Most would agree that the top of the NBA draft should be reserved for young players with the most upside, mainly stellar NCAA freshmen and intriguing foreign teenagers. This particular draft goes about 20-deep with such prospects. While scouting and projecting potential draft picks is a complex process that involves pouring into data and film and conducting dozens of workouts and interviews, the strategy of teams drafting outside of the top-20 should be simple: find a winner. The entire point of the draft is to add winning players to your team, so what better place to look than guys who were proven winners at lower levels. More specifically, I would target players who could assume a similar role in the NBA that they had in college. Some recent examples include Malcolm Brogdon, Ron Baker, Larry Nance Jr., Josh Richardson, Norman Powell, and T.J. McConnell. Shooting for a 20 ppg scorer among upperclassmen is how you end up squandering a lottery pick on Buddy Hield or Doug McDermott.
As someone who would die on the hill of the efficacy of “pure point guards”, I am a strong proponent of Monte Morris as a draft prospect. As a four year starter at Iowa State, Morris compiled by far the best assist-to-turnover ratio for any draft prospect in the last 15 years, to the tune of nearly 4.8 assists per turnover. Iowa State finished each of Morris’ seasons on campus in the NCAA tournament and the AP top 25, breaking a 12-year spell of unranked Cyclones teams stretching back to the Marcus Fizer era.
I wrote about Josh Hart as a sleeper-in-waiting prior to last season, and he followed up by winning a national title and then emerging as a POY candidate as a senior. Although his college career ended on a sour note, that is the kind of track record you like to see from a four-year NCAA player. Hart’s tenure at Villanova coincided with the most dominant stretch in the history of the storied program, as he helped the Wildcats to seasons of 29, 33, 35, and 32 wins, albeit in a dilapidated Big East conference.
Thornwell, who has been vaguely on the draft radar since his freshman year, didn’t really blossom until this his senior season when he emerged as arguably the best player in the NCAA. This is a red flag with older draft prospects, but in watching Thornwell lead South Carolina on a warpath to the Sweet 16 it’s hard to envision him being a bad player at the next level. His improved three-point shooting this season (40%) looks legit, and he is a very good defender and passer. Seeing as outside shooting, passing, and defense are the three main tenets of being an effective SG, Sindarius looks like a good bet to stick in the pros.
Honorable Mention: Joel Berry (UNC), Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan), Devonte’ Graham (Kansas)
Even though Nigel Hayes never followed up on the promise he showed as a sophomore on Wisconsin’s Final Four team in 2015, he is a uniquely intelligent kid who knows how to play and has helped lead several under-talented Badgers teams deep into the tournament. I don’t know if Nigel is worth a draft pick at this point, but I would make him a priority in the free agent pool if he were to go un-selected.
Oregon’s star player is a “master of none” type but his body and game just screams NBA to me. As a sophomore Brooks led Oregon to the program’s first ever no.1 seed and he has the Ducks back in the Sweet 16 as a junior. I would gladly take Brooks over comparable players like Jarron Blossomgame or Justin Jackson, both of whom are higher on DraftExpress.com’s most recent mock draft.
Reggie Upshaw Jr.
Middle Tennessee State
Upshaw has made a name for himself as a March Madness hero with memorable first-round performances against Michigan State last year and Minnesota last week. Along with guard Giddy Potts, Upshaw has taken the Middle Tennessee program to new heights as a mid-major power that has advanced in the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years. Reggie has a versatile offensive game to go along with solid defensive metrics, and is worth a shot for a team seeking the next Robert Covington, who coincidentally played at regular Tennessee State.
Bonzie is likely to return to school for another year but I like him so much I’m including him anyway. Colson is just a textbook sleeper; easily written off as short and ground-bound, all the guy does is stuff the stat sheet and win games for Notre Dame. A stocky, undersized power forward with a disproportionally long (7’2″) wingspan, Bonzie’s profile remotely resembles that of Draymond Green coming out of Michigan State. Rockets GM Daryl Morey spoke recently about the pitfalls of the eye-test, recanting a story about how his staff had labeled Marc Gasol “man-boobs”, and guess who has a soft spot for undersized big men and Draymond facsimiles: Darryl Morey! So I’m calling it now: Bonzie to Houston in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Hassan Martin (Rhode Island), Alec Peters (Valparaiso)