2020 NBA Draft's Best Kept Secrets

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 3, 2020

2020 NBA Draft's Best Kept Secrets

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    With so much time having passed since the last college basketball season, scouts and NBA draft fans have likely looked into the potential sleepers. But we're digging deeper for even better kept secrets. 

    Among prospects expected to be available in the Nos. 45-60 range or undrafted pool, the following five prospects are the ones we're most interested in. 

    No players listed in our Sleepers Outside the Lottery were considered.

Isaiah Joe (Arkansas, SG, Sophomore)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    After originally announcing a return to Arkansas, Isaiah Joe changed his mind, an under-the-radar move that could give the 2020 class a boost.

    He should be receiving more love than he has been in the draft discussion. A drop-off in three-point percentage as a sophomore, from 41.4 percent to 34.2 percent, may have wrongfully turned scouts and media coverage away. 

    One of five freshmen to ever make 113 threes in a season, including Stephen Curry, Trae Young and Jamal Murray, Joe was on pace for even more this year (3.6 3PTM) before the pandemic. The eye test and volume approve of Joe's lethal shot-making and range, while an 89 percent free-throw mark highlights his signature touch.

    He also graded in the 89th percentile in dribble jumpers, scoring 65 total points on a combined 63 pick-and-roll and isolation possessions. 

    Though Joe rarely gets to the basket or uses dribbles to create for teammates, his perimeter game is special—with advanced footwork for shot preparation and separating into step-backs—along with his smooth shooting fluidity out to NBA range.

Naji Marshall (Xavier, SG/SF, Junior)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Disappointing shooting numbers have prevented Naji Marshall from gaining steam in the NBA draft discussion. But more consistency could eventually unlock a specific type of versatility that teams could value from a wing. 

    Jump shot aside, the intrigue with Marshall stems from his positional size and ball-handling to create, slash and facilitate or teammates. No player 6'7" or taller from the Big East or any power conference had a higher assist percentage than Marshall's 24.0 percent. 

    There should be more interest in a playmaking and passing wing like Marshall, who logged 138 pick-and-roll possessions this past season.

    But he also used the dribble effectively to penetrate and get to the basket, where he recorded 76 half-court field goals in 31 games and finished an outstanding 69.1 percent of his attempts (94th percentile). 

    There is plenty to like about Marshall's defensive tools as well. His height, length and foot speed often popped on steals and perimeter coverage.  

    Still, teams on the fence will continue circling back to Marshall's shooting. And a 28.6 three-point percentage remains underwhelming for a third-year college player. But given his driving, playmaking and defense, he shouldn't have to become a sniper. He may just have to stay threatening enough—which can mean something different depending on what team he goes to—and Marshall still hit 92 threes over the past two seasons (64 games). This past year, he converted multiple triples in 13 games and 37 total pull-ups.

    Assuming he'll be available in the No. 45-60 range, the gamble on Marshall's shooting development seems worth the risk.

Nate Hinton (Houston, SG, Sophomore)

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The league put 105 players on this year's NBA combine list, and Nate Hinton wasn't one of them. His 10.6 points per game apparently didn't make enough noise from the AAC. He deserves more love for the particular mix of boxes he checks and the decent likelihood that his core strengths can translate for patients teams.

    At 6'5", 210 pounds, Hinton should stand out to NBA teams for his positional size, picturesque shooting stroke and instincts for rebounding and defending. 

    Hinton is one of 11 college players to finish a season with at least 1.5 threes per game, a 15.0 percent rebounding percentage and a 2.5 percent steal percentage, and five were Draymond Green, Robert Covington, Kenrich Williams, Torrey Craig and Ryan Broekhoff. 

    Hinton could have a chance to stick in the right non-creator role. He sports one of the smoothest looking jumpers in terms of footwork for shot prep, rising with balance, elevation and wrist snap. He shot 38.7 percent from three and 39.3 percent pulling up, showing distinguishable fluidity releasing off the catch and dribble. 

    Still, it's his defensive strengths and nose for the ball that separate Hinton, a guard who averaged 8.7 rebounds. Being a good rebounder isn't exactly a needle-mover, but his unique knack for tracking down misses highlights anticipation and reactions that can translate to other areas like jumping passing lanes, swiping ball-handlers and guessing opponents' decisions and moves.

Sam Merrill (Utah State, SG, Senior)

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    A limited athlete who turned 24 in May, Sam Merrill may be a long shot to get picked. And there are probably teams already eyeing him as an undrafted free agent. 

    At some point, it's worth betting on elite skill, IQ and such high-level effectiveness against NCAA competition. Despite lacking any degree of speed or explosiveness, he graded in the 97th percentile in half-court offense. He's super precise working in tight spaces, needing little room to get off and hit a pull-up or movement jumper.

    An advanced shot-maker out of every action, Merrill shot 43.4 percent spotting up and 44.4 percent off screens while drilling 57 dribble-jumpers on 39.6 percent. He shot 50.0 percent on short jumpers, 48.7 percent in the mid-range and 41.0 percent from three.

    And though NBA coaches aren't likely to use him often in ball-screen situations, his .98 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (91st percentile) reflect a sharp ability to read plays/defense and shoot off the bounce. 

    Finishing with a 62.5 true shooting percentage and 9.0 percent turnover rate, Merrill's efficient execution and decision-making bode well for his role-player potential on the right roster.

Ty-Shon Alexander (Creighton, SG, Junior)

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Production wise, Ty-Shon Alexander's stats look similar to last year's. But a deeper dive into the numbers and tape shows a more efficient, versatile player with a potentially NBA-friendly skill set and defensive quickness worth betting on. 

    Though he was still mostly used off the ball, Creighton put Alexander in more ball-screen situations this season, and he made a legitimate jump with his execution and feel. A 43.3 percent spot-up shooter, he also graded in the 84th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, making 43.2 percent of his pull-ups while teammates shot 51.0 percent off his passes (74th percentile). 

    Flashes of isolation scoring (30 points, 27 possessions, 93rd percentile) highlight more development with his creation and contested shot-making. And though not the most explosive athlete for blowing by and finishing in traffic, he's sharp in the open floor, grading in the 86th percentile in transition with leak-out threes and body-controlled, step-through layups.

    Alexander also put together some convincing sequences of lockdown defense, including against the nation's leading scorer Markus Howard and Seton Hall flamethrower Myles Powell. Even if the discipline isn't always there, NBA coaches should feel good about his 6'4" size and lateral foot speed working against different types of guards.

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports-Reference.com