Gary Payton II 6-3 185 PG/SG Oregon St. Sr.
Playing in the Pac-12 for a team like Oregon State can make it difficult to get much recognition. Payton II, similar to his Dad, one of the all time NBA great point guards, is a late bloomer. He didn’t get heavily recruited out of high school, but steadily became one of the Pac 12’s best players. There are obvious shortcomings when projecting him to the next level. Scouts point to his age, his lack of true point guard skills, and his lack of great shooting ability as reasons why he won’t be able to make a big impact at the next level. But reading through the lines, he’s got elite level athleticism. He played on a team where defenses could collapse on him, which made it more difficult to get clean looks and maintain high FG percentage. He’s a competitive kid with a high level of confidence. At the Nike Academy he stood out as one of the top athletes and a kid with first round talent. But it was difficult to find any love from NBA scouts for him. Scouts question his attitude and efficiency, but is it possible that he’s misunderstood? Projected by most teams as a mid-second rounder, he may be a kid that if given the opportunity, could take it and run with it. There’s also the fact that he grew up around the game and has the bloodlines.
Damian Jones 7-0 245 Vanderbilt Jr.
Jones has had trouble living up to his potential in three seasons at Vanderbilt. He is high level athlete, with good strength and shooting ability. But for some reason he was never been able to show cosistency and desire on the floor at Vanderbilt. Some coaches have brought up the idea that he was plugged into a certain role at Vanderbilt and could never break out of it as became an upperclassmen. Another factor could be teammates and having a shot first lead guard in Baldwin. Outside Vanderbilt, Jones has shown extremely well as he got the better of Jakob Poeltl at the 2015 Nike Academy, and also shined in his pro day in LA, shooting the ball exceptionally well from the perimeter. Despite tearing his pectoral muscle in workouts before the draft, Jones is a definite sleeper who’s expected to fall to the late first round. He’s a lottery level talent, who in the right NBA situation could thrive. Bigs with his size, stength and athleticism that can shoot from the perimeter are not a dime a dozen.
Brice Johnson 6-10 210 PF North Carolina Sr.
Johnson was one of the breakout players of the 2015-2016 college basketball season, certainly in the ACC. He finally put everything together, utilizing his amazing combination of size, skill, and athleticism to become a dominant double-double machine, and yet, he is considered a late first rounder by most and even appears in some second rounds. But few players have such an array of attributes. He’s a pogo stick with incredible length with a huge wingspan and has already shown potential to be a efficient faceup power forward. He can improve his range, but the makings are there for him to be a good shooter, as he showed the ability to hit the 5-10 foot jumpshot with very good consistency. His prowess as a rebounder and defender also makes him intriguing. He hasn’t had great workouts leading up to the draft, showing frustration at times. But that’s likely because teams like to run players ragged to see how they respond in one-on-none workouts. Some lucky team will likely have the fortune of scooping him up long after the lottery, but he’s a lottery talent and comparable to most of the power forwards in this draft class.
Guerschon Yabusele 6-8 260 PF France 1995
Yabusele is a player that is considered likely to fall into the early second round. He hasn’t received the level of hype of some other European prospects. But he’s a very intriguing prospect in his own right. He seems to have a lot of potential left to develop. He developed into a very good outside shooter this year, maintaining a 40%+ 3 point percentage. He is 260 lbs and has never properly weight trained, and yet has an extremely low 6% body fat. While not an out of the gym leaper, the fact that he has such incredible footspeed is what really stands out about him. His ability to play in open space and get out on the break has led some to consider the idea of him as a small forward, which is probably unrealiztic. Look for him to end up in the 25-40 range on draft night and be a player that surprises with a very solid NBA career, provided he lands into the right situation.
Buddy Hield 6-5 215 SG Oklahoma Sr.
How can a player that won National Player of the Year awards, that is considered a possible top 5 pick be considered underrated? It’s because so many are doubting Hield’s ability to shine at the next level. Hield isn’t an elite level athlete, but he’s very solid. There’s more to athleticism than dunking on other players, and Hield has terrific balance, body control and hand eye coordination. There seems to be a consensus among scouts that Jamal Murray is the better prospect due to being 3 years younger. But Hield is bigger, a better defender and shooter, and a case could be made that their upside isn’t really much different. Hield has drawn comparisons from many to JJ Redick. But Hield has a much larger and more athletic body. Word is he registered a 40 inch vertical in the Lakers workout. JJ Redick is 6-4 in shoes with a 6-3 1/4 wingspan. Hield is 6-5 in shoes with a 6-9 wingspan. At 215 lbs, Hield also has a good 20 lbs on Redick. Redick really struggled to get shots in his first few years in the NBA. While Hield may struggle some as well, he has shown more ability to create and gets a lot more extension on his release.
Caris LeVert 6-7 190 PG/SG Michigan Sr.
Once in lottery contention, a rash of injuries while at UM derailed Levert’s draft prospects and now have put his first round hopes in serious jeopardy. After three surgeries on the same bone and a screw put in his foot in 22 months, odds are good that he will be an early second rounder. He may not even be ready to play at the start of the season, so there’s obviously reason to be concerned. But when healthy, he’s a lanky 6’7” shooting guard that can shoot lights-out and distribute as well as any shooting guard in this draft. If he can stay healthy (a tremendous “if” considering his history of foot injuries), he can certainly be an NBA starter with his prototypical shooting guard skills. This is a kid with lottery talent, that could be had on the cheap. But it will require taking him with the knowledge that you may get nothing out of the pick.
Daniel Hamilton 6-7 190 UConn So.
Hamilton wasn’t able to pop in college the way some expected and obviously has some limitations. The expectations for him entering this year’s draft are low as some feel he could go undrafted. But for a team willing to put in the time to build up Hamilton’s frame, they could be rewarded in the long run. Hamilton shows very strong passing ability, even playing as a point forward. he also has shown over his high school career that he shines in big moments. He’s considered a great kid who may have jumped the gun in leaving for the NBA this year. His stats were extremely interesting to analytics people, as he filled so many categories. His rebounding and aassists were off the charts for a small forward. It’s possible that he could end up one of the real sleepers from this year’s second round.
*Jacob Stallard contributed to this report.