Buying or Selling Latest NBA Draft Sleeper Rumors

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 24, 2021

Buying or Selling Latest NBA Draft Sleeper Rumors

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The NBA rumor mill is shifting into overdrive ahead of Thursday night's draft.

    Some of it might be smokescreens; some could be valid information sniffed out by insiders. A lot of it is probably a little of Column A and a little of Column B.

    To determine which is which, let's buy or sell the latest rumblings.

Raptors Have 'Real' Interest in Scottie Barnes at No. 4

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Much like fellow Florida State product Patrick Williams did last year, Scottie Barnes is making a late charge up the draft board.

    According to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, the Toronto Raptors, who hold the fourth pick, have "real" interest in Barnes.

    While Barnes hovered in the lottery for much of mock draft season, you'd have been hard pressed to find anyone projecting him in the top five—let alone the top four—a month ago. That's part of why this is hard to take at face value.

    For one, drafting Barnes at No. 4 would mean bypassing a top-four prospect. Whether that player is Jalen Green, Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs—based on most mocks, it's probably the last—each has flashed a higher ceiling than Barnes. Some might argue Toronto doesn't need Suggs if it brings back Kyle Lowry to fill the guard slot opposite Fred VanVleet, but this is too early in the talent grab to give team need much weight.

    Secondly, and maybe most importantly, there are serious questions regarding what kind of scorer Barnes will be in the NBA. He averaged 10.3 points per game while shooting 27.5 percent from three and 62.1 percent at the line during his one-and-done run with the Seminoles. Even if he maximizes his potential as a defender and 6'9" playmaker, he could congest his offense's spacing if teams don't respect his shot.

    While Green, Mobley and Suggs have fairly straightforward paths to stardom, Barnes' requires a lot more imagination. That should be reason enough for Toronto to target someone else with such an early selection.

    Verdict: Sell

Jonathan Kuminga 'Could Fall Past' No. 6

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    For much of this season, Jonathan Kuminga held top-five status. He might've been the fifth Beatle behind Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs, but Kuminga was nevertheless included.

    Until now.

    Kuminga isn't just at risk of slipping outside the top five; Kevin O'Connor reported he "could fall past" the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 6. O'Connor added that the Thunder are high on Scottie Barnes and UConn scoring guard James Bouknight, each of whom could be the pick over Kuminga.

    Taking things a step further, the Golden State Warriors could decide he's too be picked at No. 7 should they be unable (or unwilling) to trade out of that spot.

    On one hand, it's a relatively stunning fall for an 18-year-old with a wealth of tools, flashes of advanced shot-creation and a skyscraper's ceiling on defense. On the other, he is organic granola raw, which results in inconsistencies with nearly every aspect of his game.

    He can get rattled when his first read isn't open. His shooting comes and goes. He stops the ball on offense and doesn't always engage on defense.

    He isn't two years away from being two years away, but maybe he's two years away from having the skills and polish to be a reliable rotation player. Maybe he never flips the switch and his game never grows beyond explosive highlights.

    To be clear, he still has elite upside, and perhaps that should be enough for a long-term rebuilder such as the Thunder to bite. But teams could certainly determine the downside is too severe to invest a top-six pick.

    Verdict: Buy

Top-10 Team Made Promise to Franz Wagner

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    Jack Dempsey/Getty Images

    Most mock drafts have Franz Wagner landing somewhere near the midpoint of the lottery.

    One suggests he isn't in danger of falling beyond that.

    "A rumor making the rounds has a top-10 team granting a promise to Franz Wagner," B/R's Jonathan Wasserman wrote.

    Wagner's NBA appeal is clear—especially if you believe his shooting will improve. His 83.5 career free-throw percentage says that's a good gamble to take, though his 32.5 conversion rate from three highlights how much work remains.

    If he fixes his shot, he won't have a glaring weakness. The 6'9" swingman can handle, distribute, zip past closeouts and defend multiple positions.

    The only issue is he has no standout skill. He is average to above it in many different areas but not elite in any. That's fine if he brings a little of everything to the table, but if that jumper doesn't improve, he could have to scrap for minutes at the end of his team's rotation.

    He brings enough to the hardwood to justify a top-10 pick. But a top-10 promise? That seems unnecessary for a non-star with shooting concerns.

    Verdict: Sell

Warriors 'Particularly Interested' in Chris Duarte

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    Jack Dempsey/Getty Images

    The Golden State Warriors are seeking players who can contribute to a championship run. They would prefer to use their lottery picks to acquire an established contributor via trade, per Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle, but the trade market isn't guaranteed to grant that wish.

    If the Warriors keep their picks (Nos. 7 and 14), they might prioritize a prospect's readiness. That's how Chris Duarte, who turned 24 in June, could wind up in the lottery.

    "This is on the higher end for Duarte," The Athletic's Sam Vecenie wrote while projecting Duarte to the Warriors at No. 14, "a name that has come up as someone the Warriors are particularly interested in because they believe he can be a part of the team's rotation as soon as this season."

    Duarte might be bumping into his ceiling already, but the trade-off is a polished skill set tailor-made for the modern NBA.

    Essentially, he can walk into a three-and-D role on opening night. He has more off-the-dribble utility than the label implies—he can shoot off the bounce and function as a secondary facilitator—but sniping and stopping are the draws. He splashed 2.3 triples per game at a 42.4 percent clip last season and made the Pac-12's All-Defensive team.

    He looks like the perfect role player to support stars, and that's precisely what the Warriors want.

    Verdict: Buy

Some View Jalen Johnson as 'Lock' for Lottery

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Jalen Johnson sandwiched just 13 appearances around a foot injury at Duke before leaving the program to focus on his health and draft preparation. His abbreviated run didn't answer many questions about his pro potential, particularly how he'll manage against half-court defenses.

    That said, he has a high ceiling as a 6'9" playmaker who can handle and create. Some think it's high enough to guarantee he'll go among the top 14 picks.

    "I've ... talked to four different sources that seem to think Johnson is a lock in the lottery," Sam Vecenie wrote.

    That isn't a consensus opinion—Vecenie added that a couple of teams drafting in the teens said they won't take Johnson—and it shouldn't be.

    Johnson looks great in transition when he can attack off the bounce, spot open teammates and finish at the rim. But those half-court questions are plentiful.

    His shooting outlook is murky at best. His finishing is hindered by a desire to avoid contact. Even his passing (his best skill) isn't always great, as he trusts himself to make plays that aren't there and gets in trouble with avoidable turnovers.

    There are not necessarily too many risks to knock him out of the lottery, but there are enough to think his draft standing is far from certain.

    Verdict: Sell

                 

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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