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Three productive players who slipped through the cracks

Dec 14, 2012, 7:44 PM EST

Greg Smith AP

It’s not as easy for prospects to go under the radar as it once was. With improved technology, better analytics and easier scouting methods, productive players rarely go unnoticed anymore.

But that doesn’t mean every good NBA player gets drafted. An NBA GM once told me that his draft strategy in the second round was to, “absolutely to swing for the fences” and take a guy based on potential. While that makes sense, it also leads to teams whiffing on some capable role players. Although the paths of the following three players are different, they’re all providing productive minutes early on this season.

Brian Roberts, New Orleans Hornets

It’s understandable why Brian Roberts didn’t pass the eye test. He’s a 6-footer who weighs about 170 pounds, he’s not exceptionally quick, and he’s a fairly average athlete. If there’s one thing NBA teams are never hard up for, it’s small guards who score a lot but do little else. Those guys grow on trees.

But there’s something to be said for Roberts, who owns one of the purest strokes you’ll ever see. After hitting at least 41% from the 3-point line in four years at Dayton, Roberts went undrafted and played in Germany for three seasons with varying amounts of success. That’s not uncommon, but it didn’t scare Hornets GM Dell Demps off.

Roberts is the rare 27-year-old rookie, but he has a ton of polish to his game and he’s continuing to do what he always has at every stop. Roberts is scoring 17 points per36 minutes this year for New Orleans on 43 percent 3-point shooting, checking in with a solid PER of 16.2.

With fellow rookie Austin Rivers stinking up the joint (32 percent from the field), Roberts has been a pleasant surprise. He’s a responsible guard, but more importantly, he’s an instant source of offense for a team desperately in need of it on the perimeter.

P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns

You can safely call P.J. Tucker a journeyman already. After being named to the AP All-American team at Texas, Tucker played just 83 minutes in his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors way back in 2006. Immediately after that rookie year, Tucker went overseas and enjoyed a great deal of success, winning an MVP and bringing home a title in the Israeli league. Tucker continued to bounce around in Germany, Italy and elsewhere, before he landed back in the NBA with the Suns this season.

Tucker has always been a great defender and an incredibly hard worker, making up for his lack of height with a physical, relentless style. Similar to how Roberts is outplaying Rivers in New Orleans, Tucker has been more productive than Michael Beasley, who is somehow threatening to have more shot attempts than points scored this season.

It’s an overused cliché, but Tucker just seems to have a nose for the ball. 6-foot-5 small forwards don’t come around often, but Tucker uses his thick base incredibly well when carving out space under the rim. He’s kept a lot of possessions alive for a Suns team that needs all the chances they can get, and he might be their best individual defender.

Greg Smith, Houston Rockets

Keep an eye out on this kid. Although he lacks polish, Smith is a space eating big who has an offensive rebounding percentage of 14% this year, which would place him 11th among all NBA players had he played enough minutes this season. The second-year big man from Fresno State also has a PER of 20.9, and is scoring 16 points with 10 rebounds and two blocks per36 minutes.

Those are pretty impressive numbers for a guy who somehow went undrafted, and although he lacks an elite skill, Smith does have the biggest hands ever measured in Draft Express history, allowing him to snatch rebounds out of the air with ease, grab loose balls, and get his hands on a lot of shots you wouldn’t think he would.

Just 21-years-old with the physical tools and the glass eating demeanor to be successful, don’t be surprised see Smith continue to bloom in Houston, where Rockets GM Daryl Morey has seemingly once again found a diamond in the rough.

  1. dirtydavis - Dec 14, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Whatever happened to Thabeet?

    • saint1997 - Dec 14, 2012 at 10:13 PM

      He’s been alright for OKC this year

  2. dko83 - Dec 14, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    Love seeing undrafted guys flourish like that. Doesn’t happen as often as it does in the NFL.

  3. scalfor3 - Dec 15, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    greg smith looked for real against the celtics tonight. kid has legit potential.

  4. adoombray - Dec 15, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    PJ Tucker has been a revelation for the Suns. Excellent basketball IQ to notice him, Phoenix ain’t exactly a headline grabber or must-see these days. The only thing that makes the B-easy catastrophe somewhat stomachable is that if they ditch “former number 2 overall pick” (about the only praise he’ll ever recieve in the NBA) at least the team has a player that fans like watching instead.

    • adoombray - Dec 15, 2012 at 1:33 AM

      Also: (why cant a user edit their own comments? sorry to double post)

      every Suns fan who has watched even a single game this year is asking for one thing on their Christmas list: Beasley traded by the deadline. DO IT SARVER! DOOOOO ITTTTTT…..

      • kinggw - Dec 15, 2012 at 11:59 AM

        If thats the case Suns fans are fooling themselves. Michael Beasley isnt the problem, he’s far from it. The Suns just aren’t a good team. The past few seasons, with Nash, they had to struggle just to be mediocre. Beasley hasn’t played well, but he’s not bringing the team down with him.

        Foster acts like Beasley is shooting the Suns out of games. He averages about 12 shots a game. Beasley has a reputation for being an immature malcontent. That’s why its easy for Suns fans and Gentry, who is in full cya mode, to pile on Beasley. The Wizards did the same thing with Blatche, Young, and McGee. They made it seem as if those young immature players were the reason why the Wiz stunk. All three of those guys are gone and the Wizards are in worse shape than they were when the “problem children” were in tow. Bottom line shipping Beasley isnt going to change the Suns fortunes.

  5. 00maltliquor - Dec 15, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    This was a good read.

    D.J., I’m really lovin’ your work man. Keep it up and keep ‘em coming.

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