NBA Draft 2016: Five biggest sleepers heading into the NBA Draft Combine

 

Throughout the NBA Draft process this season, I’ve been fairly steadfast in noting just how wide open things are once you get past the mid-point of the first round.

Basically, in the area from No. 25 to No. 65, there is less separation between prospects than normal. That means that the pre-draft process this season is going to be even more important than normal, as it will provide an opportunity for these athletes to separate themselves from the pack in a way that their tape did not.

The NBA Draft Combine isn’t necessarily the start of that process, given that the Portsmouth Invitational has already occurred and teams have already begun having workouts, but it is a vital event in the pre-draft festivities. Over the next 50 or so days, teams will use the information gathered at the combine — via interviews, medical checks, measurements and athletic testing — to decide what players they want to learn more about, and who they’re no longer all that interested in.

Because of that room for movement, this is an important week for about 50 of the 60-plus players who have been invited to play in front of NBA scouts and executives. Here is a group of five players that I think could really have a breakout week in terms of their draft stock. All five of these players are currently outside of the top-40 of my board, and all of them could have potential to really move up if they can reach their potential here.

Dedric Lawson | F | Memphis Tigers (No. 47 on the CBS Sports NBA Draft Big Board)

Lawson is a really interesting prospect whose draft status has gone fairly under-the-radar since declaring. Instead, most have just assumed that he would return to Memphis after it was announced that his father Keelon would stay on the Tigers’ staff in some capacity. However, Lawson could really bolt up draft boards if he can have an impressive week in Chicago.

The 18-year-old is one of the youngest prospects in attendance — he doesn’t turn 19 until October — and is coming off of a freshman season where he averaged 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Sure, those numbers are definitely a bit inflated by being the focal point of Memphis’ offense, as he had an inefficient 49.0 true shooting percentage due to his inability to finish around the rim, but there’s clearly a lot to work with here.

Lawson is an active player who crashes the glass, can pass well for a player his size, and has the potential to shoot it from deep. He converted 35 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, including an effective-field goal percentage of 54.4 on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Plus, at 6-foot-8 with a 7-1-plus wingspan (per DraftExpress), he should perform well in the measurement portion of the event. If Lawson can perform well in athletic testing as well as convince teams that he’s willing to take the time to make the full-time transition to the 3 (he’d need to work on his ball-handling and perimeter skill to get there), I think he can rise up into the first round conversation and possibly be convinced to stay in the draft. His choice will be one of the most focused-on over the next two weeks.

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Dedric Lawson could have an important week at the NBA Draft Combine. (USATSI)

Kay Felder | G | Oakland Golden Grizzlies (No. 49)

Felder had a chance to return to college for his senior season and break Bobby Hurley’s all-time NCAA assist record, but instead decided to declare for the draft and take his chances on proving yet again that his size will not be a hindrance to his game. After all, that’s what he’s done throughout his entire collegiate career thus far.

Felder was possibly the most statistically dominant player in college basketball last season, finishing third nationally in scoring at 24.4 points per game and first nationally in assists per game at 9.3. Remarkably, he did this despite a usage rate that was outside of the top 20 nationally, speaking to an efficiency within his game that is exemplified by his 57.2 true shooting percentage and his low 13.9 turnover rate.

The 5-foot-9 point guard will have a big chance to prove himself this week at the combine. It’s unconfirmed at this point, but it’s likely that he’ll play in games and get a chance to show off against superior competition that he always succeeded against in minimal sample size at Oakland. Also, look for Felder to perform exceedingly well in athletic testing, as he’s a little man that can really get up and throw down if he gets the chance. Here’s an example of that a few years ago back when he was in high school.

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