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9 NBA Draft sleepers who can be a gem for your favorite team

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These are the names to get familiar with as the draft approaches.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

There are sleepers buried within every NBA Draft. Whether it’s Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo falling to pick No. 15, Jimmy Butler going with the last pick in the first round or Nikola Jokic and Draymond Green turning into second round gems, NBA history is littered with definitive proof that the draft doesn’t end after the top five.

The draft is also hard. Hasheem Thabeet went ahead of Stephen Curry and James Harden in 2009. Wesley Johnson once went ahead of DeMarcus Cousins. Adam Morrison was picked before Brandon Roy.

There are going to be some excellent NBA players taken after the top selections in this year‘s draft, too. There might even be some stars. These are the names to get familiar with as the draft approaches.

High-upside gamble

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Jarred Vanderbilt, Kentucky

I saw Jarred Vanderbilt play for the first time as a high school junior on Nike’s EYBL circuit. He played for a Houston Hoops team that also featured future top-five pick De’Aaron Fox, Purdue star Carsen Edwards and lottery-bound Texas A&M center Robert Williams. All of those players were a year older than Vanderbilt, but he was still thought to be the real gem on that team.

As a certified five-star recruit ranked No. 13 in the consensus rankings, Vanderbilt committed to Kentucky. His college career never really got off the ground. After enduring two foot injuries in high school, Vanderbilt suffered another one as soon as he arrived in Lexington. This time it required surgery and forced him to miss the first 17 games of the season. Then he suffered an ankle injury that cost him Kentucky’s entire postseason.

In total, Vanderbilt played only 14 college games, averaging 17 minutes, six points and one assist. He never really got to show his talent at Kentucky.

Vanderbilt was so tantalizing as a recruit because he was a 6’9, 215-pound forward with a 7’1 wingspan who could handle the ball, pass, rebound and defend. That’s what the ideal version of him still looks like. He was incredible as a rebounder on both ends of the floor in limited minutes in college, posting 18.5 rebounds per 40 minutes. He didn’t get to handle much, but it’s worth remembering he earned a reputation as a point-forward in high school. John Calipari was quoted saying Kentucky could play without a traditional point guard if he had Vanderbilt in the lineup.

The one weakness in Vanderbilt’s skill set is his jump shot, as it always has been. When you combine that with his injury history, it’s easy to see why he’s not getting any first round buzz even with such an impressive pedigree. But if you’re looking to swing for the fences late in the draft, he’s worth a gamble.

If he stays healthy, Vanderbilt can still be an athletic, two-way big man who can switch defensively and add playmaking to any front court.

Lockdown perimeter defender

USC v Baylor Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

De’Anthony Melton, USC

Melton was one of the most pleasant surprises in the country when he got to USC, rising from a recruit outside the top-100 rankings to a freshman who immediately caught the eye of NBA talent evaluators with his “swiss army knife” skill set. Melton decided to come back for his sophomore season — then the FBI scandal hit. USC was implicated and the program decided he would be ruled ineligible for the entire year.

Melton has had a year off from competitive play, but he remains an intriguing prospect at the end of the first or early second round. He’s a 6’3 off-guard with a 6’8 wingspan who proved to be a lockdown defender from the very start of his college career. He averaged two steals and one block per game and showed a focused and determined ability to stay in front of his man. He was also a good rebounder on both ends, grabbing seven boards per 40 minutes.

Offensively, Melton’s main value comes as a secondary creator. He’s a good ball handler and passer who averaged five assists per 40 minutes as a freshman. His weakness is his outside jump shot. He hit just 27.5 percent of his threes on 2.1 attempts per game during his only college season.

Can he be the next Marcus Smart? Physical perimeter defenders have a lot of value in today’s game. Melton can be a bargain for a team willing to bet on his on-ball defense and the chance his jump shot develops.

Rim protector

High School Basketball: McDonald’s All-American Portraits Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Robinson

Robinson shocked the college basketball world when he committed to Western Kentucky as a consensus top-10 national recruit, but his exit from the program was even more bizarre. Let my colleague Mike Rutherford explain the entire situation to you. Essentially, Robinson decided to drop out of school to spend the year training for the draft, where he’s now projected to go in the 20s.

This is an ultra-athletic 7-footer who ideally profiles in a rim protector/rim runner role currently popularized by Clint Capela. Long (7’4 wingspan), agile and incredibly quick off the floor, Robinson is going to be a major alley-oop target from day one. Shot blocking will be his calling card, but it will probably take him some time to pick up the nuances of interior defense at the NBA level.

Robinson does two things: run and jump. But in his pre-draft workouts, he’s also showed off some shooting touch.

The biggest hurdle for Mitchell might fall under the umbrella of “feel for the game” — like figuring out proper defensive rotations and pick-and-roll coverages, and learning how to hit the open man on offense when he can’t finish above the rim. The talent is there and it’s obvious. Centers with Robinson’s athleticism almost never last past the lottery. He’s worth the gamble on tools alone.

3-and-D wing

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech

It was easy to miss Okogie when he was playing for a Georgia Tech team that finished near the bottom of the ACC, but he’s been solidly rising since his breakout performance at the combine. He posted the best vertical jump (42 inches) and sprint time in the class, and also shined in five-on-five play.

Okogie is a 6’4 sophomore wing with a 7-foot wingspan who will make his name playing high motor defense. He’s also capable as a catch-and-shoot guy on offense, drilling 38 percent of his threes each of his two years in college and hitting 82 percent of his free throws this past season.

His value will ultimately be determined by how well he defends, but he looks like one of the better wing defenders in this class at the onset of the draft. Late first round/early second round teams looking for a 3-and-D guy: Okogie is your man.

Five more NBA Draft sleepers

Omari Spellman, C, Villanova: Spellman was ruled ineligible as a freshman at Villanova, and used his year off to transform his body. In the process, the former five-star recruit went from a chubby inside scorer to a legit stretch five. He canned 65-of-150 threes (43.3 percent) and also blocked 1.5 shots per game, thanks in part to a wingspan (7’3) that is six inches better than his height (6’9). Lateral mobility is the biggest question mark.

D.J. Hogg, F, Texas A&M: The Aggies were playing everyone out of position last year due the presence of productive-but-plodding center Tyler Davis. That pushed lottery pick Robert Williams to the four (when he should have been a center) and Hogg to the three, when he was perfect as a stretch four. At 6’9, Hogg is worth a second round flier as a face-up forward in the front court. He hit 37 percent of his threes combined over the last two seasons.

Kenrich Williams, F, TCU: Taking Williams in the second round is a bet on skill over athleticism. The 6’7 senior is a cerebral forward who filled box scores throughout his career for the Horned Frogs, racking up assists, steals and rebounds while turning himself into a near 40 percent three-point shooter by the end of his career. TCU put together its two best seasons of the last 20 years with Williams as an upperclassman.

Isaac Bonga, F, Germany: At 6’9 with a 7-foot wingspan, Bonga handles and passes like a point guard. He’s a reluctant and unrefined shooter at this stage, but it’s hard to find players with his size who effectively run pick-and-rolls.

Kevin Hervey, F, UT-Arlington: Hervery was a go-to scorer for his last three years in the Sun Belt, but he profiles as a capable NBA role player because of his length (7’3 wingspan) and shooting potential. He was a volume shooter from three (nearly seven attempts per game) as a senior, hitting only 34 percent of those shots, but showing off a fluid stroke that helped him hit 80 percent of his free throws.