There’s nothing better than a good draft-night sleeper.
The NBA Draft has been full of sleeper picks turning out wonderfully through the years, whether it be a top-10 pick like Stephen Curry or Jimmy Butler at 30th overall or Draymond Green in the second round. The 2020 NBA Draft class is viewed as not being the strongest its ever been, but that just presents more opportunity for sleepers to break through. If more players are being slept on, there can be more sleepers.
The list of players below features 11 guys who possess NBA-level skills yet for one reason or the other are being considered outside of the tier of players they might belong in. Some of the names below will go in the lottery, others later in the first round, and still others in the second round.
This isn’t a list of players who should go with the top-11 picks in the draft just because they’re sleepers. But remember these names, because there are reasons they could all outperform their draft positions.
2020 NBA Draft sleepers
Obi Toppin, forward, Dayton
Toppin feels a lot like Brandon Clarke did entering the 2019 draft, only better. Clarke was a super athlete in college at Gonzaga who fell out of the top 20 due to concerns about his offensive viability in the NBA, but he was a super-sub for the Grizzlies in his rookie year. Toppin is a lot like Clarke, only with a polished offensive game and good jump shot.
Dayton was in legit national title contention because of Toppin before the season shut down, with the 6-9 forward averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He shot it at 39 percent from 3-point land, too. Toppin’s offensive game is everything modern NBA teams want.
Maybe there are small concerns about who exactly Toppin will guard in the NBA, but he averaged more than a steal and block per game for the Flyers, showing he has solid defensive instincts, at least. He’ll go near the top of the draft, but maybe should’ve deserved more consideration for the top spot or two.
Tyrese Haliburton, guard, Iowa State
Like Toppin, Haliburton broke out in his second year as a college player. He averaged 15.2 points, 6.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game for the Cyclones as a lanky, 6-5 guard. He also shot it better than 41 percent from 3-point land in both of his seasons at ISU.
Haliburton provides whatever team drafts him with immense versatility, because he’s long enough to guard 1s or 2s while also being a good enough passer to run an offense but a good enough shooter to play off the ball. He, too, will go near the top of the draft board, but he too likely could’ve warranted consideration among the first three picks.
The Athletic wrote of Haliburton: “In the right role, Haliburton can affect winning at a really, really high level.” Sounds like a solid pick to us.
Tyrese Maxey, guard, Kentucky
It’s big for the “Tyrese” brand to have back-to-back players on our sleepers list bearing that first name. And it’s big for Maxey that recent guard selections out of Kentucky, like Devin Booker and Tyler Herro, have turned into such dynamic threats in the NBA.
Right now, Maxey is viewed mainly as a scorer. But we’ve seen time and again how John Calipari fits his highly touted recruits into specific roles only for them to blossom into do-everything stars in the professional ranks (this applies to big guys like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, too).
Maxey’s biggest detriment is a sub-30 percent percentage from 3 in his lone season at Kentucky, but shooting can be improved with mechanical adjustments and better shot selection. Maxey’s ability to go get a bucket is something most NBA teams could benefit from.
Saddiq Bey, wing, Villanova
Bey is another one of those second-year college bloomers. He doubled his scoring average to 16.1 points per game as a sophomore for Jay Wright and the Wildcats.
Bey will basically do everything a team could want on the floor. He shot 45.1 percent from 3-point range. He’s got a 7-0 wingspan on his 6-8 frame, which is also strong and makes him a high-upside defender. He’ll be able to switch onto almost any player on the floor, and he brings the cutting skills that most Villanova players enter the league with.
In the back-half of the first round, Bey will provide a contender with immediate catch-and-shoot ability with the upside to grow into a great do-everything starter in the NBA.
Cole Anthony, guard, North Carolina
Anthony was the top point guard recruit in the country, averaged 18.5 points per game for North Carolina, yet fell from a top-three consensus pick to the second half of the first round in most mocks since he began his college career.
A lot of that fall has to do with a partially torn meniscus and ensuing surgery Anthony had during his freshman season, but he came back to play 11 games afterward and seemed fine. He wasn’t an efficient scorer for UNC, but an underachieving team relied on him to take tough shots frequently.
