The NBA Draft is finally here (almost) and in a year filled with unprecedented adversity and turmoil, 60 prospects will have their dreams come true and begin their NBA journey while countless others will be given opportunities in the days to come. With the college basketball season just around the corner and the NBA season nearly a month away, fans have plenty to look forward to and it all starts Wednesday.
With the lack of a true NBA Combine and Pro Days for many of the athletes, it will be even harder for NBA scouts to evaluate talent. Some players may be drafted too high and others too low based on lack of familiarity and exposure, or over-exposure. Here, we will take a look at some of the players who may be overlooked in this year’s NBA Draft.
Obi Toppin, Dayton
Projected range: 4-10
Toppin is currently projected to go fifth in the draft, but he could potentially drop into the 6-10 range. He turns 23 in March making him one of the older players in the draft, but Toppin was also one of the best, if not the best player in college basketball last season.
The Wooden Award winner averaged 20 points per game along with seven rebounds and two assists per game for the Dayton Flyers who went from a perennial bubble team to a projected number one seed. Toppin also received notable awards such as the AP Player of the Year and the Naismith College Player of the Year.
Sure, being the best player in college basketball does not automatically make you a top NBA prospect, but Toppin clearly has the size and strength to dominate at any level. He is 6’9, 220 pounds and can play any position on the court. He has range to spread the court, strength to play in the post, athleticism to get to the basket, and the lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter. Toppin truly has it all and is simply a freak athlete with a smooth, effective jumper.
Add in the uncertainty of COVID and the additional time off where the “projects” languished with no development, and a ready made player becomes that much more appealing. With a potential upside pick next year with Minnesota’s (top 3 protected) pick coming their way, the Warriors would make a great decision by ignoring the intrigue of Wiseman, and take the more versatile Toppin at 2. Toppin has proven he’s a hard worker and has expressed a desire to play for them.
As someone who got to cover the Mid-Major conferences last season, I saw my fair share of Obi Toppin and it is hard to imagine this 22-year-old faltering at the next level. There are not many players, if any, who I would pick above the reigning player of the year.
Cole Anthony, North Carolina
Projected range: 14-24
It seems like a long time ago when Cole Anthony was arguably the crown jewel of the incoming freshmen class in college basketball. A disappointing season for the Tar Heels in which he was scapegoated hurt the star freshman’s draft stock, and nagging injuries certainly did not help, either. Anthony was listed as the second best player coming out of high school in the 2019 class, and spent time at the top spot.
There are plenty of talented guards in this year’s class, but it would be foolish to remove Anthony’s name from this list. He still averaged nearly 19 points per game and managed to shoot a modest 35% from beyond the arc as a high volume shooter.
While Anthony came into the season as a projected lottery pick, there’s a good chance that he will slide out of the lottery on draft night. The main reason is that he has taken a lot of criticism for his attitude, and the general thought is that he lacks a team mentality and maturity. But perhaps Anthony learns some humility and gets a chip on his shoulder by being taken too low. And perhaps he gains maturity in time and becomes one of the sleepers to come out of this draft.
Vernon Carey Jr., Duke
Projected range: 20-35
It is hard not to compare Vernon Carey Jr. with his predecessor Duke center Marvin Bagley III. They were both consensus All-Americans. They both won ACC Rookie of the Year. And they both dominated in the post in seemingly every game they played. Bagley’s numbers were slightly better with 21 points and 11 rebounds per game versus Carey’s 18 points and 9 rebounds, but there is no doubting the two players share similarities.
Bagley has already established himself, when healthy, as a formidable big man in the NBA and slow development of a three point jumper. Carey showed a little less promise from beyond the arc, but he is also a bigger body as he is listed at 250 pounds against Bagley’s 235 pounds. Carey moves very well for his size, has very good body control, and could improve on his foot speed with better conditioning.
This larger frame will allow Carey to fill in nicely as a rebounder and/or spark plug off the bench early in his career, but if he can stay healthier than Bagley has so far, and can develop a three point jumper in today’s evolving NBA, Carey will be well worth the chance late in the first round.
Carey has slid on draft boards and apparently has not been strong in analytics evaluations. The general thought is that he will fit the category of too slow to guard the perimeter and not good enough a shooter to be a floor spacer. But let’s keep in mind his age, his ability to get quicker, and the fact that his shot shows promise to improve.
Carey could be a steal in the second half of the draft.
Isaiah Joe, Arkansas
Projected range: 20-40
The Arkansas Razorbacks rolled out one of the most dangerous backcourts in the entire country a season ago and hardly anyone heard about them. Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe averaged 22 and 17 points respectively and did it all for the Razorbacks. While Joe was the second leading scorer, he has all of the tools to play at the next level and his tremendous shooting is why he is incredibly appealing.
The 6’5 sophomore is tremendous in isolations and has a smooth jumper that scouts are sure to love. He was a high-volume shooter with nearly 11 three point attempts per game but still shot 34%. he could improve upon that number significantly with better shot selection and more spot up threes versus pull ups.
His ability to rise up and nail three-pointers as well as attack the rim with great ball-handling could make him a dangerous scorer off the bench on a contending team. He appears to be a guy with a natural shooting motion, can a capable shot creater due to his fluidity and length.
Joe should find a spot in the late first or early second. Look for him to overtake a number of shooting guards taken before him, such as Desmond Bane, [Player: Tyrese Maxey, and Aaron Nesmith, over time.
Daniel Oturu, Minnesota
Projected range: 28-45
Oturu took a huge step in his sophomore year as he nearly doubled his points per game total to 20 and increased his rebounds per game from 7 to 11. In an extremely talented Big Ten, Minnesota’s star was overshadowed by veterans Luka Garza and Lamar Stevens. However, it is Jalen Smith and Daniel Oturu who are highest on the list in this year’s NBA Draft.
Oturu is primarily a rebounder and defender so only being 6’10, 240 pounds could be a problem for him in his transition to the NBA. But, he did show signs of a long range game with a 36% 3-PT on 52 attempts.
If the 21-year-old can expand his range and continue his interior dominance, he will be an absolute star for a lucky team late in the first round or early in the second round.
Elijah Hughes, Syracuse
Projected range: 28-45
The only reason Syracuse remained relevant last season was because of Elijah Hughes and his impact on the Orange. He truly did it all and led Syracuse to an 18-14 record. He played as the main facilitator, but will mostly be used as a shooter in the NBA.
Since Hughes had to do everything for the Orange, his shooting percentages are a lot worse than they should be, and he shot over 50% anyway. Hughes elevates on his jumper and can hit threes from anywhere. He has great size at 6’6 and if he is used as more of a shooter rather than a forward, he can benefit from good match ups against smaller opponents as he has the athleticism, and strength at 230 lbs, to dominate on both ends of the floor.
With hopeful contenders such as the Mavericks, 76ers, and Pelicans hanging around in the top 10 of the second round, Hughes could do well on one of those teams as an immediate impact player off the bench.