2017 NBA Draft: Potential Draft Steals

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The NBA’s second round is typically the place for NBA misfits and international vagabonds. Whether it be the prospect with “less than ideal” measurements at the Draft Combine, the oft-injured types, the headcases, or just your standard right holding of an international player – the 2nd round is where the NBA’s scouts make their dollars. In the new NBA cap world, draft picks are at a premium and perhaps no deal is sweeter than striking it hot on a late round gem.

Case in point? Check out last years steal, Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks have the BrogDog (I just made that nickname up) under contract for another three seasons at just above the league minimum (around $1.3m in 2017/18), giving them a ton of cap flexibility and options.

Want further evidence? How about the Nuggets new franchise cornerstone, Nikola Jokic. They’ve got him on a similar deal all the way up until the 2019/2020 off-season – a huge boon for building a contender in Denver and adding high-quality talent to your team to support your franchise player.

I’m not going to even get started on Draymond Green and how that pick has helped kick start a Warriors (impending) dynasty, as well as revolutionise small ball in the NBA.

Have a look through the best second rounders over the past 10 years below. We’ve got a surprising number of current or former All-NBA Players, borderline All-Stars and quality role players.

There are always quality rotation players to be found that can carve out a role in the NBA.

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This goes to show that every year, without fail, there are a few guys who slip through to the second round that become 10 year veterans at minimum – outright stars at maximum. Who would’ve thought that “Mr Irrelevant” would turn into Isaiah Thomas? Or that the unheralded “fat Gasol brother” would turn out to be one of the best Centers in the NBA? It just goes to show that even NBA teams, who have access to the best scouts and talent evaluators in the world, can get it wrong.

 

 

 

 

When analysing the upcoming 2017 draft, there are a number of potential late picks that have caught my eye. I’m going to focus on the four guys who I feel have the potential to stick in the big league – whether that’s as a role player, or perhaps something more.


CALEB SWANIGAN – PF / SOPHOMORE / PURDUE

Physical profile: 6’8.5″ and 246lbs with a 7’3″ wingspan
Age: 20 years
Pro position: PF or undersized C
The numbers: 18.5ppg, 12.5rpg, 3.1apg, 0.4spg, 0.8bpg on 52.7%fg, 44.7%3fg, 78.1%ft in 32.5 mpg
Plays a little like: The good version of Jared Sullinger
Mock Drafts: #33 (DX), #27 (NBADraft.net)

Caleb Swanigan has the kind of story that makes you want to hope he succeeds. As a teenager, he weighed 350lbs and moved from homeless shelter to homeless shelter with his family. Like something straight out of “The Blind Side”, he eventually was adopted by another family – who helped him lose weight and gain a scholarship to Purdue, where he has been one of the most productive college players in the nation. Myron Medcalf of ESPN wrote this fantastic piece on the Swanigan story.

Coming out of college, Jared Sullinger was considered a high lotto pick. So don’t think I’m hating on Swanigan when I say he reminds me a little of Sully for a number of reasons. Both played in the Big Ten (Swanigan the Big Ten Player of the Year), and put up similar levels of productivity in their two years of college. They measured similarly at their respective combines. Both have struggled with weight issues in the past (and current for Sully) – Swanigan is by no means a finished product here, but the transformation so far is pretty astounding. If he keeps this up, with NBA-level strength, diet and conditioning he could become a very solid rotation player.

Offensively, Swanigan uses his booty to help create space and finish inside. While his 6’8.5″ height is a little underwhelming for a 4/5 in today’s NBA, Swanigan makes up for this with a 7’3″ wingspan, giving him the length to finish with jump hooks in the paint while crashing the offensive glass. He also has shown an impressive ability to space the floor, averaging 1.1 3pg on a 44.7% clip in his sophomore season. Continuing to be a threat from distance will further enhance Swanigan’s NBA value, and he showed a variety of face-up moves this year that suggests he can be a post threat in today’s NBA.

