Gonzo: Top 10 Hidden Gems in 2016 NBA Draft

BobbyGonzalez123I’ve learned a ton of things in over 25 years in the game, studying players at every level.

First when it comes to projecting a player’s ability and potential and how he will translate to the next level, it’s never an exact science. That’s probably the biggest challenge of all when it comes to evaluating talent.

Nowadays, there are many high-tech methods to track a player’s every move. Along with the current analytics movement, there are also countless player workout and development gurus who now have a career on that alone. Through my 18 straight years coaching Division 1 basketball we had a name for that … it was called an assistant coach.

But as Bob Dylan once said, times they are a changin’. With all the modern specialization and nuances now in the game, at the end of the day it still comes down to whether a guy can play or not.

gonzo1Here are a few important lessons and sayings I learned along the way: It’s not the guys you don’t get or miss on that come back to kill you, it’s the guys you get or take who can’t play. Also, there is no direct correlation between being a very good coach and being a good judge of talent; they are two separate talents and skill sets. Some coaches, GMs and scouts are good at it and some are not.

I’ve learned through years of college, high school, AAU and camps like Five Star and ABCD that relying on need can lead to bad talent evaluation. You always want to get guys that are better advertised than not , not as good as advertised. If you don’t know players or make too many bad decisions, you won’t survive.

I’ve always been a little surprised and shocked that many NBA staffs have months and months to make a decision on one or two guys and still can’t get it right.

I have come to realize that most people will go along with whatever the general consensus is out there on a player. Very few guys I know actually have their own original thoughts on a player. Usually, they’re afraid to have conviction and know what they are looking at when they see it. The real key is to be more right than you are wrong because no one is or has ever been perfect.

So to all the readers out there and 30 GMs and scouting staffs in the NBA, here is a unique list of both some veteran seniors in the college game (a rarity) and also some young up-and-coming guys that have caught my eye and need to be on everyone’s NBA list for the future.

They all may not necessarily be completely under the radar, but I believe these guys will all translate to the next level.

The Veterans

tylerharris1. Tyler Harris, Center, Auburn

Last year, the fifth-year transfer from Providence reminded me of a poor man’s Tayshawn Prince. But now after growing an extra inch or so and spending the summer working out with his older brother Tobias and former NBA player Chuck Person, the 6’10 lefty now reminds me of Lamar Odom when he was coming out of college.

Harris has gotten stronger and has blossomed in coach Bruce Pearl’s free-flowing system, where he has uniquely become a point center. He’s jumping center, bringing the ball up, is a very crafty passer, can post up, is a clever scorer around the basket and can make threes.

My advice to NBA people is keep an eye on this kid, because there is something to be said for pedigree and versatility when it comes to the modern pro game.

Nic-Moore2. Nic Moore, Point Guard, SMU

First of all, it’s important to note it’s not possible for any player coming out of college to have a better coach to get someone ready for the NBA game than Larry Brown. Period.

Next, I recognize that after being last season AAC’s conference player of the year as a junior, he may not be so much under the radar. But my biggest reason for having him on this list is his diminutive size, checking in at 5’9 and 175 pounds.

I recognize that many NBA people would rather not even take the chance or deal with a small guard, when they have to worry about the potential size and defensive disadvantages. I must also admit that I may be somewhat biased with my opinion here, as Brown has been a great friend and mentor to me.

When I look around the NBA and I see guys like Shane Larkin, Trey Burke, Aaron Brooks, D.J. Augustin, J.J. Barea and others, I’ve always felt like there’s a place for a guy like Moore to come in and be a tempo changer and a solid rotation player in the league. I would not bet against this guy at coming in and succeeding in the NBA. He has all the intangibles.

Isaiah-Cousins3. Isaiah Cousins, Shooting Guard, Oklahoma

Of course, all the NBA brass are familiar with Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, who’s a consensus First Team All-American who projects to be in this year’s upcoming draft. But it’s his fellow backcourt partner that I really like.

Cousins is a kid I have followed since he was young, being that he is from Mount Vernon, N.Y. which has produced countless players before him. This 6’4 athletic wing may be the fastest player in the draft from baseline to baseline.

