Here are a few under-the-radar performers who could find themselves playing significant roles in the NBA next season.
1. Branden Dawson (Senior, Michigan St.)- Now, guys who were former McDonald’s All-Americans, as well as a preseason All-American and Player of the Year candidate, aren’t usually classified as sleepers. But in Dawson’s case, he fits the bill perfectly.
No matter what Dawson accomplishes with the Spartans in 2015, there will still be many pundits who knock his lack of shooting ability, tweener status and limited upside once he declares for the draft at the end of the season.
However, we liken him to fellow Michigan St. alum and current Golden State Warriors forward, Draymond Green. Green had similar knocks against his game when the Dubs selected him 35th overall in the 2012 Draft. Dawson’s defensive playmaking, toughness and impressive slashing ability makes him the perfect candidate to be a second-round steal come June.
2. Keifer Sykes (Senior, Wisconsin-Green Bay)- Sykes isn’t exactly a household name, even amongst the most dedicated fans of college basketball. The unheralded, diminutive guard (6’0) from Chicago has game and there is a strong chance his named will be called in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Over the past four years with the Phoenix, scouts have fallen in love with Sykes’ improved court vision, explosive playmaking and adept shooting touch from the perimeter. If he continues to grow into a strong threat, on both ends, he has a shot to crack a team’s rotation as a backup point guard next fall.
3. Delon Wright (Senior, Utah)- If you ask anyone who covers basketball, they’ll tell you big combo guards are becoming increasingly valued commodities across the league. In the past couple of years alone, Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Victor Oladipo (Indiana), and Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado) have all been drafted based on their ability to both initiate offenses and play off the ball.
Delon Wright falls in that same category, since he is 6’5, can handle and score, and is a natural floor leader. If Wright can improve his shaky jumper, a top-20 selection is not out of the question. Wright also has strong NBA bloodlines, as his brother Dorell is a 11-year vet currently playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.
4. Buddy Hield (Junior, Oklahoma)- Buddy Hield, a fast-talking, gunslinger from the Bahamas, is an explosive scoring guard. With the NBA currently lacking many true, shooting guards who can create offense, Hield has a leg up on the competition once the draft rolls along.
At 6’4, Buddy can handle the ball well, score from outside and projects as a strong defender if he develops more passion and intensity night in and night out. His game strongly resembles Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, an adept scorer who does not back down from challenges on the defensive end. Oklahoma’s improved team will warrant a lot of attention from scouts this year. Hield should get plenty of exposure and will be able to showcase his multi-faceted game all year long.
5. Winston Shepard (Junior, San Diego St.)- We are really high on Winston Shepard, who has a chance to be a unique talent at the NBA level. The Aztecs’ versatile forward is a load to handle in transition, is a pretty good rebounder for his size (6’8, 205), and is improving his touch from the perimeter.
Similar to fellow Aztec, and 2014 Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, Shepard has played the “underdog” role for the majority of his basketball career. But now, coach Steve Fisher is giving him the reigns as Alpha Dog, a role Shepard is ready to embrace. If he has a monster year, he could sneak into the bottom of the first round.