Every draft class, though vastly different, contains at least some similar characteristics. There are sure things that pan out and players who are busts, and each year there are always a few players who surpass expectations.
Typically, these are players who hear their name called towards the end of the first round or later. Most have had strong college careers, but for one reason or another (size, questions about athleticism or position), they aren't highly rated going into draft night.
Each year, though, a few teams come out looking smart for taking a chance on a "second-round sleeper" who ends up contributing to the team right away. In 2006, it was Daniel Gibson, Paul Millsap and Leon Powe. This past NBA season saw Carl Landry of the Houston Rockets emerge as the second-round steal of the 2007 draft.
Who are going to be the surprise players this season? Well, it's never an exact science, but here is a look at a few potential sleepers that could be available in the second round.
Mike Taylor (6-foot-1 point guard/shooting guard, Idaho Stampede of NBDL)
The only player from the NBA Development League to appear at the Orlando predraft camp, Taylor quickly made himself known to general managers with a series of electric, albeit inconsistent, performances. The floor general possesses tremendous physical ability, great open-floor speed, a lightning-quick first step and an explosive 39-inch vertical leap. His wingspan allows him to play much bigger than he actually is, although he doesn't always take advantage of it especially on the defensive end.
Incredibly aggressive offensively, Taylor is able to penetrate into the lane on a regular basis and finish against much taller defenders. He gets into trouble, though, when he forces the issue, something that caused him to turn the ball over more than five times per 40 minutes last season in the D-League. He has range beyond the NBA three-point line, but his jumper tends to be streaky. He's not what you would call a pure point guard, but that's not so much of a bad thing these days.
The NBA is in large part a copycat league, and if teams have been paying attention during this year's playoffs, they have caught some incredible performances from offensive juggernaut combo guards such as Jannero Pargo, Eddie House, Rodney Stuckey and Delonte West. Those four came off the bench to change the complexion of the game with their ability to light up the scoreboard.
Taylor fits that description to a "T" as he showed in the first two games of the NBA predraft camp with 41 points in 41 total minutes. He generated a strong buzz, putting him firmly on the radar screen of most NBA teams and setting him up to likely get drafted. While Taylor might still not be the hottest name in this year's guard class, he can certainly lay claim to having one of the more interesting personal stories.
After a standout career in the junior college ranks, Taylor spent one season with Iowa State. He posted solid numbers but was dismissed from the team for violating an agreement he had made with head coach Greg McDermott surrounding academics, as well as two separate arrests on charges of vandalism and shoplifting. Taylor said he has gone through a lot of personal growth since the incidents.
"Those were mistakes that I made due to immaturity on my part," he said. "It gave me a whole different mindset, and I feel like the mindset I'm in right now is on the way to something good. It's all a part of the story."
That story continued in the D-League when Taylor joined the Iowa Stampede in December of 2007. In his 39 games with Iowa, Taylor averaged 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and over a steal while playing an integral part on a team that won the D-League championship.
"Mike is an extremely talented kid that wants to play," Stampede head coach Bryan Gates said. "He is easy to coach, always asking questions, and responsibilities were never an issue with him."
Taylor at the very least will have a leg up on most other players in the draft. He already has nearly 40 games under his belt against professional level competition, and he put that experience to use in Orlando, where, after already having scheduled nine individual workouts before the camp, was contacted by nine more teams to workout for them.
As far as his thoughts on being labeled a potential sleeper in this year's draft class, Taylor said: "If that's what they're going to call me, I'll take it, as long as I get the opportunity to show my talent at the next level."
Shan Foster (6-6 shooting guard, Vanderbilt)
When the discussion of who is the best shooter in this year's draft class comes up, it usually starts and ends with Foster. He scored over 2,000 career points at Vanderbilt and ranks as one of the all-time leading perimeter shooters in SEC history. Moreover, Foster ranks first in this draft in basically every single shooting efficiency stat among players at his position and should not have a problem getting his shot off at the next level due to his size and very high release point of his jumper. His college numbers in fact rival those of two players he draws heavy comparisons to – Kyle Korver and Jason Kapono.
Earlier this month at the NBA predraft camp, however, he forced the issue excessively trying to create shots for himself off the dribble. While he was content to rotate behind plays as a catch-and-shoot player in college, Foster often was forced into handling the ball on the outside, something he has continually struggled with.
At this point, Foster doesn't bring a whole lot more to the table as far as NBA-ready skills are concerned. His greatest ability is both his gift and his curse. While there is always a spot on an NBA roster for a shooter as dangerous as Foster, the weaker aspects of his game look that much worse when he goes through cold spells like he did in Orlando.
If he gets back to his usual self in individual workouts, though, Foster could find himself a home in the middle of the second round.
"I thought I played hard. I didn't shoot the ball great, but I thought I played OK," Foster said of his sub-par performance in front of scouts and GMs. "I think with the body of work that I did over the course of my senior year, I think expectations were high."
Since the camp, Foster and his agent haven't heard anything about his stock dropping, and with 12 individual workouts scheduled, he will have plenty of chances to put on his usual shooting clinics.
The self-proclaimed gym rat is confident he can contribute to an NBA franchise right away, even as a second-round pick.
"I've got to continue to work hard," Foster said. "Once I get my foot in the door, I'm going to be that guy that works hard, talks to coaches and does whatever it takes to win."
Omer Asik (7-foot center, Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey)
In Asik, you may be talking about the biggest potential steal in the second round – or a player who disappears into obscurity rather quietly. The 21-year-old Turkish big man still has two more years on his contract overseas, but if he continues to work hard and progress like he has been, some NBA team could end up getting quite a player.
Asik has very intriguing physical traits. The 7-footer has a standing reach of 9-foot-4, but most impressive is his overall mobility. Asik moves very well in both the open floor and half-court sets for his size, and he has a great motor.
This agility and energy makes him a nightmare as a help defender, which was very apparent when he broke the Euroleague top-16 round shot-blocking record. He is also a phenomenal rebounder, having averaged 11.5 boards per 40 minutes to go along with 40-minute marks of 17 points and 4.5 blocks. Mind you, he did that exclusively in the top 16 and quarterfinals of the Euroleague against by far the strongest competition any prospect in this draft has faced.
NBA teams that did their homework got to see a taste of what Asik can do two weeks ago when he helped bring the Turkish league title home with a monster 16-point, 10-rebound, six-block effort (in 24 minutes) in Game 3 of the playoff finals.
At this point, Asik's offensive game is very underdeveloped and almost exclusively limited to the immediate vicinity of the basket. He does show some craftiness with the basketball, allowing him to post some solid scoring numbers, and he has pretty good touch. He doesn't look lost when presented with an opportunity to catch the ball and finish strong around the basket.
This is a player who is clearly a big-time project, but the risk may be worth it for a team to draft him, stow him overseas for two more years to develop and then reap the potential benefits down the road. Another thing to keep in mind is that Asik only started playing organized basketball four years ago, so his learning curve is still very steep.
"I have had good coaches who have taken time to help me develop good fundamentals," he said. "I am not a finished product, and I have much to improve upon."
Equally as attractive as Asik's upside is his understanding that he doesn't need to rush into an NBA career if he's drafted. In the past, international players have rushed to get out of their contracts with native teams in order to get to the bright stage of the NBA. Asik knows the extra time will serve him well in the long run.
"It has always been my dream to play in the NBA," he said. "By playing for Fenerbahce in Euroleague for these next two seasons, it will prepare me to compete and improve so that I can be ready to play in the NBA when the time is right."
- Mike Taylor