2017 NBA Draft Sleepers: Six Wings Who Could Stick In The League
- The Crossover continues its NBA draft sleepers series, focusing in on wings and positionless wonders, like Sterling Brown and Deonte Burton.
There are now less than three weeks until the NBA draft. Chew on that for a second. At this point, if you’ve been following the buildup you’ll be pretty familiar with this year’s core group of top prospects (or you can just read our most recent Big Board to get the lowdown). But as the main event gets closer, it’s a good time to dive a little deeper.
Last week, we took a look at some of the more unheralded big men in this class, and today we’re back with Round 2: wing players. Positions are sometimes neither here nor there these days, but what’s definitely necessary is rangy players who can shoot threes and defend as a baseline. The back end of the draft is often a great time to discover passable, versatile players, not to mention all the guys who go undrafted and make it through Summer League, the D-League (oops, G-League) and other back channels.
On that note, did you know that at the end of last season, there were more undrafted college seniors on NBA rosters than there were four-year guys picked in the second-round? This is according to my highly-scientific research, of course, AKA counting. The point is, it’s about fit. And here are six wings with intriguing skill sets—and a chance to stick around.
Sterling Brown, SMU
Brown was a vital piece of a very good SMU team. He’s the younger brother of ex-Laker Shannon Brown. And his body type and all-around offensive skill set gives him a pretty good chance to be drafted in the second round. The Chicago native averaged 13.4 points and shot 44.9% from three as a senior (45.1% career) in addition to 6.5 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 steals. Brown’s intelligence and craft are certainly intriguing, and he’s a strong set shooter who’s displayed comfort as a scorer in a variety of offensive scenarios. He can create his own shot and find others based off his know-how.
There’s not much to knock about Brown’s all-around skill set other than the old “what does he do great” adage, and that he’s athletic but not elite in terms of explosiveness. It does help that at 6’5” with a 6’9” wingspan, Brown has the potential to guard a variety of players on the perimeter, and he’s built solidly at 225 pounds. There’s a little bit of boxiness to his frame which suggests he could even play some at the four in small lineups. Don’t expect him to put up huge scoring numbers or beat a ton of people to the rim, but he’s got a great chance to fill a role akin to what he did for SMU (and in terms of transitioning to the pros, that’s always a bonus).
Davon Reed, Miami
Much like Brown, Reed has gathered draft steam as a long, rangy wing who’s a proven three-point threat (he shot 39.5% for his career at Miami) and made big contributions on both sides of the ball. Reed is 6’5” in shoes, but a physical outlier with his 7’0” wingspan and also registered a 36” max vertical at the combine. His efficiency on spot-up jumpers both off the catch and off the dribble was excellent, according to Synergy data (he averaged 1.1 points per spot-up possession overall).
All this points directly to what you want in a modern role player: enough defense to stay on the court, enough offense to give you spacing, and the athletic ability that portends some room for growth, even from a college senior. Think about what the Warriors saw in Patrick McCaw (who, to be fair, was only a sophomore). He’ll get looks in the second round and have a chance to break camp somewhere.
Devin Robinson, Florida
Robinson is less a finished product than Brown or Reed, but he’s nominally a forward and one of the most athletic players in this class, pound for pound. He made strides offensively as a junior (though he’s still 22 and old for his class), improving his three-point percentage to 39.1%, although most of his success came on set shots created by teammates. However, there’s still something to be said for that when you’re 6’8” with a 7’0” wingspan and a 41-inch vertical.
Robinson may never become adept at creating his own shot, but learning to better attack a closeout and utilize his physical gifts will be paramount if he wants to fill an NBA role. He has the size and quickness to guard four positions, but weighed in at just 190 pounds at the combine (though almost entirely muscle). He’ll need some D-League time, but could be a candidate for a two-way contract, and eventually a hyper-athletic role player somewhere.
Kostja Mushidi, Mega Leks
Another product of the Mega Leks factory, Mushidi turns 19 this month and could withdraw from the draft and stay overseas another year (the deadline for non-NCAA players who aren’t auto-eligible is 5 p.m. on June 12). He played in this year’s Hoop Summit and impressed with his confidence and competitiveness as he stroked some threes and stayed active on both sides of the ball. The Belgian prospect stands 6’5” with a 7’0” wingspan and already has a well-developed body that profiles extremely well for defensive versatility.
Mushidi struggles creating much off the dribble at this stage and appears limited to mostly straight-line drives. His shooting remains more an idea than a polished skill (he shot in the low 30% range this season) as do most of his strengths, really. But the tools are all there for Mushidi to fill out an NBA rotation, and if he stays in the draft he’s a worthy flier to stash away. He’ll need a lot of time, but it’s very much on his side.
Nik Slavica, Cibona Zagreb
The first play of the below highlight tape is Slavica absolutely rejecting the mess out of Jayson Tatum a couple years back, and it’s pretty impressive. Let’s start there.
The latest in a line of impressively athletic Croatian prospects, the 20-year-old Slavica is currently stateside working out for NBA teams in the run-up to the draft. He’s extremely explosive off the floor with great size for a two-guard, known for throwing down big dunks and rejecting shots. This all translates into a strong transition game, augmented by solid passing and rebounding. His quickness helps him project as a multipositional defender.
The catch: Slavica needs work creating his own shot and barely shot any threes this season. From that standpoint, he’s a work in progress. And while high-level athleticism can translate immediately for a young kid in the Adriatic League, there’s a greater learning curve in the NBA and less opportunity to rely on those gifts. With the jump shot looking like a major hole in his game, Slavica looks far from a sure thing—but the fact he hustles and works hard off the ball should work in his favor. So-called energy guys aren’t limited to playing in the post anymore. Slavica recently left his club and could be a good candidate to draft and keep overseas for a couple years.
Deonte Burton, Iowa State
Saving the weirdest for last, Burton has one of the most unique player profiles in this draft class and might not get picked at all. That may actually be the best scenario for him, as he’ll need a really strong baseline fit to thrive and would probably benefit on the open market. Burton is legitimately a positionless player, standing almost 6’5” in shoes with a nearly 7’0” wingspan while weighing in at a whopping 266 pounds at Portsmouth. Is he a power guard? Is he a small-ball forward? At Iowa State, he was a bit of everything and thrived. He’s a good enough athlete that his unorthodox game could mean nomenclature won’t matter.
Burton’s overall efficiency numbers last season didn’t quite corroborate with his solid shooting splits, but he performed extremely well in catch and shoot opportunities (1.286 points per possession, per Synergy) and hit the majority of his struggles in the midrange. He showed well at the PIT and looks like a legitimate three-point threat, and his thick frame and large hands allow him to barrel to the basket and create mismatches against weaker defenders. Burton is comfortable attacking off the dribble, crafty in getting to his left hand, and has good body control around the rim.
Although Burton has always been thickly built and had success that way since high school, he’ll have to slim down at least somewhat to better hold up on the defensive end. The weight is nice when you’re guarding forwards, but he’s so small relatively speaking that it may not matter. He’ll also have to adjust to whatever system he ends up in, given it’s unlikely an NBA team will ever cast him as a ball-dominant scorer. But as a weird bench piece (and I mean that in the good, Spurs-y way), Burton has a chance to surprise if he can smooth out some of the edges to his game. He could be a low-risk, high-reward investment for someone.