He’s had to weather an accidental stray bullet in his shoulder this past summer and his stats (11.9 ppg, 38 pct FG) are misleading. I believe because he is a Swiss Army Knife glue guy who can do a little bit of everything. He’s capable of having big scoring nights at any time, has huge upside, can defend his position and may sneak up on some people when it comes to draft time. He reminds me of Jimmy Butler. Cousins is a little smaller, but once his shooting becomes more consistent like Butler’s, he will turn out to be a steal.

Jameel-Warney4. Jameel Warney, Power Forward, Stony Brook

Warney is one of my two mid-major players on this list, and word on the street is that the Spurs have seen him no fewer than five times. We all know what kind of track record they have when it comes to players, so I may not be way off.

Another young man I watched play in high school from the state of New Jersey, Warney very much reminds me of another former mid-major big guy and Spur in Malik Rose. Warney will end up being two-time player of the year in his conference and is a walking double-double.

The biggest thing that stood out to me when I’ve watched him play is that he’s had to handle countless double teams, because he’s a beast in the post, and he’s a terrific passer for a big guy. Mark it down: This is another guy who in a few years many people will be asking where he came from.

AJEnglish5. AJ English, Guard, Iona

I’m writing this fresh off watching the 6’4″ English score 45 points on Friday night against Monmouth.

At 6 ‘4 and with his scoring ability, most people list AJ as a two guard. But I believe in order for English to make it at the next level he will be a scoring point guard in the mold of Eric Bledsoe.

English, whose dad played in the NBA, is another player who may not be totally under the radar because of his scoring prowess. Now that many scouts have been coming to New Rochelle to check him, they may think that making the transition from a mid-major to the NBA is tough, but I think he’s up to the challenge.

I think this young man has all the tools to not come close like former Iona point guard Scott Machado, but to stick around and help an NBA team.

Five For The Future

Ben-Bentil1. Ben Bentil, Sophomore, PF, Providence

Talk about a guy blowing up or having his stock rise, this guy might be the most improved player in the country. And because he’s playing with point guard Kris Dunn, who is arguably the best player in the country and a projected top three pick in this year’s draft, he is no longer under the radar.

I was up visiting my old school, where I was an assistant coach, with one of my very first recruits on that elite eight team at Providence in God Shammgod, who is like a son to me. He could not stop raving about a young man he was working with from Ghana by way of Wilmington, Delaware.

So I got to see Bentil up close and personal before the season started and I was blown away at his size, explosiveness and versatility, reminding me of a 6′ 9 Draymond Green who can step out and make threes, run the floor, rebound and guard almost any position.

With all the NBA scouts around to see Dunn, the challenge may now be keeping Bentil in school.

Tyler-Lydon2. Tyler Lydon, Freshman, F, Syracuse

This guy came on the scene as a prototype stretch 4 who can really shoot the ball and extend the defense, like a young Ryan Anderson, with some breakout performances in the Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas.

He’s probably a year away in terms of strength, but is a very intriguing prospect because of his high skill level, nice size and basketball IQ. With the way he shoots the ball for his size and the importance of the 3-point shot in the league today, he is worth following.

Trevon-Bluiett3. Trevon Bluiett, Sophomore, SF, Xavier

After being one of the best freshmen in the Big East last year, he is starting to come into his own as a sophomore.

I just love this guy’s toughness, versatility and shot-making ability. He’s become one of the best young two-way players in the country and reminds me of a young Wes Matthews.

Kelan-Martin4. Kelan Martin, Sophomore, F, Butler

At 6’6 and 235, this guy is a power wing who Butler was surprisingly able to get out of Louisville away from the Cardinals.

He is an explosive athlete who can make shots from range or go inside. He really reminds me of a young Paul Millsap. I love this guy’s upside and think he’s one of the young sleepers in the country.

Mikal-Bridges5. Mikal Bridges, Freshman, F, Villanova

This young guy came in highly recruited, but there was talk of even redshirting him because he has a nice long frame but needed to get stronger.

Playing on the best team in the Big East with other potential NBA players like senior big man Daniel Ochefu and do-it-all junior Josh Hart, Bridges has emerged as a very talented, skilled and slithery two-way player that has future NBA player written all over him. He is in the mold of a young Luol Deng or a bigger version of Trevor Ariza. He definitely has the potential to be a “3 and D” guy in the NBA.

Bobby Gonzalez, former head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall, is a part-time commentator and columnist for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Check out Bobby Gonzalez’s SheridanHoops.com archive.


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