Second-round picks are bandied about in NBA trades years in advance like expendable afterthoughts with only token value, and while it's true the hit rate on second draft picks is not stellar, steals can be found even towards the bottom in picks 45-60. Just look at Jalen McDaniels, the 6-foot-9 forward who the Hornets selected 52nd overall in 2019 via a trade with the Thunder.
By the end of his second season in the league, McDaniels had wormed his way into Charlotte's starting lineup in what would have been his senior season at San Diego State if he'd elected to remain in college. Prospects who forego remaining collegiate eligibility without a first-round grade are prone to criticism, but McDaniels and others like him have shown there can be value for teams — and a life in the league for players — coming from late in the second round.
So who are the best bets to make a splash in the league as second- round steals this year? We've already covered a few players who could slip to undrafted free agent status, but with the draft creeping closer, let's take a look at few of the most intriguing candidates to be second-round steals.
Breakdown: Criticize Ayayi for never evolving into more than a great role player for Gonzaga, but that proven ability to take a secondary role for a premier team is exactly why he could be a second round steal. As a 6-5 wing, Ayayi is not some ball-dominant former do-it-all college guard who will need to be de-programmed to play with a lower usage rate. Rather, he's a proven 3-point shooter with an excellent 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in college who brings a legitimate secondary skill to the table as a rebounder. He will never be a star, but Ayayi's floor is high.
Breakdown: No one is going to argue that Matthew Hurt is ready to be an impact defender in the NBA, but his offensive game is NBA ready, as evidenced by his 44.4% 3-point shooting mark on 5.3 attempts per game for Duke last season. At 6-9, Hurt can score from anywhere on the floor — he connected on 63.9% of his 2-pointers last season while leading the Blue Devils with 18.3 points per game. Hurt's defensive limitations may restrict him from becoming a regular starter in the NBA, but his well-rounded offensive ability should guarantee Hurt a baseline level of competence that surpasses that of a player typically selected in the second round.
Breakdown: As explained in a recent edition of the Dribble Handoff, there is already a blueprint for Walker to follow, as his former Florida State teammate Terance Mann is a similar player who has carved out a spot in the NBA after being selected 48th overall in 2019. FSU. Both were four-year guys for the Seminoles indoctrinated by the unselfish, defense-first ethos of coach Leonard Hamilton. Mann has turned into a solid 3-and-D wing at the next level, and Walker should be able to do the same. He's got a better wing span than Mann and shot the ball better from 3-point range than Mann did in college.
Breakdown: Champagnie's 28% 3-point shooting mark over two college seasons mean there is little chance he sneaks into the first round as a 6-6 wing. But he plays first-round caliber defense and rebounds like a madman. How exactly that unique skillset translates to a modern NBA roster is a mystery, but Champagnie's motor and intangibles make him worth a look late in the draft. Also, it's not like Champagnie is a useless offensive player, as he fared well attacking the basket last season while leading Pittsburgh in scoring at 18 points per game. For teams willing to take a chance, the upside of Champagnie's versatility, defensive potential and rebounding should outweigh the offensive concerns if he's still on the board late in the second round.
Breakdown: It feels like Livers' stock is being tamped down by the stress fracture that kept him out of the NCAA Tournament and the fact that he turns 23 on July 28. But if the former Michigan forward is healthy, he's got an NBA skillset. With a 41.2% career 3-point shooting mark and great positional versatility at 6-7, he's a ready-made role player at the next level who can guard multiple positions and knock down open shots. He's not great off the dribble, but you don't need him to be a shot-creator. If Livers is 100% physically, he'll turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the 2021 draft class simply because his shooting, versatility and steadiness as a player who rarely fouls and rarely turns the ball over.