2017 NBA Draft Sleepers: Best Of The Bigs
- Now that we're closer to the NBA draft, it's time to widen our scope and focus on potential sleepers, starting with big men like Chris Boucher and Ben Moore.
Greetings, draftlings. We’ve mocked the first round, we’ve ranked the top prospects, and with 29 days left, it’s time to expand our horizons and journey deep into the player pool. Time to try and figure out how to pronounce things like “Anzejs Pasecniks.” Actually, the pronunciation guide may come later.
But anyway, today we’ll take a look at some of the lesser-known big men in the draft, the first of a three-part series examining nominal “sleepers” by position groups. Some of these guys may get drafted, some may not, but no matter what, you’ll feel smarter than everyone else when you watch Summer League games in July with your friends. Right?
Here’s a look at some of the more intriguing big men expected to go later in the draft, including some European guys that could wind up going higher than we might think.
Chris Boucher, Oregon
Although Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell have been more frequent subjects of discussion, Boucher was the fourth Oregon player in attendance at the combine as he continues on his return from ACL surgery. His medicals have come out clear thus far, and he remains on track for an Oct. 1 return to the court, in time for NBA training camp. Despite fading from the public eye somewhat, he interviewed at the combine and is receiving looks from a range of teams drafting in the second round. He officially measured at 6'9" with a 7'4" wingspan, and his physical testing data from Oregon (including a 36" max vertical) places him among the more athletic bigs in this crop.
A native of St. Lucia with an intriguing backstory (profiled here at length by Luke Winn), Boucher is one of the oldest players in this class at 24, but possesses serious physical tools and was one of college basketball’s top shot-blockers over the last couple seasons. That said, he’s still extremely thin, and given his age, there’s likely not a ton left for him to accomplish on the physical development front. To be fair, the injury has certainly held him back as far as adding weight, but that’s likely where concerns will stem from. He’s shown facility in pick and pop situations, became a threat from outside at Oregon and also worked as an off-ball threat beneath the basket who could fill a role effectively for the right team. He’s got a chance to be a sneaky second-round selection.
Mathias Lessort, France
The native of Martinique was one of the top players in France this season as a 21-year-old for Nanterre, known for his activity and explosive athleticism. He’s got a pro-ready frame that should transition to the NBA just fine. Clint Capela’s impressive development in Houston offers a nice model for big men of Lessort’s ilk (the two were actually teammates way back when), and although the latter is a bit smaller, it certainly helps that the league is trending that way. He’ll run the floor and battle on the interior to produce easy, high-percentage shots, and those selling points make him a person of interest in this international crop. He’s got good timing on the defensive end altering shots.
The overall production profile at a young age is impressive, even if Lessort isn’t playing other elite athletes on a nightly basis and lacks much of an offensive skill set otherwise. His strengths will have him in consideration as a stashable energy big with some upside to become a strong role player. He stands around 6'9", which is passable to center smaller lineups. Look for him as a second-round selection.
Anzejs Pasecniks, Latvia
There’s another large Latvian man who looks bound for the NBA with a chance to make an impact. The 7'2" Pasecniks has spent the past year with Gran Canaria in the Spanish ACB and turns 22 in December. He’s begun to fill out his frame, and though he’s still a project, his offensive skills, shooting potential and overall mobility give him some room to grow as a player teams may look to stash for a season or two. He profiles as a guy who can catch lobs, pick and pop and affect games with his physical tools. It helps greatly that he’s not a total stiff defensively at his size, able to move with screeners and block shots capably.
Given all those easy-to-sell strengths, Pasecniks is receiving consideration in the back end of the first round, particularly from teams with multiple picks and those looking to preserve roster flexibility going forward. He averaged eight points and three rebounds in 16 minutes per game this season. Given the overall trend toward overseas selections, expect to hear his name called. He’s widely seen as a late-blooming type and could be one of the first foreign players drafted.
Jonah Bolden, Australia
You may have forgotten about Bolden, the former highly-rated UCLA prospect who chose instead to play in Serbia for a year, but the NBA has not. He was forced to redshirt after being ruled ineligible for the 2014–15 season and then had surgery on a torn meniscus that further derailed his aspirations. He left after one year and turned pro, putting together a productive year for KK FMP Beograd, where his entire skill set was put on better display. His father Bruce is American and played pro ball in Australia for 17 years after attending Boise State in the 80s. Jonah was involved with the Boomers at youth levels.
Bolden’s versatility and legitimacy as a spot-up shooter (39.7% from three on 141 attempts this season) at 6'10" stand out and make him a pretty solid prospect. He’s a good athlete and leaper who will throw down difficult lobs and has nice ability to play off the dribble. Bolden can be a very good defender with his length and quickness but like many bigs his age, needs to get stronger to cut it at the NBA level. A year playing against grown men at age 21 definitely helps his case a bit. He had some really strong moments this season and should be worth a second round pick. With his advanced skills for his siave, Bolden could be ready to come over and develop sooner than later.
Ben Moore, SMU
Moore has flown largely under the radar to this point and was overshadowed as a glue guy on a very good SMU team playing alongside a handful of other strong prospects. But as an athletic, versatile, hard-working defender, he’s receiving looks from teams as a potential target for a two-way contract. Moore worked out for the Pacers last week and is scheduled for more teams as the draft approaches. He’s a developmental piece and needs to get stronger, but still young for a senior and offers some intriguing untapped potential.
Originally recruited to SMU by Larry Brown, Moore was a key four-year player for the Mustangs working as a glue guy under the basket. He’s a good ballhandler and passer and can face up and attack the rim comfortably. At 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan, he’s built more like a three, but in a league that’s going smaller and smaller, he has a chance to round out a rotation as a specialist. How far his jump shot can develop will play a determining role in his success going forward. There’s more to see here than meets the eye.
Alpha Kaba, France
Here’s a guy who’s been on the draft radar forever, it seems (at least for scouting nerds). Kaba comes off a solid season with Mega Leks, a team that’s been a bit of a prospect factory in recent years, and has physical gifts on par with the top players in the class. At 6’10” with a 7’5” wingspan, Kaba has potential as an athletic banger in the paint in addition to tangible comfort shooting jump shots. He’s mobile, a developing passer, and recently turned 21.
Kaba’s skill level is pretty high for a guy his size, and he’s improved at putting the ball on the floor, suggesting he has some stretch-four potential. He’s been knocked for occasionally wavering effort levels and isn’t an elite-caliber athlete in terms of explosiveness, but for a kid his age, he’s a well-rounded, improving prospect. He needs to be coached up and should benefit from staying overseas a while longer.