Every year, we have a few NBA draft prospects that slip between the cracks and get drafted way later than they should’ve been. Last year, guys like Immanuel Quickley, Jaden McDaniels, and Desmond Bane all made immediate contributions to their respective teams and should have long and fruitful careers in the NBA. You can find high quality role players later in the draft if you really do your homework and on rare occasions, you can also find a star. The presumptive M.V.P., Nikola Jokic, was a mere second round pick back in the 2014 draft. There likely won’t be someone like that this year, but here are five guys that I think will outperform their draft position massively and prove to be big time steals in the upcoming draft.
Chris Duarte, Guard, Oregon
Chris Duarte is a 6’6 guard from Oregon who’s one of the oldest “sophomores” in recent memory at almost 24 years old. Though draft communities tend to dismiss older players like Duarte, there’s a lot of reason to believe he can be a high quality NBA player.
Duarte has a pretty inspiring story. He grew up in the Domincan Republic and eventually moved to the United States to attend a boarding school in Massachusetts. Despite receiving multiple division one scholarship offers from Syracuse, Seton Hall, and other places, he was forced to attend junior colleges due to his academic struggles. From there, he went on to play for Northwestern Florida State College and was so good in his first two years that he got an offer to go play for the Oregon Ducks.
However, Duarte incredible story isn’t what got him on this list. It was how productive he was in his two years at Oregon and the translatable skills that he brings to the table. First off, Duarte is a knockdown three-point shooter who shot 42.4% on 144 total attempts in his sophomore season. He ranked in the 94th percentile as a spot-up shooter and in the 84th percentile as shooter off screens. What surprised me the most was his ability to hit pull-up shots as well. He’s a great shooter off the bounce, and although I wouldn’t consider him much of a shot-creator, he has far shown far more well-rounded scoring ability than given credit for. He’s a strong finisher at the rim who can use either hand and finish with touch.
Defensively, Duarte is a great team defender who plays passing lanes incredibly well and is very alert off the ball. He’s a real competitor and hustler who battles on that end of the floor. He’s a very smart defender who rotates really well and makes calculated risks when trying to get steals. Although he needs to work on his lateral quickness and overall on-ball defense, he has all the makings of a positive defender in the NBA.
With his three-point shooting, defensive fire, confidence, and efficiency, Duarte has all the makings of a surefire first round pick. Despite being older than the likes of guys like Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic, he’s going to be one of the most NBA ready rookies in the draft. He’ll likely be someone who can come in and play from day one and hopefully provide long term impact for any team that drafts him.
Trey Murphy, Wing, Virginia
Trey Murphy is a 6’9 forward who transferred from Rice to Virginia for his junior season and most certainly did not regret it. Though his box score stats don’t pop off the page, his intriguing skill set and tools make him one of this year’s most underrated players in the draft. ESPN has him ranked as the 42nd best player in his class but myself and my fellow draftnik Aidan Maher both ranked him as a first round pick.
Shooting is, simply put, so important in today’s NBA. Murphy’s impressive three-point percentage (43.3), volume of long-range shots (5.5 attempts per game), and free throw percentage (92.7) all indicate that he has incredible shooting potential. Combine that with the fact that he ranked in the 91st percentile as a spot-up shooter, and you have an excellent shooting prospect on your hands. Murphy also pairs elite shooting with elite size at 6’9 with long arms and a wiry frame. 6’9 mobile shooters are a) hard to find and b) very valuable. He’s a star off-ball player who relocates, comes off of screens, and cuts. He’s a sneakily good athlete as well who has shown raw flashes of being able to attack closeouts and get to the rim.
Despite his skinny body, Murphy uses his long arms, quick feet, and superb lateral quickness to his advantage. He’s a switchable, versatile defender who could possibly guard four positions if he adds weight. His team defense is solid as well and he has the size to be a helpside rim protector if he improves his defensive positioning.
Although he has almost no star equity and won’t be anything more than a role player, it’s still easy to envision a role for Murphy in the NBA. He’ll be able to spot-up for threes and cut to the basket on offense while providing smart, fundamental defense. I’d be willing to take Murphy in the mid-twenties if I were a contender because of how seamlessly he’ll fit into any system and how easily he fits alongside stars.
Miles McBride, Guard, West Virginia
Although the West Virginia Mountaineers had a disappointing end to their season, it doesn’t take anything away from Miles McBride’s terrific sophomore season. McBride was the alpha for one of the best college teams in the league and upped his draft stock tremendously with his intense defense, high-level perimeter shooting, and shot-creation flashes.
