The NBA Draft’s Biggest Underclassmen Sleepers

  • Kelly Oubre Jr. Kansas highlights
    Kelly Oubre Jr.

    SF, Kansas

    In recent years, Kansas has had an up-and-down history of underclassmen declaring for the draft. For every Andrew Wiggins there has been a Josh Selby, and for every Markieff Morris there has been a Xavier Henry. Though he underperformed at Kansas during his lone season in college, Oubre decided to leap to the draft in hopes that his impressive high school career (he was ranked 11th in ESPN’s 2014 Top 100) and talent will carry him to a top pick.

    A 6-7 wing, Oubre has great size for his position and the athleticism to matchup with NBA wings on both ends. Weighing in at 190, Oubre will need to put on some weight to handle the wear and tear of an NBA season but that shouldn’t be an issue if he puts in time in the weight room. He has a silky-smooth jumper and finishes strong at the rack.

    The Texas native has a lot of room for improvement and scouts will look closely at his inconsistent season, low assist numbers, and poor ball-handling as red flags. But teams will be intrigued by his potential as a two-way player and if he is drafted to the right team and system, Oubre has a chance to make an impact early in his career.

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  • Stanley Johnson Arizona highlights
    Stanley Johnson

    SG, Arizona

    At 6-7, 245 pounds, Stanley Johnson is built more like a tight end than a small forward. Johnson was a big-time recruit coming out of high school and had a solid season at Arizona, playing in all 38 games games and averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 boards. However, he didn’t attract the same high-level media coverage of Towns and Jahlil Okafor and now many scouts have him slated as a late-lottery selection rather than the potential top-five pick many expected.

    Physically, Johnson will be able to step in and compete with NBA players from day one and has one of the highest upsides in the draft. With his frame and improvement as a shooter (he shot 37 percent from three at Arizona) and defender, Johnson has a chance to be a Kawhi Leonard-esque player in a few years at the next level.

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  • Kevon Looney UCLA highlights
    Kevon Looney

    SF/PF, UCLA

    Looney is an interesting prospect who is landing anywhere from the lottery to late first round in various mock drafts. The first thing that pops out when looking at Looney is his length. In 2013, he measured in at 6-9 with a 7-3 wingspan and a 9-1 standing reach. By comparison, at the NBA Draft Combine in 2012, Anthony Davis measured in at 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan and a 9-0 standing reach which gives you an idea at just how long Looney is. At just 19 years old, there’s also a strong possibility that the Milwaukee native will grow even taller and longer.

    He’s still very raw but works hard and makes up for his developing offensive skills with rebounding (he averaged 9.2 as a freshman), effort on defense, and hustle plays — things you can’t always teach at the next level.

    A project for any team who picks hm, Looney will surely boost his stock at the Draft Combine thanks to his physical tools and is the type of player who could pop up in a few years as a key piece on a winning team.

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  • Devin Booker Kentucky highlights
    Devin Booker

    SG, Kentucky

    Playing on the high-profile Kentucky team, Booker didn’t get the shine of teammates like Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, and the Harrison twins but is as good as any two-guard prospect in the class thanks to his size and shooting ability. At 6-6, 205 pounds Booker has ideal size and already has NBA range. Booker is drawing early comparisons to Klay Thompson and at a quick glance, the two do share similar profiles.

    Physically, Thompson left Washington State at 6-7, 206 pounds while Booker weighs in at 6-6, 206 pounds. Thompson was a little longer with a 6-9 wingspan while Booker’s is a shade over 6-6 but Booker has a higher vertical at 35.5 inches compared to Thompson’s 31.5. When looking at their per 40 statistics from their respective freshman seasons, the similarities continue.

    Booker’s per 40 numbers were 18.7 points on 47% shooting (41.1% from three), 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists while shooting at an 82.8% clip from the stripe. Thompson’s freshman per 40 were 15.2 points on 42.1% (41.2% from three), 4.1 boards and 2.3 assists while shooting 90% from the free throw line.

    Thompson’s stats continued to balloon over his final two seasons at Washington State and he is now an All-Star and one of the best two-way shooting guards in the League. Will Booker develop at the same rate? That’s a lot to ask but based on his Draft projection and potential, Booker may be one of the steals of this year’s class.

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  • Bobby Portis Arkansas
    Bobby Portis

    PF, Arkansas

    A 6-10, 235-pound power forward, Portis is a strong player who can finish around the basket and hit a 15-foot jumper. The 2015 SEC Player of the Year averaged 17.5 points, 8.9 boards, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 73.7 percent from the free throw line. Though he isn’t overly explosive as a jumper, Portis is end-to-end fast which not only helps on fast break opportunities but also on defense as he is able to get back and protect the rim.

    His footwork under the rim needs improvement, which will become even more important now that he is going against some of the best athletes in the world instead of overmatched SEC big man. While he has range out to 15 feet, his release is slow and his form has a bit of a hitch. But all of these things can be fixed with proper coaching.

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  • Kelly Oubre Jr. Kansas highlights
  • Stanley Johnson Arizona highlights
  • Kevon Looney UCLA highlights
  • Devin Booker Kentucky highlights
  • Bobby Portis Arkansas

As April turns to May and March Madness takes a bow to the NBA Playoffs, it’s time for fans of teams who didn’t finish as one of the top eight teams in their respective conference to look forward to the NBA Draft Lottery. For some teams (ahem, Knicks) this is the highlight of the season and where the ping pong ball lands may determine the next five years of the franchise. For others who just missed the playoffs, it’s a chance to add a player who can add depth and become a key piece in a season or two.

The first four picks of the draft will likely be, in some order, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who played this past season in China. After that, things get a little murkier. The 2015 class isn’t considered as strong as 2014’s but there is plenty of potential to be found after the top five picks.

At this point, just about everyone is familiar with the likely top picks thanks to heavy media coverage and a star-studded Final Four. No, we didn’t get to see what everyone wanted, which was an epic showdown in the finals pitting Okafor against Towns, but we did get to see Winslow take the next step for Duke, as well as some interesting mid-tier prospects on both Duke and Wisconsin.

For those who didn’t follow college basketball closely, study up on a few under-the-radar prospects who may be the next NBA All-Stars. Here are the NBA Draft’s Biggest Underclassmen Sleepers.

Follow Peter on Twitter at @Peter_M_Walsh

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