Good NBA front offices “hit” on a high percentage of their draft choices. The best NBA front offices also make smart, shrewd pick-ups later in the draft and work the margins to find valuable contributors.
Most proficient NBA general managers can turn an asset (draft pick, trade exception, etc.) into a needle-moving player. But only the top ones can find that type of player via less obvious means.
The Raptors added Fred VanVleet as an undrafted free agent. The Miami Heat picked up Duncan Robinson that same way. The Celtics front office snagged Daniel Theis as an undrafted free agent and he turned into their starting center this season. Torrey Craig is a key member of the Denver Nuggets rotation. And of course, there’s Joe Ingles for the Denver Nuggets. Somehow despite my best efforts to hype him up in 2007 while writing for DraftExpress, Ingles still managed to go undrafted.
Look at the real playoff contenders, they all have these types of guys on their roster. And usually, they have several. With teams spending the bulk of their cap space for just a few players, it’s even more important to find creative options to fill out rotations. Who was the last impact undrafted free agent you can remember playing for the Wizards? Even productive second rounders have been few and far between over the last decade or two.
This year, there’s a lot in variance in the projected draft range for a lot of players. Some of the guys listed below could end up going in the early second round if the right team likes them, or not at all.
Whether they go late second round or undrafted, these are all players that have major question marks limiting their draft prospects. They also all have at least one major NBA skill the Wizards could use — if the team can find a way to maximize their strengths and mitigate their deficiencies. As these are shorter write-ups, I focused more on what they do well and could potentially add to the team.
Buying another second round pick this year might be a cheap way to add talent. And offering them a two-way contract or a training camp invite if they go undrafted is a no-risk opportunity to further evaluate them. With that in mind, let’s start with back court “draft sleepers” I hope Tommy Sheppard and company are keeping tabs on.
Immanuel Quickley, 6-2ish, 20 years old, Kentucky
Quickley’s got point guard size but he’s not a point guard. He doesn’t create enough for others. Blah blah blah. He shoots the heck out of the ball AND he plays pretty good defense. There’s always room for someone like that on an NBA team. Bryn Forbes is a positive for the San Antonio Spurs as a small shooter and he doesn’t even play particularly strong defense.
As a sophomore at Kentucky this year, Quickley averaged 16 points on 43% three-point shooting. Yes, he had basically a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio but do the Wizards really need him to come in and facilitate? I could see him being a good fit off the bench next to Troy Brown Jr. Brown could do the creating and Quickley could spread the floor while defending the point guard.
Sheppard should have his agent on speed dial in case Quickley goes undrafted. Plus, he’s from Havre de Grace, Maryland and it’s always fun to have a local guy to root for.
Ty-Shon Alexander, 6-3ish, 21 years old, Creighton
Everyone talks so much about 3-and-D wings but Ty-Shon Alexander is a 3-and-D guard. He is a pit-bull-defender and knocks down open threes (40% last season). He’s not going to create much for others or probably even himself at the NBA level. Point guard size without facilitation is what limits his draft prospects but that doesn’t prevent him from providing value.
He could give the Wizards everything Gary Payton II brought defensively without ruining spacing. Alexander reminds me a bit of Avery Bradley in terms of potential role and I have to think the Wizards could benefit from having someone like that. Especially, if he goes undrafted when it becomes easier to take a flier on what a guy does well and focus less on any limitations he might have.
Nate Hinton, 6-5ish, 21 years old, Houston
Can I interest you in a tough, scrappy, active defender who is also a good three-point shooter? He showed limited assertiveness on offense during his sophomore season at Houston (10.7 points per game) and that lack of production likely prevented him from getting the same level of attention as some of his peers. But Hinton hit 39% of his threes on four attempts per game and would most likely be asked to be a catch-and-shoot option in the NBA anyway.
He doesn’t have size or athleticism of the elite 3-and-D wings (which is why I chose to include him in the guard-oriented article) but he makes up for that with hustle and toughness. Not many 6-5 guards are the best rebounder on a good college team but Hinton was (almost 9 per game). He has a nose for the ball, gets after it defensively, and seems to have an edge to him. Hinton has an All-Star caliber “mean mug” when he makes a big shot, takes a charge, or finishes on an and-1.
There were two Houston Cougars on the Wizards Summer League team last year (Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis) so perhaps that’s a program Sheppard watches. He needs some seasoning in the G League but if Hinton is undrafted, I would love to see him get considered for a two-way contract.
Mason Jones, 6-6ish, 21 years old, Arkansas
I think we would all agree that the Wizards need more players that are adept at playing defense. That’s probably not what Jones will be known for in the NBA. Regardless of team makeup, scorers off the bench will always be valuable. And Jones, the 2019-2020 SEC Player of the Year, can flat out score.
He averaged 22 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals for Arkansas this past season. He was a career 36% three-point shooter, which is solid, but I think he’s actually a better shooter than that. He was asked to carry a heavy offensive load at times this year, especially when running mate Isaiah Joe missed a handful of games, and he took a lot of tough shots.
Jones scored at least 30 points ten times and had two 40-point games as well. Watch his February 26th game against Tennessee where he scored 37 points on 11-of-19 shooting and you may fall in love. If you watch his February 11th game against Tennessee where he scored 9 points on 1-of-10 shooting you may wonder how he got a high-major scholarship.
When he looks comfortable and is able to operate at his pace, he’s a nightmare to defend and that alone makes him worth keeping an eye on. Consistency will be key but without defenses keying on him in the NBA it should be easier for him to focus on just taking the right shots. I could see him developing into a Jordan McRae-type bench scorer if he continues to put in the work like McRae did.
Trent Forrest, 6-3ish, 22 years old, Florida State
I would love to see a bouncy athlete like Trent Forrest turned loose in today’s up-tempo, well-spaced NBA. Of the guys on this list, Forrest might have the lowest draft stock as he has yet to prove he can shoot well enough to keep defenses honest. But all of the physical tools are there for him to cause havoc, especially in transition.
Some of his drives make you think of peak Wall or Russell Westbrook. Same goes for chase down blocks. He has the physical tools and mindset to be a pest defensively against even the most dynamic point guards in the NBA. Florida State players learn how to defend and that should help speed the learning curve for Forrest.
Forrest will almost certainly go undrafted because he was a career 25% three-point shooter in college (yikes). I realize some of you will probably see that percentage and think I’m crazy for even including him, but bear with me. That number improved to 28% (still yikes) during his senior season on a very low number of attempts (1.8 per game).
Two things give me some glimmer of hope that his jump-shot will keep improving though. The shot doesn’t look broken which makes me think some minimal tweaking and more reps could lead to noticeable improvement. He also shot 82% from the free-throw line this past season. That’s encouraging because free-throw shooting is a good indicator of NBA shooting success. If you could add Forrest to the Capital City Go-Go, and not use any draft assets in the process, it’s a no-brainer experiment.
This is Part 1 of potential draft sleepers so stay tuned for more! Wings and bigs will be discussed in follow-up articles. And please let us know in the comments who your favorite lesser-heralded guard prospects are!