Like Sullinger in college, Swanigan hangs his hat on feasting on the glass. He was the #2 rebounds per game player in the NCAA this season, a skill that should be directly translatable to the NBA, particularly if he’s playing as a somewhat undersized C.

Defensively, Swanigan will have to continue to shed weight and work on his lateral quickness to cover guards on the switch in today’s NBA. He has the length to be a factor at the rim, albeit he only averaged 0.8 bpg in his sophomore season. Shedding additional weight may increase his explosiveness, albeit he will never really be an above the rim athlete, so working alongside an athletic 4 or 5 would work best.

Swanigan’s success in the NBA will depend on his ability to improve his conditioning to get to elite standards.

Best fit: Boston at #37, or Charlotte at #41.


SEMI OJELEYE – PF/SF / JUNIOR / SMU

Physical profile: 6’7″ and 241lbs with a 6’10” wingspan
Age: 22 years
Pro position: Small ball PF, occasional SF
The numbers: 19.0ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.5apg, 0.4spg, 0.4bpg, 48.7%fg, 42.4% 3fg, 78.5%ft in 34.1mpg
Plays a little like: Jae Crowder
Mock Drafts: #25 (DX), #34 (NBADraft.net)

The comparisons to Jae Crowder for Semi Ojeleye are quite obvious. They measured eerily similar in height, weight and standing reach at their respective Draft combines, with both possessing chiselled 241-pound frames. However, Semi measured a 40.5″ max vertical – equal fifth best at the combine, and much higher than Crowder’s 34.5″ – and finished in the top 10 in both lane agility and the three-quarter court sprint. He’s an impressive athlete and can absorb contact heading to the rim due to his extremely strong frame.

Ojeleye is built like a machine – there are maybe a handful of players with his size at his position – and he’s hitting the NBA at the exact right time. Ojeleye will spend the majority of his time at the PF spot, and his ability to hit threes (2.1 per game at SMU) will help open up the paint for rim attacks. Ojeleye was one of the top players in the NCAA at pick ‘n’ pop efficiency (1.636 points per possession), and players with his size, motor and offensive versatility are in strong demand right now in the league.

Teams will have some question marks, predominantly due to a lack of exposure. Ojeleye was a seldom used energy big for Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devil’s for 2 seasons prior to red shirting his 2015/16 season to transfer to SMU. Teams may wonder if this season was a “flash in the pan”, or something more sustainable long term.

In addition, while Ojeleye is solid at depending the post, he doesn’t block many shots or disrupt the passing lanes as much as you would hope for a guy with his athletic ability and profile. Compared to Crowder in college (2.5spg, 1.0bpg), his raw numbers look a little underwhelming in this area.

Teams that are looking for an explosive athlete, with range and the ability to go small-ball would do well to consider Semi Ojeleye.

Best fit: Toronto at #23, Utah at #30, or Orlando at #35.


JORDAN BELL – PF / JUNIOR / OREGON

Physical profile: 6’8.5″ and 224lbs with a 6’11.75″ wingspan
Age: 22 years
Pro position: PF, small ball C
The numbers: 10.9ppg, 8.0rpg, 1.8apg, 1.3spg, 2.2bpg on 63.6%fg and 70.4%ft in 28.8mpg
Plays a little like: Josh Smith
Mock Draft: #34 (DX), #26 (NBADraft.net)

Barely an NBA prospect until this season, Jordan Bell and the Oregon Ducks showed out in a huge way in his Junior year, making it all the way to the Final Four (and within 1pt of eventual champion UNC). His growth was probably most evident in his incredible showing in the Elite Eight match versus a highly touted Kansas Jayhawks team. Bell was everywhere, finishing with a line of 11 points (5-6 fg), 13 rebounds, 8 (!!!) blocks and 4 assists – displaying an all-around game that left the Jayhawks stunned. He backed that up with a 13 point, 16 rebound and 4 block game in his final collegiate performance – a fantastic final impression leading up to the Draft.

