Every year after the NBA Draft, everyone’s looking at who their teams picked that could be that next diamond in the rough. Once the NBA season gets going and these rookies show what they can bring to the NBA, fans start to see what their team saw in that rookie. Leading into this draft, it was said that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram were the only two sure things in the draft and even ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said that the draft truly starts at pick #3. Even when draft experts say that there isn't much in the draft, they are often wrong.
There are always players selected in the mid to late first round into the second round that play with a chip on their shoulder for not going higher and they play their way into being called the 'steal of the draft.' It’s tough going through all 58 picks after the #1 and #2 picks and picking out who could go on to have better careers than Ben Simmons (pick #1) and Brandon Ingram (pick #2), but here are the fifteen to look out for. There are some names on this list that many people would not expect, but looking at their college careers will make people figure out the reason that their team took a shot on them.
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15 Marcus Paige (#55 Pick by Brooklyn; Traded to Utah)
College Stats: 13.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.3 APG
Jalen Rose said it best after NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum announced that Marcus Paige had been drafted by the Nets. “I’m glad he got drafted. He’s an NBA point guard,” Rose said. He hit it right on the head. Marcus Paige is an NBA type point guard. He played at North Carolina in an NBA style system alongside the likes of Harrison Barnes, J.P. Tokoto, and Brice Johnson (also on this list), all of which have been drafted in the last four years. He hit a miraculous shot with 4.7 seconds left in the national championship against Villanova, which would have been the shot of the game had it not been for Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater to win the national title.
He was drafted by the Nets, but traded to the Jazz, who had just received George Hill from the Pacers in a 3-team deal prior to the draft and still have Dante Exum on the roster. In today’s NBA though, teams are finding ways to put two point guards on the floor at the same time, which could benefit Paige. He could become a better floor general learning behind George Hill, who is one of the best facilitators in the NBA. Marcus Paige could be a steal if he gets playing time because like he showed during his time at North Carolina, he can make plays.
14 Kay Felder (#54 Pick by Atlanta; Traded to Cleveland)
College Stats: 17.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.8 APG
The Cavaliers won the NBA championship on Sunday and might’ve got the steal of the draft last Thursday. Watching Kay Felder play in college is like the spinning image of the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. He can slash to the basket, score from anywhere on the court, get his teammates involved, and make defenders look silly with his crossover. Knowing he can play in this league, expect Felder to play with a similar type of chip on his shoulder that Thomas came into the league with.
With the success of small college point guards like Damian Lillard, why not take a chance on one? The only reason he fell to #54 in the draft is because he is only 5’9”, but the aforementioned Isaiah Thomas is only 5’9” and he was the last pick in the 2011 pick. Goes to show that it doesn’t matter where in the draft you’re taken. As long as you can play, you can be a star in this league.
13 Ben Bentil (#51 Pick by Boston)
College Stats: 13.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.9 APG
The Celtics went into the draft with eight picks and when it was all said and done, they kept six of them and traded two. One of these six picks was Ben Bentil from Providence. Watching Bentil play at Providence last season made it seem like a no brainer he would be in the NBA this season. He's a 6’8” guy with a 7’1” wingspan who Coach Ed Cooley felt comfortable putting at the power forward position. Bentil didn’t disappoint, scoring 21.1 points and snagging 7.7 rebounds per game last season. He can play physical in the post as well as step out and knock down the occasional mid-range jumpshot. Along with #3 pick Jaylen Brown, who is also on this list, the Celtics might have got themselves two athletic guys who can help take them to where they have not been in a while and want to get back to.
12 A.J. Hammons (#46 Pick by Dallas)
College Stats: 12.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.8 APG
There is always that one big man that college basketball gurus, like Dick Vitale, say are NBA ready players, but they never seem to turn out that way. Hammons is that guy in this draft, but hopefully he can avoid that. Before last season, Hammons was seen as a no brainer 1st round pick, but after questions about his character, he slid to the mid-2nd round. Watching film on him, he definitely has an NBA big man body at 7’0” and 278 pounds and played for Purdue in the physical Big Ten against the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
He averaged 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks during his senior season and was a force for the Boilermakers down in the post. Many thought with Hammons, the Boilermakers could make a deep tournament run, but were knocked off in the first round by 12th seeded Arkansas Little Rock. He could be the big man the Mavericks, who were snubbed by DeAndre Jordan last summer, have been looking for.
11 Patrick McCaw (#38 Pick by Minnesota, Traded to Golden State)
College Stats: 12.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.3 APG
You can count another three point shooter going to the Warriors. McCaw shot 36.7% from three during his career at UNLV. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr likes long, athletic guards who can defend, run the offense, and shoot. McCaw fits that mold perfectly. He’s 6’6” and is a poor man’s Shaun Livingston who can shoot the three. Coach Kerr, being a former NBA guard himself, knows a thing or two about what it takes to play the guard position in the NBA, so McCaw should be glad to be playing for him.
Don’t expect McCaw to get starter minutes with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry manning the starting guard spots, but he could see good minutes off the bench. This can be seen as a no risk pick for the Warriors, which could turn into all reward if McCaw pans out. The team’s owner came out and said the team needs to get bigger and more physical. McCaw is not going to help in that capacity, but you can never have too many guards and he might be able to become a bigger star after being groomed behind two top guards in The Splash Brothers.
10 Malcolm Brogdon (#36 Pick by Milwaukee)
College Stats: 13.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.5 APG
Malcolm Brogdon is on this list because I love his game. He played for Tony Bennett at Virginia, who is known for his tough defensive schemes and getting his guys to buy in on the defensive side of the ball. Brogdon was one of the leaders on the team the last two or three years along with Anthony Gill (undrafted) and London Perrantes. He brings his all every night and is one of the toughest competitor I’ve ever seen play at the college level. He is one of those players that if his team needed a play to be made, he would take it upon himself to make it.
The only negative about Brogdon’s career at Virginia was they never got to the national championship. They were favored by many to win it all before losing to Syracuse in the elite eight. The Bucks might’ve gotten a steal in Brogdon because he’s a hard-nosed kid who has an NBA type game.
9 Timothe Luwawu (#24 Pick by Philadelphia)
Career Stats (played overseas): 14.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.8 APG
I just love saying this kid’s name, don’t you? Luwawu. When the Sixers drafted him, I thought “What are they doing?” They need guards. But after doing research, I went from scratching my head to loving this kid’s game. He is 6’7” and can play the 2-guard position. He is a pest on the defensive side and has incredible skill on the offensive side.
ESPN’s international basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said to not overlook the league that Luwawu is coming from because it is one of the best in the world and has produced really good NBA players in the past. We’ll have to wait and see if he does come over to play this season, which he has said he has intent of doing. If so, he could give Ben Simmons a running mate in Philadelphia. If not, guess Sixers fans have to keep doing what they have been doing and trust the process.
8 Damian Jones (#30 Pick by Golden State)
College Stats: 13.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.7 APG
The Warriors must like big men that play at Vanderbilt because in 2012 at pick #30, they drafted Festus Ezeli and four years later at the same spot, they picked Damian Jones. Jones has a similar type game to Ezeli. They’re both big men who like to be physical in the paint, grab rebounds, and put the ball back in the basket. After getting stepped on by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Finals and losing in seven games, the Warriors need to get bigger and more physical. Adding a big, physical player like Jones does exactly that. He’s 7’0” and 244 lbs. The Warriors were successful playing small ball the last couple of years, but with a pick like Jones, it looks like they are going to get themselves more flexibility to go big. Hopefully, the Warriors get bigger and more physical and Jones is only the start. If he becomes a premier center in Golden State, he can surprass everyone in this draft.
7 Dejounte Murray (#29 Pick by San Antonio)
College Stats: 16.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.4 APG
Before I say anything, just look at who picked him. Murray was one of three players (Skal Labissiere and Deyonta Davis the others) that were invited to the draft to sit in the green room because they were considered top prospects and were still there with five picks left in the first round. Sitting there all that time seemed like a nightmare, but to have the Spurs, the best franchise to play for in the NBA, end Murray’s wait has to be a huge blessing in disguise for the guard. The Spurs drafting him is basically why he is on this list. The Spurs seem to be able to take any player and get him to play at his full potential and by looking at his stats from college, he can be a great asset to them playing at his full potential. I didn’t really watch him play much in college at Washington, but coach Lorenzo Romar seems to be able to produce NBA ready players, like Brandon Roy and Spencer Hawes.
6 Brice Johnson (#25 Pick by LA Clippers)
College Stats: 11.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.9 APG
Like Brogdon, Brice Johnson is on this list because I love his game. He is an all-around player who helps his team in so many ways. In the NCAA tournament, he showed he isn’t afraid to get physical with anybody and usually had his way inside the paint. Playing alongside Marcus Paige, who also featured on this list, he showed that he can benefit from playing with a facilitating point guard. The Clippers have just that in Chris Paul. Look for Johnson to get playing time off the bench if he is not inserted into the starting lineup, which is a possibility given the Clippers thin depth at the small forward position. This is a good spot for Johnson because the Clippers like guys who can get up and attack the basket like he can. They didn’t get the nickname “Lob City” for any other reason and expect Johnson to take advantage of several lobs during his career with the Clips.
