NBA draft sleepers: Five underrated players ready to make an impact
Ben Simmons “secretly” worked out for the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday morning before his Instagram photo permeated the entire internet. Jeff Teague and George Hill changed teams shortly after the NBA’s annual draft media day. About an hour later, the Chicago Bulls dealt their prodigal son Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, completely overshadowing any draft selection outside the lottery Thursday night. But don’t be fooled: The 2016 draft class is loaded with versatile, established collegiate players who can fill an NBA role seamlessly. Here are five players who should be able to make an impact at the next level, likely to be selected far below their actual value.
After two straight injury-riddled seasons, Caris LeVert’s medical red flag might as well be a scarlet letter. For a team to be comfortable selecting him in the first round, its medical staff will have to feel more than confident LeVert will be able to overcome a left foot that’s sustained two surgeries and a “lower left leg” injury that caused him miss 19 of Michigan’s last 20 games. Before he was bit by the injury bug, LeVert flashed lottery-level talent. At 6' 7", 190 pounds with a 6' 10" wingspan, LeVert has the ability to guard three positions while possessing the shooting stroke and playmaking ability to fit both backcourt spots in an NBA offense. Whichever team drafts him will add an extremely malleable 21-year-old to both ends of the floor. If he can stay on the court, LeVert will be considered the steal of this draft.
The big man out of a Purdue is a load in the paint at 7' 0", 260 pounds. Hammons possesses the perimeter-oriented skillset necessary to adapt to the current NBA playing style. He can run rim-to-rim in transition, rebound at his position and step outside to hit a jump shot. He would most likely be a first-round lock if it wasn’t for his age. Hammons will be a 24-year-old rookie, causing concern across the league that he’s essentially a finished product. And despite the small-ball era, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Tristan Thompson just proved how versatile, athletic big men will always have a role in this league. Hammons fits the bill. He should be able to make an instant impact off the bench.
Gary Payton II
Gary Payton II can defend opposing point guards as well as any diminutive player in this draft. At 6' 3" with a 6' 8" wingspan, he can ballhawk like a demon and also switch onto bigger guards. In a league that’s never been more dominated by lead ball handlers, adding an athletic freak who can defend the opponent’s All-Star point guard is an extremely valuable asset off the bench. “The Mitten” led Oregon State in minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals a year ago. He’s a gamer. He gambles a little too much defensively and doesn’t appear to have much room left to grow at 23. But a team that snags him in the second round will be very happy with Payton II as a reserve, as long as expectations aren’t too high and he’s allowed to compete in a reasonable role.
Photos of SI’s finals NBA draft Big Board
Cordinier won’t turn 20 until late November, and he possess the prototypical size for a modern-day two guard. At 6' 5" with a 6' 8" wingspan, the French product harnesses bouncy athleticism in his legs and can knock down spot-up three-pointers. His skinny frame and unrefined game outside of standalone jumpers has soured many scouts on his potential. Some across the league are skeptical he’ll ever be able to add enough to his game to play meaningful minutes in the NBA. He struggled mightily at the Nike Hoop Summit this year and has never truly played against top-level talent in France. If he falls into the right system with a coaching staff that will meticulously develop him, Cordinier could follow a similar, patient rise as Allen Crabbe recently completed.
Considered right on the cusp of some team’s draft boards, Yogi Ferrell will almost certainly be in an NBA training camp next season. He can run a team extremely well at the point guard position. He’s a pit bull on-ball defender. Ferrell has shown a solid shooting stroke as well—he was the only point guard in the NCAA this year to average 17 points and 5.5 assists per game while shooting more than 40% from three-point land. At 6' 0", there are warranted defensive concerns about Ferrell around the league. As the playoffs just proved, it’s easy to target smaller perimeter defenders in pick-and-rolls. He’s also already 23 after graduating from Indiana, but Ferrell has been a proven winner and has outperformed many of the higher-ranked point guards on the workout circuit. He’ll either be drafted or his agent’s phone will be buzzing afterward from teams trying to sign him to a small, guaranteed contract to get him on their summer league roster and into camp. Don’t be surprised if he ends up a team’s third point guard on opening night a la T.J. McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova.