By Hocine LOUKKAF on 7/27/2021

We all know the Giannis story and maybe you heard that great Wojnarowski podcast about how Giannis was discovered and how he ended up drafted by the Bucks. My goal here is to understand and analyse how a draft pick, and not necessarily a top pick, can transform a franchise and which criterias can help find that underrated gem, who could be a 10th pick like a 40th as long as he ends up better than most players selected above him.

What made Giannis special and why did he fall that low?

How often do you have an unknown prospect with NBA-starter potential appearing from nowhere on the scouts’ radar ? What happened with Giannis is something you can not anticipate. When discovered, Giannis was basically an outlaw, an illegal migrant born and raised in Greece but with no official paper. Physical-wise, he was already a freak with great length at 6-9 with a 7ft+ wingspan and above all, great athleticism for his height. More than his athleticism, he was trained the right way in a country where basketball is part of the culture and even in the most grainy footage, it was obvious that Giannis’ handles and smoothness were top-notch (check that first action with eurostep and left hand dunk). Finally, he had the ultimate strength, motor, knowing that is basketball skills could get his faily out of the poverty they were living in.

Now, the real question is whether Giannis was clearly a better prospect than some of the players picked above AT THAT TIME. First, we have to confess that this 2013 draft was far from being the best with only three All-Star caliber players (Oladipo, Giannis and Gobert) and no other significant dominant players but a list of starters or solid contributors from the bench picked above Giannis (Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Nerlens Noel, Burke, McLemore, Steven Adams, Olynik…) and almost no 2nd round player still in the league (Neto, Muscala, Ennis). For example, the 2012 draft produced players like AD, Beal, Lillard but also Barnes, Drummond, Fournier while the 2nd round was solid with Draymond, Middleton but also Satoransky, Crowder or Will Barton. In 2014, behind the hyped but disappointing Wiggins and Jabari, you could pick Embiid, Randle, Smart, Lavine, Saric, Nurkic, Hood, Capela, Bogdanovic, wait the 2nd round for Joe Harris, Jerami Grant or if you were really lucky or talented, use your 41st pick for Jokic. What I mean here is that Giannis’ tools were enough to have him picked in the top 10 at least as most of the top ten picks had limitations or red flags. Gobert being picked at 24 is a proof of how wrong most scouts were as I remember watching him live at the Treviso Eurocamp a year before dominating all players and displaying his extreme length, motor and athleticism in front of NBA scouts, before  averaging 8.4pts 5.4rbds and 1.9bl on 72% FG in the solid French league, numbers that should have him picked also in the top 10 in front of Zeller, Len, Olynik or Adams.

What are you searching in an underrated gem?

There are players that you can’t miss. You can’t use your 15th pick to select Bird, Magic, Olajuwon, Shaq, Lebron or more recently Durant, Harden, AD, Doncic or Zion. They’re just too obvious for that. But put aside the hype and by just focusing on the pros and cons, from the physical tools to the skills and the NBA-adaptability, you can take a gamble and even have some certainty about how much a prospect will produce. We’ll check different categories of players whose potential can be underestimated. Of course, players’ profiles are more complex and sometimes they can fall into several categories.

-Into the “faller” category, we’ll talk about players whose talent were obvious, but who yet had to wait to be selected. There are different reasons to fall. One of them is being too known or too old, you’re being overhyped by other prospects and despite all you can bring to the table, a lot of teams are not seing it. Second-rounders Draymond, Jae Crowder or Tillman last year could be nice examples. You can also fall because of medical records or off-the-court red flag like it has been the case for the oft-injured MPJ or Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, whose decommitment from college make NBA people doubt about his choices.

-You can also fall because you’re put into a category that is not considered desirable. The best example is the “he’s big but he can’t shoot” category which made some prospects slip because losers were searching for a way to become the shooting Warriors. If you’re a losing franchise, maybe it’s better to try to win games before gunning for the title. Recent cases are numerous with Capela (#24 in 2014), Jarrett Allen (#22 in 2017) and obviously, the aforementioned and reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert (#24 in 2013) whose motor and defense were obvious and yet ignored. Capela and Gobert could also be part of the foreigner category whose lack of hype often make them fall (when you’re not a newly hyped prospect like Milicic or Porzingis) like it has been the case before for Tony Parker, Kirilenko (ultra dominant in youth categories) or more recently Maledon (#34 in 2020) who was playing Euroleague minutes at age 18.

-The overachievers are players whose strengths are known but are yet underappreciated because something is missing or they will have to adapt to the league. We could for example talk about two very different kinds of prospects, the tweeners who may have nice physical tools but whose skills or capacity to change spot at the NBA level are doubted like Kawhi (#15 in 2011) or Siakam (#27 in 2016) and the most common “talented but lacks size/athleticism” who has produced players like Nash (#15 in 2016) or more recently the undrafted Van Vleet. Some can fall into both categories like Curry (#7 in 2009) or Domantas Sabonis (#11 in 2016), both coming from mid-major schools like Nash and Van Vleet.

-The most intriguing category is the last one, the unpredictable/unknown. Before the Youtube era, you could easily understand why an Emanuel Ginobili, who played 2d division in Italy, fell to the 58th pick. More recently, it’s more complicated with internet to have someone totally unknown being picked. Last year’s Pokusevski reminds me of the Giannis case, albeit more known due to his participation in European youth championships and with more physical red flags. An ultra-talented seven footer who played 2nd league basketball with as much as talent as he lacks muscle, it was very hard to predict, and still is, what kind of player the Serbian would become. The ultimate “unpredictable” star recently has to be Jokic. An overweight Serbian C, Jokic was good but coming to Denver gave him the opportunity to use his creativity and being the walking triple-double machine he has become. Often, it takes some intriguing physical tools or combination of size/skills to be that unpredicatble rising star.

Three potential sleepers in this draft and why.

-Juhann Begarin, 6-5 SG, 2002, Paris (French 2nd league)

Adequate size and athleticism at his spot, extreme length with a 7ft wingspan, nice stats in a good pro league for an 18-year-old player even if the Frenchman could improve his shooting and handles, there is no reason to see Begarin drop out of the first round. Yet, he’s not as hyped as some college players who don’t have his physical tools and even for some of them his skills.

-EJ Onu, 6-11 PF/C, Sr, Shawnee State (NAIA)

Straigth out of NAIA, one of the least covered collegiate level, Onu possesses extreme length at 6-11 with a 7-8 to go with elite shot-blocking ability. He has improved every year and his 40% 3pt with almost four attempts and 75% FT are two other stats that might intrigue the scouts on draft night. A potential Chris Boucher whose skills may be hindered by his level of play.

-Jalen Johnson, 6-9, PF/SF, Fr, Duke

A top HS recruit, Johnson has red flags mainly because of his decision to leave Duke during the year. He scored only 3pts in his last game but scored at least 8pts in all but two games and had one of the most impressive statline against Pittsburgh with 24pts 16rbds 7as 4bl and 2st. Johnson could end up a steal if he falls outside the lottery or even the top 10.

Click below for our latest mock draft.