Projecting Ceilings for Dark Horse 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

Projecting Ceilings for Dark Horse 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

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    Across the late-first round and second round of the 2014 NBA draft board, there are several dark-horse prospects looking to uncap their pro potential.

    What exactly do their pro ceilings look like?

    For some of the young, raw ballers, their upside is high, but they've got a long ways to go. Other prospects are a bit more polished and are closer to reaching their peak.

    We broke down some of the most intriguing candidates flying under the radar, determining the optimistic outlook for their NBA roles.

Mouhammadou Jaiteh, France F/C (6'11", 1994)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    NBA Ceiling: Rotational PF/C

     

    Mouhammadou Jaiteh's NBA upside is attractive, but he remains a second-round dark horse because he's a project.

    The French youngster isn't explosive, which complicates things. He'll have to rely primarily on his 7'4" wingspan and effective scoring touch over both shoulders in order to excel.

    Despite his lack of vertical explosion, Jaiteh can go end-to-end with ease and moves his feet well on defense. In the paint, his length can be bothersome for opponents when he gets good position.

    In the post, he doesn't have a vast repertoire, but he uses his 250-pound frame to carve his way to the hoop. Denver Nuggets international scout Rafal Juc explains: "He's raw (on) the block, but does a great job catching ball away and working his way under the rim."

    With the right training and opportunity, it's possible for Jaiteh to work his way into an NBA rotation as a valuable reserve. He may see 15-25 minutes per night eventually if he can provide enough offense.

Deonte Burton, Nevada G (6'1" Senior)

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    NBA Ceiling: Explosive backup point guard

     

    At 22 years old, Nevada's Deonte Burton is probably closer to his NBA ceiling than the rest of the young guns in these rankings.

    His pro appeal begins with his staggering athleticism. When given a lane on the court, he uses it as a runway for takeoff (enjoy the video evidence at your own risk). Burton will undoubtedly be able to attack the rim at the next level.

    When he takes the reins of an NBA offense, he won't operate as a true floor general. Unfortunately, he's not great at directing traffic in half-court sets, nor does he have elite court vision.

    That being said, he's an aggressive attacker who will create opportunities when he enters the game. Draft Express video analyst Mike Schmitz likes his upside: "He's not a pure point guard but he can fill it up. Maybe the most athletic point guard prospect in the draft."

    He'll also be able to successfully steer opposing guards away from plays, using his foot speed, strength and instincts. Standing out in this area could increase his playing time against the league's top scorers.

    Burton is not a star, and probably not even a starter. But he may be one of those dynamite reserves that other backups don't want to face.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Delaware 87ers SF (6'7", 1992)

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    NBA Ceiling: Key reserve

     

    Greek prospect Thanasis Antetokounmpo is a couple inches shorter and a couple years older than his brother Giannis, so he doesn't have the same astronomical upside.

    However, he's shown plenty of promise and flashes of brilliance with the D-League's Delaware 87ers. Antetokounmpo is scoring 10.4 points per game and supplying terrific energy and defense.

    As a slasher, his vertical explosiveness comes in handy. On the perimeter, his shot looks workable, although it's nowhere near NBA-ready.

    There's a lot of potential on the defensive end, where he could be a playmaker and guard several positions. Antetokounmpo told Sean Deveny of Sporting News that his time with the 87ers has helped in that area: "Playing in the D-League, I have a lot more experience now...I worked a lot on my defensive skills, I am more confident."

    When he develops into a more consistent shooter and masters the fundamentals and discipline on defense, he could be extremely useful for any club. He would be an open-floor weapon on offense and a versatile resource defensively.

Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette PG (6'3" Junior)

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    Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

    NBA Ceiling: In-demand backup point guard or lower-tier starter

     

    Although he played for USA's U-19 squad at the 2013 Worlds, point guard Elfrid Payton remains under the radar among fans because he plays for mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette.

    The 6'3" playmaker has shown the kind of creativity, instincts and athleticism that translate to the next level. His ball-handling skills routinely break down defenders, and he owns plenty of length and athleticism to score and pass once he gets in the lane.

    In fact, that length (6'7" wingspan) and agility gives him intriguing two-way value, as he'll guard multiple positions in the NBA.

    Exactly how good can he be as a pro? Well, his ceiling depends squarely on outside shooting.

    Draft Express' Jonathan Givony knows he's too inconsistent right now and must improve, but he also sees Payton's potential to upgrade: "Payton has plenty of room to improve as a perimeter shooter...His mechanics don't look all that bad, so he could likely improve this facet of his game with repetition."

    If he can add that to his game, he'll be in high demand by the time his rookie contract is up.

K.J. McDaniels, Clemson SF (6'6" Junior)

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    NBA Ceiling: Starting small forward, All-NBA Defensive team

     

    Clemson's K.J. McDaniels is easily one of the best all-around players in college basketball, but he's not star material because he's not a dynamic creator or jump-shooter.

    While he may never be a prolific NBA scorer, he could still be an awesome asset. His offensive game is on the rise, his athleticism is eye-popping and his defense is already masterful.

    McDaniel's strength, quickness and 6'9.5" wingspan allow him to bottle up opponents. Once he grows comfortable against pro scorers, he has a chance to become one of the absolute best defenders in the NBA.

    In fact, Patrick Laney of PeachTreeHoops.com believes guarding four positions is "a task that actually seems reasonable for McDaniels."

    Maximizing his defensive tools would guarantee him an important role in the league, but the development and refinement of his offensive skills would enable him to reach his ceiling.

P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends SG (6'6", 1992)

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    Sergio Hentschel/Getty Images

    NBA Ceiling: Starting shooting guard, third scoring option

     

    After off-the-court misbehavior ultimately ended his UNC career, P.J. Hairston turned things around and truly made the most of the situation on and off the floor. His time with the D-League's Texas Legends has put him in position to have a successful NBA career.

    Hairston's smooth shooting skills and athletic slashing capabilities have fueled 22 points per game, including four 30-plus scoring nights.

    NBADLeague.com's Brian Kotloff explained that the high-possession, uptempo genre of basketball has suited Hairston quite well:

    He's taking advantage of the NBA D-League's wide-open brand of basketball...The style of play has been perfect for an athletic shooter like Hairston, helping make an already lethal scorer even more lethal.

    His ability to quickly find open space and shoot leads me to believe he could be a superb 2-guard in the right system.

    Hairston can drill triples off the catch or off the dribble, which greatly enhances his ability to score. Even though he won't be a star, he may be one of the best role players you'll find in the league.

Wayne Selden, Kansas SG (6'5" Freshman)

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    NBA Ceiling: Starting shooting guard, second scoring option

     

    2013 McDonald's All-American Wayne Selden is an interesting specimen to project. He's under the radar because he's inconsistent, and he's also overshadowed by Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) noted that "Selden continues to show up when Kansas needs him and continues to disappear when others are stepping up."

    It may be in his best interest to stay at Kansas for another year, but an impressive run in the postseason could buoy his 2014 stock and make him bolt.

    The physical tools and talent are there for him to do anything and everything in the NBA. It's a matter of him executing the fundamentals and playing smart, assertive basketball on every possession.

    Given his ball skills and athleticism, he has a chance to be great as a slasher, shooter and passer in the NBA. 

    Success in those three areas would lead to semi-stardom, as he would be one of the best players on his team.

     

    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report. 

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR