Give any basketball operations guru a prospect with an NBA body -- just the right combination of height, wingspan, strength, speed, quickness, leaping ability -- and drooling will ensue. So what if the player shot 41 percent from the floor and never took a shot beyond eight feet from the basket? He's got upside. You can't teach size. You can't coach athleticism.
Though athletes are likely to get drafted, they're unlikely to go in the first round. Take the case of Carlos Boozer, who fell to the second round in 2002.Boozer had steadily improved as a collegian at Duke and turned pro after raising his per-game averages to 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds as a junior. Yet luminaries such as Nikoloz Tskitishvili (fifth overall pick), Dajuan Wagner (sixth), Marcus Haislip (13th) and Curtis Borchardt (18th) were all selected ahead of him. Boozer's sin? At 6-9, he was a tweener. Not tall enough to play center, not enough reach for even power forward and not agile enough to play at the three.
Is there another Boozer in this year's draft? Of course. Here are 11 sleeper prospects.
(Note: "offensive rating" is a measure of how efficiently a player uses up the possessions for his team. Players with low shooting percentages or who commit a lot of turnovers don't score well by this measure. All of the players on the list used up at least 28 percent of his team's possessions last season. This "usage rate" is indicative of a player's ability to generate scoring opportunities, an essential quality if a player's performance is going to translate to the next level. The full accounting of offensive rating leaders can be found in the statistics section at BasketballProspectus.com and is based on the work of analyst Ken Pomeroy.)
1. Jason Thompson (6-11 Sr., PF, Rider): Thompson is a likely mid-to late-first round pick, but he has lottery talent thanks to an offensive rating of 110.9, 23rd in the nation among high-usage players. He shot 57.8 percent from the field. Most impressive, he blocked 8.6 percent of opponents' two-point attempts while he was on the floor, the 46th best rate in the country. Thompson combines those numbers with some of the physical attributes that scouts love: great leaping ability, speed and explosiveness in the open floor. Thompson grew four inches while in college so he's a late bloomer. His jump shot is a work in progress but he does seem to have an affinity for playing a face-up game, a necessity because of his slender build. He's going to be a better pro than similarly-sized Donte Greene of Syracuse.
2. Ryan Anderson (6-10 So., SF/PF, California): Simply put, Anderson was one of the best offensive players in the country last season. His offensive rating of 121.1 ranked third in the nation among high-usage players. He hit 41 percent of his 156 three-point attempts and was one of the best rebounders in the college game. Anderson, who hasn't hired an agent and can still withdraw from the draft, posted these numbers as a sophomore in the tough Pac-10.
3. Richard Hendrix (6-8 Jr., PF, Alabama): Hendrix may be this draft's poster child for productive underrated players because of tweener size. Hendrix shot more than 60 percent on his two-point shots and his offensive rebound rate (12.9 percent of his own team's misses) was 59th in the country. He's a tireless worker, adept at getting to the foul line and had a block rate of 7.2 (82nd). That suggests that Hendrix plays bigger than his height, probably because of his long arms. He'll be a steal for somebody.
4. Trent Plaisted (6-10 Jr., PF/C, BYU): Plaisted is a tweener big man with a center's game and a power forward's body. He has a solid set of interior skills and surprising athleticism and his calling card is his post-up game, which translated to a terrific foul-drawing rate. He didn't attempt a three-pointer last season but he probably needs to develop a faceup game to play in the NBA. The fact that he shot only 54 percent from the line suggests that may be easier said than done.
5. George Hill (6-2 Jr., PG, IUPUI): Undersized combo guards can be giant killers in the NCAA tournament but on draft day they're a dime a dozen. Hill's standout trait is his ability to create. He used 28.8 of his team's possessions and shot 58 percent on two-pointers and 45 percent from beyond the arc. In other words, Hill can flat stroke it. Beyond that, however, Hill had one of the 100 best-foul drawing rates in the country last season. Add it all up and Hill had the highest offensive rating in the nation among high-usage players. His playmaking abilities are in question, as is the caliber of competition he faced at IUPUI, but Hill turned heads in Orlando last week and will likely be a second-round pick.
6. Marcelus Kemp (Sr., SG, Nevada): More a scorer than a shooter, Kemp can get his shot off when he wants to, which should be enough to get him in someone's camp. He was 56th in usage rate last season and averaged 20 points per game. His shot has limited range -- he's more Rip Hamilton than Ray Allen -- and he's going to have to be a more efficient shooter to play in the NBA.
7. Courtney Lee (6-5 Sr., SG, Western Kentucky): Lee is a long-range gunner with no conscience. The rest of his game and physical attributes are pedestrian but his shooting ability could get him a pro opportunity. Lee has a deadly midrange jumper but also shoots a solid percentage from beyond the arc. Overall, he posted the ninth-best offensive rating in the country last season. Lee is not great off the dribble and his versatility on offense is lacking. What may put him over the top in the draft is his defense. Both his steal and block rates were solid and the combination of those two metrics often suggests a top-notch defender. Working against Lee will be his performance in his final college game, when he went 7-of-29 against the NBA-caliber defense of UCLA.
8. Sean Singletary (5-11 Sr., PG, Virginia): Singletary hit some big shots for the Cavaliers during his four seasons. As a senior, he posted the 12th-best assist rate in the country. He's good at using his body to create contact and drawing fouls. At 5-11, Singletary's primary drawback is his size. Of more concern should be his shooting percentages (40 percent from the field, 38.9 from three). His got his points (19 per game, second in the ACC) and assists (4.2 per game, 12th best in the country), though, and he put them up in an elite conference. And perhaps most importantly, the kid's got heart.
9. Will Daniels (6-8 Sr., SF, Rhode Island): Daniels improved in each of his four seasons at Rhode Island, morphing from a low-percentage player with questionable shot selection to a very efficient scorer as a senior. Daniels is something of a longshot, but he's got ideal size for a small forward and has a good midrange shooting touch. If he can play defense, he'll stick.
10. Gary Forbes (6-7 Sr., SG, Massachusetts): Forbes is a lunchpail, swingman who can get his own shot and has solid passing skills. He's also a decent rebounder for his size and could sneak into the league if he can guard NBA wing players. He's more productive than efficient and doesn't really have that one skill that jumps out.
11. Jaycee Carroll (6-2 Sr., SG, Utah State): Talk about your sleepers. Carroll is the longest of long shots. He isn't likely to be drafted and probably will spend next season playing overseas unless he can slip onto a D-league roster. Nevertheless, Carroll was a fun player to watch in college. He took more than 30 percent of his team's shots but hit such a high percentage (49.8 percent of 229 three-point attempts) that it didn't matter. He's only 6-2, doesn't have point guard skills or athleticism and is already 24 years old. He might be a poor man's J.J. Redick. Who knows, though? He could follow a similar career path of the Hornets' Jannero Pargo, who made the rounds of the NBA's minor leagues before finally sticking in the Show.