Meet the Sleepers of the 2020 NBA Draft

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    A general consensus exists on the majority of NBA draft lottery picks. After that, teams selecting in the Nos. 15-60 range must identify the sleepers slipping through the cracks.

    Herein we have pegged our favorite value picks for 2020—prospects we expect to go late in the first round or in the second, either because of overblown concerns or masked potential.

    While it’s unreasonable to project any of the following names as stars, we expect each to outproduce his draft slot and emerge as a legitimate NBA contributor.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Range worth drafting: Nos. 15-30

    Tyler Bey isn’t a shot-creator or scorer. His 13.8 points per game during the 2019-20 season weren’t flashy or much different from the 13.6 he averaged as a sophomore. And that’s why he’ll slip into the 20s or 30s, where the right team could come away with one of the draft’s top value picks. 

    Unique defensive and rebounding abilities point to specialist potential for Bey, who collected 12.5 boards, 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes. His athleticism and terrific instincts fueled his impact at Colorado, and he consistently made his presence felt despite attempting just 8.5 shots per game last season (fourth in the Pac-12 in win shares per 40 minutes after leading the conference in 2018-19).

    Against Bey, ball-handlers shot 5-of-29 out of pick-and-rolls and isolation. He held opponents to 25.6 percent shooting at the rim. He excels at making reads and contesting without fouling (2.6 fouls per 40), both inside and out. 

    And though his offensive skills are behind his defense, Bey has flashed shotmaking from the post (49.4 percent) and perimeter. Last season, he hit 44 percent of his 50 half-court jumpers, 13 of 31 threes and 74.3 percent of his free throws. On limited attempts, Bey even looked comfortable shooting off movement (5-of-8 off screens), and the eye-test results on his stroke remain relatively encouraging. 

    Occasionally, he’s shown he can put the ball down, attack a closeout and finish on the move. And he thrived as a finisher, converting 63.4 percent of his shots around the basket. 

    Still, it’s his defensive anticipation, versatility to guard wings and bigs and off-ball playmaking that will drive his value as an NBA role player.

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    Range worth drafting: Nos. 15-30

    Word has spread about Aleksej Pokusevski. The question now is how early it’s worth selecting him. 

    He’s become a popular sleeper candidate for his unique mix of 7’0″ size, shooting fluidity and passing skills. Still, teams may have a tough time considering him in the top 20, given his skinny frame (201 lbs) and the fact that he spent most of the year shooting 40.4 percent in Greece’s second division. 

    But he’s also one of the most enticing long-term gambles for those uninterested in settling on a low-ceiling NCAA prospect.

    Pokusevski generated buzz over the summer during the FIBA U18 European Championships, when he averaged 1.5 threes, 3.7 assists and 4.0 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game. It’s unusual to see a player at his height releasing pull-ups and jumpers off screens with such ease. He wowed with his quick-decision, high-IQ passes, and though he lacks the strength to defend post-ups or anchor the paint, he possesses mobility and timing for protecting the rim from off the ball and the weak side.

    Playing for Olympiacos in HEBA A2, the league that Giannis Antetokounmpo once worked his way up to, Pokusevski averaged 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 threes and 1.8 blocks in just 23.1 minutes per contest.

    Though Pokusevski is clearly a project unlikely to be ready for regular NBA action as a rookie, his positional tools and skill set have obvious upside. Skeptics may question his inefficiency, struggles with contact and rail-thin upper body. Believers can point to his thicker legs, promising shooting trajectory, clear passing acumen and age (18), which would make him the draft’s youngest prospect.

    His development may require patience and the right situation, but both of those could unlock his steal-of-the-draft potential.

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Range worth drafting: Nos. 15-30

    Age could cause Grant Riller, 23, to fall a tier or two lower in the draft than he should.

    While it’s possible a team ignores that on the scouting report, just as the Phoenix Suns did with Cameron Johnson last June, it seems more likely Riller will go in the second round like Malcolm Brogdon and Devonte’ Graham.

