Three Intriguing Prospects Few People are Talking About

Posted: 06/05/2016 by levcohen in Basketball, Draft

Outside of Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, I’ve written about most of the top NBA Draft prospects who are coming directly from college. I haven’t written about Jamal Murray or Jaylen Brown, and I’m going to write again about Denzel Valentine, Buddy Hield, and Kris Dunn. I also have only written about one of the top International prospects in Dragan Bender. More on guys like Timothe Luwawu will come later. But today, I wanted to focus on three players who may or may not be drafted in the first round and who have been almost entirely overlooked in this process (by most fans if not by NBA teams). As you’ll see, all three of these guys are where they are in most mock drafts (usually in the second round) for a reason. But these are the types of players I could see being the kind of big second round steals that inevitably come out of every draft. I’m not necessarily talking about Isaiah Thomas or Draymond Green-level steals, but rather guys who can at least find a real niche in the NBA and play consistent minutes for a long time. Let’s start with the guy I have watched the most of:

I remember watching 2013 Final Four and thinking that Michigan’s Caris LeVert, who was then a freshman, was going to be a college star and a lottery pick. He played only 11 minutes per game that year but came up with 21 huge minutes in a 61-56 win over Syracuse in the semifinals and 12 more in a losing effort against Louisville on Monday night. Even then, it was easy to envision the 6’7″ combo guard turning into a strong defender and offensive creator at the next level. Then LeVert averaged 13 points per game in his sophomore year, played 34 minutes per game, and helped lead Michigan to the Elite Eight. But the next year, LeVert broke his foot and the Wolverines went 5-9 down the stretch without him. And this year, he suffered another lower left injury, one that Michigan says is unrelated, a comment that’s pretty hard to believe. All in all, Caris has played in just 45% of Michigan’s games since the start of his junior year, and he’s missed time with an injury that’s notoriously tough to return from and then subsequently had a setback. I’m sure half the teams in the league don’t have LeVert on their draft boards simply because he’s such an injury red flag. That’s understandable. But for those who are willing to take a risk with a second round pick, LeVert could pay huge dividends if (and this is a huge if) he gets over his foot issues.

In terms of actual basketball ability, I would certainly take LeVert over Dejounte Murray, even though LeVert is two years older. He’s another combo guard who can be loosely compared to Jamal Crawford simply because he’s tall and can handle the ball. LeVert’s a lanky 6’7″, 191 pounds, a playing weight that’s probably not going to change too much given that he’s already almost 22. Given his weight, though, he has the potential to be a fantastic player off the bench. Aside from occasionally being a bit passive, there’s very little I can critique about his offense. He’s unlike Murray in that he’s a tremendous ball handler and creator, with five assists per game and only 1.6 turnovers per contest even though he didn’t always bring the ball up for the Wolverines. That passing ability already makes it unlikely that, health permitting, he’ll be the classic college scorer who can’t score at the next level and makes a quick exit to the D-League or Europe. Now, LeVert can also score, as his 16.4 points per game on only 10.7 shots indicate. He’s a great three point shooter, especially on the catch-and-shoot, as he hit 47% of his catch-and-shoot threes last season and shot 45% overall from beyond the arc. While he’s clearly not going to be a go-to creator in the half-court, LeVert also is quick enough to get to the rim against slower defenders and tall enough to get shots off over shorter guards. He’s also versatile, with the size and skill to play point guard, shooting guard, or small forward. In today’s NBA especially, that’s really important and valuable. On the defensive side of the ball, it’s easy to see the lack of strength hurting him in the NBA, but it didn’t really hurt him in college, and LeVert is the refreshing prospect who doesn’t have any problem bringing intensity or effort to the defensive side of the ball. He was on the floor in those important games in his freshman year because of his defensive range and talent, and I think he can make it on the floor in the NBA because of his length and defensive versatility. I don’t think LeVert will ever start regularly in the NBA, but I do think he has the best chance of becoming a good sixth or seventh man of anyone not slated to go in the first round. This is all, of course, health permitting. It’s easy for me to say all of this from here, but I don’t know if I’d be able to pull the trigger on a player with such massive injury issues if I were a GM. Maybe we’ll find out one day!

