In the high-stakes game of NBA player evaluation, it's rare that a stone is left unturned.
But it happens.Even after film of players' college games is viewed, reviewed and re-reviewed, it happens.
Even after every player considered draft material is weighed, measured and appraised several times over, sometimes even subjected to psychological evaluation, it happens.
In 1995, for instance, Theo Ratliff was a little-known stringbean center regarded during his college career at Wyoming as a shotblocker and little else.
But the Detroit Pistons surprised a lot of people by taking Ratliff with the 18th pick of the first round, and in subsequent stints with the Pistons and Sixers Ratliff proved that a sound choice. This season he started all 50 games in Philly, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds while finishing third in the league in blocked shots per game.
Not world-beater numbers, perhaps, but far better than many lottery picks of recent years.
So while the days when a Julius Erving can get discovered at a free-agent camp or a Karl Malone can slip all the way to the 13th pick in the first round may be gone, surprises continue to occur. As recently as 1992, Latrell Sprewell slid all the way to No. 24, and no matter what you say about his personality, Sprewell can play.
Who might be this year's sleeper pick? There are several candidates.
Perhaps most intriguing, if only because he's 7-foot-2 and good big men are hard to come by, is Aleksandar Radojevic. Opinions on him vary widely. Some rate him as high as the best center in the draft; others are less enthusiastic.
The 245-pound Radojevic, who didn't discover basketball until he was 16, played the past two seasons at Barton County (Kan.) Community College. If not for the fact he'd played 19 minutes for a Yugoslavian professional team, Radojevic would be playing for Ohio State this season. But making $13,000 for those few minutes made him NCAA ineligible.
Radojevic wasn't a dominant scorer in junior college, averaging just 15.4 points on a talented team that sent players to Iowa, LSU and Baylor. In his freshman season, he averaged 10.3 points.
But he was a defensive presence, blocking 153 shots last season, though typically against much smaller junior college players. And he reportedly runs well and has good moves around the basket.
Another big man who deserves sleeper consideration is Frederic Weis, a 7-1 center from France. Considered a finesse player, he showed surprising aggressiveness in pre-draft workouts. Some teams will be scared off by the fact he had back surgery in January.
One player from a well-known program who could slip and make some middle-round team very happy down the road is Corey Maggette. A 6-6 shooting guard, Maggette played just one year at Duke and didn't even start. But some scouts rate him as having all the tools, which more than likely means some team enamored of potential will take him higher than expected.
A player hoop fans around here know somewhat is Fresno State guard Chris Herren. He got involved in some extracurricular problems at Fresno, but on the court he showed serious flashes of talent. In his senior season, he tried to subdue his natural inclination to shoot and focused more on being a playmaking point guard. He could be the next Nick Van Exel, a player whose reputation causes him to fall but who ends up helping some team.
Two players right out of high school declared for the draft, but only one is expected to go on the first round. Jonathan Bender is a skinny 6-11 center from Picayune, Miss., who is projected by some to go low on the first round. The other recent prep player is Leon Smith, a 6-10 center from Martin Luther King High in Chicago. Once again, a factor in the drafting of this pair could be the lure of the gamble. In a field not deep in big men, some GM might figure these guys are worth drafting and developing.
Certain teams -- like the Jazz -- are prone to gambling on big men, especially in the first round. But it's in the second round where the Jazz have done their most damage in recent seasons, nabbing such gems as Bryon Russell and Shandon Anderson.
With a big man shortage in this draft it seems less likely a Russell or Anderson type will slip through the cracks, but every draft seems to produce at least a couple of quality second rounders.
Some possibilities: Antwain Smith, a 6-6 small forward from tiny St. Paul's College in Virginia; Ricky Moore, a 6-2 point guard from UConn; and Alvin Young, a 6-3 guard from Niagara.
Coming from such small programs, Smith and Young were scouted less heavily than their peers from better-known hoop schools. And Moore had a nice showing at the Chicago pre-draft camp.