One NBA team will be on Anthony’s recruiting and AAU stardom to be what translates into the league, and his college production wasn’t disappointing enough to believe his fall into the 20s of some mocks is warranted.
Isaiah Stewart, center, Washington
At 6-9 and 250 pounds, Stewart can be dominant in the paint. Concerns around Stewart’s game center (no pun intended) around the fact that he’s got an old-school big-man game. He didn’t show a lot of shooting touch at Washington, although reports throughout the season indicated Stewart stepped out to the 3-point line during practices.
But Stewart just produces. He outruns everyone down the floor. He goes after rebounds. He scores anytime he catches the ball in the paint. His 17.0 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on a shaky UW team were key production for the Huskies and Mike Hopkins.
Stewart also brings a 7-5 wingspan to the table that alleviates concerns about his transition from Hopkins’ 2-3 zone to the NBA’s heavily man-to-man schemes. It also seems like everyone who writes an NBA Draft preview piece mentions how much NBA teams like Stewart as an individual, with The Athletic writing, “In general, NBA teams are fans of Stewart and think he’s going to play in the league for a while.”
Cassius Winston, guard, Michigan State
Winston became a story early in the 2019-20 college basketball season because of his brother’s death. But Winston played through that adversity to cap off one of the great careers in Michigan State history.
In each of his final two seasons, Winston averaged at least than 18.6 points and 5.9 assists per game. He made 43 percent of his 3-pointers as a senior. He even rocks an awesome headband.
There are concerns about Winston’s 6-1 frame that isn’t athletic relative to most of his peers, but all he did with MSU was produce and win. That’s at least good enough to turn into a solid backup point guard, and maybe more.
Elijah Hughes, wing, Syracuse
Hughes is a great leaper who can shoot 3-pointers. He brings with him the baggage of recent Syracuse draft picks busting more often than not, but Hughes shouldn’t have the usual zone concerns because of the off-ball instincts he displayed in highlight-reel blocks throughout his two seasons with the Orange.
There’s also some concern about Hughes’ age relative to his draft peers (Hughes graduated high school in 2015 and went to East Carolina before Syracuse), but age worries have been proven overblown in drafts time and time again. Hughes is a player who can step into a team immediately as a shooter, secondary creator and occasional highlight-maker that probably deserves to go late in the first round rather than in the second.
Killian Tillie, forward, Gonzaga
Tillie spent four years at Gonzaga and dealt with numerous injuries throughout the past two. A team drafting him shouldn’t expect high minute totals or a player who can suit up every night. But when Tillie plays, he’s highly skilled.
At 6-10, Tillie shot better than 40 percent from 3 in all four of his years with the Bulldogs and displayed the type of high-post passing that an NBA offense can use in short bursts. Despite his size, Tillie wasn’t a great shot-blocker, but he’s big enough to not get bullied by other forwards in the paint. Tillie is likely a second-round flier, but it’s rare you find a player in that range with the skillset of Tillie, so if a team uses him right, it could pay off.
Cassius Stanley, wing, Duke
Stanley made headlines before his freshman season by recording a higher vertical leap than Zion Williamson. Stanley jumped 46.5 inches off the ground. That’s just crazy.
The production didn’t always follow for Stanley with the Blue Devils. He averaged 12.6 points per game and was a non-factor as a passer. But he shot a usable 36 percent from 3-point range, and his athleticism will stand out even on NBA floors full of world-class athletes. The mocks that have Stanley going outside the top-45 might be right based on what teams are going to do, but Stanley has the potential to outperform that spot.
Paul Reed, forward, DePaul
Whether or not Reed scores in the NBA is almost inconsequential. In a lot of ways, he brings a Jerami Grant-type skillset, or maybe we can go back to the Brandon Clarke comparison from above.
At 6-9, Reed did average 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game as a junior for DePaul, but it’s the defensive stats that leap off the page at you: 2.6 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. Matisse Thybulle averaged similar numbers at Washington before stepping in for Philadelphia and being a similarly impactful defensive player. That type of skillset translates, and even if Reed doesn’t score, he’ll rebound and defend, which every NBA team could use.
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