February 29, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Arnett Moultrie (23) blocks the shot of South Carolina Gamecocks forward R.J. Slawson (33) in the first half at Colonial-Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE
You know the big names heading toward the 2012 NBA Draft. But what about the prospects who are evading notice but stand decent chances of having successful NBA careers?
Iman Shumpert had an inconsistent collegiate career, to say the least. A 6'5, 200-pound McDonald's All-American who combined elite athletic ability with the ball-handling ability and floor vision of a point guard, he was the most talented perimeter player at Georgia Tech the second he walked on campus.
However, in his three years running point for the Yellow Jackets, he never developed much of a feel for the position. He struggled with looking for his own shot verse setting up his teammates as defenses dared him to shoot from the perimeter, which he was only too happy to do despite his career 30.5 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
Shumpert's Georgia Tech teams were consistent underachievers, making the NCAA Tournament only once, and that was with a frontcourt that featured the No. 2 overall pick (Derrick Favors) as well as second-rounder Gani Lawal. In his junior season, the Yellow Jackets went 13-18 as Shumpert slipped off the national radar.
As a result, when the New York Knicks selected him at No. 17 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, it elicited eye rolls from many. However, the Knicks realized that while he was miscast as a primary option at Georgia Tech, he was better suited to being an NBA role player than many of the more highly touted collegiate stars available. As a rookie, he has already established himself as one of the NBA's elite perimeter defenders before a devastating knee injury in the playoffs.
The vast majority of first-round picks have to make the transition from dominating the ball as college stars to playing off the ball at the next level, which requires two vastly different skill sets. Jimmer Fredette's shot-making skills made him better suited to being a collegiate star than Shumpert, but Shumpert's length and athleticism have made him a much better NBA role player than Fredette.
In general, NBA teams tend to overrate the importance of team success when it comes to judging the merits of individual collegiate players. That goes double when it comes to role players, as there's only so much a player who affects the game off the ball can do to carry his team in the NCAA Tournament.
So when looking for value in the draft, it's important to look beyond the top scorers on Sweet 16 teams and judge the entirety of a player's game, especially for players on underachieving squads like Shumpert. At this time last year, I pegged Shumpert, Klay Thompson, Jordan Williams, Reggie Jackson, Isaiah Thomas and Darius Morris as possible sleepers.
In that vein, here are six prospects who have not garnered much publicity in the pre-draft season so far but have the chance to become excellent role players and specialists in the NBA:
Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt
- Shot-creation: Fluid 6'7, 225-pound athlete with a smooth handle and effective pull-up jumper. Doesn't have the explosiveness or creativity to be a primary offensive option, but could thrive in a secondary role at the next level. Averaged 16.1 points on 49 percent shooting as a senior.
- Defense: With only a 6'6 wingspan, lacks the size to reach ratio of most elite defenders. However, has smarts, size and athleticism to be an effective defender on all three perimeter positions in the NBA. Averaged 1.3 steals a game last season.
- Perimeter shot: A surprisingly poor free-throw shooter at 60.5 percent last season, but three-point shooting percentage improved dramatically in four years in Nashville. As a senior, shot 42.5 percent from beyond the arc on 156 attempts and can contribute immediately on next level as a spot-up shooter.
- Passing: With a career average of 1.9 assists to 2.3 turnovers, not a player who can create shots for teammates off the bounce. However, is comfortable with the ball in his hands and can be an effective passer within the confines of an offense.
- Rebounding: Excellent size and athleticism allows him to contribute on the glass on both ends of the floor. Career average of 5.6 rebounds a game.
- Best case: Richard Jefferson -- athletic two-way wing whose outside shooting ability could make him an effective third option on an elite team.
- Worst case: Carlos Delfino -- replacement-level player at both shooting guard and small forward positions.
Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
- Shot-creation: Athletic and coordinated 6'11, 230-pound big man with a good outside touch as well as a developing low post game. Not a primary offensive option but could be an incredibly effective pick-and-roll threat at the next level. Averaged 16.4 points a game on 55 percent shooting as a junior.
- Defense: Lacks the bulk of a starting NBA center, but has length and athleticism to be an excellent defensive option as a starting power forward or reserve center. Averaged 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks a game last year.
