For many NBA teams, Joel Embiid is the ultimate wild card in Thursday’s draft, but Dante Exum, a projected top-five pick, isn’t too far behind.
No, it’s not because of a nagging injury. Rather, it’s because the 18-year-old Australian is, by and large, untested.
“It’s hard because you don’t really have a real sample size,” CBS Sports Network college basketball insider Jon Rothstein said on The Morning Show. “The level of competition Dante Exum has played against really isn’t on par (with) some of the other prospects in the NBA Draft. (He had) 16 points in 22 minutes last year in the Nike Hoops Summit (and) would have been a highly touted player if he went to college. (He has) great size at 6-6, but you don’t see him consistently against high-level competition, so he is – no pun intended – an international man of mystery.”
But enough with the big names. We know about Embiid and Exum and Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. Who are some of the steals in this year’s draft?
Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, apparently. The 21-year-old forward averaged 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds this past season and is a projected late-first or early-second round pick.
“I think if he played at a higher-profile program, (he) would be talked about as a late lottery pick,” Rothstein said. “(He) blocked just under three shots a game (and has) good size at 6-6. I always evaluate wings going into the NBA on what type of point guard they play with – because if you don’t play with a point guard that can set the table, your career could (be very different).”
For example, take Richard Jefferson. He was essentially an athlete when he was drafted out of Arizona in 2001, and then he joined Jason Kidd. Three years later, he signed a $76 million contract.
A good point guard could make all the difference in the world for McDaniels.
“K.J. McDaniels is a guy who can guard a lot of different positions in the NBA,” Rothstein said. “He fills up the box score in all sorts of areas and he can really be a factor defensively. So I think that’s a name to keep an eye on.”
Other sleepers include Baylor’s Cory Jefferson, who – at 6-10, 220 – is “really built in the mold of an NBA power forward” and has “a Chris Wilcox type feel to his game.” Jefferson, 23, averaged 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds last year.
There’s also Oklahoma State product Markel Brown, who averaged 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a senior this past season.
“I firmly believe that if Markel Brown didn’t play in the same backcourt as Marcus Smart, he would have been regularly talked about as one of the best guards in America,” Rothstein said. “He improved statistically each and every year he was in college. He rebounds his position. (He) could be like an Avery Bradley in the NBA. So there’s mileage in those second-round picks, especially 30 to 40.”
And then there’s the “young guy versus old guy” debate. Specifically, who should teams covert more: Tyler Ennis, who was one-and-done at Syracuse, or Shabazz Napier, who won two national championships at Connecticut.
“I don’t even understand how it can be debated,” said Rothstein, who favors Napier. “I don’t watch the NBA as much as you guys during the year because I’m watching the college game, but the NBA from the point guard position has become so predicated on the pick and roll. I don’t know if there’s a better pick and roll point guard in the draft than Shabazz.”