Putting together a list like this before the draft is always a challenge because how they are rated going into the draft is not always the same as how they are drafted. But based on the few weeks building up to the draft and the general consensus, here is a list of underrated players, or at least players that we like more than the consensus.
1. Max Christie, Michigan St.
Christie could have easily returned to Michigan State and gotten stronger, further refined his game and been a higher pick next season. Instead, he chose to enter this year’s draft where he will likely be a late first round pick. The reason he makes the list is that his game is so much better suited to the NBA style of play than what he was doing under Tom Izzo in college. At 6’5” and with a 6’9 wingspan Christie has ideal size as guard and with his ability to score the ball, playing in additional space should allow him to flourish. He can create his own looks or he can run off screens and force defenders to chase him, which will tire defenders out. While he struggled with consistency and strength in his lone season under Tom Izzo at Michigan State, the makings are there for him to be a standout at the next level. He’s clearly going to take some time due to a lack of toughness, physicality and college prodution. But put in the right situation and he could be this year’s Jordan Poole, a player that entered the draft early and landed in the ultimate situation as Stephan Curry’s apprentice. With such little fanfare among many in the media There are late projections by some pundits that have him falling as low as 47. incredible when you consider Christie could end up a top 10 player in a re-draft in a few years.
2. Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona
On the day before the draft ,he is projected to go anywhere from 5 to 8 by pretty much every team and mock draft pundit yet there are reports that some GMs have him outside the lottery. Either misinformation or some GMs have not focused on this area of the draft. If you ask an NBA GM to design the perfect wing player, there’s a good chance they are going to describe Mathurin, from a physical stand point. He’s 6’6” with good length and an ideal physique. He’s very bouncy, regularly taking souls with his vicious assaults on the rim. It’s also important to note that he has the clutch gene to take over and make plays when the situation calls for it. He’s not a finished product by any means, The areas that he needs to improve upon still are largely things that can be developed. He isn’t especially adept at creating off the dribble, but if put in the right situation, he will play an important role for a team as a catch and shoot guy that slashes to the basket, while he develops that part of his game. Mathurin is one of a handful of guys that could end up the best overall player to come out of this draft and yet some are still questioning him as a legitimate top 10 pick. He’s clearly underrated.
3. Blake Wesley, Notre Dame
If you only look at the stats, you’d probably wonder what Wesley is doing on this list. Heck, you might wonder why he’s even expected to go in the first round at all. He’s a 6’4” combo guard that doesn’t shoot the ball especially well (30.3% from three, 65.7% from the free throw line), doesn’t get others involved (2.4 assists per game) and turns the ball over a lot (2.2 turnovers per game). But with Wesley, it’s all about impacting games and what he could become. He’s very good at creating his own offense and breaking defenders down off the bounce. And while he’s not a proficient shooter, he’s a streaky one and when he gets hot, he knows how to hunt his shot and make defenses pay. He projects to be a Jamal Crawford style guard who could be extremely dangerous coming off the bench as a sixth man and providing instant offense. He’s lightening quick and operating in the space of an NBA offense will make him even more dangerous than he was at Notre Dame, and the fact that he could be there late in the first round could mean we look back and view him as someone that went later than he should have.
4. Jaden Hardy, G-League
When he opted to join the G-League Ignite roster, it was assumed he would spend a year in the G-League before making the jump to the association as a lottery pick. And had he sat out like Sheaden Sharpe and shut his game down until he was eligible, he could easily have rode the wave of his high school hype into being in a similar draft position as Sharpe. But on the positive side, he actually played, faced adversity and developed his game over the past year, despite losing some draft stock in the process. While he didn’t quite live up to the hype and was overshadowed by a couple of his teammates on the Ignite roster, he has the physical tools and skills to be a high level player at the next level, that hasn’t changed. He may have bought into his own hype a little in high school and it affected his dedication. His season was not as smooth as he probably envisioned, and he has slipped to a likely late first rounder and the hope will be that it’s the wake up call that he needs to get his game back on track. He needs to refine his game to become the player he was projected to be a year ago. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well during his time in the G-League, but his mechanics are sound and he should have no problem making threes as well as one and two dribble pull-ups at the next level. He learned this last year that he can’t simply rely on straight line drives to the basketball, and so now he’ll have to learn new ways to beat his man off the dribble besides leaning on his natural gifts. However,, once he puts it all together he could very well develop into the lottery talent he was projected to be, even if he falls closer to the end of round one than to the lottery.
5. Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers
It takes watching Ron Harper Jr. a few times before it finally clicks what a talented player he is and the fact that he has a great shot to overcome an “unorthodox” thick body type and have an impact at the next level. There is no guarantee that he even gets drafted, but he could surprise on draft night. When the game was on the line for Rutgers, the ball was in Harper’s hands, and he delivered more times than not. He’s not afraid of any moment and never backed down from any player during his time in college. That tenacity, that confidence, that ability to deliver at the most important times is not just going to disappear now that he’s done with college. When you’re looking for gems in the second round or from undrafted free agents, you look for intangibles. Harper has intangibles in spades. He is the type of player that can play multiple roles and is all about winning. And it’s not like he can’t play, as he averaged 15.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 39.8% three point shooting last season. He won’t be asked to come in and be a starter immediately, but can he come in and give a team minutes right away? Probably so, and he’s a guy that a team can trust to not back down from the big moment. That has value, and that value probably exceeds what a team would have to give up to get him on draft night. With length similar to Draymond Green and similar 4-year college experience production, Harper stands a good chance to make some team look smart for taking him in the second round.