NBA

2021 NBA Draft: Five sleepers who could be late-round steals or have a pro career if they are undrafted

While most of the attention around the upcoming NBA Draft centers around those who will be picked in the lottery from what appears to be a strong class, you can rest assured that scouts and executives are busy pouring over some non-household names as well. Every year, there are players who go undrafted but wind up making it onto NBA rosters anyway. The hit rate on undrafted players isn’t great, but a solid pickup after the draft can positively impact a team and make its front office look smart. 

With the July 29 draft night approaching, it’s a good time to ponder who some of those undrafted steals could be this year. All five players highlighted here happen to be four-year college players, and that’s for a couple of reasons. Part of it is admittedly because, as a college basketball writer, I am most comfortable assessing prospects who made an imprint on the college game. But it’s also because veteran college players can wind up undervalued due to their age.

Just take a look at former Ole Miss guard Terence Davis. After going undrafted in 2019, the former four-year player at Ole Miss carved out a role with the Raptors, and following a trade to the Kings this season, he appears headed to restricted free agency and is in pursuit of a deal worth about $9 million per year, according to the Sacramento Bee. So who from this year’s draft class could follow in that mold? Let’s take a look at five currently outside the top-60 on the CBS Sports NBA Draft Big Board who are sleeper candidates to impact NBA rosters.

2020-21 stats: 17.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 41.4% 3PT FG
Big Board ranking: 66

There is no more impressive display of incremental improvement in this year’s draft class than with Moses Wright. The formerly unranked prospect finished his four-year college career by earning ACC Player of the Year honors and claiming a spot on the league’s all-defensive team. Those accomplishments would have been unthinkable when he was an all-around liability as a freshman. Wright improved his 3-point shooting in every college season while evolving into a productive defender. Wright’s issues appear mainly technical in terms of his pick-and-roll defense and questionable shooting mechanics. But if you look at his athleticism and his track record of improvement over the past four seasons, it’s clear he is a prospect with promise as a small-ball five in the NBA.

2020-21 stats: 15.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 33.7% 3PT FG
Big Board ranking: 77

Mitchell’s frame, athleticism and collegiate pedigree suggest he could be a quality NBA defender capable of guarding every position on the floor, if needed. He earned the league’s player of the year award for the 2020-21 season while also claiming a spot on the all-defensive team. Mitchell was a career 35.4% 3-point shooter for the Aztecs but could be more on offense than just a spot-up shooter at the next level. With a solid frame and decent ball-handling ability, he’s capable of bullying his way into good looks inside the arc. If Mitchell can shoot from the outside at a competent baseline percentage, there is a spot for him in the NBA.

202-21 stats: 17.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 33.6% 3PT FG
Big Board ranking: 65

How often do 6-foot-11 players with point guard like passing skills and proven 3-point shots come along? Not often, and while there are obvious questions about Mamukelashvili’s defensive credentials, his offensive upside is tantalizing. Detractors might point to his high turnover numbers as a senior as a reason for caution, but Mamukelashvili served as the focal point of Seton Hall’s entire offense and had the ball in his hands at critical moments in nearly ever possession. He would be a role player in the NBA and could be a high-quality bench five who breathes offensive life into an NBA team‘s second unit.

2020-21 stats: 13.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 40% 3PT FG
Big Board ranking: 75

Simms is a bit short and lacking in wingspan to project as a center in the NBA, and that seems to be diminishing his draft stock. But it’s not like he’s some clunky-footed dinosaur. In fact, Simms can fit the bill of a modern NBA power forward without much alteration of his game. With consecutive seasons of 40% 3-point shooting under his belt and plenty of athleticism to guard multiple positions, he’s got the chops to play the four in the NBA. Simms is a good passer and strong finisher inside, and he could could also handle the five spot in certain sets. At the end of the day, he’s a versatile 6-8 athlete with a promising outside shot and some intangible skills that could make him a quality NBA role player.

2019-20 stats: 13.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 34.1% 3PT FG
Big Board ranking: 71

Smith is another older player whose steady improvement over a four-year college career suggests legitimate professional upside. He was shooting 50% from 3-point range through eight games last season when an ACL injury ended his season, and that injury robbed him of the opportunity to truly showcase his improvement after he went through the 2020 predraft process. Nonetheless, Smith is a rangy athlete with a wingspan over seven feet and the multi-positional chops to play at the next level. He needs to cut back on turnovers, but with a shot that continues to improve and the ability to guard nearly anyone, Smith could turn out to be a steal if he slips to undrafted free agent territory.



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