As the NBA Draft season heats up, we want to give a bit of "respect" to some of this year's prospects that might be getting a bit overlooked in draft circles. We call these prospects "Sleepers" in NBA Draft circles. While some might not get the fascination of finding a draft sleeper, think of it as Nicolas Cage in National Treasure hunting down a historic treasure of epic proportions. Yes, this might be the first draft article you came across that tied in a Nicolas Cage movie with the NBA Draft.
Each year, a number of prospects hear their name called a bit later than they deserve. There are no doubts that these players have their reasons for being lower on draft boards compared to others, but that just leaves the idea open for them to become a draft-day steal for a certain NBA organization. With our 2020 Draft Board launching in the near future, here's a breakdown of some of our favorite "sleepers" in this year's class as of now.
XAVIER TILLMAN, C, MICHIGAN STATE
It's hard to consider Tillman a "sleeper" at this point in the predraft process but he's worthy of a mention in this segment. I love everything that Xavier Tillman brings to the table as a big man prospect. Although Tillman is a bit undersized for a center at 6'8", he makes up for it with a 7'1" wingspan and an overall sensational feel for the game. Basketball IQ and playmaking ability will be two of the skill sets that teams will covet with a player of Tillman's position, but he also is one of the top off-ball defenders in this year's class of big men.
As one of the imposing figures in the paint for the Spartans this year, Xavier finished averaging 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. Tillman ranks 34th on our board, but it wouldn't surprise me if a playoff team picking towards the end of the first round decides to snag him.
PAYTON PRITCHARD, G, OREGON
If you're in need of a point guard and you want to find someone who has potential steal written all over him, then Oregon guard Payton Pritchard is your man. Pritchard is the type of guard that you want when your team is going to war. One of our personal favorite sleepers in this year's class, Pritchard is a gritty floor general who knows how to rise to the occasion in clutch moments. You often don't see collegiate players averaging north of 20 points per game, and that's just what Pritchard did during his final year for the Oregon Ducks (20.5). Pritchard has an outstanding feel for the game and playmaking potential, but can also light it up shooting from outside.
Pritchard looks to be a potential "early" second-round selection, but it wouldn't surprise me if he finds his way into the end of the first round. Personally, I think a guard like Pritchard would provide a supercharge as a rotational piece for a playoff-caliber team.
SKYLAR MAYS, G, LSU
I AM ALL-IN ON THE SKYLAR MAYS EXPERIENCE. In all seriousness, one of my favorite sleepers in this year's class is Skylar Mays. The senior guard will be one of the top upperclassmen to keep an eye on in this draft. While Mays might not have the highest ceiling compared to other prospects, his consistent production and intangibles leave you giddy. Skylar will draw plenty of fans in draft circles because of his basketball IQ and his overall feel for the game. One of the most efficient players in this year's draft, Mays went on to post solid numbers across the board during his final year for the Tigers, including 16.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 steals while shooting 49.1% from the field.
Plenty will have questions about Mays fit at the next level and I believe he's going to be more of a combo-guard early in his career. Still, for a prospect who is trending to be a second-rounder in this class, I believe Mays is a player that an NBA organization should jump all over. If you're looking for a current NBA player that Mays might have some similarities to, think of Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon. Yes, I know I just got your attention...get on the bandwagon.
DESMOND BANE, G, TCU
I have Bane in a very similar conversation as Skylar Mays (mentioned above) as I think both of them are going to be NBA players for years to come. Bane is another player with a fantastic basketball IQ who plays with some nastiness to his game. The difference between Bane and Skylar Mays is Bane's size, at 6'6", projects he might have more defensive versatility. The TCU senior guard is a versatile swiss-army-knife on the basketball court. He's got a great feel for the game and plays with fantastic composure. Think of the type of player that gets drafted and sticks around for 10+ years and always seems to play during crunch time...that's the type of prospect that Desmond Bane looks like he could become.
Bane filled it up across the board for the Horn Frogs this year, posting 16.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. His shooting mechanics are a bit funky, but his production backed it up as he shot 45.2% from the field, 78.9% from the line, and 44.2% from 3.