Playing for Bob Huggins, McBride has developed into one of the best perimeter defenders in the draft. What he lacks in size and length, he makes up for it with quick feet, high IQ, and incredible intensity. Although McBride is not quite as noisy, his defensive playstyle reminds me a bit of Patrick Beverley’s, but he’s an even better athlete than Beverley is. His man-to-man defense is elite, but he also does a great job of closing out on shooters and even made some surprising rim rotations. He’s arguably the best all-around defensive guard prospect in the class.
Although McBride’s defense is the main draw, his offensive game is extremely underrated. McBride could be a 3-and-D guard at the next level. He shot a high three-point percentage and free throw percentage while ranking in the 82nd percentile as a spot-up shooter. McBride looked very fluid as a pull-up shooter too. He’s shown good three-level shot making potential with fadeaway mid-range shots and contested pull-up threes. He can provide value as an on-ball guard and off-ball guard in a half-court setting, and his shot creation could take a leap forward if his handle continues to develop.
McBride’s only major concern in my book is his lack of size. It limits his defensive versatility and finishing ability quite a bit, but I think there are far too many positives to overlook. Athletic combo guards who can shoot and defend at a high level are really valuable. He’ll be able to fit into a role as a spot-up shooter who can self-create if needed on offense, and can bring a defense-first mentality on the other end. I’m fully confident in McBride’s ability to provide value as a shooter, defender, and scorer long term, and I think he can be a winning player for many years to come.
Kessler Edwards, Wing, Pepperdine
Pepperdine isn’t exactly an NBA talent factory, but this year they have a really talented wing prospect by the name of Kessler Edwards. Edwards is a junior who has made substantial leaps in each of his three seasons with the Waves. While mainstream media hasn’t given him much attention, NBA Draft Twitter has absolutely adored his game and for good reason.
Edwards has the size to be one of these big wings that the NBA loves. He’s 6’8 with long arms and a frame that looks like it’s capable of adding more strength to it. His best and most translatable offensive skill is his three-point shooting. His quirky release shouldn’t scare scouts away. His success as a shooter speaks for itself (39.5% on 380 attempts in his three years in college) and a career high 88% from the foul line indicates long term potential for his shot. It’s a funky looking shot, but it’s really hard to contest because of how high he gets in the air when he shoots. Outside of his three-point shooting, I like what he brings as a finisher and rebounder. Edwards also got a bit of a post-game, but due to his lack of strength and size, there are questions about how well that will translate to the NBA.
Defensively, Edwards a disrupter. He’s a good on-ball defender with a high motor and good technique. He shields off drivers really well and does a good job forcing players baseline. He’s very mobile on the perimeter and has plenty of “switchability” and versatility. His team defense is really good as well. Edwards rotates like a mad man and uses his long arms to swarm players with the ball.
Edwards is just a smart, well-rounded player. His lack of handle and mediocre takeoff speed make it hard for him to create his own offense and get to the rim, but his combination of shooting, defense, and feel for the game should make him a first rounder. He’s got perfect size for a wing and the two most important skills to have as a role player. His lack of creation equity and handle makes it hard for me to see any kind of star outcome, but Edwards has all the making of a contributing role player.
Isaiah Todd, Wing/Big, G-League Ignite
Despite Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga dominating the headlines as the top G-League Ignite prospects, Isaiah Todd was the one who improved his draft stock the most. Despite coming into the year viewed as an afterthought, Todd has quickly become the third best prospect and someone that should be in the conversation for a first round pick this summer.
Todd’s three-point shooting and overall scoring potential is much higher than most scouts thought it would be heading into the season. He shot 36.2% from three and 82.4% from the foul line. He has a smooth, compact form that’s super quick and hard to contest. His shot versatility is elite as well. Not only can he hit spot-up threes, but he’s also shown flashes of being a shot-creator despite his mediocre handle. Todd shoots fadeaway jumpers like Dirk Nowitzki, and while that can be a double-edged sword at times, the ones that go in look really impressive. He’s hovering in the 6’9-6’11 range in terms of height but due to his lack of elite length, he’s likely a stretch four or even a small forward at the next level. Todd’s decision-making, shot selection, and passing will have to get better, but anyone with his size and ball skills should be regarded highly.
While Todd’s lack of length and strength limits his rim protection, his switchability, lateral quickness, and versatility make him a really solid defender in space. He could be a multi-positional defender in the NBA because of how mobile he is and how fluid his hips are. However, team defense is far more important than on-ball defense, and Todd’s defensive IQ needs to improve. He gambles far too often, has poor positioning, and misses a lot of rotations. If he can improve even slightly as a team defender, he’s going to have a ton of value.
While Todd definitely leaves a lot to be desired in terms of decision-making, IQ, and feel for the game, anyone with his size and baseline of perimeter skill at such a young age should be in first round pick contention. All it takes is the right team to see his upside as an athletic two-way piece and really mold him into a winning player. He’s one of the least talked about “project” players in this class, but he could end up being a steal in the right situation.
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