The 10 hidden gems in this year's NBA Draft

Jun 20, 2019
PHOTO: Belmont Bruins Facebook Page for Dylan Wilder, Iowa State Men's Basketball Facebook Page for Talen Horton-Tucker, Virginia Tech Athletics Facebook Page for Nickeil Alexander-Walker

HOURS from now, several NBA teams will have the chance to turn their fortunes around with a lottery pick.

While the consensus top-three prospects — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett — are a lock to find a home in New Orleans, Memphis, and New York respectively, everything from No. 4 down is still a puzzler.

Most mock drafts have basically the same picks in the Top 15, but just in different orders. A franchise has until tomorrow before deciding whether they'd go with talent or need.

But if there’s something the NBA draft has proven time and again, it’s that nothing is absolute when it comes to drafting. There’s a reason the words “bust” and “steal” have different definitions in basketball parlance. A No. 1 pick can find himself out of the league in a couple of seasons, while the last man sitting in the green room can end up being an MVP candidate.

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Case in point: the newly crowned champions Toronto Raptors.

Two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was selected 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers in 2011 Draft and then shipped to the San Antonio Spurs. Five-time All-Star Kyle Lowry was taken 24th in 2006. Pascal Siakam, who is likely to be named 2019's Most Improved Player, was picked 27th in 2016. Former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol was the 48th overall pick in the 2007 Draft. Heck, Toronto’s best shooter and Curry-stopper in the Finals, Fred VanVleet, didn’t even get drafted!

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Kawhi and Co. are proof that there’s gold at the bottom of the ocean. Teams just need to ultimately trust their guts after all the advanced scouting work they've done.

These players currently fall near the bottom of most mock drafts, some of them even have been completely overlooked. But all have the potential to turn out to be better players from the 2019 Draft Class. And if any of them turns into the next Kawhi or Spicy P, don’t say we didn’t call it first.

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Here are the most promising sleeper prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

There’s something about guards with long surnames. Like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, this 6'5 combo guard from Virginia Tech is also a skinny yet smooth operator who can knock down the three and swipe the ball. And just like his NBA senior, Alexander-Walker needs to get stronger to handle the league’s ramped up physicality. Despite his high hoops IQ, he has to take care of the ball more to stay on the floor longer.

Carsen Edwards

This six-footer is like a mini-tank that shoots down enemy forces in an instant. He might be lacking in height, but the Purdue PG can kill you with his strength and shooting, averaging 24.3 points per game as the team’s closer in his last collegiate season. Once Edwards develops his passing and finishing abilities, he could become more than a microwave type of player who lights it up off the bench.

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Bruno Fernando

Following the success of Clint Capela and last year’s top pick DeAndre Ayton, it will be a shame if a player like Fernando slips in this draft. Although a bit undersized as a center at 6'10, this Maryland alum makes up for it with his athleticism and footwork. Impressive for someone who just started playing competitive basketball in high school. Fernando has to work on his offensive arsenal and range to become great.

Talen Horton-Tucker

Horton-Tucker will be able to go toe-to-toe with his more experienced counterparts at the three spot when it comes to strength. This Iowa State wing’s freakish wingspan (7’1) and boundless energy are his calling cards on defense. On the other hand, he has to polish his offensive game if the coach decides to play him as a guard because of his size. The best thing about Horton-Tucker is that he’s only 19 years old.

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Mfiondu Kabengle

The 6'10 center from Florida State is about to make his uncle Dikembe Mutombo proud with his two-way impact and face-up game. Four-time NBA champion Horace Grant even compared Kabengle to himself, so you know this kid is for real. If he wishes to have a long career as those two, though, he has to improve his overall decision-making, not to mention his bothersome knees have to hold out.

Terance Mann

Man, this dude can get buckets. Whether it’s finishing at the rim or showcasing his post game, the shooting guard from Florida State has a knack for putting points on the board. His improved three-point shooting, skill-set, and age make him one of the prospects that are ripe for the picking. Mann tends to be too generous when it’s time to take over or go missing in action during an off-shooting night.

Jalen McDaniels

This San Diego State forward has all the tools to become an elite two-way player. McDaniels has the handles to blow past his defender and the court vision to find the open man. Think a smaller Jonathan Isaac, only with a bigger potential as point-forward. Aside from adding some muscle, McDaniels has to avoid making careless fouls and bad decisions.

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Chuma Okeke

Okeke’s spot would’ve been higher if he didn’t suffer an ACL injury during Auburn’s Sweet 16 game. The good news is there’s a chance he can recover most of his athleticism because of his age and the prevailing medical technology. For someone who earned raves for his jump shot and moving without the ball, Okeke has to spend time in the gym honing his free throws and shot creation to get to the next level.

Kevin Porter Jr

This 6'5 USC shooting guard is as good as any lottery pick… if only he didn’t need an attitude adjustment. There’s no question about Porter’s NBA readiness — he has good size, skill, and feel for the game. At the same time, he got suspended after clashing with his coach Andy Enfield. Here’s hoping he will benefit from working with veterans once he gets his chance in the League.

Dylan Windler

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Executives have to take a good look at Windler, who is poised to contribute right away. This fearless 6'7 swingman from Belmont can shoot lights-out from the outside — he swished 100 threes as a senior at an efficient clip. He compensates for his average physical tools with smarts and scrappiness. On the flipside, Windler is already 23 years old, which might not fit the timeline of select teams.

If you need a comparison, the PBA draft also has sleepers who have eventually drawn attention.

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PHOTO: Belmont Bruins Facebook Page for Dylan Wilder, Iowa State Men's Basketball Facebook Page for Talen Horton-Tucker, Virginia Tech Athletics Facebook Page for Nickeil Alexander-Walker
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