NBA Draft: Top Five Sleepers
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The 2012 NBA Draft class is being hyped up as one that could contain several future All-Stars like the 1996 or 2003 drafts. While Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Florida’s Brad Beal and several other prospects do have the potential to develop into top-tier players, the strength of this class could be in its depth rather than star power.
The teams that come away as real winners in the draft are those that get the best value for their investments. Whoever drafts Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist will be expecting them to become major contributors immediately. The expectations will be far less for guys picked later in the draft, but look no further than Sacramento Kings rookie guard Isaiah Thomas, the 60th selection in last year’s draft, to see what kind of impact they can have.
In our latest pre-draft feature, we take a look at five of the top sleepers. They are not currently projected as first round picks, but in a couple of years they could have teams kicking themselves for passing on them.
Darius Miller (Kentucky, Sr.) – 6’8, 225 lbs. Small Forward
As stated several times previously, Miller would have been a starter and a top-two option on just about every other team in the country. He has a very well-rounded skill set, ideal size for his position and the ability to get hot offensively.
While his stock may be higher if he was with another program, coming off the bench for Kentucky was the best thing for his future. The role he played for Wildcats head coach John Calipari is very similar to what he is likely to play in the NBA.
While a lot of rookies will have to adjust to getting less touches and playing time, Miller is already well versed in making the most of his chances when called on. Miller will have an extended career in the NBA as a utility player who can do just about anything a coach asks of him.
There were undoubtedly times at Kentucky where he wished he had a bigger role, but he’ll see just how much he benefited from the role he had when he’s a pro.
Jae Crowder (Marquette, Sr.) – 6’6, 235 lbs. Small Forward
Very few players in the country were as productive over the final weeks of the season as Crowder was at Marquette. He helped lead them to the Sweet 16 with his relentless effort and determination. On the year, Crowder averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block, firmly putting himself on the NBA radar.
The reason Crowder isn’t ranked higher right now is because he has a lot of developing to do in order to be a full-time small forward. His ball-handling skills need work, but Crowder is the kind of guy who will produce when on the floor. His future coach will always know that Crowder gives it his all because he doesn’t know any other way to play.
Crowder has shown flashes of being more than just an energy and hustle guy, making over 60 three pointers as a senior. If his offensive abilities can get near the level of his defensive skills, he could end up being one of the steals of the draft. Make sure to keep an eye on Crowder during summer league play. That’s the kind of setting where he will dominate.
Will Barton (Memphis, So.) – 6’6, 175 lbs. Shooting Guard
Although Barton is not projected as a first round pick right now, there’s a great chance that could change by draft night. He was one of the best sophomores in the country, showing tremendous growth from his freshman year, which was quite solid as well. Barton put up 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists a game this season. What’s most impressive is that he did so while significantly improving his shooting percentages. Barton went from shooting 42 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three point line his first year to making 50 percent of his looks from the field and 34 percent from distance this year. He also turned it over less and became more consistent at the free throw line, where he got to twice as much.
That kind of growth suggests that Barton is far from a finished project. While he’ll have to learn to play in the confines of an offense not centered around him, Barton has the makings of a future starter. He could be someone who teams get into a bidding war for late in the first round or early on in the second. The team that drafts Barton will be feeling like they got a talent worthy of a lottery pick.
Khris Middleton (Texas A&M, Jr.) – 6’7, 210 lbs. Small Forward
Middleton is on this list because we have not forgotten how promising he looked as a sophomore when he averaged 14 points, five rebounds and nearly three assists a game. He was billed as a surefire first round pick going into this year, but things did not go according to plan for Middleton or the Aggies as a whole.
Aggies head coach Billy Kennedy brought a completely different approach than former head coach Mark Turgeon, who took over Maryland basketball. A lot of players, Middleton included, struggled with the wholesale changes. Middleton also dealt with injury issues, missing 12 games.
Yet, he still felt like now was the time to go pro. As questionable as that decision may be, there’s no denying that Middleton is a pro. He should be able to make a team with his defensive effort alone. As his offense improves, he could end up reaching the level many thought he could after his sophomore year.
Kevin Jones (West Virginia, Sr.) – 6’8, 260 lbs. Power Forward
The Big East was loaded with pro talent this year and Jones was one of the most productive players in the conference. He capped off his stellar collegiate career by scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds a contest. There are some concerns about his size, but he makes up for it with his skill and work rate.
Jones was not the most consistent three-point shooter in college, but does have the potential to eventually develop into the increasingly-popular stretch four. Unlike a lot of big men who can shoot jumpers, Jones does not shy away from banging around in the paint and being physical. In fact, playing for Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins has made him love that.
This draft is heavy with power forwards, which could lead to Jones slipping further than someone of his talent level should. He’d be a fine late pickup for a contending team, though.