ELIJAH HUGHES, G, SYRACUSE
A name that's heating up with "draft fanatics" is Syracuse guard Elijah Hughes. It's always a bit of a nightmare to evaluate a prospect from Syracuse, especially on the defensive side of the ball, because of their zone dominant scheme. Still, Hughes projects as a promising 3-and-D type of prospect. While Hughes needs to become a more consistent offensive threat, he put up some big numbers for the Orange during his junior year. Hughes went on to average 19.0 points per game along with 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
Hughes has a good combination of size (6'6") and offensive potential to his game, and teams will be intrigued if he can unlock another level of his defensive ability. While Hughes was asked to carry the load offensively for Syracuse, his shot selection and consistency from deep (34.2%) will be swing skills when it comes to his ability at the NBA level.
ISAIAH JOE, G, ARKANSAS
This is the part of the "sleeper" conversation in which some names start to come into the picture that has interesting storylines. Sophomore Isaiah Joe is a name that you need to make a special note of throughout the pre-draft process. There are some rumblings that Joe still might return to Arkansas for his junior year and it honestly wouldn't be a bad idea for Isaiah. Joe has one of the prettiest outside shots in this year's class and offers some serious floor spacing potential at the NBA level with his limitless NBA range.
So why is Joe so low on our board? Well, there's a number of questions that arise in Isaiah's game. His shot selection at Arkansas was all over the place as he had one of the greenest light's you'll ever see. In fact, Joe was attempting 10 three-pointers a game, which is an extremely high number. He has a smooth offensive game that looks to have some serious untapped potential, but his production across the board is inconsistent. Still, Joe looks to be a much better shooter than his numbers might suggest (34.2% from 3). At 6'5, Joe has the ideal skill set you would look for in a young wing with a beautiful outside shot. His frame will also draw some questions as Joe is listed at just 180 pounds. If the Arkansas wing does keep his name in the 2020 Draft class, expect for a team to be enamored with his offensive upside.
MARKUS HOWARD, G, MARQUETTE
This one should come as no surprise to any basketball fan who has been paying close attention to the college ranks over the last several years. Still, it doesn't seem as there is a lot of "love" in draft circles when it comes to Howard. Not with us folks...we are buying all the stock we can get our hands-on. Howard projects as a microwave scoring option off of the bench early in his career. He has a game-changing ability with his limitless NBA range and ability to stay hot for extended periods throughout a game.
One of the most prolific scoring options in college basketball for the last two years, Markus was the engine that drove the Marquette offense. Howard will have his fair share of doubters because of his frame (5'11", 175 pounds) and teams will wonder how he will hold up on the defensive side of the ball. If an NBA organization is looking to add some SERIOUS firepower in their rotation, Howard should be worth the gamble.
TY-SHON ALEXANDER, G, CREIGHTON
If you play defense and can make an impact all over the floor, you're going to get some love from Backcourt Violation. That's just what Creighton guard Ty-Shon Alexander does. When you watch the tape on a prospect like Ty-Shon, you just notice he's constantly making plays. Alexander might be viewed as a potential UDFA in some circles, but I believe he's definitely worthy of a second-round selection.
There are some Tony Allen vibes when you watch Ty-Shon play, as he plays on both sides of the floor with passion and a high level of awareness. A bit undersized for a combo guard at 6'4", Ty-Shon spent a lot of his time this year running the offense for Creighton at times. He can shoot it from outside and stands out with his basketball IQ and feel for the game. When you're looking at potential sleepers late in the draft, the question you want to ask is "can this guy play at the NBA level." Alexander looks like he could be a late selection that sticks in the NBA for a long time, and he just has a knack for making an impact even when he's not scoring.
KILLIAN TILLIE, F, GONZAGA
This will be the cream of the crop when it comes to sleepers or potential wild cards on Draft night. When you watch Gonzaga big man Killian Tillie play, there's no denying he's a special player. Based on talent alone, Tillie would most likely be a top 10 selection in this year's class. You read that correctly.
So why is Tillie so low on our board? The injury history is terrifying. Tillie has had a rough collegiate career, as he's been frequently out due to a long list of medical problems. The skillset for Tillie is there and he has everything you are looking for in a modern NBA big man. He can shoot it from outside at a high level and has an outstanding basketball IQ, frequently making advanced reads on both sides of the floor. The tools are intriguing enough that it won't surprise me if a team rolls the dice on Tillie earlier in the second-round than most expect. Tillie's injury record includes a Knee surgery, a torn ligament in his foot, a stress fracture in his ankle, and a hip pointer just to mention a few. In every draft class, there's a prospect that NBA teams will be eager to get the medical's for...this year it's Killian Tillie.