2022 NBA Draft: Five sleepers who could be this year’s biggest steals

Breaking down the five projected non-lottery picks who are the most likely to outperform their 2022 NBA Draft position.

The Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, claiming their fourth championship in eight seasons. Now, the basketball world officially turns its collective attention to the 2022 NBA Draft.

The headliners for the June 23 event are the three players we know will be selected at the top of the draft: Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero — projected to come off the board in that order.

But, as Golden State showed yet again, one of the biggest keys to building a championship team is finding steals outside the lottery. Jordan Poole (28th overall pick), Kevon Looney (30th), Draymond Green (35th), and Gary Payton II (undrafted) all played significant roles in the Warriors’ title run.

Teams obviously need a superstar (or a couple of them) to build around, yet many teams don’t have the luxury of picking at the top of the draft in order to find them. Finding those value picks outside the lottery — and even in the second round — can be the key that allows a team to take the next step forward.

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The top three prospects will steal the show Thursday night, but this is also a deep class with several capable prospects expected to be available later in the draft. Here are the five sleepers who are the most likely to be the biggest steals of the 2022 NBA Draft:

David Roddy, PF, Colorado State

6-foot-6, 252 lbs. | 19.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 57.1 FG%, 43.8 3P%
Draft Projection: Late 1st Round/Early-Mid 2nd Round

Roddy projects to have a wide range of outcomes on draft night simply because there aren’t any real comps for him in the NBA. His diverse skill set made him the most unique player in college basketball this past season and intrigues some NBA scouts, but a lack of elite size and athleticism has others skeptical about his potential impact at the next level.

Whichever team ends up believing in him enough to select him, though, is going to be rewarded.

NBA teams are currently placing a big value on secondary playmakers as more and more point guards have become scorers rather than traditional point guards. If there’s someone who can set them up and allow plays to be drawn up for them to get shots off the ball, it can really open up an offense. It’s one of things that has made Draymond Green so effective for Golden State in his career — the Warriors can get him the ball, forcing opposing defenses to worry about defending both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in off-ball action while often forcing a non-on-ball defender to do just that. That puts incredible stress on a defense.

Roddy can have a similar impact with his passing and ball-handling skills, both of which are guard-worthy. He was top 10 in the Mountain West in assist rate and consistently was able to lead the break for the Rams.

Doing that alongside a scoring point guard can make a teammate even more dangerous.

There’s also Roddy’s 3-point shooting, which is terrific. He shot 43.7 percent from long range this past season, ranking 41st nationally. He was even more efficient at the rim, allowing him to rank in the top 30 in the country in effective field goal percentage.

He checks all the boxes offensively, but the concerns about his size come into play on the defensive end and on the glass. However, Roddy’s tape and performance in individual workouts have quelled much of those doubts.

The Colorado State product has a near seven-foot wingspan despite standing just 6-foot-6, which allows him to adequately defend taller players. Roddy is a surprisingly good shot-blocker (225th nationally in block rate), strong enough to take a pounding in the paint and quick enough to defend smaller players on the perimeter. That’s the kind of versatility NBA teams value but because it typically comes in the frame of someone much taller and leaner.

Whoever drafts Roddy should have a plan for how to utilize his versatility. If he’s put in the right positions, he’s a guy who can start in the NBA for at least a decade and be an impact player for the playoff team. At worst, he does so many things at a high level that he’ll help a team in some facet of the game, and it’s hard to find those kinds of players late in the first round or early in the second.

Dalen Terry, SG/PG, Arizona

6-foot-7, 195 lbs.8.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, 50.2 FG%, 36.4 3P%
Draft Projection: Late 1st Round

Arizona expected Terry to return for his junior season when he declared for the draft, hoping he would get feedback that would help fuel a breakout season from the talented guard. He showed flashes of immense potential in a supporting role behind projected top-10 pick Bennedict Mathurin and was supposed to slide into that lead role for the Wildcats.

NBA teams saw that immense potential, too, leading Terry to stay in the draft and quickly rise up draft boards.

Terry has all the physical tools NBA teams value in guards. He’s tall, lengthy and extremely quick, showing the necessary burst required to get to the rim with the athleticism to finish. Those traits also make him an elite defender, as he was named a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive team as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.

Offensively, Terry didn’t put up huge numbers but was efficient and impacted the game in a multitude of ways. He ranked top 10 in the Pac-12 in both assist rate and effective field goal percentage while ranking 83rd nationally in offensive rating. His wide-ranging skill set — quality passer, great rebounder for a guard, decent shooter — allows him to be effective in whatever role he’s called to play.

And that is another thing NBA teams love about Terry. Often, players with prototypical size and his skill set are focused on being “the guy.” Terry has the potential to be a great two-way player, which is obviously helping his rise, but NBA teams have fallen in love with his work ethic, competitiveness, and the fact he has shown both an understanding and willingness to accept any role.

Terry can do a lot offensively, but he often isn’t aggressive enough (for now) and doesn’t have the ability to consistently create shots for himself off the dribble yet. Even if those things never come, tall guards with his athleticism who can handle the ball and play defense the way he does are in high demand in today’s NBA.

Worst-case scenario, I think we’re looking at Terry being a reliable rotation piece. Best-case scenario, if Terry continues to develop offensively, he can turn into part of a franchise’s core.

