The word "upside" is used more often in association with the NBA Draft than at any other time during the sporting calendar. Because of the league's salary structure and the way the 5-man court deployment incentivizes "star"-level talent, NBA teams search for players that can grow into more than what they currently are, often while ignoring more established players with a lower ceiling.
That is also true, at least at times, of second-round picks, as teams take wild swings at physical talent and youth while eschewing college veterans who can peak only as solid role players instead of elite contributors. The 2016 edition of the draft is no different, as scouts salivate over international and "1-and-done" talent even outside of the top 30 picks, but today, we will focus on five underrated players who are likely to fall in the second round.
The common theme? Each played at least two years of college basketball. Later in the process, we will provide a similar exercise for everyone else (i.e. international and young college players), but experience and safety rule the day in this space. Let's get to the list (in alphabetical order).
Ben Bentil, PF Providence
A year ago, Bentil leaving Providence early for the NBA Draft would have been unthinkable. That's how good he was as a sophomore.
The talented power forward averaged 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in 2015-2016, and he produced offensively in a number of different ways. Bentil's shot selection wasn't always pretty (to be kind), but he has displayed a quality jump shot for a big man (Bentil is also a 78% free throw shooter) while simultaneously showing off a varied interior game.
Defensively, Bentil isn't an ideal NBA player that is why he could fall into the second round. He isn't a liability on that end, but in the era of the "stretch four", it may be tough to hide Bentil against certain opponents. Still, we are talking about a second-round pick here, and Bentil is more than capable of returning value given his offensive aptitude and motor.
Malcolm Brogdon, SG Virginia
Brogdon might be my favorite player in the entire draft. To be clear, Brogdon isn't close to the best prospect in this class, but in terms of what he brings compared to where he is projected to fall in the order, there is a lot to like with the former Virginia guard.
First and foremost, Brogdon is an excellent and versatile defender, using his bulk effectively to deter the opposition and always being in the right place from a positioning standpoint. There is some concern about his athleticism at the NBA level, but Brogdon should be able to make up for that with IQ and his athletic shortcomings are a bit overblown.
Offensively, he will likely never be an impact player in the NBA, but Brogdon is a good shooter (39% from three in his final season at UVA) that can also handle the ball effectively. In a supporting role in the NBA, he could act as a floor-spacer and, at least potentially, a secondary ball-handler and Brogdon could easily morph into an NBA rotation wing. I love him in the second round and, truthfully, would not be upset if the Hawks invested the number 21 pick in Brogdon.
Kay Felder, PG Oakland
To be clear, Felder is the worst prospect on this list. That, however, does not mean that he wouldn't be a nice second round investment, especially with the number 54 pick.
Felder's numbers at Oakland were mind-boggling, as he averaged 24.4 points and 9.3 (!) assists per game as a junior. He is a capable three-point shooter (nearly 36% last season), but more than that, Felder is a phenomenal passer that plays very quickly while under complete control. Defensively, he is a pest more than anything, but his energy level is obscenely high and when deployed in a supporting role, Felder could be highly effective as a point guard deterrent.
The problem is that Felder is 5-foot-10 and 177 pounds. That, combined with his mid-major pedigree, will push Felder down in the draft and it certainly limits his NBA upside. It would be a stretch to think that he could become anything more than a solid backup, but in the second round, that is all he needs to be. I'm in the tank for Kay Felder.
Caris LeVert, SG/SF Michigan
It seems wild that LeVert is involved in a post about second round picks. When projecting both the 2015 and 2016 NBA Drafts at various times in this space, LeVert was often seen as a sure-fire first round selection, including a large window of time when the former Michigan swingman was firmly projected in the lottery. What happened? Well, LeVert couldn't stay on the floor in Ann Arbor.
The 6-foot-7 wing played in only 33 games combined over the past two seasons, battling foot issues throughout that time period. In retrospect, LeVert absolutely should have declared for the draft following his sophomore year (2014), but he was also excellent as a college senior. He posted a 28.8 PER with a 63.6% true shooting in 2015-2016, and that came along with 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game in only 30.9 minutes.
At the NBA level, LeVert's best attribute might be his shooting, as he was a career 40% shooter from long range in college. However, he is also a capable secondary ball-handler and creator, and though he was miscast as a primary option at times at Michigan, that won't be an issue at the next level. Taking LeVert at 44 (if available) would be a huge win for the Hawks if the training staff could keep him healthy.
Gary Payton II, PG Oregon State
Does this name sound familiar? It probably should.
This is, of course, the son of Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton, and while the younger of the two isn't quite the prospect that his dad was long ago, Payton II is a nice player. For starters, he might be the best rebounding guard in this entire class, as the 6-foot-3 Payton II averaged 7.9 (!!!!) rebounds per game last season at Oregon State.
That type of rebounding is out-of-this-world for his size, and Payton II also averaged 2.5 steals per game in 2015-2016. At the NBA level, his destiny is probably as a defense-first backup guard, as he can use his length (6-foot-8 wingspan) to deter the opposition with intensity and skill on that end of the floor. Payton II is a limited offensive player in that he isn't a pure distributing point guard, but he doesn't bring the shooting and creation ability that you would want in a starter-level player.
There is nothing wrong with having a defensive terror in the backcourt, though, and that is what Gary Payton II looks to be sooner rather than later.