Evaluating NBA draft prospects is an unscientific process that entails a fair bit of guesswork. Each player’s flaws are weighed against the strengths to correctly gauge a player’s draft stock, and this process is often very volatile, given the subjective nature of selecting draft picks.
Every year, few players slip through the hands of teams and later bloom to be great players. Franchises pour millions of dollars into scouting to minimise such errors, but with more information than ever about each player due to fast advancement of sports technology, the decisions that the front office has to make is often convoluted and complex. This makes these occasional draft errors inevitable. And with that, these are the players poised to be the top sleepers of the 2018 NBA Draft.
Lonnie Walker IV, University of Miami [G] – 18th pick, San Antonio Spurs
Walker was one of the top recruits of the 2017 high school recruiting class, a McDonald’s All-American and a consensus top-20 recruit. His impressive physical profile as a combo guard (6ft 4.5 in shoes, 6’10.25 wingspan) and jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism was what made him such a intriguing player, but after a disappointing season with the Hurricanes, his draft stock plummeted. Originally considered a mid-lottery pick coming into the season, he was positioned in the late lottery for most mock drafts by end of the season, and eventually fell to the 18th pick, falling to the San Antonio Spurs. Many factors came into play for his downfall in draft stock, which included inconsistent shooting (FG: 41.5%, 3PT: 34.6%, FT: 73.8%), his injury concerns (left knee injury mid season) and his lack of defensive discipline. However, what sets Walker apart from other guard prospects this draft is his potential as a two-way wing, being able to guard 1-3 while also being a potent offensive option. With his athleticism and physical profile points to quickness and length to guard NBA level wings which will also help him finish at the rim. His silky smooth off the dribble also shooting flashes go-to scoring potential, and screams offensive upside. Under one of the best developmental coaches in the league in Greg Popovich, there is a legitimate chance he develops into one of the best shooting guards in the league, especially given the lack of
depth at the position in the modern NBA.
Mitchell Robinson, Chalmette High School [C] – 36th pick, New York Knicks
Robinson was one of the most enigmatic prospects this NBA draft, being one of the few players that chose to forgo college before the draft, opting to train on his own. Although he originally committed to Western Kentucky late in the high school recruiting cycle, he later chose to turn
down the offer and even chose not to go overseas to play pro. He also only worked out for a few selected teams before the draft, and even chose to pull out of the NBA Combine, leaving his draft stock a complete mystery to most teams, which was most likely the reason for his 2nd round selection. However, there is no doubting his talent level. Robinson was widely touted as one of the top 10 recruits for the 2017 class, and also dominated at the Jordan Brand Classic game and participated at the McDonald’s All-American game. He is a gifted athlete with size (7ft tall), length (7’4 wingspan), and athleticism. He combines his physical gifts and skill level to be an imposing presence in the post, and was a thoroughly impressive shot blocker, averaging 6 per game during his senior year at Chalmette. Robinson also showcased his shooting touch during his pre-draft workouts, showing that the sky was the limit for the big man. However, he brings up quite a lot of question marks regarding his lack of physicality, motor and defensive instincts which will be a steep learning curve for him in the NBA, if he can straighten his wrinkles out, he has potential to develop into a difference maker for a team in the NBA.
Jarred Vanderbilt, University of Kentucky [F] – 41st pick, Orlando Magic (traded to Nuggets)
Vanderbilt has one of the most unique skill sets in the draft. Standing at 6’9 with a 7’1 wingspan, the former Kentucky player spent most of his time in his freshman season sidelined with a foot injury. However, he offers compelling potential as a point forward in the modern positionless NBA. Vanderbilt has a great handle for his position and is a smart passer on the fast break. He also was one of the best per-minute rebounders in the NCAA Division 1 last season with 18.5 rebounds a game per 40 minutes. He plays with unbelievable energy and charisma on defence, and was often the defensive tone-setter for Kentucky. His motor coupled with his mobility and athleticism also makes him a lob threat and a multi-positional defender. This also makes him a great slasher on the fast break. However, his shooting touch is near nonexistent, which may be a major red flag in the modern NBA offence that highlights floor spacing. Vanderbilt’s frenetic energy has its downsides as it often gets him into foul trouble, which points to a lack of defensive discipline. His durability is his biggest question mark, with a suspect medical history that consists of multiple foot injuries during highschool and college. Despite these question marks, being drafted into a rebuilding franchise in the Denver Nuggets who may be able to slow things down with him and overlook his initial rough edges, he is in a great position to be able to maximise his immense potential to contribute in the NBA.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova University [PG] – 33rd pick, Atlanta Hawks (traded to Dallas Mavericks)
Brunson is one of those point guard prospects that will slip in the draft due to concerns with lack of athleticism, then play 10+ years in the NBA. One of the most decorated players in college basketball, he led the WIldcats to two national titles during his 4-year career college career and also won the Bob Cousy award in his senior year, given to the best point guard each college season. One of the most mentally mature players in the draft, he will impress teams with his leadership, passing and a reliable three-point stroke.
Elie Okubo, Pau-Orthez (FR) [PG] – 31st pick, Phoenix Suns
Okubo is a late-blooming scoring potential that recently shot up the mock drafts from his performances in the 2016 FIBA U20 European Championships and his role with Pau Orthez in France. He is a left guard whose main selling point is his offensive potential, with an ability to score in all three levels. He can shoot the three, pull up in the mid range off the dribble, and take it to the rim to finish with his impressive wingspan (6’8). He plays the pick and roll with uncanny fluidity for a guard his age, and has improved in overall playmaking as well. Although he needs to improve his defence to silence his critics, his offensive arsenal will still prove effective at the next level.