2020 NBA Draft Sleepers: Stay Woke on Top 6 Sleeper Prospects

Lineups has given you the best senior sleepers in this NBA Draft and now it’s time for a look at the bigger picture of sleepers in this draft. We’re going to take a look at the underclassmen who have declared for the draft and might be a bit underappreciated. A number of these guys could absolutely end up in the first round if the right team values them properly, but right now most of them are listed on mock drafts in the second round or at the very end of the first round.

Cassius Stanley – Duke

Cassius StanleyThis Duke freshman is one of the more athletic players available in this draft at 6-foot-6 and 193 pounds. However, that’s not going to be enough to warrant using a first round pick on him as some mock drafts say. He greatly helped himself in his lone year at Duke though as he was thought to be a 2 or 3-year project. He shot the ball at a decent clip from distance and was a highlight reel waiting to happen in any given game. He has superb leaping ability and was a huge energy guy for the Blue Devils this season.

Stanley can guard well on the perimeter thanks to his speed and athleticism. He was the major glue guy for this team as well, keeping it together when it seemed like opponents were going to take control of games. Stanley was the go-to defender on the other team’s best perimeter player and rarely disappointed. If he puts on some more weight, he could easily guard up to three positions on defense.

The shot percentages were good for Stanley this season, but he does have some mechanical issues with his shot. He gets that cleaned up and he is going to be a major steal for a team in this draft. He’s an early second round pick right now, but could sneak his way into the first round if a team values his athleticism, explosiveness and thinks it can work with his current shot.

Paul Reed – DePaul

depaulDePaul forward Paul Reed has been an excellent and steadily improving player in college. He’s seen as a fringe first rounder and likely second round pick right now. However, The Athletic writer John Hollinger made a great point about Reed and Precious Achiuwa, who is expected to go in the first round, if not the lottery. They’ve put up similar stats — Reed’s being slightly better against better competition — but because Reed is four months older he is perceived as a lesser prospect.

When teams go back to the tape and see what Reed can do at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, they will undoubtedly be impressed. He plays excellent defense, has improved his shooting range, shows potential to be a stretch-4 and is a solid athlete with fluidity in his movement. He can be a rim protector at his position despite lacking stereotypical center size and his ability to step out and guard on the perimeter will come in handy. Teams looking for versatile defenders should be giving the Blue Demon a hard look.

Reed averaged 15.2 points per game while blocking 2.6 shots and grabbing 10.7 rebounds a game. He can come in and contribute immediately to a team who needs a forward or small-ball center. If he falls to the second round, a team is going to get tremendous value out of him.

Zeke Nnaji – Arizona

Zeke NnajiThe 6-foot-11, 240-pound Wildcat freshman was one of the most productive first-year players in the country this past season. However, there were times it felt like he wasn’t showing off everything he could do. Some of that was poor guard play and some of it was playing with a core of guys who were all in Tuscon for the first time with him. Despite this, he did show some nice glimpses of what he could be. Nnaji has great touch around the rim and it extends into the mid-range as well.

He averaged 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. Some of his question marks come on defense as he blocked just under one shot a game and less than a steal a game as well. He may not be quite big enough to play as a true center, but he has the potential to be a great stretch forward if his shot range keeps increasing. While he’s not a great rim protector, that can be alleviated in creative lineups with other bigs that are more defensive-minded.

Nnaji’s superb body control allows him to finish at the rim well and get creative with some of his paint moves. He can go up and under on guys or throw up a hook shot just as comfortably. He’s decent with both hands and if he starts taking and making triples consistently, he’ll be a real problem for defenders.

Killian Tillie – Gonzaga

Killian TillieThis Gonzaga big man has been one of the most popular picks for a sleeper in this NBA Draft. If he didn’t have his injury history, he would be a surefire first round pick. He’s a high IQ player who knows how to use his body in the post and make good reads on offense. He has nice touch around the rim and is great in the pick-and-pop with his footwork and ability to knock down shots. In the 24 games he played this season, Tillie averaged 13.6 points, one steal and five rebounds a game. Tillie’s injuries over the course of his career have included a hip pointer, sprained ankles, preventative knee surgery, a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot and a stress fracture in his ankle. Despite those injuries, Tillie is still a smooth athlete at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds. He shoots the ball extremely well from deep and is a good shooter at the other two levels.

Defensively, Tillie is a solid defender in the post as he has the strength play down there. He may not be a great rim protector though as he isn’t explosive and doesn’t have a whole lot of length. But he is a smart team defender and can switch out on the perimeter in short bursts. He’s got fast reaction times with his hands and feet, and he’s light on his feet for someone his size. Tillie will likely end up somewhere early or in the middle of the second round, but really should get a good look at the end of the first for a team who needs someone to be able to contribute immediately.

Daniel Oturu – Minnesota

Daniel Oturu
This 6-foot-10, 240-pound monster has gone under the radar for much of his two seasons at Minnesota. However, he broke out this past season while averaging 20.1 points, 2.5 blocks and 11.1 rebounds per game. He could be a good rim protector for a team, but he will have to work on his foot speed a bit and staying disciplined down in his stance. He struggles to defend quicker players and this gets him upright on defense, the last place he should be. He does have a plus wingspan though and a near 9-foot standing reach, which will certainly help. Oturu is strong and should be able to defend big men, but his height will have to be considered as he is on the undersized side of things.

One of Oturu’s biggest issues is his assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s almost 1-to-3! He has to get a handle on that or he will have deserved to go later in the first round or even the second round. However, he’s a big that can step out and comfortably shoot the ball, which is always a major upside for a prospect. His mechanics look good and should not be any sort of issue going forward as he starts shooting more from outside.

Sam Merrill – Utah State

utah state aggiesMerrill might be the most underrated and slept on player in this draft as he’s a victim of unfortunate geography. Scouts and team personnel just don’t go out to Utah to watch him and that could come back to haunt them. The 6-foot-5 , 205-pound guard has the one skill set that NBA teams want. He can flat out shoot the ball. He’s not a catch-and-shoot guy as he often has to go out and create his own shot. He has the volume (217 attempts this season) and accuracy (41 percent this season) from beyond the arc to give someone a scoring punch off the bench. His superb shot fake helps him out a bit too.

The main concern about Merrill is that he is an average defender at the collegiate level on his best day. The translation to the NBA level may not be there for him, but his shooting skills could be enough to offset if he can even get to a tolerable level of defensive play. While you could argue that playing in a mid-major conference like the Mountain West would put Merrill down a peg, he did play against the likes of Florida and LSU. He was also clearly the best player on the floor in those games, so that should be taken into account too.

Merrill’s ability to use screens and come off curls is what sets him apart from the Jimmer Fredettes of the world though. While he does have the ball in his hands often, he does not turn it over too much. His turnover rate is second only to Devin Vassell’s out of the significant prospects in this draft, and Vassell is a consensus lottery pick.

  
Ben has covered college basketball for almost a decade, which has included writing about draft prospects, NBA teams as well as beat coverage for the Florida Gators. He can be heard on the radio during basketball season at 965sports.com and he has written for a variety of outlets, including Cox Media Group, Project Spurs and CBB Today.

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