5 Wade Baldwin (#17 Pick by Memphis)
College Stats: 11.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.8 APG
The Grizzlies are playing the waiting game in free agency, hoping that their long time point guard, Mike Conley, decides to come back and play for them. If not, they just drafted what could be their plan B in Baldwin. Baldwin is 6’3” and 202 pounds, but can play both guard spots. He is an explosive player who can light it up, no matter what position he is put in. Like mentioned with Marcus Paige earlier, the Grizzlies could play Baldwin on the floor with Conley, if he does come back. He slid a little bit in the draft after the top tier of guards, Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray, and Buddy Hield, were taken off the board. Fun fact about him is he went to the same high school, St. Joseph Metuchen, in New Jersey that Karl-Anthony Towns went to. Expect to see him get minutes and produce for the Grizzlies, whether Conley comes back or not.
4 Domantas Sabonis (#11 pick by Orlando; Traded to Oklahoma City)
College Stats: 13.5 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.3 APG
Oklahoma City shocked everyone by acquiring Domantas Sabonis, along with Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova for fan favorite Serge Ibaka in a draft night deal. By doing so, they added another big man to their frontline that already consists of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. Sabonis is more versatile than Adams and Kanter though. He isn’t just a big man who can be physical in the paint, but he can also step out and shoot a mid-range jumper. Sabonis was the second best player on an overlooked Gonzaga team, behind Kyle Wiltjer, that always seems to be on everyone’s radar, but surprisingly were not last season. That is what made their run to the Sweet 16 that much sweeter. He will already have to break out of his father's shadow (Ardvydas Sabonis), but if the Thunder put him in the regular rotation, he could add another piece to their scary frontline.
3 Buddy Hield (#6 Pick by New Orleans)
College Stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.9 APG
Buddy Hield took the college basketball world by storm last season. He seemed like a magician out there, making crazy shot after crazy shot, reminding everyone of what Stephen Curry did during his time at Davidson. Hield led his team to the Final Four where they got walloped by eventual champion, Villanova. The Pelicans are hoping that Hield can help them get back to the playoffs. Going into his senior season at Oklahoma, Hield was projected to be nothing but a 2nd round pick, but his extraordinary play last season changed all that. He has the potential to be a poor man’s Steph Curry, but needs to be more willing to get teammates involved. With Eric Gordon’s potential departure from New Orleans through free agency this summer, Hield could be thrown right in to the fire, so he will definitely get his shot at working his magic at the NBA level.
2 Jaylen Brown (#3 Pick by Boston)
College Stats: 14.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.0 APG
On draft night, when the Celtics selected Brown with the #3 pick, I, along with basically everyone else in the NBA fanbase, was shocked because he wasn’t even close to being ranked as a top three pick. But then I did my research and watched film on this kid and came to the realization like the Celtics did, I’m guessing, that he is a top three worthy pick. At 6’7”, 225 pounds with a 7’0” wingspan, he’s got an NBA body and from watching film, he has an NBA style game. In the open floor, he can get up the court in a flash and can jump out of the gym. He is also an above average defensive player, which is always good to have. I still am scratching my head trying to figure out if the rumors are true, why would the Celtics turn down the Sixers offer of Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington, and picks #24 and #26 for the #3 pick. However, if Jaylen Brown does in the NBA what he did at Cal, that’ll be the reason they didn’t make the trade.
1 Kris Dunn (#5 Pick by Minnesota)
College Stats: 12.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.8 APG
If there was a point guard that has everything new Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau looks for in a player, Kris Dunn is it. Thibodeau preaches defense and Dunn is an above average defender who is a pest in the passing lane. He is #1 on the list because there were so many rumors about teams trading up in the draft because they had their sights set on getting him. Even after he was drafted, there was rumors that the Bulls and Wolves were trying to get a deal done, Dunn for Bulls’ All-sSar swingman Jimmy Butler, but the Bulls decided to hang on to Butler. Dunn is going to Minnesota to join the young talented core of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Karl-Anthony Towns, which is possibly the NBA’s most promising core. Ricky Rubio is still in Minnesota, but before he worries about Dunn taking the starting job, he needs to worry about getting healthy.
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