over 34.0 percent from three, so Elleby's situation wasn't conducive for good spacing or playmaking.
Though it's the ability to create and score that's so enticing, improving his spot-up shooting will be key for the next level as his on-ball reps figure to decrease. But Elleby shows enough range (2.3 threes per game) and touch (82.3 free-throw percentage) that he's worth betting on if he slips into the late second round or undrafted pool.
9. Elijah Hughes (Syracuse, SF, Junior)
B/R's projected outcome for Elijah Hughes: Bench scorer
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 25-45
Elijah Hughes' breakout seemed to get lost during a year in which Syracuse wasn't overly exciting. He started earning more recognition late as big games against ACC opponents kept coming. Hughes reached 25 points in three of the team's final five games in February and March. And given his 6'6" frame and scoring versatility, he's become an intriguing shot-making prospect for the late first or second round.
He generated offense on and off the ball at Syracuse, ranking fourth in the country in isolation points per game and grading in the 85th percentile as a spot-up player.
Hughes drilled 45 pull-ups, beat defenders with physical drives and found ways to convert out of the post (13-of-24). He capitalized on a green light that highlighted his offensive confidence, skill level and positional tools.
He also spread the floor from the wings, drilled 2.4 threes per game and often cut backdoor for athletic finishes. That's the type of off-ball work he'd need to get more comfortable with at the NBA level as his decision-making with the ball isn't all that trustworthy.
8. Malachi Flynn (San Diego State, PG, Junior)
B/R's projected outcome for Malachi Flynn: Quality backup
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 31-45
Malachi Flynn might have shed the sleeper label if there was an NCAA tournament. Some NBA teams were probably happy there wasn't one, with the fear he'd carry San Diego State deep and improve his stock out of their draft range.
The nation's leader in win shares can control games and impact them with his skill package, poise and competitiveness. Teams will pass on him due to his 6'1" size and lack of explosion, but those traits shouldn't keep him from continuing to make plays at the next level given his particular set of fundamentals and intangibles.
Operating at his own pace with control, Flynn graded in the 96th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (215 possessions). He can change direction on a dime to split defenses and keep them off balance, and he shows a good feel for when to activate different speeds.
His off-the-dribble scoring and passing are sharp. Flynn hit 49 pull-ups (38.6 percent) and 43.5 percent of his runners. He averaged 5.1 assists to 1.8 turnovers with teammates shooting 59.6 percent off his ball-screen passes.
Along with his knack for running offense, shooting will still be a key strength of Flynn's, both in terms of accuracy and versatility. Aside from his dribble-jumper game, he shot 40.0 percent off the catch. He has deep range, having hit 34 threes beyond 25 feet and seven of his 16 attempts beyond 28 feet.
His 3.2 steal percentage even ranks near the top among draft prospects, and though his tools don't scream defensive upside, Flynn can create discomfort with his ball pressure and anticipation.
We've seen too many NBA point guards who are underwhelming physically get by with advanced skill or IQ. Flynn has both. I'm expecting him to help a team in some capacity, even if it's in a smaller role off the bench.
7. Desmond Bane (TCU, SG, Senior)
B/R's projected outcome for Desmond Bane: Reliable role player
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 25-45
All it takes is one team to shatter fringe-first-round projections for Desmond Bane. The Phoenix Suns were that one team last year when they took then-23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11, and their against-the-consensus pick is currently paying off.
As of now, early buzz suggests age (22) and athletic limitations will lead to Bane going somewhere in the Nos. 20-45 range. He's on steal watch that late since playoff teams could optimize his shooting, passing and defensive IQ while masking the trouble he's likely to have as a creator.
The 6'6" 2-guard just finished his third consecutive season over 40 percent from three. While shooting remains his biggest selling point, he strengthened his case further as a senior by adding more shot-making versatility, converting 43 pull-ups at 41.7 percent, 40.9 of his shots off screens and 12 of 22 runners.
He won't be used as much to create and play-make on the ball at the NBA level, but he improved in those areas as well, having converted 11 of 20 isolation possessions and nearly doubling last year's assist rate to 26.0 percent.
With an adaptable game and mentality, fitting in won't be an issue for Bane anywhere. He told Bleacher Report earlier in the draft process that he's selling himself to teams as another Joe Harris, a previous steal who teams passed on for similar reasons.
