Sleepers of the 2017 NBA Draft
Look for these players to make an impact even though they’ll get picked late.
With all the star power that the 2017 NBA Draft has in the top ten, there are still players towards the bottom of the first round and into the second round that are “sleepers” for teams to take.
To me, what makes a draft sleeper is a player that has gone generally unnoticed compared to other prospects, but still has translatable skills that will help him become a quality player right away. Usually, the top prospects in the first round are drafted on potential, even though some don’t have multiple skills that they can hang their hats on.
The sleepers listed here all have multiple skills that will translate to the NBA, but they don’t have as much potential since they stayed in college longer. Still, these players have a chance to be effective role players, and maybe even starters, if they develop the rest of their skillsets quickly enough.
Hart was one of the best players in college basketball this season after winning the national championship the year before. Hart is a good shooter, defender, and rebounder at his position. He shot 40% from three this season, and averaged almost 12 rebounds per 100 possessions. For a 6'5" wing, that is an impressive mark.
Hart took on more of an offensive role for Villanova, after some of the seniors left the team, and posted impressive point totals. He averaged 18.7 points per game, but what’s more impressive is that he averaged 34.3 per 100 possessions. That means that he is efficient, which is incredibly important for any role player in the NBA.
Hart will be able to contribute on the offensive end, but will earn his playing time on the defensive end. Hart posted a great 94.6 defensive rating at Villanova this season, and will be able to guard about three positions at the next level. He’s also a terrific rebounder, and guards who crash the glass effectively are valued by NBA coaches.
Hart doesn’t have 3-and-D potential as an NBA player because he’s already there. Hart can be this year’s version of Malcolm Brogodon of the Milwaukee Bucks, as a senior who can shoot and play defense having success in the NBA right away as a rookie.
Iwundu is another senior wing player who has a lot of skills that translate well to the NBA. He has great size and length at his position, at 6'7" with a 7'1" wingspan. He has improved his three point stroke in his senior year by making 32 of them at a 37% clip, compared to 19 total threes in his first three years at Kansas State.
Iwundu projects as a 3-and-D type of player that can guard at least three positions, rebound from the wing, and stretch defenses with his improved three-pointer.
What Iwundu does differently than most players with that skill set is create for his teammates. He isn’t a terrific athlete, but usually finds a way to get into the paint and make the right play. Iwundu’s craftiness allowed him to be an effective player for Kansas State while his jump shot wasn’t quite developed yet. Iwundu’s understanding of the game and 3-and-D skill set will certainly help him be an effective role player on any team that drafts him.
Ojeleye isn’t so much of a secret anymore, but he’s still a sleeper who I feel will be a starter in the NBA at some point in his career. Ojeleye is a physical beast that loves contact and attacks the basket with force. At 6'8" and 230 pounds, Ojeleye gets wherever he wants on the floor and can finish over or through anyone.
What’s impressive about Ojeleye’s offense is that he’s a very good shooter as well. He shot 42% on over 170 attempts from three. The team that drafts him will get a player that is ready to contribute on offense. He can knock down the three on kick outs, and handle the physicality of NBA defenders.
The knock on Ojeleye’s game is his defense, but he has the strength and foot speed to be a defensive stopper at almost all five positions. Once he gets into the right system, Ojeleye can focus on his defense to become an all around contributor.
Thornwell anchored one of the best defensive teams in college basketball as a 6'5" shooting guard. He is a terrific on ball defender, and took on a number of difficult defensive assignments in college. Thornwell posted a 88.8 defensive rating which is elite. He also excelled in ending the other teams offensive possessions averaging over seven rebounds two steals per game.
Not only was Thornwell great on defense, but he carried the load for his team on offense as well. Averaging 21 points per game, and shooting 39% from three, Thornwell will be able to contribute on both ends as a two way role player.
I’m not sure why his stock hasn’t risen much since his team’s Final Four run, but whatever team gets Thorwell, or any of the other prospects listed above, will be getting bargain players on cheap contracts that can contribute t oa winning team on day one.