The NBA Draft is still a few weeks away but the fanfare for the draft got underway today with the pre-draft combine. Some major storylines turned some heads, specifically Pat Connaughton’s 44” vertical jump. The draft always features guys projected to be locks at the next level. There will be others that don’t have the same promise of greatness in the pros but could turn out to be a steal if they reach their full potential. Here are the best potential sleepers or value picks in the this year’s draft.
Robert Upshaw, Junior
Center, University of Washington
Robert Upshaw is massive. He had the biggest hands at the draft combine by far and his 7’5.5” wingspan is intimidating. He stands at 6’10” and weighed in at 258 pounds. Upshaw has the build to be an impact player in the paint for a team that selects him. He played a year of college ball at Fresno State before transferring to the University of Washington. In his 19 games as a Husky, Upshaw averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots. He also shot an impressive 59.3 percent from the floor. Upshaw is obviously much better on the defensive end but he has the physical tools to develop into a good player.
The things that will hold him back are his free throw percentage (43.4) and his off the court issues. Upshaw has been suspended on multiple occasions and was dismissed from both of the programs he was in. Recent reports have indicated that Upshaw spent time in a treatment program and matured a lot but the red flags are still there. Those alone could push Upshaw to the second round. However, with all of the talent he possess, someone will take a chance on him and if has in fact matured, he could develop into a terrifying defensive anchor. His size and shot blocking ability would already make him an instant impact on defense. In the end, Upshaw could be a very good big man.
Ryan Boatright, Senior
Point Guard, University of Connecticut
In recent years, UConn guards have done pretty well at translating to the NBA. Kemba Walker went on a title run and then jumped to the Association. Shabazz Napier led the Huskies to another championship before making his move to the pros. Neither has been transcendent by any means but both are solid players playing starting caliber basketball. That is likely what Ryan Boatright will bring to the table as well. He is going to best serve as a sixth man in the NBA due to his size (5’11”, 175 pounds).
However, he is a quick, sharp shooter. He shot 41 percent from behind the arc last season and averaged 17 points per game. He was an average facilitator at the college level, tallying about four per game to go along with four rebounds. He is an effort player who will make his fair share of plays. He will never really be a starter in the league without some major development but he can be a very useful bench player. Boatright reminds me a lot of Isaiah Thomas with the Boston Celtics. His energy coming off the bench and shooting ability makes him an asset to his team. Boatright will likely go in the second round but with his overall talent, he could turn in a long career as a sixth man when all is said and done.
Vince Hunter, Sophomore
Power Forward, UTEP
Vince Hunter went to a smaller school but today he showed he can compete with the big boys too. In his combine scrimmage, Hunter accounted for 18 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals. What is the most impressive thing there is that nine of those boards were on the offensive end. Hunter got his team a lot of second chance points. He also shot 50 percent from the floor, which was actually below his college average. Hunter averaged around 15 points and 9 rebounds a night in college. He is a solid player in the paint and excels at cleaning up after his teammates miss.
There are some obvious concerns with Hunter though. He fouled out of the game today, being the only player in either scrimmage to do so. He also is a 61 percent career free throw shooter. Neither of those things are killers but they are certainly knocks on his game. What concerns me a little more is that Hunter had four of his shots blocked in today’s scrimmage. It might only be one game so we cannot read too much into it but that definitely seems like he was pressing a bit and forcing shots. Hunter is young though at only 20 years old and can develop at the next level. He has good size and decent length. I will be paying close attention to how he tests throughout the rest of the combine to see what I can read about his gameplay.
Rakeem Christmas, Senior
Power Forward, Syracuse University
Syracuse dipped a bit this year in terms of overall play but the man who powered that team showed up to play more often than not. Rakeem Christmas played extremely well this season averaging 17.5 points, 9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 55.2 percent shooting. He also shot well from the free throw line at 71.2 percent. Christmas showed up into today’s combine scrimmage, dropping 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting to go with 6 boards. He already has a very polished post game and has plays great defense on the block. If Rak could add a viable jump shot to his arsenal, he could be a dangerous player.
Christmas played center in college but not even reaching 6’10” with shoes on, meaning he would likely fit better as a power forward in the NBA. He has already dropped his weight from 250 to 242 making the move even more logical. He is grinder who can go to work and spend the whole night wearing down his opponents. He does not possess outstanding athleticism or great dribbling abilities. He is also a candidate to end up in foul trouble on a night-to-night basis. However, Christmas is a scrappy player who will fight for rebounds and force opponents into tough shots. He won’t dazzle you, but Christmas could become a very accountable big man in the NBA.