We know that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are going to be good, that’s why they will be the first two off the board at the NBA Draft Thursday night. But that’s just a couple picks in a 60-pick draft.
Each year a couple of players emerge from the second round — or are undrafted — then later carve out a nice niche for themselves in the NBA. Sleepers. Guys scouts and GMs looked past for some reason who develop late or have skills that overcome their weaknesses. There will be a few of those in this draft.
Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk laid out a couple on the PBT Podcast breaking down the draft. Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog and Rotoworld gave us three more guys to watch. Here is our list of sleepers that you should be happy if your team grabs.
• Gary Payton II, 6’3” point guard (Oregon State). Yes, the son of that Gary Payton. The younger Payton has speed and fantastic body control, which combined with good handles lets him drive through defenses and get to the rim. He’s a strong pick-and-roll ball handler. He’s not the defender his father was (who is?), but he’s good, particularly off the ball. He needs to work on his jumper, but this is a guy who just gets the game.
• Tyler Ulis, 5’10” point guard (Kentucky). The obvious knock on Ulis is his height, which is officially 5’10” but that is generous. He has fantastic ball handling skills, is quick and uses that to get into the lane off the pick-and-roll, he has good vision and passing skills, and he is a quality floor general. He’s also a pesky defender (he was the SEC defensive player of the year). He’s not a future All-Star, but he can be a very good backup point guard off the bench.
• A.J. Hammons, 7’0” center (Purdue). There may not be a big man prospect as ready to come in and make an impact than Hammons, the seven-footer from Purdue. His ability to defend in the post and the pick-and-roll is very good, and he averaged two blocks or more all four of his college seasons. Hammons’ offensive game has also developed well, including showing the ability to step out and knock down 15 to 18 footers. He’ll be 24 in August, but I’m not so sure any of the younger big men in this draft will develop his skill set on both sides of the ball.
• Isaiah Cousins, 6’6″ shooting guard (Oklahoma). Cousins played in Buddy Hield’s spotlight last season, but he is another versatile guard who can allow a coach to play around his line-ups. He has good size at 6’4.5, hit 41 percent from three, and plays solid defense. Add his ability to create in the pick-and-roll, and Cousins will be a very good value in the second round.
• Isaiah Whitehead, 6’5″ shooting guard (Seton Hall). Whitehead can cause a coach to lose his mind at times, but he has a special ability to create off the dribble, whether for himself or a teammate, plus has the versatility, size, and scoring ability to play either backcourt spot. If a coach can get him to reign in his inner-Lance Stephenson, Whitehead could be a great addition to any guard rotation.