6. Killian Tillie (Gonzaga, PF, Senior)
B/R's projected outcome for Killian Tillie: Valued role player
Where we hear he could go: Second round/undrafted
Afraid to invest time and resources in a player who's unable to stay healthy, NBA teams put a lot of stock into medical reports. Sometimes the fear is justifiable; other times it backfires. Most recently, Michael Porter Jr. fell into the latter camp.
Killian Tillie has earned a reputation after missing 38 games with leg and ankle problems through his four years at Gonzaga. He doesn't offer Porter's level of upside, but he possesses an attractive skill set for the NBA game that teams may overlook because of an injury history.
The 6'10" power forward/center has shot at least 40.0 percent from three in all four seasons at Gonzaga. He's a classic pick-and-pop, stretch big with a special track record from behind the arc.
But Tillie is more multidimensional than just a shooter. He flashes body control on drives past closeouts and touch on his runner (9-of-20). He graded in the 94th percentile out of the post, where he shows off his footwork and passing IQ.
Though not a rim protector defensively, he moves well enough and makes smart reads, to the point that teams shouldn't be worried about drafting a liability just because he doesn't block shots or possess lockdown quickness.
It's still worth making sure the medicals don't indicate any unusual vulnerability. But based on where teams can probably get Tillie in this draft, the potential reward tied to his shot-making, floor-spacing and ball-moving is worth the risk.
5. Skylar Mays (LSU, SG, Senior)
B/R's projected outcome for Skylar Mays: Valued team role player
Where we hear he could go: Second round
Skylar Mays falls into our premium-value category, assuming he winds up going in the second round.
Predraft question marks about Mays sound similar to the ones asked about Malcolm Brogdon out of Virginia. Most scouts sound skeptical over his NBA role, his blow-by speed and the fact he turns 23 in September. I'm buying his skill versatility and IQ while choosing not to nitpick at his lack of a defined position.
Comfortable and threatening playing on or off the ball, Mays graded in the 98th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and in the 89th percentile out of spot-ups.
He's suited to score in ball-screen situations with his driving, finishing acrobatics and pull-up game (41.7 percent). Mays also shot 16-of-38 out of isolation. Compared to those who see a second-rounder, I'm higher on his potential to shake free and execute with crafty ball fakes, footwork and hesitations for creating separation, as well as his contested shot-making ability.
Even if it's hard to buy his playmaking or chances of working as a primary initiator, he made a key jump this year with his three-ball (39.4 percent) and catch-and-shoot game (40.3 percent). I'm picturing Mays working as a combo/2-guard who helps space the floor while adding secondary creation and savvy play at both ends (career 3.0 steal percentage).
4. Xavier Tillman (Michigan State, PF/C, Junior)
B/R's projected outcome for Xavier Tillman: Quality starter/high-end role player
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 20-40
Xavier Tillman won't go in the lottery, and even the first round sounds iffy. His offensive limitations suggest lower upside, which will allow some team in the 20s or 30s to snag an immediate defensive contributor, just like the Philadelphia 76ers did last year with Matisse Thybulle.
The Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year, Tillman has advanced IQ and technique that translates to both elite on-ball and team defense. Opponents shot 4-of-21 against him out of isolation and 25.0 percent when they were spotting up. He demonstrates remarkable anticipation, timing and reaction at 6'8", 245 pounds.
Analytics help back up the eye test, with Tillman ranked No. 1 in the nation in defensive box plus-minus (and overall box plus-minus).
And his mobility and brain are also powered by a high-effort motor.
Offensively, it wouldn't hurt to surround Tillman with scorers and playmakers, which would only optimize the big man's role-playing skill set. He ranked in the 80th percentile as a cutter, an action he went to for 21.1 percent of his offense. He'll continue to work as a low-maintenance off-ball mover who makes himself available for easy baskets.
But his value will show most on post and short-roll passes. He has excellent court awareness and vision, and he's able to make quick reads. He's the type of player who possesses cliche makes-teammates-better potential due to his smarts and unselfishness.
Tillman joined Tim Duncan and Bo Outlaw as the only NCAA players on record to average at least 10 rebounds, two blocks and three assists.
Gradually building on this year's occasional three-point-shooting flashes (13 makes)—and falling to the right team like Draymond Green did—could put Tillman in the steal-of-the-draft conversation down the road.
