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Identifying Sleepers in the 2015 NBA Draft

After the Draft Lottery on Tuesday night, people will now turn their attention to the players at the top of the draft. Minnesota will have a chance to add a franchise cornerstone, and there has already been plenty of debate about who the top prospect is.

However, all of the great players that come out of this draft will not be at the top. It’s more than likely a few of the best players in the draft will ultimately come from late first-round picks. To try and determine who these players are, I’ve compared past players who have been drafted late to players in this year’s draft. It’s important to note that I’m not saying the players will be as good as elite players from past drafts, but rather identifying market inefficiencies that’ll cause players to drop, and why these players might end up much better than the players selected ahead of them.

Robert Upshaw

Reason he’ll slide: Despite his great frame and athletic ability, Upshaw has serious character issues. Teams are going to be hesitant to take a player who has been kicked out of two programs.

Sounds like: Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside slid all the way to the second round because of concerns about his character issues. Teams were worried Whiteside would never hone his incredible potential, and so he lasted until the second round, where the Kings snatched him. It took him awhile to mature enough, but Whiteside was a dominant force for the Miami Heat this season, which will undoubtedly help a team trying to talk itself into drafting Upshaw.

Upshaw has more obvious red flags than Whiteside, as Whiteside wasn’t kicked off two college teams. But the personality concerns are familiar. Upshaw is also a raw seven-footer trying to harness incredible athletic talent with a penchant for emphatic blocks. Sound familiar?

Whiteside’s emergence means a team will take a gamble on Upshaw late in the first round or early in the second. And while his off-court issues may cause him to flame out, it wouldn’t shock anybody if Upshaw ended up as one of the 10 best players in the draft.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Reason he’ll slide: Off-court questions aren’t the issue for Hollis-Jefferson, as he was the vocal leader and heart of a great Arizona team. But there are plenty of concerns about what position he’ll play at the next level. He projects as an excellent wing defender, capable of defending multiple positions and switching on pick-and-rolls. But he has absolutely no jump shot and doesn’t have an elite first step or anything that suggests he’ll be passable offensively as a small forward.

Sounds like: Draymond Green

Green lasted until the 35th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft despite having a decorated college career. After a slow start to his Michigan State career, Green was one of the best players in his conference his senior year, but was still passed by in the first round of the draft. Like Hollis-Jefferson, Green is only 6-7, leaving doubts about if he could defend the power-forward spot at the NBA level. He also was deemed to be not quick enough to be a small forward on offense.

Of course, the big difference between Green and Hollis-Jefferson coming into the league is that Green could shoot his senior year. He shot 38.8 percent on three-pointers his last year of college, while Hollis-Jefferson made a combined eight three-pointers in his two years of school.

But don’t forget that Green couldn’t shoot at all his first few years of college, either. He went 2-of-17 from deep in his freshman and sophomore years combined. In fact, check out how similar Green’s sophomore stats are to Hollis-Jefferson’s.

Hollis-Jefferson also seems like he’s tough and skilled enough to guard both forward positions at the NBA level. He has a lot of improving to do if he wants to mold himself into a playable offensive player in the NBA, but he seems to be cut from the same cloth as Green. If he develops even a passable jumper, he could be a steal late in the first round.

Delon Wright

Reason he’ll slide: Wright is a senior and isn’t an elite athlete. With these two red flags coupled with numbers that aren’t eye-popping, it’s easy to see why Wright won’t be taken early in the draft. He doesn’t have a particularly elite offensive skill, as his shooting is average and he isn’t incredibly explosive.

Sounds like: Jimmy Butler

This is my favorite comparison in the draft, because the similarities aren’t quite as obvious as most others. After all, Wright will probably be mostly a point guard at the next level, and one of his best skills is his court vision. Butler was seen exclusively as a wing and had a lot more muscle to him, making his defensive transition less concerning.

But these players have striking similarities on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the two were both excellent at the collegiate level, with an understanding of their team’s defensive schemes. Both players were able to get steals (Wright was especially impressive with 2.1 a game) without being caught out of position, and both were relentless in getting around screens. Defensive instincts seemed to come natural to Butler and Wright, and each improved as a senior on the defensive end.

Offensively, both have a quick first step that gets them into the lane. Both started their collegiate careers as poor shooters but developed a passable shot by their senior year, and both got to the line more than five times a game. Instead of having one elite skill, both these players are just good enough at everything to have an effective offensive game.

Butler made huge strides in the NBA to become an elite player, which goes against the common thinking that seniors won’t have the drastic improvement that younger players will coming out of college. Wright’s coaches have raved about his hard work as well, and he could be another player who shows more improvement at the NBA level than is projected. The reason you gamble on Wright is the exact opposite of the reason you gamble on Upshaw. He may not be as naturally gifted, but Wright, like Butler, will do whatever he can to improve his flaws.

Wright could end up as a versatile offensive player who gets to the line with a quick first step and has enough of a jump-shot to make teams respect him. Couple that with high defensive upside, and Wright is a very intriguing prospect late in the first round. It’ll be hard for him to reach the level of Butler, but Wright could certainly be a player who makes teams regret passing on him.

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