With the height and weight of an NBA Small Forward, Bell too may benefit in joining the NBA during the small ball era – where due to his massive near 7 foot wingspan, he will be able to spend time at Center in certain lineups. His current offensive skill-set is more that of a traditional big; reliant on lobs, put backs and dunks – albeit with supreme athleticism and explosiveness. He has shown in his recent pre-Draft workouts the ability to space the floor from three, a crucial element in his potential development.

Where Bell truly hangs his hat is on the defensive end, where he earned Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year honours. One of the NCAA’s best shot blockers this past season, Bell’s athleticism, timing and rim protection was on full display at the NBA Combine – where his stock has been on the rise due to a very strong showing both in the competitive action portion, as well as athletic testing. In an era where teams try to constantly force the switch in the pick’n’roll to find the mismatch, Bell’s lateral quickness, agility and shot blocking presence will be highly sought after.

I liken Bell to another explosive, rim-rattling PF in Josh Smith, who had very similar measurements when entering the league back in 2004. I do feel Bell is a little more focused and is less likely to fall in love with the jump shot – albeit less offensively inclined or versatile than Smith was in his prime. Having said that, lets not forget the J-Smoove was once a pretty good ball player. If Smith was coming into the league today, his skill-set would’ve fit perfectly at the 4/5 – much like Jordan Bell.

Best fit: Lakers at #28, or Atlanta at #31 (where the Smith comparisons would continue!).


JOSH HART – SG / SENIOR / VILLANOVA

Physical profile: 6’5″ and 209lbs with a 6’8.25″ wingspan
Age: 22 years
Pro position: SG/SF
The numbers: 18.7ppg, 6.4rpg, 2.9apg, 1.6spg, 0.3bpg on 51.0%fg, 40.4% 3fg, 74.7%ft in 33.2mpg
Plays a little like: Courtney Lee
Mock Drafts: #40 (DX), #40 (NBADraft.net)

Josh Hart is just solid, solid, solid. After winning a NCAA Championship in his Junior year (in one of the best finishes to a Championship game of all time), Hart was named the Big East Player of the Year and first team All-American in his final year in college. Hart improved every year for Villanova – proving that his basketball ceiling may not be tapped yet. He was the key cog in the Wildcats machine that went 32-4 this year, providing the team with whatever they needed on any given day – whether that’s elite defence, spot up shooting or an increasingly efficient pick and roll game.

It’s the efficiency that sets Hart apart from his peers. While his free throw percent is lagging a little, his numbers from the floor are fantastic for a wing. He improved his jump shot every year, capping out at 2.1 made three per game in season 2016/17. Importantly, his efficiency didn’t drop as his role got bigger. Hart isn’t particularly gifted with elite size, athleticism or length for an NBA prospect, but makes up for it with his smarts, competitiveness and motor; underrated skills in their own right.

In the pros, Hart will be relied on to be that prototypical 3&D guy that is so en vogue in today’s NBA. He would do well to emulate a player such as Courtney Lee, players who hang their hat on being the open spot up shooter and guarding the opposing teams best player. He also showed an increasing ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the close out, an important element in any shooters repertoire. Hart plays with terrific intensity, which will serve him well when facing up against the creme de la creme of the NBA’s elite wings.

Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports wrote a terrific article on why Hart could be the steal of the draft – definitely worth checking out!

NBA teams looking for a plug ‘n’ play wing that’s NBA-ready should strongly be considering Josh Hart in the second round of this weeks Draft.

Best fit: Philly at #36. The Sixers could use a mature guard, and he’s a home town kid. Automatic fan favourite.


Every year there are Draft surprises. I’m looking forward to reviewing the tape over the next few seasons to see who the steals were from this Draft and if any of them can reach the All-NBA heights as some of their 2nd round predecessors did before them.

Thanks to Draft Express and NBADraft.net
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference and sports-reference

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