By John Hooper
Similar to the article we published about the most overrated prospects in this year's draft, we're back with the five best players flying under the radar. These are the ones who we'll be coming back to in five years from now like how the hell did he last until the 38th pick?!
Let's start at the top:
I may be the biggest Collins lover on the planet, and I'm ok with that. On our last podcast I made the proclamation that Collins future was "bare minimum: Pau", and I've already published an article stating that he's the best player in the draft.
So why is my appetite for all things Collins so ravenous? I like to evaluate players based on who could log major minutes in this year's playoffs, plus whose style will thrive in the league of 3-5 years from now. Would Collins have started in the playoffs this year? Absolutely not. Could he have played a role like he did at Gonzaga where he played 15 minutes and protected the rim, rebounded, and caught lobs for the Celtics? I'm confident that he could've. What I love even more is that in four years his body will have filled out, his shot will be more consistent, and then we'll have a seven footer who's a beast on the block, a great rim-runner, can pick and pop at the three-point line, who's a good rebounder, AND blocks a ton of shots. The only players in the league right now who that could be describing are Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Davis.
Yes, he played a backup role against a weak strength of schedule. No, I don't know why Mark Few was so loyal to Przemek Karnowski. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith on a prospect, and I feel strongly that this is one of those times.
Our Prediction: 8 time all-star. 7 seasons averaging a double-double. Borderline Hall of Famer.
John Collins is the player I'm most excited to see at Summer League. I can't wait to watch him try to destroy the rims at Thomas and Mack on top of the head of some poor G League veteran.
Collins is another player who we already have an article about, but in a nutshell, he's an undersized, highly athletic center who plays like dunks are worth 8 points and layups are worth 4. It's so much fun watching someone hunt out the rim like he does, whether its to bash one down or to simply shoot a high percentage shot near the basket. I'm not quite sure he knows how to pass, and despite the recent videos showing him rain threes he rarely shot the ball beyond twelve feet, but sometimes it just doesn't matter. The guy showed elite scoring and rebounding potential this past year, grading out with perfect scores in both categories in our algorithm.
His defense will likely be fine. Not great, but fine. He won't be an elite rim protector but his team was 4.3 points per 100 possessions stingier with him on the court that they were overall, so he made a positive impact on that end this year for Wake Forest. He also has the quickness to potentially be a player who can comfortably switch onto guards when defending the pick and roll.
My main concern with John Collins is fit. He's more of a power forward with his 6'10", 225 pound frame, but he's a center stylistically. My dream is for the Knicks to take him and pair him with Kristaps. Porzingis could stay bombing threes from the perimeter and leave the rim open for Collins to attack at will. Collins would help cover for Porzingis' rebounding deficiencies, and then both would contest shots in the paint... it might just be too beautiful for the league to handle. But the Knicks'll probably take Frankie Smokes instead.
Our Prediction: 12 year career. 64% career true shooting percentage. Peaks with a 24/12/0 season on 62%/34%/82% shooting.
Everyone wants the next Draymond but no one wants to accept that he's a once in a generation player. What we can do is learn from some of the indicators that told us that Dray should've gone higher so that we can identify a player who may have some similar attributes in the future. I'm here to tell you that that man is Caleb Swanigan.
The consensus on Swanigan is that he will be a fringe first rounder. He's too short, too fat, and he doesn't have a position... sound familiar? Like Draymond he also has an enormous wingspan for his height, has shown a great work ethic, oh and he fucking balls out on the court.
Swanigan was an absolute pleasure to watch on offense this year. On the block he shows an impressive combination of power to establish his position and muscle to the hoop along with nimble footwork and a soft touch at the rim. What excited me most about his pro potential are the two things he focused on last offseason - improving his body and developing a three point shot. He went from being an old school battering ram to a dynamic player who now beats his opponents down the court on fast breaks and steps out for pick and pops. I like what he brings to the table, but I love that he has the awareness and type of character to make such significant improvements to his game in one offseason. Those are the types of attributes that allow you to evolve and thrive in the NBA.
Our Prediction: 12 year career. 7 year starter. 2 time rebounding champ.
Evans is another player we've written about in detail, as we've loved his game for a while now. He racked up the sixth most assists per 100 possessions and scored the ninth most points per 100 possessions out of the point guard prospects since 2011, playing with a very high level of productivity. He's a bit of a throwback in that he's highly ball dominant, and will be best suited to a system where he's expected to be the maestro on offense. But at the end of the day, putting up numbers like that when facing the toughest strength of schedule of any point guard in our database means that that you can play, period.
Evans also projects surprisingly well defensively, having a just barely negative difference of 0.4 points on his defensive rating compared to Oklahoma State's team rating. This is actually a good number for a point guard, putting him at 19th best of the 63 point guards in our database.
The trajectory of Evans' career will be based on how well he shoots the ball, just as it is for so many other prospects. He shot 37.9% from three (on a low volume of attempts) and 81.2% from the free throw line. If he can maintain those percentages and while taking more threes, he'll be on the cusp of multiple all-star nods.
Our Prediction: 13 year career. 8 year starter.
We got on the Sindarius train early. In our pre-March Madness big board we had him ranked 24th, and he's only risen since leading South Carolina on their memorable run to the Final Four.
So why do we like Sindarius? It's about 65% because of his name, and the rest because he's good at everything on a basketball court. In our algorithm he graded out above average in all five categories compared to the other small forwards since 2011. The only others in the group to do that were Otto Porter and Justise Winslow.
I don't expect his scoring to translate as anything near what he was able to do this past year as a Gamecock, but I do think he can be a go-to guy on a second unit and a role player as a starter. He's a player that I can see accepting a new role as a 3&D player, while bringing the toughness and grit to a team similar to the way that PJ Tucker does. In fact, Tucker's exactly who I think Thornwell becomes in the NBA - a good defender who can play the 3 and the 4, shoots well enough that you have to respect him, and is a great presence in the locker room.
Similar to the hunt for the next Draymond, the new buzz is where to find the next Malcolm Brogdon. Thankfully it's not that complicated, since he was on your TV for most of March. Thornwell can help contribute at a position of scarcity and will bring competitiveness and savvy to an NBA second unit from day one. From the twentieth pick on, every team should thinking seriously about picking Sindarius.
Our Prediction: 14 year career. 6 year starter. 1 moment that swings a playoff series.