5 NBA Draft Sleeper Picks to Look Out For
It’s NBA Draft week. We should be making our Fourth of July plans, watching baseball and spending all our spare time outdoors. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic rages on and we’re mostly stuck inside, watching football and longing for the days of yore.
Nonetheless, the draft is on Wednesday and still brings with it the same excitement it always does. And unlike most recent years, there is no clear-cut No. 1 pick. Everything about the upcoming virtual draft is still very much in the air. The Timberwolves are on the clock and no one really knows what direction they’re going; the Warriors, on the verge of returning to being a powerhouse, have all sorts of options at No. 2 and the lottery as a whole seems wide open
But who might be the next Draymond Green of the NBA? I’m not talking about a “gritty” big man with a smooth, outside shot. I mean that diamond in the rough who helps lead a team to glory. Green was the 35th pick in the 2012 draft, and he hasn’t been shy about letting teams know they shouldn’t have passed on him — and he’s got a point. The former Michigan State Spartan is now a three-time NBA champion with multiple All-Star and All-NBA accolades to his name.
So which players should NBA teams be wary of sleeping on in this week’s draft? Here are five candidates to leave teams wondering why they didn’t take him down the road.
Obi Toppin — F Dayton
Okay, hear me out. I know no one is really “sleeping” on Toppin, but the hype I think he’s worthy of just doesn’t seem to be there. Most mock drafts out there seem to have Toppin right around the top five, but some have him as low as the 8-10 range. In my eyes, there’s a strong case for Toppin to go No. 1, though we all know that won’t happen.
The 22-year-old Toppin set the college basketball world on fire last year as he won national player of the year honors and had the mid-major Dayton Flyers in the mix for a No. 1 seed. The high-flyer may have been hurt the most of any college basketball player by the absence of March Madness. He never got that national spotlight for his pre-draft coming out party.
Toppin has the massive, sculpted body of a power forward and flashes of a guard’s skill set. He can clearly attack the rim with his incredible bounce, and with a 39% clip from 3-point range, Toppin is one of the most versatile players out there. What’s not to love? I guess executives would say his age knocks down his value, but to that, I say… be cautious. This kid is ready for the NBA right now, and he’s the kind of player that can excite a fan base and put butts in seats.
Killian Hayes — PG, France/Germany
Sort of like Toppin, Killian Hayes is a surefire lottery pick, yet many mock drafts seem to be sleeping on him. Most casual fans surely know next to nothing about the young Frenchman, but a quick YouTube search will show there’s plenty to love.
Hayes, who played in the German Bundesliga, has some stellar footwork. The athletic lefty is explosive off the bounce, he can drive, he can pass, he can shoot, and perhaps most enticing of all, he’s lanky with a hell of a wingspan for a point guard. What’s not to like? And just for kicks, he’s reportedly got an insane work ethic and mentality. I’d go as far as calling Hayes the best point guard prospect in this draft, and that’s hard to pass up, but some mocks have him curiously low, some even outside the top 10.
Cassius Winston — PG, Michigan State
Similarly to Toppin, Cassius Winston never got the final farewell he deserved. Winston will go down as one of the greats in Michigan State basketball history. He’s one of the smartest, craftiest point guards I’ve ever watched. Yes, he’s undersized — that’s the biggest knock on Winston. But that never stopped Isaiah Thomas from coming out of Washington and making a name for himself.
Winston may not have a huge amount of upside, but his ungodly basketball IQ and spot-up shooting make him more than capable of stepping into a bench role for a contending team and producing meaningful results. He’d be a great steal for any number of teams late in the first round — especially the Lakers as they prepare for their title defense — but Winston is widely projected to be a second-rounder. That’d be a huge missed opportunity, if you ask me.
Payton Pritchard — PG, Oregon
Speaking of point guards ready to make an impact off the bench right away, Payton Pritchard belongs on an NBA roster next season. The former Oregon Duck can light it up. He averaged 20.5 PPG on 41.5 3FG% last season, peaking in an overtime win at Arizona when he exploded for 38 points.
If I was forced to draw an NBA comparison, I’d go somewhere between Jalen Brunson and JJ Redick. That’s pretty good company for a guy that’s projected to go in the mid-second round.
Killian Tillie — F, Gonzaga
Of all the guys on this list, this is the one I understand the most. Tillie could never stay healthy at Gonzaga, but when he was up and running, he was an absolute joy to watch. The 6-foot-10, 220-lb. product of France would undoubtedly be a first-round pick, and in all likelihood a lottery pick if it weren’t for his injuries.
Aside from the injury-related red flags, there aren’t many drawbacks for a guy that has the ability to stretch the floor. Tillie shot better than 40% from 3-point range during his four years in Spokane and at times showed the ability to rim run as well as hold his own in the post. If I’m an NBA exec, this is a guy I’m more than willing to take a flier on, given the right draft position.