We're hunting for some NBA draft sleepers this week and find an unheralded freshman in Texas, a 5-foot-8 guard in Washington and a community college kid that some are comparing to Allen Iverson. Here's who NBA scouts are buzzing about this week:
THE GOOD Tristan Thompson, F, Texas Longhorns Top 100 Rank: 24 Chad Ford's Top 100 Follow Chad's rankings from now until draft night. Top 100 While a number of top freshmen -- Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Josh Selby -- are getting all the love, Thompson had been quietly working his way into the hearts of NBA scouts. But over the course of the last week, he subtracted the word "quietly." Thompson is coming off two high-profile games -- big wins over ranked opponents Texas A&M and Kansas. Against the Aggies, Thompson scored 18 points, grabbed six boards and blocked four shots. Against Kansas, his defense against Marcus and Markieff Morris helped Texas pull away in the second half. He finished with 12 points, six boards and five blocks. Thompson is long, athletic and has shown a terrific motor on both ends of the floor. While he's not as polished as some other top freshmen, a number of scouts I spoke with have him ranked somewhere between No. 15 and No. 25 on their boards. Thompson might be a bit of a tweener, as he's not the ideal height to play the 4 (he's 6-8 in shoes) but his combination of explosiveness, length and hustle make him a serious draft prospect.
Isaiah Thomas, G, Washington Huskies Top 100 Rank: 93 I watched Thomas play three game in Maui in late November and didn't walk away overly impressed. At 5-8, he plays with a big heart, but he struggled for Washington against both Kentucky and Michigan State. In November, when I asked a number of scouts in attendance what his draft prospects were, all of them had him as being undrafted. What a difference a few months make. With Abdul Gaddy out for the season with an ACL tear, Thomas has stepped up as the point guard for Washington and has been on fire. Not only is Thomas pushing the tempo and getting to the line at will, but he's also shown to be adept at running the team, especially in pick-and-roll situations. He'd averaged nine assists in his last seven games. Thomas' ability to play the point helps his draft stock tremendously. At his size, it's hard enough to project him, but if he can play the point, he stands a better chance of succeeding than he does at the 2. There aren't many players Thomas' size in the NBA, but I am hearing a number of scouts starting to refer to him as a legit draft prospect. That's quite an impressive upward trend from where he was two months ago.
THE BAD Josh Selby, G, Kansas Jayhawks Top 100 Rank: 13 Selby was great in his debut, but he's been pretty rocky in his past five (and more meaningful) games for Kansas. Against Nebraska he had three points and four turnovers. In Kansas' first loss of the season, Selby scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting. He had five points on 1-for-10 shooting against Michigan two weeks ago. Other than those games, he's been solid, but not spectacular. We knew Selby would have to adjust to a veteran Kansas team that played nine games before he joined them. But in big game after big game, Selby not only disappears in stretches, he looks awful. Against Texas he killed the Jayhawks' momentum by launching two air balls and committing a clueless turnover in the span of a few minutes. Selby has talent -- even lottery talent -- but, much like Barnes, he hasn't lived up to early expectations. The chances he lands in the top 10 are starting to slip.
Scotty Hopson, G, Tennessee Volunteers Top 100 Rank: 57 Hopson is having the best season of his career, but that's beside the point. NBA scouts want to love him; I've had several scouts tell me they believe that he, not Georgia's Travis Leslie, is the best athlete in the draft. They were wowed by Hopson this summer, but he continues to be only a little bit better than average. While Hopson's scoring is up to a respectable 16.5 ppg, his shooting percentage is still in the low 40s, and he doesn't bring the same intensity each night. For a guy who, on paper, was a lock for the first round, more and more scouts are beginning to write him off. Tennessee isn't playing as well as it should be and fingers are pointing his direction. If he doesn't turn things around soon, he might not be able to.
THE SLEEPER Nurideen Lindsey, G, Redlands Community College Cougars Top 100 Rank: 79 Lindsey is part of Steve Lavin's elite St. John's recruiting class for the 2011-12 season. But a number of NBA scouts are wondering whether Lindsey, who's already 20, will ever make it to New York. A number of top scouts told me that they have Lindsey projected as a solid second-round pick should he declare for the draft. A few scouts have him in the first round. Who is he? Lindsey is a super athletic, lightning-quick guard who draws comparisons by some scouts to a poor man's Iverson and Monta Ellis. Lindsey is an elite scorer who uses quickness and explosiveness to get to the basket. Lindsey averaged 38 ppg as a junior in high school, and at Redlands Community College he scored 48 points in his first game. He dropped out of school his senior year -- ending a verbal commitment to La Salle and didn't play for the next two years until the death of his best friend and his younger brother in 2009 pushed him to decide to do something with his talents. Lindsey is dominating at the community college level, but can he do the same thing in the NBA? Some scouts worry that he's undersized for his position, that he doesn't have a jump shot, that he hasn't played great competition for three years and that his off-court problems might scare teams away. But others say he's awesome: "I haven't seen a kid with his quickness and scoring ability in a while," one NBA scouts told ESPN.com. "It's not easy to gauge given the competition, but I know fast, and he's fast. And I know scorers, and he can score in any league."