Patrick Baldwin Jr., SF/PF, Milwaukee

6-foot-9, 220 lbs.12.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 34.4 FG%, 26.6 3P%
Draft Projection: Late 1st Round/Early-Mid 2nd Round

Baldwin’s stock has dropped significantly since the start of the season when he was a projected top-10 pick. Poor play against lesser competition with Milwaukee has played into his slide along with poor athletic testing — his 26.5-inch vertical is one of the worst in combine history.

Those factors, coupled with his injury history, may cause him to fall out of the first round entirely. However, he’s going to become a real value at his current draft position.

Baldwin’s skill set still intrigues many NBA teams. He has a reputation as a knockdown shooter at 6-foot-9, and he regained that reputation during individual workouts after a poor shooting season with the Panthers. He also has a tremendously high basketball IQ with good passing skill and the ability the handle the ball — though no one is going to confuse him for a point guard.

Not much will change about Baldwin’s athletic profile in the NBA and he likely won’t be anything more than an average rebounder. Those are true negatives to his game. But chatter about his lack of production is truly overblown.

In the first three games of the season — when Baldwin was the most healthy — he averaged 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. He then suffered an ankle injury in Milwaukee’s next outing and missed three more games before turning it around against Robert Morris, posting a career-high 26 points and seven rebounds. Baldwin did struggle shooting in their next matchup against Colorado before being re-injured against Rhode Island. He played in four games and wasn’t the same.

So, in the five games when Baldwin was healthy, he averaged 18.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. I think we’re still looking at Baldwin as a lottery pick if those were his numbers for the entire season.

It’s fair to say that the Sussex native won’t be a franchise cornerstone. At the same time, his high level of offensive skill and 3-point shooting ability should allow him to carve out a solid role in the NBA.

Not everyone can be a superstar and it’s clear Baldwin won’t be that. But not everyone can be a reliable secondary scorer, either, and Baldwin still has the tools to develop into that type of player, providing immense value at his projected draft range.

Jaden Hardy, SG, G League Ignite

6-foot-4, 198 lbs.21.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 39.7 FG%, 32.9 3P%
Draft Projection: Late 1st Round

Another top prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, Hardy’s stock dropped from the top 10 — where it was in the preseason — to the second round due to inefficient shooting and inconsistent decision-making during his time with G League Ignite. However, his performance in individual workouts has pushed his stock back into the latter part of the first round.

Hardy might be the best individual shot creator in this draft. He knows how to create space for himself off the dribble and uses a variety of attacking moves to get to the rim when he wants. That is already an NBA-level skill for him.

The issue is simply how he uses it.

Because Hardy can get his shot off almost whenever he wants, he tended to do so whenever he wanted. That led to a lot of poor shot selection with Ignite and often took his team out of their offensive rhythm or kept them from establishing that rhythm.

Those same things can be said about him defensively, where he struggled to catch onto some of the team’s defensive concepts — something not uncommon for young players.

Hardy’s headstrong approach led to a high usage rate, raising further questions about his potential role at the next level. He was a ball-dominant scorer in high school and then had the same role for Ignite and did so inefficiently. Hardy needs the ball to be effective at this point in his development, likely relegating him to a bench gunner role.

But, as G League Ignite head coach Jason Hart told Jeff Goodman on Field of 68, concerns about Hardy aren’t a matter of ability, it’s about “how to, and when to” attack.

That combination of deficiencies hurt his on-court performance and, in turn, hurt his draft stock. But as NBA teams are finding out, those are the kind of issues that can be corrected with coaching. Hardy has the talent and ability to do a lot of things most prospects in this draft simply can’t and teams are beginning to identify that potential.

Tapping into that ability with good coaching will be the key to Hardy’s career. If he finds the right mentor, especially early, he can blossom into an offensive star in the NBA.

Tari Eason, SF/PF, LSU

6-foot-8, 215 lbs.16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.9 spg, 52.1 FG%, 35.9 3P%
Draft Production: Mid 1st Round

Eason barely qualifies as a sleeper considering he’s virtually guaranteed to be selected in the top 20. At the same time, he’s also not expected to be a lottery pick. Considering I think he’ll easily have a top-10 career of the players in the draft class, that still counts!

The Cincinnati transfer became a star during his lone season at LSU, particularly on the defensive end. That is where he projects to have a huge impact at the next level, too.

Listed at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and NBA-level quickness, Eason shuts down opposing perimeter players with ease. His ability to come up with steals (12th nationally in steal rate) and contest shots allowed him to post the 28th-best defensive rating of any college basketball player since the metric’s birth in 2009-10. It was the highest of any perimeter player in the country, backing up the notion that he’s the best defender in this class.

Eason only played about 25.5 minutes per game for the Tigers, so his raw offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, but his efficiency metrics say otherwise. He ranked third in both offensive box plus/minus and win shares per 40 minutes, trailing only projected top-5 pick Keegan Murray and National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe in both categories. Eason uses that length and quickness to get the rim with ease and showed tremendous touch around the basket (61.5 true shooting percentage) along with a real knack for drawing fouls (15th nationally).

His 3-point shooting is coming along but certainly isn’t a liability at 35.9 percent. His shooting form makes that number sustainable at the next level.

Eason will likely never be a primary offensive option in the NBA but is very likely to be one of the league’s best defenders sooner rather than later. Assuming he becomes that while remaining a solid secondary scoring option, I expect him to be a crucial rotation piece for whoever drafts him.