7/14/15 – Ryan Newell
With the dust settled from free agency, the focus of the NBA offseason now moves to the league’s top young players at Summer League in Las Vegas. While top lottery picks like Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Jahlil Okafor carry the highest expectations for the upcoming season, some less heralded rookies will emerge as valuable contributors in 2015.
Despite not having the same buzz or notoriety that lottery picks have, late first round picks and second rounders can produce value for little cost. Some drop due to concerns over size or athleticism (Draymond Green, #35 – 2012), off court concerns (Lance Stephenson, #40 – 2010), or concerns over a limited skill set (Kawhi Leonard, #15 – 2011). For each of these players, fit and organizational acumen were critical in their development into game to game NBA rotation pieces.
Here are the top five rookie sleepers to watch for the 2015 NBA Season:
Justin Anderson (SG/SF, 21st pick – Dallas Mavericks)
Anderson will have ample opportunity to play substantial minutes in Rick Carlisle’s offense, not only because of his skill set but also because of question marks for incumbent players at his position. Starters Chandler Parsons and newly signed Wes Matthews are both coming off of serious injuries, while Al-Farouq Aminu signed a lucrative deal with Portland.
Lauded for his basketball IQ, the southpaw Anderson’s versatility, NBA ready size and athleticism, and 3-point stroke (45% for his final season at the University of Virginia) make him an ideal fit for Carlisle’s pace and space motion offense. He’s also not a risk to be benched over defensive concerns (an issue many rookies struggle with) as he was a plus defender for UVA in college and plays with a high motor. Anderson figures to be the first wing off the bench behind Parsons and Matthews and could play 16-18 minutes per game.
2014-15 Official Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgH-rX2-Sl0
Chris McCullough (PF, 29th overall pick – Brooklyn Nets)
A once highly touted recruit coming out of high school, McCullough’s stock dropped drastically due to eligibility concerns and bouncing between high schools before he eventually enrolled at Syracuse. While he showed flashes of NBA level athleticism at Syracuse, his season was cut short in January due to a torn ACL. Scouts had pegged him as a 2016 Lottery pick, but he opted to declare for 2015 at the last minute.
McCullough was unable to participate in any pre-draft workouts; however, he stated that he expects to play by November. His profile has NBA height (6’9 ½”) and length (7’3 ¼”) along with a fluid shooting stroke and good agility.
Buying on McCullough means betting his physical tools will flourish with NBA coaching. Look for his role to increase as the season goes on, with opportunities for around 10 minutes per game available early on and the possibility of more after midseason due to a questionable Nets frontline.
Chris McCullough Mixtape @ Big Strick Classic [Future150 #11 c/o 2014]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRnH-4gvlQU
Anthony Brown (SF, 34th overall pick – Los Angeles Lakers)
Brown is a prototypical 3-and-D player in today’s modern NBA wing. With Byron Scott’s lack of other viable options at small forward, Brown could see significant minutes right away.
With ideal size for an NBA defender (6’8 ½” in shoes at the combine) and elite 3-point shooting (44.1% in 5.4 attempts per 40 minutes in his senior season), Brown is the perfect complement to ball-dominant guards Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams, and 2nd overall pick D’Angelo Russell.
Brown’s likely competition for minutes is Jabari Brown, with the best player likely to occupy the 25-30 minutes from the departed Wesley Johnson. Expect Brown’s value and usage to increase if guard Nick Young is traded before the season, with a starting role a distinct possibility.
Anthony Brown highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZPSsZbO69M
Pat Connaughton (SG, 41st overall pick – Portland Trail Blazers)
Connaughton is an exceptional athlete who fell in the draft due to concerns over the possibility of him picking baseball—he was a 4th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles—over the NBA. He has recently stated that basketball is his first priority, where his 3-point marksmanship (42.3% over 6.5 attempts per 40 minutes in his senior year), athleticism (44” max vertical, the combine high), and efficiency will fit in well in Terry Stotts’ flow offense.
NBA Draft Express’ Matt Kamalsky noted that Connaughton’s comprehensive offensive efficiency fell between two more acclaimed lottery picks, big men Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky.
With Portland’s exodus of Wes Matthews and Nic Batum, Connaughton will have opportunities to help replace Matthews’ 3-point shooting and Batum’s cuts to the rim, but will need to improve on defense to be an NBA rotation player. Portland is a team in transition and is not expected to compete for the playoffs, which will allow Stotts’ patience in giving younger players like Connaughton 10-15 minutes per game over low ceiling vets like Tim Frazier and Allen Crabbe.
Pat Connaughton Notre Dame Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfWAXLM4IjI
J.P. Tokoto (SG/SF, 58th overall pick – Philadelphia 76ers)
Regarded as one of the best athletes in the draft, Tokoto is a raw and explosive wing player who will need time and patience to develop a refined NBA offensive game. Tokoto, however, has impressed so far during Summer League action and is in the perfect situation for a player with his profile.
Tokoto’s NBA ready athleticism, size (6’6 ¼” in shoes and 6’ 10” wingspan) and defensive ability (All-ACC Defensive Team as a sophomore) open up the possibility for an effective rookie season like recent Sixers 2nd round rookie K.J. McDaniels.
He blends well with Brett Brown’s up tempo and open court offense in Philadelphia, which will allow chances to finish plays on the break and in transition. Like McDaniels, Tokoto plays both ways with a high motor, so it is unlikely to see him benched for lack of effort. With Sam Hinkie’s rebuilding process having no end in sight, expect Tokoto to compete for 15-20 minutes per game in the Sixers’ rotation with Jerami Grant, Nik Stauskas, and JaKarr Sampson.
2014-15 Official Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoQRhgCbznk