Sleeper NBA Draft Prospects Who Can Still Break Out in 2022

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2022

Sleeper NBA Draft Prospects Who Can Still Break Out in 2022

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    Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

    NBA draft projections are out, but there are bound to be new names added and other surprise prospects moved up the board by March.

    Five players specifically look capable of breaking out during conference play and generating draft buzz in the process. 

    They might not all be ready to enter and remain in the 2022 draft, but these prospects should at least have the NBA's attention by the NCAA tournament.

Malaki Branham (Ohio State, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

    Scouts will be paying more attention to Malaki Branham following his 35-point game against Nebraska on Jan. 2. That type of volume scoring did come out of nowhere, but he started showing signs since the Duke game Nov. 30, and he's coming off another big effort with 24 points on eight shots, plus five assists and three steals against Northwestern.

    His confidence has visibly risen, as we're seeing a more assertive driver and pull-up shooter. 

    At 6'5", Branham has NBA size and long strides for beating closing defenders or turning the corner as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He's looking comfortable shooting out of different situations, doing a nice job creating separation into dribble jumpers (44.4 percent), releasing with balance off a curl or making catch-and-shoot threes (41.9 percent 3PT). 

    He doesn't make many exciting athletic plays, but given his tools and freshman production, Branham's three-level scoring and shot-making versatility should look attractive if he continues to build on this month's breakout play. 

Max Christie (Michigan State, SG/SF, Freshman)

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    Max Christie's shot is starting to fall and make it easier for scouts to picture an NBA fit.

    Significantly downgrading the 18-year-old after a month would have been premature. Coming off a 21-point game (on nine shots) against Nebraska, the 6'6" freshman wing is now 9-of-14 from three over Michigan State's last three games, averaging 16.3 points during that stretch. 

    Though not a dangerous one-on-one creator, Christie is a comfortable off-ball scorer with his footwork and jumper mechanics. His shot preparation is sharp, which has helped him hit 11-of-22 attempts shooting off screens. He shows rhythm and fluidity squaring up and one-two stepping into catch-and-shoot opportunities. And he gets noticeable balance rising up into pull-ups.

    Despite limited on-ball reps for a 13-2 team led by seniors Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham Jr., Christie is still the team's third-leading scorer. Assuming this recent stretch of shooting is a more accurate indicator than his November and December numbers (based on high school tape, FIBA, his 80.0 free-throw percentage and the eye test), Christie should offer translatable shot-making versatility for complementary scoring within the flow of an offense.

Allen Flanigan (Auburn, SG/SF, Junior)

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    An offseason Achilles injury silenced some of the excitement around Allen Flanigan's return from a breakout sophomore season. But he's back now and getting comfortable, combining to shoot 8-of-13 between his second and third game. 

    Explosive and 6'6", 215 pounds, Flanigan hit NBA radars last year by making an unusual jump as a creator and shot-maker, finishing the 2020-21 season with 44 threes (up from five), a 77.6 free-throw mark (up from 45.9 percent), 2.9 assists and 1.06 points per possession out of isolation (88th percentile). While converting 70.7 percent of his attempts around the basket, he demonstrated remarkable improvement to his catch-and-shoot game (45.7 percent), became a threat to pull up (21 dribble jumpers) or use a floater (8-of-20) and showed promise as a pick-and-roll passer (33 ball-screen assists).

    After averaging 3.3 turnovers, Flanigan still has room to grow as a decision-maker, and he could show more restraint with his shot selection. But he's in a good spot now to make those adjustments and remain efficient, reentering a lineup that suddenly has potential No. 1 pick Jabari Smith and impact transfers Kessler Walker, KD Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. 

    Even with the rosters' additions, Flanigan should still receive enough usage to showcase his mix of athleticism and self-creation in a scoring role. And it will reflect favorably on the junior wing's stock if his production helps elevate Auburn into the championship contender the Tigers seem capable of becoming.

Alex Fudge (LSU, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Scouts aren't sold that Alex Fudge will have proven enough by the 2022 NBA draft. But they see the potential. And there is enough time for him to show in-season growth and persuade NBA teams to reach early, put him in their development system and stay patient.

    Only two NCAA players have played at least 500 minutes and registered a 4.5 steal percentage and 5.5 block percentage. One was Matisse Thybulle. Fudge is on pace to join him with an outstanding mix of size, quickness and hops, plus the instincts to optimize those special physical traits for exciting defensive playmaking.

    His defensive projection remains the obvious draw, but scouts will still want to see more flashes of shot-making or slashing before showing a willingness to invest early this summer. At this point, his offense mostly comes off transition and cuts.

    However, for a 6'8", 18-year-old with elite defensive numbers and tools, Fudge might not need to show too much offensively for scouts to express interest. Subtle signs of shooting touch or even just more scoring production off athletic plays could entice teams.

Josh Minott (Memphis, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Making a strong case to remain a starter after being named one last week, Josh Minott appears on the verge of breaking out.

    On Memphis' three-game winning streak, he's led the team in scoring against Wichita State, added 11 boards, five assists and two steals versus Tulsa and finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and key plays late in a win over Cincinnati. 

    There is also enough behind his impact, physical tools, defensive activity and room for skill development for scouts to deem Minott worth tracking.

    He has the highest box plus-minus (8.1) on a Memphis team featuring lottery talents Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates. At 6'8", he's registering a 3.5 steal percentage and 5.0 block percentage, promising indicators that reflect quick hands, reaction time and mobility.

    Shooting 60.4 percent inside the arc, Minott is mostly taking what the defense gives up, using his size, athleticism and effort to crash the offensive glass, cut for easy baskets and get out in transition. But based on last year in high school and brief flashes early with Memphis, signs of shooting touch, slashing and passing suggest there is more to his game.

            

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports-Reference.com

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