    His lack of NCAA tournament appearances over the past two seasons may have worked against his stock too. Some team is bound to luck out on one of the draft’s most advanced scorers, who finished with 21.9 points per game on over 60 percent true shooting for the second straight year. 

    Ranking in the 97th percentile in pick-and-roll ball-handling and the 88th percentile out of isolation, Riller is highly creative and skilled, equipped with quick first moves and counters off the dribble. The 6’3″ guard shot 42.5 percent on pull-ups, 48.8 percent on runners and 63.4 percent around the basket, where he does an exceptional job of using his body and angles despite his lack of explosion. 

    Though better suited for on-ball reps, he ranked in the 96th percentile out of spot-ups while hitting 40 percent on catch-and-shoot chances.

    His identity will revolve around scoring, but Riller’s 30.1 assist percentage was on par with some of the younger point guards expected to generate lottery interest, including Cole Anthony (24.1 percent), Kira Lewis Jr. (27.7 percent) and Nico Mannion (31.5 percent).

    There are some question marks about how Riller’s game will translate. His three-point numbers never made a huge jump through four seasons at Charleston. His 4.1 assists per game as a junior were a career best, and the competition in the Colonial Athletic Association was limited. And he doesn’t appear to possess plus-length. 

    But in this draft, those may be reasons to look past Riller with a top-10 pick—not one in the mid-to-late first round.

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Range worth drafting: Nos. 20-30

    A limited athlete who’s turning 22 in June, Desmond Bane doesn’t have the draft profile of a high pick. His scoring rate hasn’t moved a lot over the last two seasons (15.2 points per game to 16.6), and his field-goal mark even dipped to 45.2 percent from 50.2 percent. All it takes is one team, but as of now, a more likely landing range is the second round, where Bane would be a steal.

    He checks a valued mix of boxes for an NBA role player after expanding on his playmaking as a senior.

    The draw to Bane still stems from his shooting and shotmaking versatility. He just hit 44.2 percent of his threes, the third consecutive season he finished above 42 percent. More than just a spot-up threat, Bane shot 40.9 percent off screens and 41.7 percent off the dribble. He generated 1.26 points per possession out of isolation, mostly because of his improvement in creating separation into pull-up and step-back jumpers.

    Bane lacks explosion for blowing by or finishing, but his touch is special, both on jumpers and floaters (12-of-22).

    His improved passing for a 6’6″ guard should make him more functional and useful to NBA teams. Last year, Bane generated just 28 points on 23 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions. This season, he generated 97 points on 113 possessions (.86 PPP, 76th percentile), demonstrating a more confident feel for setting up teammates. 

    Even without any burst or bounce, Bane should be able to lean on his shooting and playmaking IQ—strengths he can bank on to translate and allow him to fit into most lineups.

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Range worth drafting: Nos. 20-30

    Malachi Flynn would have been a leading candidate to rise on draft boards during the postseason if one took place. He’d done enough in 2019-20 to find the radar after transferring from Washington State and sitting out the 2018-19 season. But from a scouting perspective, between his uninspiring physical profile and San Diego State’s strength of schedule, there are questions about whether his success will carry over to the pros.

    Those questions should ultimately lead to some team in the Nos. 20-45 range to leave the draft with a steal. 

    At 6’1″, 185 pounds, Flynn overcomes his limited size and athleticism with his A+ skill level and court savvy. 

    Crafty on the ball, he operates at his own pace with control and balance. Flynn graded in the 96th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (215 possessions), sinking defenses with his pull-up game, floaters and passing IQ. He ranked in the 81st percentile on dribble jumpers, shot 43.5 percent on runners and finished with a 30.7 assist percentage to just a 10.5 turnover percentage. 

