Thursday’s NBA Draft brings with it a lot of question marks — maybe a few answers, but probably more questions. Who will take whom? Who will be the top overall selection? What are teams with cap space — there’s more than a few of them out there who it would seem have been hoarding cap space for this ensuing draft and offseason — going to do with possible future transactions? Similar to the hype and uncertainty before the NFL Draft, the pre-NBA Draft coverage is chock full of speculation.
The peak of this speculation started with the news that center Joel Embiid — who was thought to be Thursday’s likely No. 1 pick — has the same stress fracture that has sidelined NBA bigs before. While Embiid could still be the same potential superstar he was considered to be before, he could also end up among the likes of washed-up Greg Oden. That’s why the NBA Draft is such a toss up: few players are even guaranteed starters, let alone future All Stars.
Sometimes, though, it’s not the ones who are predicted to be All Stars that you need to watch out for. It’s the lesser known player, who isn’t even a sure-fired draft pick, let alone a lottery selection. It’s guys like Manu Ginóbili (taken with the 57th overall pick in 1999) or undrafted Ben Wallace that nobody saw coming, but turned out to be just as good as some of the top selections. Regardless of mock drafts or expectations about Thursday, here are five players with sleeper potential. One of them could even be the next Manu Ginóbili for all we know.
1. Zach LaVine, UCLA
Though some consider LaVine a likely lottery pick, that’s not necessarily true. The 6’5″ Bruins’ guard does have a lot of talents physically and athletically, but his body’s still developing and he’s only played one season of college basketball. He’s the typical one-and-done player, and this comes with a risk — and a potential reward.
If you look at LaVine’s stat line from his freshman season at UCLA, you wouldn’t be overly impressed. He finished with 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. While he did shoot 44 percent from the floor, he finished the year at a 38-percent clip from behind the arc. As the season progressed, scouts also noticed LaVine’s ability to get to the basket; he’s not amazing with the dribble, but his speed and athleticism with the ball can’t be taught. Looking at his future, LaVine’s the perfect player for a team that doesn’t have a need for an immediate starter. But given time and coaching, he has everything you look for in future star.