We focus on the top of the draft and the likely future stars, but there are always a couple guys who get drafted farther down the board who become high quality players. The sleeper picks. You know, the guy that had fans saying, “who?” when he was picked, then three years later they blame the GM for missing such an obvious future star. For examples, Kawhi Leonard was drafted 15th in 2011, Ty Lawson slid to 18th in 2009, and back in 2008 Goran Dragic and DeAndre Jordan both fell to the second round.
Of course, if I could predict who are the sleepers in this draft are I’d have a job in the Spurs front office. Still, here’s my best shot with five sleepers to watch.
• Elfrid Payton, 6’4” point guard, Louisiana Lafayette. He’s been flying up the draft boards of a lot of teams and has been mentioned so often as a sleeper I’m not sure he qualifies anymore. There is a lot to like here, he is a tall point guard he can break down defenses off the dribble, is good at finding teammates with the pass, and uses his quickness and length to be a very good defender. The big problem is he lacks a jump shot — fix that (and shooting can be fixed) and you have a very good point guard on your hand.
• P.J. Hairston, 6’5” shooting guard, Texas Legends (D-League). Nobody really cares much about what happened at North Carolina at this point. What matters is while the rest of this draft played against boys in college he went to the D-League and played against men. And scored more than 20 a game. He can play minutes right away in the NBA. He has three point range and can put the ball on the floor plus he can attack off the bounce. He struggled to adjust his decision making to the increased the pace of the D-League games and his defense was inconsistent, but this guy can flat out ball. (Because of the D-League experience, watch him have a huge Summer League.)
• Jordan Adams, 6’5” shooting guard, UCLA. Based in LA I watched a number of UCLA games and of the three Bruins likely to get drafted in the first round he’s my favorite. He’s got a high IQ game. He finds holes in the defense to get of his shot off and is an efficient scorer, although he needs to develop a three point shot. He is a good, smart defender on and off the ball. He can be a good rotation player in the NBA for a long, long time.
• K.J. McDaniels, 6’6” small forward, Clemson. Being a good defender alone doesn’t get you taken in the lottery, but whatever team takes him late first/early second is going to like what they get. He is long (6’11” wingspan) and that helps him generate steals on defense. He’s very athletic and can guard the 1-3. He can hit an open jumper if he sets his feet, but most of his offense comes off hustle points — running in transition, hitting the offensive boards, and being physical and getting to the line. That will work off the bench as he develops his shot.
• Adreian Payne, 6’10” power forward, Michigan State. In a league that loves the stretch four Payne is going to fit in nicely — he shot 42 percent from three last season. Not just a shooter, Payne can put the ball on the floor and has a post game. He needs to add some muscle, but he can play minutes as a rookie off the bench and his game will continue to develop.