    Shooting will still be a key strength of Flynn’s, both in terms of accuracy and versatility. Along with his decisive pull-up game, he shot 43.1 percent on non-dribble jumpers and 40 percent off the catch. His 37.3 percent three-ball from 2019-20 doesn’t pop off the page, but Flynn showed deep range, having hit 34 threes beyond 25 feet and seven of 16 attempts beyond 28 feet.

    His 3.2 steal percentage ranks near the top among draft prospects, and though his tools don’t scream defensive upside, Flynn is focused and will have the ability to pester opposing point guards.

    And then there are the metrics that paint him as an analytical stud after he led the nation in win shares and ranked No. 3 in offensive box plus/minus. 

    It seems like Flynn is being slept on in this year’s draft discussion, which mostly projects him as a fringe first-rounder.

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Range worth drafting: Early second round

    A return to Vanderbilt is still in the cards for Saben Lee. And that might be the right move if his goal is to go in the first round. Regardless, the long-term scouting lens detects a pro, even if Lee struggles to build on his weaknesses.

    The 6’2″ guard may be able to make a career out of getting downhill and attacking defenses with his explosive and powerful burst. He graded in the 86th percentile out of pick-and-rolls and the 88th percentile out of isolation, and that’s with only making 19 half-court pull-ups.

    Lee also racked up 24 dunks, the third-most among NCAA players 6’3″ and under. He converted 98 shots around the basket (half court only) at a 58.3 percent clip.

    He finished the season with at least 30 points in three of Vanderbilt’s final six games, one of which was a 38-point, eight-rebound, five-assist gem in win at Alabama. 

    Lee’s jumper has been a hot topic among scouts after he shot just 32.2 percent from deep on limited volume (3.8 attempts per game). But he showed signs of progress by hitting 14 dribble-threes and 12 of 23 shots off screens. 

    His feel as a facilitator suggests he’s more of a combo than a lead decision-maker. Still, he registered a solid 31.9 assist percentage in 2019-20, and that was with Aaron Nesmith—arguably the draft’s top shooter—suffering a season-ending foot injury after 14 games. The junior guard can make the basic reads and passes off penetration and ball screens for playmaking. 

    Even an average jumper and facilitating game could be enough when added to Lee’s signature ability to apply pressure with athletic penetration and defense.

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Range worth drafting: Early second round

    A long shot for the first round, Jared Butler is just testing the waters and keeping his college eligibility alive. But teams may want to convince him to stay in the draft so they can target him in Round 2.

    He’s a sleeper despite finishing as the leading scorer for a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. From an NBA standpoint, Butler doesn’t immediately pop because of his limited athleticism and playmaking numbers (3.1 assists per game) for a 6’3″ guard. But our eye test loves his ball-handling for creation, shooting off the dribble, advanced passes and finishing potential in the lane.

    Butler graded in the 91st percentile out of pick-and-rolls with his quick and low-dribble moves and change of speed. He finds ways to sneak through small gaps. And once in the middle of a defense, Butler excels with pull-ups, runners, drives to the basket and tight-window dishing. 

    As a perimeter scorer, Butler hit 2.6 threes per game and generated 1.01 points per possession on dribble jumpers, which mostly came from behind the arc. He showed he can score off the ball well, generating 1.0 PPP on spot-ups (75th percentile) and 1.1 PPP off screens (77th percentile). 

    Butler was a problem for both Kansas and West Virginia, the nation’s No. 2 and 3 defenses, respectively. Against the Jayhawks, he averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 boards and 4.5 assists in two games while being defended by potential first-rounder Devon Dotson and Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett. He scored 21 points in both outings against the Mountaineers.

    When picturing his transition, it’s worth questioning his positional tools/lack of explosion for a 2-guard, as well as his feel for running an offense at point guard. Teams using those concerns as reasons to pass on him in the second round may be overthinking, however.

    Butler could be a sneaky pick in the 30s if he keeps his name in the draft.


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports, Sports Reference.

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