Top five underrated draft prospects
This year's playoffs featured several players who were overlooked in the draft
Mike Scott and Will Burton are two players who put up big numbers in college
Scott Muchado led the NCAA in assists, but lacked big-time competition at Iona
The morning after the June 28 NBA draft is complete, the league's talent evaluators will be judged by fans and media alike despite the fact that no real conclusions can be drawn.
It's a worthwhile exercise, to be sure, as there's a place for perspective and insight based on what is known about these prospects at that point in time. But the reality is that we won't know for years how good these players will be, and thus can't know how each team did until then. And if history tells us anything, it is this: many of those picks that will seem so wrong at the time may very well turn out to be right.
Every draft produces surprises in the late first round and second round, players who wind up surpassing the minimal expectations that were placed upon them en route to long careers. The latest postseason was a showcase for some of them, from San Antonio's Manu Ginobili (57th pick in 1999 by the Spurs) and Stephen Jackson (43rd by Phoenix) to Memphis' Marc Gasol (No. 48 by the Lakers) and Chicago's Carlos Boozer (35th by Cleveland). What's more, the final pick of last year's draft, Sacramento point guard Isaiah Thomas, went from a longshot prospect to Rookie of the Year candidate last season.
So with that in mind, we leave the lottery landscape to take a look at players in this latest crop who may be among the most underrated.
Virginia, Sr., PF, 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, projected second round
The red flag: The left ankle
In a league where executives are so often obsessed with upside and potential, Scott has shown an ability to produce and improve for five straight years now. The versatile big man averaged 18 points (56.3 percent shooting) and 8.3 rebounds last season while finishing second in voting for ACC Player of the Year behind North Carolina center and likely first-rounder Tyler Zeller.
If not for a left ankle injury that required surgery in December of 2010 and a follow-up procedure a month later, Scott would have entered the draft a year ago. But he earned a medical redshirt and returned for another season, then proceeded to take his game to another level yet again despite concerns about whether he would fully return to form.
His scoring increased from 10.3 points per game as a sophomore to 12 as a junior and 15.9 during the 10 games he played before getting hurt in his first senior season. Scott can score both on the block and from the perimeter, but some teams will see his average athleticism and age (23 years old) as reasons to pass him by. He's known to have a great feel for the game, and could wind up paying off big for whoever takes him.
Memphis, So., SG, 6-6, 174, projected late first, early second round
The red flag: The frail frame
Confidence plays as big a part in this equation as anything, and I didn't deem him "Bold Barton" at the Chicago predraft camp for nothing. Some 30 seconds into my first chat with Barton during the media sessions, he offered this proclamation.
"I feel like I'm the best wing in the draft."
This is a draft that's deep with shooting guards, mind you, with the likes of Florida's Bradley Beal, Syracuse's Dion Waiters, Duke's Austin Rivers, Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb and Washington's Terrence Ross considered the top of that class. But the super-skinny Barton is sure he'll be better than all of them, and he can hardly be blamed for feeling that way after putting up the best numbers of them all last season.
He averaged 18 points, eight rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 50.9 percent overall and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc. His lack of strength is a concern for some teams, although Kevin Durant is the latest poster boy to show that not being able to complete any bench press reps at 185 pounds at the predraft combine (as both he and Barton failed to do) is hardly relevant to the game.
Memphis finished 26-9, losing to Saint Louis in the second round of the NCAAs. Milwaukee is known to be high on Barton, though the Bucks currently have the No. 12 pick (and No. 42) and would only take him if they moved back in the draft. His latest workout was for Dallas (pick Nos. 17, 55). I currently have him going to Atlanta at No. 23 in Mock 3.0.
Iona, Sr., PG, 6-2, 205, projected second round
The red flag: The lack of high-level competition
As Weber State point guard Damian Lillard is the latest to show, midmajor talents don't always get overlooked in this process. But while Lillard is expected to be taken in the top 10, Machado is a draft afterthought despite leading the nation in assists last season (9.9 per game).
Yet while North Carolina's Kendall Marshall (6-4) is expected to be the second point guard taken (he's goes 11th to New Orleans in Mock 3.0), Machado may be the more dynamic -- albeit smaller -- talent. Beyond his well-regarded court vision and playmaking skills, he plays fast and can score as well (13.6 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting last season).
Washington, Fr., PG, 6-6, 203, projected late first, early second round
The red flag: Lack of control
Wroten is one of the great enigmas of this draft, a tantalizing talent whose tendency for playing out of control (more turnovers than assists last season) and broken jumper (16.1 percent from three-point range) have scared off some teams. But he's a relentless attacker as well, the kind of aggressive scorer that could fit right into the league's latest genre of point guards and reminds some of a poor man's Russell Westbrook.
He averaged 16 points (44.3 percent shooting) and five rebounds per game last season, though his finish showed why he's likely to take some time to develop. In four games in the NIT, he scored in single digits three times and shot just 34.1 percent from the field (14 of 41).
Norfolk State, Sr., 6-10, 240, projected second round
The red flag: Lack of athleticism
If the stock of St. Bonaventure forward Andrew Nicholson weren't doing so well (some believe he could go in the teens in the first round), he could be in this slot. But much like Nicholson, O'Quinn is the sort of reliable big man that could help most teams.
He first made national headlines as the classic March Madness darling, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds in a win over No. 2 Missouri in the first round. O'Quinn -- who averaged 15.9 points and 10.3 rebounds as a senior -- kept the momentum going in mid-April when he was named MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational that is a precursor to the combine.
Other underdogs to watch: Doron Lamb (Kentucky, SG, Soph., 6-5, 199); John Jenkins (Vanderbilt, SG, Jr., 6-4, 212); Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette, SG, Sr., 6-3, 212); Quincy Acy (Baylor, Sr., SF, 6-8, 223); Kostas Papanikolaou (Olympiakos, SF, 6-8, 230).
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