NBA Draft

The Biggest 2015 NBA Draft Sleeper Prospect at Every Position

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

The Biggest 2015 NBA Draft Sleeper Prospect at Every Position

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    USA TODAY Sports

    They aren't the first ballers you think of when the 2015 NBA draft discussion comes up, but they'll be all over the radar by the end of the season.

    These sleeper prospects range from talented scorers on unheralded programs to key role players on premier teams. We broke down the most intriguing ones at each position and evaluated their pro values.

    Don't be surprised when they emerge from the background and deliver strong campaigns—hoisting their draft statuses in the process.

    Keep an eye on the unsung studs as they make their case for the Association.

     

    Statistics gathered from Sports-reference.com/CBB and DraftExpress.com.

Point Guard: Isaiah Taylor, Texas (So.)

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    2013-14: 30.1 MPG, 12.7 PPG, 4.0 APG, 39% FG, 26% 3P

    Draft Range: Late first round

    NBA Role: High-level backup point/speedy distributor

     

    Last year, Texas playmaker Isaiah Taylor proved he belonged as a major-conference college point guard.

    This year, he'll show that he's NBA floor general material.

    He's 6'3" with an underwhelming outside shot, so most of his damage comes from quickness, vision and creativity. Taylor can glide past opponents and dish to the open man, catch foes off guard with a flip shot or get to the bucket and draw contact.

    "(Taylor) has a lot of natural ability as a PG," said ESPN's Fran Fraschilla.

    It's impressive that he dished 5.3 assists per 40 minutes as a freshman, as he wasn't afraid to control the offense and create under pressure. Look for that assist rate to climb even higher as he returns to Austin for year two.

    Taylor's not ready to run an NBA team today, but his progression at Texas in 2014-15 could lift his stock into the first-round range. Teams will be interested in developing a prospect with his moxie and talent off the bounce.

    If he can show that his jumper is polishable and he can minimize turnovers, he'll be a tempting option for franchises looking to bolster their backcourt depth.

Shooting Guard: Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina (So.)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013-14: 29.6 MPG, 13.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, 4.1 RPG, 39% FG, 37% 3P

    Draft Range: Mid-to-late first round

    NBA Role: Shooting guard, eventual starter

     

    South Carolina sophomore Sindarius Thornwell isn't an upper-crust athlete, and he's not playing for a premier program. Consequently, he doesn't get a ton of buzz from fans, media and scouts.

    This year, however, his talent could be too much to ignore.

    As a freshman, he dropped a solid 13-plus points and three assists per game, and he also connected consistently from downtown. Thornwell now seeks to improve his shot selection and become a more efficient bucket-getter from mid-range and near the hoop.

    He already oozes with scoring prowess, and as CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello noted last spring, he's become an increasingly effective playmaker and passer:

    Thornwell came into college as one of the more aggressive scoring guards in the country, and the 6'5" guard was ready to shoulder most of the offensive load for South Carolina. As the season has progressed, though, Thornwell has become more consistent as a distributor as well as a scorer.

    During his sophomore year, he'll be able to not only lead the Gamecocks, but do so in a more streamlined manner. Given his strength, length and ability to smoothly generate offense, he should garner considerable NBA attention by the end of the season.

Small Forward: Dwayne Polee, San Diego State (Sr.)

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2013-14: 17.9 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 47% FG, 39% 3P

    Draft Range: Late first round

    NBA Role: Sixth man, athletic energy wing with three-point range

     

    Sporting a 7'0" wingspan, explosive agility and outside shooting skills, San Diego State's Dwayne Polee is poised to cap off his college career with a bang in 2014-15.

    He's not the type of sleeper who will catapult into a top-10 pick, but his 2014 postseason impact suggests he'll land on the draft radar and rise up the charts in 2014-15.

    After a relatively modest junior campaign, Polee shined throughout the Mountain West and NCAA tournaments. He chipped in 14 points per game for the Aztecs during both brackets while shooting a blistering 54 percent from long range and slashing to the rim on several timely occasions.

    SB Nation Mountain West columnist Matthew Bain explained that Polee's pro appeal stems from his blend of athleticism, perimeter shooting and defensive range:

    NBA scouts want a tall athlete who can make a play at the rim just as easily as he can consistently shoot a pull-up jumper. Polee demonstrated the ability to do both last year, and there's no reason to believe he won't improve during a full season with an expanded role. The length and quickness that make Polee so dangerous offensively also cause problems for opposing offenses.

    Polee has the potential to be a highly effective two-way role player in the NBA. He should be able to guard multiple positions with his physical tools while his shooting and rim assaults will give his team a boost off the bench.

    His ceiling role? A super-charged sixth man.

Power Forward: Brice Johnson, North Carolina (Jr.)

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    2013-14 Worlds: 19.4 MPG, 10.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 57% FG

    Draft Range: Late lottery to late first round

    NBA Role: End-to-end athletic 4-man, finisher and rim protector

     

    With James Michael McAdoo going pro last spring, North Carolina's Brice Johnson will have ample opportunity to step up in 2014-15 and establish himself as a legitimate NBA prospect.

    Johnson wants to use his 6'9" frame and surplus of bounciness to carve out a defined role and be decisive with the basketball. He's grown to love out-rebounding opponents, beating them down the court and finishing over them.

    One former Tar Heel and current NBA player Johnson wants to emulate is Tyler Zeller. 

    "I like Tyler Zeller just because he runs the floor," Johnson told GoHeels.com. "Every time he touches the ball, it's in his hands for, like, 0.5 seconds. That's something I try to do, but I need to get more under control like he was (at UNC). When he touched it, it was an automatic basket because you know it was either going off the glass or it was going to hit the bottom of the net."

    Over his first two years at Chapel Hill, head coach Roy Williams has effectively motivated Johnson to become more active and constantly running. With that kind of motor and increased confidence around the rim, Johnson is poised to make a big impression among scouts this season.

    At worst, he's a lanky power forward who can snare rebounds, alter shots and rise above the crowd off pick-and-rolls and transition. At best, he's a similar animal, plus the ability to drop-step, jump hook and hit open mid-range shots.

Center: Ilimane Diop, Senegal (1995)

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    2013-14: 9.1 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.5 BPG, 53% FG, 68% 3P

    Draft Range: Mid-to-late first round

    NBA Role: Pick-and-rolls, rim protector

     

    There are several big men garnering attention at the top of the 2015 crop. Perhaps you've heard of Duke's Jahlil Okafor, Kansas' Cliff Alexander or Kentucky's army of post players. They're towering and talented, deserving of the attention.

    Don't sleep on the next tier of centers, though. Emerging from the middle of the pack is a 6'11" Senegalese prospect who could be a dangerous two-way asset.

    Ilimane Diop had a small role for ACB club Laboral Kutxa, but you can tell there's much more in store for him in Europe and beyond. He's 19 years old and still learning, but his movements and progress on offense are highly encouraging.

    In addition to a promising mid-range shot and the ability to score over opponents at the rim, Diop demonstrates superb timing on pick-and-rolls, and he has nice instincts once he catches and turns toward the rim.

    Prospect Next scout Robert White explains that Diop has a "good basketball IQ and feel for the game." White added that the youngster appears to have "a great grasp of complicated offensive sets" and "rarely disrupts spacing or teammates' driving lanes."

    Defensively, he's often out of position and trigger-happy for pump fakes, but his length and effort are moldable traits. He covers acres of ground in a blink, and he's got the willingness to work hard on that end.

     

    Follow Dan O'Brien on Twitter for more NBA draft coverage: @DanielO_BR

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