As the June 23 NBA draft approaches, several players are contending to be taken in the lottery portion of the first round. But a few sleepers could become first-round picks.
With teams at the end of the first round hoping to be contenders next season, any player who sneaks into the first round could compete for a championship.
Once Tuesday night's draft lottery and the combine occur, some light will be shed on how the first round will go. This means that some of these players will better understand their futures.
Still, all five of these players have the potential to be great sleepers in the first round. The key for all five, as with every player in the draft, will be the team that drafts them.
No. 5: E.J. Liddell, Ohio State
After a solid junior season for the Ohio State Buckeyes, E.J. Liddell has emerged as a legitimate contender to sneak into the first round of the draft.
Liddell improved in several areas, especially on the defensive end, between his second and third year of college.
While the season did not end the way the Buckeyes wanted, with a second-round March Madness loss, Liddell did his part. During the tournament, he impressed scouts and will look to ride that momentum into being a first-round selection.
If Jeff Goodman is accurate, the odds favor Liddell sneaking into the end of the first round rather than falling into the beginning of the second.
At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, Liddell lacks the ideal build for the modern NBA and could slip down draft boards if he does not test well at the combine. His lack of pop means teams willing to gamble on potential will pass on him.
Still, Liddell could slot into a rotational role immediately rather than needing extra time to develop like some at the end of the first round.
No. 4: Max Christie, Michigan State
Max Christie had a poor season for the Michigan State Spartans compared to other players contending to make the draft's first round. His 2021-22 season may drop him down.
Entering his one year in college, Christie was one of the top prospects in his class. If he can return to the trajectory he had coming out of high school, he could be a steal for the team that selects him.
While Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is happy with Christie staying in the draft, Christie may have benefited from staying in college for another year.
The tradeoff of remaining at Michigan State is that Max Christie could have lost even more of the hype he had as a top high school prospect.
Christie's status could change drastically depending on which version of Christie shows up during the predraft process.
No. 3: Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee
Kennedy Chandler became part of a tender story in college basketball thanks to his interaction with Michigan coach Juwan Howard during the NCAA Tournament.
While that moment was remarkable, it overshadowed just how great a player Chandler became during his one season at Tennessee.
As one of the top point guards in a weak draft class at the position, Chandler should have added value as the draft approaches.
While Chandler's length will make up for his lack of size, being 6-foot-1, 170 pounds could be a problem because he lacks elite athleticism and scoring ability.
Still, Chandler has several traits a team could use at point guard. This means a team drafting for positional need rather than draft board value is likely to take a swing on Chandler at the end of the first round.
No. 2: Wendell Moore Jr., Duke
Wendell Moore was a key contributor to the Duke Blue Devils' March Madness run and showcased excellent efficiency and effectiveness to end the season.
While many spoke about his teammates' NCAA Tournament performances, Moore was the player who made Duke's engine run at his best.
With the potential to be a more undersized small forward or a more oversized shooting guard, Moore could fit on most rosters as a tweener. He can initiate the offense or run as part of the system.
Several teams still run a pick-and-roll or pick-and-fade heavy offense, so Moore could fit into several systems, not just the Washington Wizards.
One factor that could hurt Moore is that he lacks anything to elevate him beyond being a role player. He also had poor efficiency and effectiveness during his first two years. So, there is the potential for Moore to be someone who struggles to be in the rotation when teams want to rely on players with higher upside.
Still, a contender could value what Moore brings as a role player rather than another player with better traits, but he is much more of a project.
No. 1: Christian Koloko, Arizona
As one of the top centers entering the draft, Christian Koloko has the potential to be the next great NBA center from Cameroon.
While the prospect is not on the level of his countryman Joel Embiid, he has several traits that will allow him to excel.
During March Madness, Koloko showed he can score and rebound against physical teams. He is also effective enough in other areas not to need to come off the court against smaller lineups.
Koloko's status as either a late first-round pick or an early second-round pick will hinge on whether the team making the selection needs a traditional center.
At 7-foot-1, 230 pounds, there is not much versatility to Koloko's game. But a player who can play well in the paint still has a place in the league, even if only against specific teams and in certain situations.
During the road to the draft, Koloko will have the opportunity to show he's capable of being a quality center in the modern NBA. As with other draft prospects, team fit will be critical to his future.
Q. How many of these players will be taken in the first round of the draft?
3 or more
2 or less