Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
There are some things that we know for sure will happen on Thursday night at the NBA Draft. We know Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns will be top five selections, we know Knicks fans hopping across the East River to watch the draft at the Barclay’s Center will find something to boo about, and we know that at least a handful of late-round selections will go on to become some of the most important players on their future NBA teams within the next few years.
That’s why everyone gets hyped up on potential sleeper picks this time of year, and that’s why it’s so important to keep our eyes on them throughout the draft. So here’s a quick look at the top five sleepers for this year’s NBA Draft.
5. Alan Williams – Power Forward – University of California, Santa Barbara
This past season Williams lead all of NCAA Div. I basketball in rebounding while also pacing the Gauchos in scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game. Williams, at 6 foot 8 inches, is a bruiser on the boards but is also nimble in the post and does possess a scoring touch. He’s not the flashiest guy, and is a little undersized for his position, but his high motor and tenacity on the glass will make him a valuable contributor in the NBA.
4. Tyler Harvey – Shooting Guard – Eastern Washington University
While Harvey is hardly a well-known commodity in many circles, perhaps he should be after leading all scorers in points per game this past season. Harvey’s 23.1 points per game were the best in Div. I and he’s been consistently above 40 percent shooting from behind the arc since he arrived at the college level. At 6 foot 4 inches, Harvey is slightly undersized, similarly to Williams, but his ability to drain the deep ball will pique plenty of teams’ interest in the later rounds of the draft. He might have to thank “The Splash Brothers” for that one.
3. Robert Upshaw – Center – Washington University
Upshaw possesses first round talent; you won’t find many basketball minds that disagree with that. However, Upshaw also has left a lot to be desired in terms of his temperament and his ability to follow the rules as a college player: Being kicked off Fresno State and Washington University due to violating team rules has a tendency to raise some questions. Still, someone will take a flyer on him, and they’re going to be quite pleased with their haul if Upshaw can get his act together. He’s a 7-footer with nearly a 60 percent career field goal average, who also averages an incredible 4.5 blocks per game in 2014-15. Whether he’s worth the risk is what NBA teams will have to decide in a few short days.
2. Tyus Jones – Point Guard – Duke
Unlike most of our other sleepers, Jones doesn’t hail from a small school with an arsenal of gaudy stats that separates him from the field. Jones’ numbers with the Blue Devils are nothing to scoff at, but they aren’t going to turn any heads either. What definitely turned some heads though was Jones’ performance when it was all on the line in Duke’s National Championship matchup with Wisconsin. Jones scored a game-high 23 points and was instrumental in Duke’s triumph over the Badgers.
Still, Jones is regarded as maybe the fourth or fifth best point guard in this draft. He averaged 11.8 points per game and 5.6 assists per game, but still falls short athletically where others in this draft don’t. He’s not considered to be particularly quick and is only 6-foot, which has hurt him defensively. Still, Jones proved he can rise to the occasion and hit the big shot and can be an invaluable member of a team, whether it’s as a backup or starting point guard.
1. Pat Connaughton – Shooting Guard – Notre Dame
If you watched the 2015 NCAA Tournament, you watched as Pat Connaughton’s compete level and clutch factor rose with every game that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish played in. Besides the attention that he received after his breakout performance in March, Connaughton has been a more-than solid contributor for the Fighting Irish for the last four years, and he’s gotten better each year too. Each year since his freshman year, he’s shot better from the field and from three-point range and he finished the 2014-15 season with shooting over 46 percent from the field and better than 42 percent from three.
Besides that, Connaughton is a solid defender, who also proved that he has the intangible quality of being a big game performer this past season. Oh yeah, and he demonstrated his 44 inch vertical jump at this year’s combine – just 1.5 inches shorter than the record jump, recorded by Kenny Gregory from Kansas in 2001. Not bad for a guy who can also throw a 98 mile per hour fastball and is a touted baseball prospect as well.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for either of his other three teams.