The NBA draft is an annual barrage of misinformation and smokescreens that can lead to busts and value picks. One thing remains constant however: Every team wants to find under-the-radar talent. Whether that means Draymond Green, Isaiah Thomas or Khris Middleton — second-round picks who surpassed all expectations — or recent under-hyped first-rounders who blossomed such as Donovan Mitchell (13th overall in 2017), Terry Rozier (16th overall in 2015) and Clint Capela (25th overall in 2014).
The 2018 draft class is deep and loaded with high-level prospects, but here are five players who aren’t getting the biggest headlines yet could be next season’s version of Mitchell.
SG Donte DiVincenzo, Soph., Villanova
Villanova’s sixth man has enjoyed a meteoric rise up draft boards because of his sensational shooting ability, skills in transition and overall competitiveness. “I love him,” an NBA coach told Yahoo Sports. “He’s going to shock the league and he’s got the cojones to do it. … He was the best player in Chicago [at the NBA combine], and it wasn’t even close.”
Like Mitchell, DiVincenzo, 21, is a prototypical combo guard with two-way ability and the potential to become a three-level scorer. “The Big Ragu” is a remarkable athlete, which helps him as a rebounder and above-the-rim finisher. Consider: Mitchell posted a 40 1/2-inch max vertical at the combine; DiVincenzo tied for the combine high in 2018 with a 42-inch max vert. As he refines his handle and passing ability, the “Michael Jordan of Delaware” has a legitimate chance to be the steal of this draft.
SG Lonnie Walker IV, Fr., Miami
Walker stands nearly 6-feet-5 and is 196 pounds with a 6-10 1/4 inch wingspan, and has an enticing set of tools that has helped him generate buzz throughout the pre-draft process. An exciting two-way guard who checks every character box, there is a bounce and quickness to his game that should bode for the next level. Like DiVincenzo, the 19-year-old needs to tighten his handle and improve as a passer, specifically out of the pick-and-roll, where he will be tasked with becoming a secondary ball-handler. If he morphs into a more consistent perimeter shooter, he has legitimate potential — and not merely as a 3-and-D guy but as an All-Star.
SG/SF Zhaire Smith, Fr., Texas Tech
Smith isn’t a creator on the level of DiVincenzo or Walker, but he makes up for it with his game-changing defensive ability and physical gifts. As one Big 12 coach told Yahoo Sports: “He has a really high IQ and feel for the game. He’s an NBA athlete. Just look at how much his skills have improved.” A true menace who can defend three positions, Smith’s most glaring weakness is his ability off the dribble. As a bullying finisher, powerful athlete and ace defender, Smith needs to become a more consistent offensive performer, which includes sharpening his handle — notice a theme here — and improving his overall playmaking. But Smith has the upside to become a really good NBA player and one of the best wing players in this draft.
SG Khyri Thomas, Jr., Creighton
At a shade under 6-4 with a ridiculous 6-10 1/2 inch wingspan and a compact build, Thomas is built similarly to Mitchell. He doesn’t have quite the explosiveness — few players do — but he’s not far off either. And, as one GM told Yahoo Sports, Thomas (who shot 41.1 percent from three-point range as a junior) can help in a variety of ways, not just as a shooter but has an outstanding defensive weapon as well (he was a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year). The key for Thomas — who’s also similar to rising Denver Nuggets star Gary Harris — is how well he adjusts as a playmaker, but the sample size of his improvement suggests that shouldn’t be a problem. The bottom line: Thomas is the rare high-floor and high-ceiling prospect that teams covet.
SG Rawle Alkins, Soph., Arizona
The 6-4 Alkins is one of the most impressive pound-for-pound athletes in this class. With his nearly 6-9 wingspan, active hands and solid lower body strength, one coach told Yahoo Sports that Alkins not only embraces the defensive challenge as a one-through-three stopper, but is strong and smart enough to even switch onto smaller fours, the way the Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart does.
The coach also appreciated Alkins’ attacking mentality and eagerness to get downhill, and believes he can become a strong guard rebounder. Alkins, 20, is also a deft finisher around the hoop and improving playmaker who averaged 3.2 assists per 40 minutes for Arizona last season — a respectable number considering the Wildcats featured an assortment of capable ball-handlers alongside Alkins.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.
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