Here’s some gameplay from LeVert that really showcases the type of creator he can be when healthy:

When the news came out that Thon Maker was going to be allowed to go directly from high school to the NBA, the 7’1″ Sudanese 19-year-old predictably got a lot of press. But in the weeks since then, the talk has died down. As I try to write this, I can now report that I know why everyone has gone silent about Maker: it’s because he’s a mystery. I know most of what I know about prospects because I’ve seen them play in college or because I’ve watched videos of them playing against professional competition. Thon Maker has not gone to college, nor has he played professionally overseas, so there isn’t much I can say about him. Here’s what I do know: Maker’s big, but he’s more of a power forward than a center. He’s definitely a raw prospect and someone who’s going to get pushed around early on. I also know that once upon a time he was a big time college recruit. Besides that? I don’t know much. I can kind of guess that he’s not going to play at all this season because he doesn’t have a good feel for the game and because he’s going to struggle on the boards and will be a total zero offensively. In fact, I don’t really know why he’s even a prospect besides the fact that he’s an athletic 7’1″ guy. That’ll probably be enough for some team to take him in the second round. I don’t think I would want to draft him.

You know how neither Skal Labissiere nor Deyonta Davis played much in their only college seasons? Well, both of those guys played wayyy more than Kansas’s freshman center Cheick Diallo, who played just 7.5 minutes per contest and received a few DNPs on the #1 team in the country. Diallo, a 6’9″ Malian who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, played just 202 minutes all season, which is basically the equivalent of four LeBron James playoff games (not really, but close enough). He played just one minute in the Big 12 Tournament and just seven in the NCAA Tournament, all in Kansas’s blowout win over Austin Peay. There’s no doubt that Diallo was both erratic in his lone college season and nowhere near as good or polished as the other guys Kansas was throwing out there. There’s also no doubt that all freshmen are erratic and that Diallo showed a lot of potential when he did get on the court. The numbers (3 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, .9 blocks per game, 57% from the field) look pretty good when you make them per-36 minutes (14.4 ppg, 12 rpg, 4.3 bpg). Of course, that’s in no way an accurate representation of the way Diallo played last year, because there’s no way he would have put up those stats if he were playing heavy minutes. At 6’9″, 219 pounds, Diallo is a very small center. But he also has a lengthy 7’4″ wingspan and the type of agility most teams can’t get out of their centers. As the league continues to downsize, Diallo could end up being a great fit at the five. He’s obviously very raw offensively, with the vast majority of his points coming from put-backs and lobs. I’ve never seen him successfully finish a polished post move, and his one assist for Kansas (TOTAL) says pretty much everything you need to know about his distributing ability. He also turned the ball over 17 times this season, which is a really high number considering the fact that he rarely had the ball in his hands; most of his turnovers came on moving screens or three second violations. But at the NBA Draft Combine, Diallo already looked a lot better offensively, with a better-looking shot and 27 total points in two games (44 minutes) against a lot of older players. On defense, Diallo is also raw, as evidenced by his 6.7 fouls per 36 minutes. But he’s also already a good rebounder and shows the potential to be a great rim protector. As you might expect, Diallo’s best virtue is probably his energy level. That’s not a particularly sexy thing to have going for you, but it’s pretty darn important nonetheless. That energy along with Diallo’s rebounding ability could mean that he has a place in the NBA for a long time. He really reminds me of Ed Davis, another unpolished offensive player with great defensive and rebounding ability. Diallo has to work hard on both sides of the ball to become even a 20 minute per game guy like Davis, but he also has a wingspan four inches longer than Davis’s already gargantuan 7’0″ wingspan measurement. By the way, Davis finished 34th in the NBA in ESPN’s Real Plus Minus (which admittedly favors big men who don’t play that much) and, of the 170 players who allowed more than 150 shots at the rim against them, was the 12th stingiest (at 45.8% on rim shots). The guys who finished ahead of him? Rudy Gobert, John Henson, Jeff Withey, Serge Ibaka, Festus Ezeli, Josh Smith, Kawhi Leonard, Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo, and Marc Gasol. That’s really good company for Davis, and I could see it being company that Diallo may keep in a few years.

By the way, I really recommend doing a deep dive into all of NBA.com’s terrific stats. That’s where I found the opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim and a bunch of other great stats.

Ranking of the three:
Diallo
LeVert
Maker

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