- Perimeter shot: One of the most intriguing aspects of his game, as two-way big men who space the floor are incredibly important at the next level. Shot 78 percent from the free throw line last season.
- Passing: Not comfortable creating shots for teammates (career averages of 1.0 assists to 2.1 turnovers) and won't be asked to do so in the NBA.
- Rebounding: Translated excellent physical attributes into high-level work on the glass at Starkville and averaged 10.5 rebounds a game as a junior.
- Best case: Brandan Wright -- Versatile two-way forward capable of contributing at both interior positions.
- Worst case: Jason Thompson -- Athletic 6'11 big man who lacks offensive skill to be a front-line starter but has size and skill of a 10-year NBA veteran.
Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
- Shot-creation: Coordinated and athletic big man capable of posting up smaller players but is not a consistent low-post scorer. Averaged 10.1 points on 54 percent shooting as a senior.
- Defense: Has extremely intriguing size at center position at 6'11, 255 pounds with a 7'4 wingspan. Moves feet well in defending pick-and-rolls and protected the rim at a high level at Vanderbilt. Career average of 1.7 blocks a game.
- Perimeter shot: Free throw averages improved dramatically (60 percent as a senior) over four years in Nashville, but not comfortable offensively outside of the lane.
- Rebounding: Lower rebounding averages (5.9 a game as senior) are partly result of inability to stay on floor (3.2 fouls in 23 minutes a game last year) but still a concern given his excellent measurables.
- Passing: Miniscule assist to turnover ratio (0.3 to 2.2 last season) is pretty standard for a true center.
- Best case: Nene -- Athletic 6'11+ two-way center who can defend the post and finish in the lane.
- Worst case: Zaza Pachulia -- Replacement level center with size to be extremely valuable post defender.
Drew Gordon, New Mexico
- Shot-creation: Skilled 6'9, 240-pound power forward with good feel for the low post. New Mexico ran a lot of offense through him but lack of size or face-up game makes that unrealistic at next level. Averaged 13.7 points on 54 percent shooting as a senior.
- Defense: Good physical tools for the power forward position, but lacks size to swing to center or foot-speed to swing to small forward. Averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks a game last year.
- Perimeter shot: Not a consistent part of game, but 75 percent free throw shooting percentage and good mechanics indicate he could become a pick-and-pop threat.
- Rebounding: Excellent rebounder on both ends of the floor who averaged 11.1 a game last season.
- Passing: Will have a smaller role in the NBA but has capability to play with the ball in his hands offensively and swing it around the floor. Averaged 1.2 assists on 2.3 turnovers a game as a senior.
- Best case: David Lee -- Skilled 6'9 power forward who can dominate on the glass despite lacking ideal physical tools.
- Worst case: Dante Cunningham -- Replacement-level power forward.
Kevin Jones, West Virginia
- Shot-creation: Not a natural dribble-drive player, but averaged 20 points a game on 50 percent shooting as a senior by playing within himself, hitting the offensive glass and utilizing a turn-around jumper in the post.
- Defense: Classic tweener forward at 6'8, 250 pounds, but 7'1 wingspan allows him to play bigger than size at the 4. Has smarts to possibly get by as a reserve small forward at next level as well.
- Perimeter shot: Three-point percentages plummeted from sophomore season (40.1 percent) to senior (26.6 percent) due to increased role in offense, but should benefit from playing off the ball in the NBA and has ability to knock down open shots.
- Rebounding: Regardless of size, 10.5 average as a senior should translate immediately to the NBA. An absolute beast on the offensive glass despite poor vertical leap, positions himself extremely well against bigger defenders.
- Passing: Skilled player who can function with ball in hands offensively but not capable of consistently creating shots for others. Averaged 1.2 assists and 1.3 turnovers a game last year.
- Best case: Paul Millsap -- Undersized tweener forward who can excel through rebounding and perimeter shooting at the 4.
- Worst case: James Gist -- Poor physical tools prevent him from ever getting a chance in an NBA rotation.
Khris Middleton, Texas A&M: A versatile 6'7, 220-pound small forward, Middleton would have been a lock for the first round if he had declared in 2011 after averaging 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal on 45 percent shooting as a sophomore. However, he injured his knee right before the start of last season and never seemed like himself when he came back. His medical issues are a huge red flag, but if his knee tests out OK, he could be a steal for a team in the second round.