Anytime we talk about a prospect's draft stock or status, we're talking about his perceived value—how NBA teams measure it and how it stacks up amongst the other candidates in the pool.
A sleeper is a prospect who's being severely undervalued for one reason or another.
This year's most undervalued prospect in the field is Murray State's Isaiah Canaan.
Currently viewed as a second-round point guard, Canaan has skills and attributes that others in his tier lack.
For starters, Canaan has a winning track record as a premier college floor general. His highlight season as a Racer was when the team finished the 2011-12 season with a 31-2 overall record that included a trip to the Big Dance. He was named second-team All-American after averaging 19.0 points a game, which ultimately earned him a spot on NBA radars.
For those who question whether his production came as a result of inferior competition, there are still aspects of his game I believe will translate to eventual success at the next level.
Top-Shooting Point Guard
Unless you've got the speed, length and playmaking instincts of a guy like Rajon Rondo, every point guard needs to be able to shoot off the dribble. A pull-up jumper is essentially a counter to lane traffic and rim protection. If you can stop and pop in space, your scoring opportunities increase and you become a bigger threat with the ball from more spots on the floor.
Canaan has an elite stroke with deep, NBA range, a dangerous weapon for a player who's going to have the ball in his hands.
You could argue that Canaan is the top shooter of any point guard in this year's field. At 60.6 percent, he has a higher true shooting percentage over his four-year career than any other point guard projected in this year's field, including Michigan's Trey Burke.
As a freshman and sophomore, Canaan combined to shoot 112-of-256 (43.8 percent) from downtown, lights-out numbers for an underclassmen.
He was just starting to heat up.
In his junior year, Canaan went on to make 98-of-215 (45.6 percent) three-point attempts, a ridiculous number that illustrates remarkable consistency for a volume shooter.
Canaan's accuracy fell off as a senior, though he still knocked down three triples a game for a total of 94 makes. He's got beautiful mechanics, getting excellent elevation and balance while rising and firing at the rim.
In order to make it in the NBA as a point guard, one of the requirements is having breakdown ability. You have to be able to beat your man off the dribble, turn the corner or penetrate the heart of the defense.
Canaan has that quickness off the dribble that allows him to get into the lane and trigger the collapse. This creates scoring opportunities for others, given help defenders now must leave their men in order to prevent Canaan from infiltrating the lane.
Canaan won't be asked to score 20-plus points per game in the NBA the way he was in college. His primary responsibility at the pro level will be to set up his teammates for easy buckets and score when the opportunity presents itself.
Here's a simple yet effective drive-and-dish that shows Canaan's ability to split the defense, draw the help, open up a shooter and find him in rhythm:
He's got a bounce to his step that makes him tough to stay in front of, an attribute that NBA teams in need of backcourt playmaking will covet.
Canaan is one of those guys with ice water running through his veins. The greater the pressure, the higher his comfort level.
You just trust him with the ball when the game is on the line.
Canaan has come up big for the Racers down the stretch in many tight games. Here, Murray State is tied with Belmont in the closing minute. Watch him go to work as the lead guard:
He's got the confidence every athlete needs to be able to perform under the microscope, and that's something that can't be measured during the combine or team workouts.
Why Isn't Canaan Considered Can't-Miss?
Whether it's fair or not, every mid-major prospect has a label to shed. Scouts and executives want to know if a player from the Ohio Valley Conference can compete with other prospects from power conferences.
And then, of course, there's the height issue. Canaan measured in at 5'11'' in socks, which is actually taller than Shane Larkin, a projected first-rounder by many. Playing defense and seeing over it are the causes for concern here.
The last worry scouts have with Canaan is whether or not he's a natural point guard. Some consider him a shoot-first combo guard, a label I'm quick to disagree with. His assist-to-turnover ratios have never been worthy of highlighting, though most of that has to do with his role and supporting cast.
Why Teams Shouldn't Worry
After seeing guards like Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry make the transition from mid-major standouts to NBA studs, writing off a prospect due to the competition he faced in college would be borderline irresponsible.
Canaan has grown as a player and a leader over his four years at Murray State. If you put him side by side in a pickup game with the top players in the country, you'd have no idea that he wasn't a power-conference guard.
Physically, Canaan makes up for his lack of height with a strong upper body and thick, powerful legs. He's built like a bulldog, similar to Raymond Felton of the Knicks. He can absorb contact at the rim and bounce off his opponent while maintaining body control as a finisher. Canaan also has NBA-level quickness and footwork with handles that get him where he needs to go.
He nailed a 40.5'' max vertical leap at the combine, a big-time number for a guard whose explosiveness has been questioned.
As for his assist-to-turnover ratio—it's something I choose to overlook. Canaan's responsibility was to put points on the board at Murray State, which is exactly what he did when he averaged nearly 22 points and 4.3 assists as a senior. Canaan had the ball in his hands for the majority of the game, so the turnovers were bound to come given his offensive-usage rate.
He also didn't have many scorers around him in college. Unless he was setting a teammate up for a spot-up jumper or dump-off-and-finish, chances are he wasn't picking up an assist.
Canaan ran a good amount of pick-and-roll sets at Murray State, and it's something he should be comfortable with as he makes his transition to the pros. He'll be a lot more effective as a passer and facilitator when he's playing with NBA-caliber shooters and scorers around him.
Draft Breakdown and NBA Outlook
Canaan is stacked up in a cloud with a number of other point guards, including Texas' Myck Kabongo, South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, NC State's Lorenzo Brown, Missouri's Phil Pressey, Louisville's Peyton Siva, Detroit's Ray McCallum and Baylor's Pierre Jackson.
Based on team needs and a large group of available ball-handlers, Canaan could go anywhere from picks 21 to 60.
But if I'm looking for a point guard late in Round 1, I've got my eyes on Canaan.
He's got the leadership qualities and character you want in a floor general, whether he's coming off the bench or running the first unit's offense. Given his ability to shoot, handle the ball and create, he's a safe enough option even if you're just looking for offensive firepower.
I'm convinced Canaan could be more than that. I like him as the No. 1 sleeper in this draft, and potential starter down the road once he's proved his worth to an NBA rotation.
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