Five potential sleepers in the draft
Cal's Jerome Randle is undersized, but otherwise he has all the point-guard tools
Brian Zoubek's offensive-rebounding ability could translate well to the NBA
More names to keep an eye on: Paul George, Paulao Prestes, Dominique Jones
The NBA draft is anything but an exact science, and every year a number of rookies perform significantly better than their draft position would suggest. Usually these players are missing one key component, causing them to be undervalued by NBA decision-makers. Players often can compensate for their shortcomings by landing in great situations where their weaknesses are minimized and their strengths are exploited.
With that in mind, here are five "sleeper candidates" in the June 24 draft:
In today's NBA, classic point guards are an increasingly rare species and pure shooters who are not one-dimensional are even harder to find.
Enter Randle, the Pac-10 Player of the Year who led the Golden Bears to the conference's regular-season title and the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament. He's an outstanding ball-handler, a creative passer, quick in the open floor and a smart, mature game manager executing his team's half-court offense.
More than just a terrific floor general, Randle also grades out as one of the best shooters in the draft, having converted 46 percent from three-point range as a junior. (He also made 93.3 percent from the free-throw line last season and finished his collegiate career at 87.1 percent.) He can make shots both with his feet set and off the dribble, showing range that extends well beyond the NBA three-point line, and he's just as adept at creating and hitting jumpers in the mid-range area.
So why is Randle -- who averaged at least 18 points in each of the last two seasons -- viewed by many as a borderline second-round pick, not even deemed good enough to be one of the 53 players invited to last month's NBA Combine in Chicago? For one reason -- size. Randle measured just 5-9¼ without shoes, with only a 6-foot wingspan.
If we've learned anything over the past few years, though, it's that smaller point guards, such as Darren Collison, Aaron Brooks, J.J. Barea and Ty Lawson, can be successful in today's NBA, especially if they can make shots from the perimeter, run an offense and be competitive on the defensive end.
Randle can't play for every NBA coach, but he has enough qualities to at least be a legitimate change-of-pace backup, and maybe even more than that. DraftExpress ranks him the second-best point guard in the draft, after likely No. 1 pick John Wall, and on the right team he could surely find a niche.
Offensive rebounding rate, the percentage of misses converted into extra possessions, is considered by many to be one of the most influential factors in determining a team's success. That was clearly the case last season at the college level, where one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, Duke, won the national championship.
Zoubek was the biggest reason for the Blue Devils' advantage on the offensive glass. He led the nation by a wide margin with 7.8 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. In fact, Zoubek ranks as the second-best per-minute offensive rebounder in the NCAA in the past decade, behind only DeJuan Blair, who made the NBA's All-Rookie second team this season after slipping to the second round of the 2009 draft.
The difference between Zoubek and Blair is a matter of 7 inches, as the Blue Devil stands 7-1 in shoes and the former Pittsburgh star is just 6-6. Zoubek probably isn't as good of an offensive player as Blair, but he clearly understands his role and is capable of executing it in an NBA half-court setting. (He averaged 5.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in 18.7 minutes last season.) Considering any big man with a pulse and some girth can earn an NBA opportunity, Zoubek could be a solid pickup in the second round.
Standing 6-9 in shoes, with a versatile skill set and the type of fluid athleticism that makes scouts drool, George clearly passes the eye test. Offensively, George can create for himself with terrific footwork and pull up off the dribble with ease, and he shot 46 percent from three-point range as a freshman. Defensively, George has the physical tools to guard multiple positions and block shots and the anticipation to wreak havoc in the passing lanes. He averaged 16.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 steals last season.
Why, then, can't anyone figure out where he'll be drafted? Because George didn't influence the game at the college level the way his talent would indicate he could have. He was wildly inconsistent, didn't always put in a great effort and rarely won in his two seasons at Fresno State (the Bulldogs went 28-39), often looking content taking a backseat to others.
That doesn't tell the whole story, though, as George is a late bloomer who hasn't been playing basketball as long as most prospects, and probably still doesn't really have any idea how good he can be. The coaching he received up until this point likely leaves something to be desired as well.
George is one of the most talented players available, and he will be less and less of a risk as the draft progresses. If the light bulb comes on for him, he could be a huge steal in the middle of the first round.
Anytime you lead the best league in the world outside of the NBA (Spain's ACB) in rebounding per minute, people will take notice. If you can score in the post and convert a high percentage from the field, you have a highly coveted skill. And when you're 6-10 with a huge wingspan and a massive frame, and when you're playing only your first real season of high-level professional basketball, NBA teams will be intrigued.
That, in a nutshell, is what the 22-year-old Brazilian offers. But those physical gifts and rebounding and inside-scoring ability haven't translated into any notable draft buzz, at least not publicly.
The reason for that is the fact that Prestes has been dealing with an ankle injury since early April; he hurt himself at a time of the year when NBA executives do a lot of scouting in Europe. He also hasn't played much in FIBA tournaments over the last few years for a country that features NBA centers Nene and Anderson Varejao and standout Euroleague big man and former Spurs first-round pick Tiago Splitter. He also played for a small ACB team this season, Murcia, which did not participate in any European competitions.
NBA teams are concerned about Prestes' durability, as well as his below-average athleticism, which could hamper him on the defensive end. Nothing about his style of play is particularly aesthetically pleasing. And his current injury makes it difficult for teams to get a great read on him in private workouts, where important information is compiled -- including learning whether he's even interested in the NBA.
Prestes will likely fall between the cracks, but he could be an interesting player to draft in the second round, stash overseas and see how he develops over the next few years. If he continues to improve, he could become a useful frontcourt rotation player -- a commodity that is neither cheap nor easy to come by these days.
Measuring 6-5 in shoes with a 6-9 wingspan and sturdy 216-pound frame, Jones is one of the more physically impressive guards in the draft. The aggressive combo guard also is one of the best at creating his own shot and, among all prospects, ranks in the top 10 in scoring (21.4 last season) and top five in free-throw attempts (8.5).
A capable playmaker, Jones wasn't always able to show off his passing skills while playing with less accomplished teammates, but he appears to have the vision and smarts needed to run a team effectively in spurts.
Jones, however, likely isn't generating more hype because he played for a bad team -- South Florida won a combined 21 games his first two years before improving to 20-13 last season -- that relied too heavily on him to keep defenses honest. In addition, he shot only 31 percent from the shorter college three-point line in each of the last two seasons.
Jones' stock seems to be rising -- he's a potential late first-round pick -- but he still might end up being undervalued on draft night. Plenty of teams could use a Shannon Brown-type combo guard off the bench for special assignments, and Jones certainly fits the bill.
Jonathan Givony is the publisher of DraftExpress.com.
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