What do Herbert Jones, Nic Claxton, Daniel Gafford, Devonte’ Graham, De’Anthony Melton and Monte Morris all have in common? Since I’m hitting you with a very vague trivia question off the top here, I’ll let ya marinate on it real quick. . . . [cue the Jeopardy theme music]
Got your answer?
OK, here’s the answer. All five are former second-round picks who, for various reasons — Herbert Jones’ jumper, Morris’ lack of athleticism (and the list goes on) — were overlooked during the NBA Draft process but have subsequently carved out nice roles for themselves in the NBA.
So with less than two weeks until NBA Draft night, who in the 2022 class could carve out a similar trajectory? It’s time to dish out some predictions. Factoring in projected draft ranges along with my own scouting and NBA projections, I’ve picked out five players who could be overlooked or underrated during the draft and could in hindsight being draft night steals.
They are listed below.
For as much as we know about Patrick Baldwin Jr., once the No. 1 recruit in his class less than two years ago, we surprisingly know very little about his draft stock. His range could be anywhere in the teens to the second round. That’s a direct byproduct not of his talent but of his injury history. Each of his last two seasons (his senior year in high school and freshman year at Milwaukee) were cut short by injuries. And even when he was playing while at Milwaukee, it was hard to say definitively he’s a lottery talent; he averaged less than 30% shooting from 3-point range and 41.8% on 2-pointers — hardly the type of efficiency you want from a prospect whose selling point is his shooting + size. He’s a true high-risk, high-reward talent with injury concerns but impossible-to-ignore potential to be a steal if he’s able to stay healthy.
A one-and-done season with the G League Ignite was a bit of a mixed bag for Hardy. He led the team in scoring and flashed some serious shot-making skills, but his efficiency was less than ideal and his play-style as a ball-dominant guard makes him difficult to project. That’s got his stock somewhere in the mid first or early second. But let’s put the cards on the table here and be honest: Hardy has legit star potential. Less than a year ago he was a top five recruit. And if you can look past some efficiency concerns, which could come with development and maturation, you have to really like how he can create his own shot and separate. That’s a very valuable NBA skill. The right fit will be key for him to maximizing his NBA potential — ideally a place where he can play through mistakes and share a role as a creator as he polishes his game — but he has the talent and skills to be a steal (and maybe even a star) in the right spot. Adam Finkelstein is buying stock, which means you should be, too.
A true wildcard of this year’s class. Minott’s counting stats certainly don’t jump off the page like others on this list — he made only five starts with Memphis last season, struggled mightily shooting the 3-point shot (on very few attempts) and didn’t look confident at all in his jumper — but he certainly passes the eye test. For starters, he measured at the NBA Combine with a nearly 7-foot wingspan and 6-8.75 with shoes. So positionally he’s one of the longest wings in the draft. Then on the court his athleticism really pops. Minott loved lurking on the boards and finishing with flash at Memphis. He’s also a really crafty transition player. Developing confidence in his shot and becoming a serious scoring threat will take time, but he has immense upside for a team willing to be patient and invest in him.
In a draft with very few point guard prospects, Jean Montero — the speedy prodigy who became the first international player to sign with Overtime Elite — sticks at as someone who could be a steal candidate for some NBA team. He’s just a smidge over 6-2 in shoes, doesn’t have elite athleticism but does have the smarts to potentially carve out for himself a solid NBA career — basically the exact scouting report of the aforementioned Monte Morris at the top of this article. Those factors, along with questions about his level of opponent playing with OTE, could push him to the back of the first round or early into the second. But his playmaking and speed are serious assets as he pushes into the league.
We didn’t quite get a full-blown breakout season from Jabari Walker at Colorado after he thrived in a small role as a freshman, but the foundation is there for him to continue his development into a solid role player in the NBA. The 6-8 forward has good positional size and length, strong shooting touch (he was in the 93rd percentile as a frosh in spot-up shooting situations) and really good rebounding instincts for his position. If he can return to form as a knockdown catch-and-shoot guy (after being miscast in a big role as a sophomore) and add that to his length and defense then there’s more than enough here for him to return value as a real value late in the draft or even as an undrafted priority free agent.