Breaking down the underrated draft hopefuls
Give any basketball operations guru a prospect with an NBA body -- just the right combination of height, wingspan, strength, speed, quickness, leaping ability -- and drooling will ensue. So what if the player shot 41 percent from the floor and never took a shot beyond eight feet from the basket? He's got upside. You can't teach size. You can't coach athleticism.
Though athletes are likely to get drafted, they're unlikely to go in the first round. Take the case of Carlos Boozer, who fell to the second round in 2002. Boozer had steadily improved as a collegian at Duke and turned pro after raising his per-game averages to 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds as a junior. Yet luminaries such as Nikoloz Tskitishvili (fifth overall pick), Dajuan Wagner (sixth), Marcus Haislip (13th) and Curtis Borchardt (18th) were all selected ahead of him. Boozer's sin? At 6-9, he was a tweener. Not tall enough to play center, not enough reach for even power forward and not agile enough to play at the three.
Is there another Boozer in this year's draft? Of course. Here are 11 sleeper prospects.
(Note: "offensive rating" is a measure of how efficiently a player uses up the possessions for his team. Players with low shooting percentages or who commit a lot of turnovers don't score well by this measure. All of the players on the list used up at least 28 percent of his team's possessions last season. This "usage rate" is indicative of a player's ability to generate scoring opportunities, an essential quality if a player's performance is going to translate to the next level. The full accounting of offensive rating leaders can be found in the statistics section at BasketballProspectus.com and is based on the work of analyst Ken Pomeroy.)
1. Jason Thompson (6-11 Sr., PF, Rider): Thompson is a likely mid-to late-first round pick, but he has lottery talent thanks to an offensive rating of 110.9, 23rd in the nation among high-usage players. He shot 57.8 percent from the field. Most impressive, he blocked 8.6 percent of opponents' two-point attempts while he was on the floor, the 46th best rate in the country. Thompson combines those numbers with some of the physical attributes that scouts love: great leaping ability, speed and explosiveness in the open floor. Thompson grew four inches while in college so he's a late bloomer. His jump shot is a work in progress but he does seem to have an affinity for playing a face-up game, a necessity because of his slender build. He's going to be a better pro than similarly-sized Donte Greene of Syracuse.
2. Ryan Anderson (6-10 So., SF/PF, California): Simply put, Anderson was one of the best offensive players in the country last season. His offensive rating of 121.1 ranked third in the nation among high-usage players. He hit 41 percent of his 156 three-point attempts and was one of the best rebounders in the college game. Anderson, who hasn't hired an agent and can still withdraw from the draft, posted these numbers as a sophomore in the tough Pac-10.
3. Richard Hendrix (6-8 Jr., PF, Alabama): Hendrix may be this draft's poster child for productive underrated players because of tweener size. Hendrix shot more than 60 percent on his two-point shots and his offensive rebound rate (12.9 percent of his own team's misses) was 59th in the country. He's a tireless worker, adept at getting to the foul line and had a block rate of 7.2 (82nd). That suggests that Hendrix plays bigger than his height, probably because of his long arms. He'll be a steal for somebody.
4. Trent Plaisted (6-10 Jr., PF/C, BYU): Plaisted is a tweener big man with a center's game and a power forward's body. He has a solid set of interior skills and surprising athleticism and his calling card is his post-up game, which translated to a terrific foul-drawing rate. He didn't attempt a three-pointer last season but he probably needs to develop a faceup game to play in the NBA. The fact that he shot only 54 percent from the line suggests that may be easier said than done.
5. George Hill (6-2 Jr., PG, IUPUI): Undersized combo guards can be giant killers in the NCAA tournament but on draft day they're a dime a dozen. Hill's standout trait is his ability to create. He used 28.8 of his team's possessions and shot 58 percent on two-pointers and 45 percent from beyond the arc. In other words, Hill can flat stroke it. Beyond that, however, Hill had one of the 100 best-foul drawing rates in the country last season. Add it all up and Hill had the highest offensive rating in the nation among high-usage players. His playmaking abilities are in question, as is the caliber of competition he faced at IUPUI, but Hill turned heads in Orlando last week and will likely be a second-round pick.
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