3. Grant Riller (Charleston, PG/SG, Senior)
B/R's projected outcome for Grant Riller: Quality starter/bench scorer
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 25-45
College basketball fans might laugh at the idea of Grant Riller being a sleeper. He just averaged 21.9 points for the second consecutive season. But 23-year-olds from mid-major conferences don't typically receive lottery love.
Ranked in the 97th percentile in pick-and-roll ball-handling and the 88th percentile out of isolation, his shot-creation ability is A-plus. He's developed NBA footwork for separating into jumpers and shaking into drives. And given his size, quickness off the dribble and ball skills, I'm buying it translating.
The 6'3" guard shot 42.5 percent on pull-ups, 48.8 percent on runners and 63.4 percent around the basket, where he does an exceptional job using his body and angles despite his lack of explosion.
Though better suited for on-ball reps, he ranked in the 96th percentile out of spot-ups while hitting 40 percent on catch-and-shoot chances.
His identity will revolve around scoring, but Riller's 30.1 assist percentage was on par with some of the younger point guards expected to generate lottery interest, including Cole Anthony (24.1 percent), Kira Lewis Jr. (27.7 percent) and Nico Mannion (31.5 percent).
There are some question marks about how Riller's game will translate. His three-point numbers never made a huge jump through four seasons at Charleston. His 4.1 assists per game as a junior were a career best, and the competition in the Colonial Athletic Association was limited. He also doesn't appear to possess impressive length.
But in this draft, those may be reasons to look past Riller with a top-10 pick—not one in the mid-to-late first round.
2. Josh Green (Arizona, SG/SF, Freshman)
B/R's projected outcome for Josh Green: Quality starter/high-end role player
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 15-30
Josh Green had never been considered a sleeper prior to arriving at Arizona. But when talking with NBA scouts, their interest seemed to fade from November to March.
Limited creation ability and low-volume three-point shooting may cause too many general managers to pass on Green. He's become a steal candidate in the teens or 20s, particularly if he goes to a playoff team that can define and create the right role that activates his strengths and masks his weaknesses.
Green could mirror Jaylen Brown's role with the Boston Celtics, which calls mostly for transition and spot-up scoring. Brown ranks in the 65th percentile or better in both areas, as did Green at Arizona, where he leaned on his explosiveness in the open floor, a catch-and-shoot jumper (40.6 percent) and the ability to attack closeouts.
He doesn't have to be the slickest one-on-one player or pick-and-roll ball-handler. Green can use his athleticism and touch (39.1 percent on runners, 78.0 free-throw percentage) to become a threatening off-ball scorer. And though not a playmaker, he averaged 3.8 assists over Arizona's final five games, showing signs of smart passing instincts and a willingness to move the ball.
But he's also exceptionally quick laterally, and between his physical tools, foot speed and close-out technique, he should project as a competent defender at worst and a plus on-ball/team defender at best.
The right fit should be able to unlock a valuable starter and two-way swingman in a winning lineup.
1. Aleksej Pokusevski (Olympiacos II, PF/C, 2001)
B/R's projected outcome for Aleksej Pokusevski: Quality starter/high-end role player
Where we hear he could go: Nos. 15-30
No predraft workouts will make it tough for a team to gamble early on Aleksej Pokusevski. He could be a lottery talent hidden by a lower-level setting overseas, a small sample size of games and a pandemic that's limited teams' ability to get a closer look.
He checks a rare and exciting mix of boxes with 7'0" size, unusual shooting fluidity for a player his size, flashy passing instincts and defensive activity. Pokusevski originally began drawing attention over the summer during the FIBA U18 European Championships, during which he averaged 1.5 threes, 3.7 assists and 4.0 blocks in 25.0 minutes per game.
Then he backed it up this season, albeit in Greece's second division through just 11 games, by racking up 17 threes, 34 assists and 20 blocks while playing 23.1 minutes per game. No college player on record has posted one three-pointer per game, a 25.0 assist percentage and an 8.0 block percentage, and he exceeded all three marks with room to spare.
It's understandable why some teams might not take his game or stats seriously. He's rail-thin up top. He shot 40.4 percent from the field this season and a combined 32.4 percent over the past two FIBA tournaments. He attempts some wild plays and doesn't always look ready to get low and defend away from the hoop.
But he's also the draft's youngest prospect, not turning 19 until Dec. 26. As long as his body and discipline improve under NBA coaching, Pokusevski's skill level and movement are too special not to translate with NBA teammates and spacing.