NBA draft buzz hovers around the lottery names, which is to be expected. However, team success in the NBA is often the result of unearthing hidden gems from the latter-half of the first round, into the second round.
The San Antonio Spurs built around such prospects, drafting Tony Parker No. 28; Manu Ginobili No. 57; and taking a reach at No. 15 on Kawhi Leonard. Leonard averaged a double-double in his final season at San Diego State, but at 6-foot-7 and with field-goal percentages of 47.8 inside the arc, and 29.1 beyond it, he seemed to fit in the mold of classic tweener.
All Leonard’s done is become one of the best players in the NBA.
The best team in the NBA similarly relies on draft gems. Draymond Green came out of Michigan State one year after Leonard wrapped up at SDSU, and Green came into the Association with a similar tweener outlook. He’s successfully parlayed the same aggressive defensive style and tenacity on the glass into a critical role for the champions.
Second-rounder Patrick McCaw and undrafted Ian Clark both played crucial minutes for the Warriors in the past season. McCaw — selected No. 38 by Milwaukee in last year’s NBA draft and traded for cash — came off the bench in Game 5 of the Finals to knock down some clutch, second-half buckets.
The 2017 NBA draft has the most potential for breakthrough hidden gems in any class in recent memory.
I have been high on forward Jacob Wiley out of Eastern Washington for some time. The Big Sky Conference Player of the Year averaged more than 20 points and nine rebounds per game, playing an energetic style that would make Wiley the consummate spark plug off the bench. Wiley’s explosive around the rim and an excellent finisher, evident in a staggering 64 percent field-goal average.
His All-Tournament performance at the Portsmouth Invitational could be a catalyst that launches Wiley into the latter picks of the second round. His style is comparable to that of Oregon big man Jordan Bell, another athletic forward whose aggression on the glass and defensive presence warrant serious consideration.
Bell doesn’t need to dominate the ball to make a profound impact, as his tear through the NCAA Tournament suggests.
Both Wiley and Bell offer the kind of dynamic athleticism that exudes NBA potential. Purdue product Caleb Swanigan’s brand of basketball is less electrifying, but fits nicely for a team seeking a dependable option in the late first or early second round.
“Biggie” was my choice for NCAA Player of the Year after posting 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He reminds me of one of the most unique and reliable bigs in the recent NBA: Memphis forward Zach Randolph. Swanigan has similar potential as Randolph, who — by the way — was a late first-round selection in the 2001 NBA draft.
Swanigan lost out on Player of the Year honors to Kansas guard Frank Mason III, another latter-half draft prospect I’m willing to compare to a current NBA All-Star.
Mason won’t go No. 60 like Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, another Class of 2011 product, but this possible second-round choice has similar potential. Mason’s under 6-feet, but can on defenders of any size. He’s a fearless floor general who knows when and how to set up teammates as effectively as he scores.
Lastly is Colorado guard Derrick White, an exciting playmaker whose college success demonstrates that he already has a propensity to flourish as a dark horse. White transferred to Colorado from Div. II UC-Colorado State and made an immediate impact, averaging better than 18 points per game.
White’s excellent off the dribble, and his 3-point shot improved throughout the Buffs’ season. If he can continue to refine his deep ball, White can be an instant impact player off the bench in the same vein as McCaw.