The biggest sleeper in the NBA Draft could be Baylor sophomore Isaiah Austin. The 20-year-old 7-footer with a 9’ 4.5” standing reach outstretched all of his competitor’s at the NBA Draft Combine by a wide margin and he has shown potential to become a shot blocking stretch four or five over his two college seasons. Possibly even more significant than his obvious size, Austin was originally thought to be a one-and-done college player and after his freshman season he was on some mock draft boards as a solid 2013 lottery pick. He is now fighting for a spot late in the second round and if he can get back on track, Austin could easily become the biggest sleeper in this year’s draft.
“I really just want teams to know that I want an opportunity,” Austin said. “Last year if I would have come out they said I would have been a lottery pick, but I felt that I wasn’t ready. I was really immature. This year I feel like I did a lot of maturing in the off season with my teammates and my coaching staff. I just have a better outlook on life. I feel like if I do get an opportunity I am going to give my all to that program. It doesn’t matter where it is.”
Maturity issues aside and it should go without saying that 19-year-olds typically are not mature, Draft Express reports, “his decision to return to Baylor was made for him after a torn labrum promised to keep him from participating in much of the pre-draft process.”
“I feel like if I came out last year, even if I would have been a lottery pick, I wouldn’t have made it,” Austin explained. “I wasn’t mature enough and I didn’t have the right type of mindset to come into the league. I needed the extra year of development with my teammates to become a better teammate, to become a better man. I feel that coming back definitely helped me even though my numbers were down.”
Coming back from his injury, Austin was inconsistent at the start of his sophomore campaign and hit a couple of rough patches during the year, however, he finished the season strong, scoring in double-digits in seven straight games as he led Baylor to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. While his scoring and rebounding was down from his freshman season, he almost doubled his blocks to 3.1 per game. If Austin can demonstrate his shooting touch is returning (or at least his shooting form is solid) and he is back to being an active rebounder in the pre-draft workouts, this big man will be tough to ignore.
“My ability to stretch the floor and knock down the 17-footer and even now to the three,” Austin described his most NBA ready skill. “I feel like I didn’t shoot the ball very well today, but I know I have a great stroke and I am going to utilize it the best I can at the next level.
“I am long, I am lean, I am athletic, so I can jump and I can contest shots. I am not worried about getting dunked on. I know it is part of being a shot blocker. I am not scared of anything. I am not scared of contact even though people think I am a little bit weaker than other post players. I am not going to back down from anybody.”
Austin had to overcome more than the typical basketball player to play Division 1 college ball and have a chance at playing professionally. Austin is blind in one eye, however, he has not allowed it to hold him back.
“Really it is just something that I have overcome and it has helped strengthen me as a man,” Austin said. “(Shooting) was a (challenge), but god has blessed me with tremendous perseverance to be able to push through anything that has come my way and the depth perception part of me having only one eye was the toughest part for me to overcome. God has blessed me with amazing ability and touch and eyesight out of my left eye that I have depth perception that I can shoot the ball.”
The workout in Toronto was Austin’s 12th and the strain of the travel, pressure to perform and general wear and tear is starting to show. Not surprisingly, Austin was short on a lot of his shots at the Air Canada Centre and the Raptors have acknowledged they take the long grind of the pre-draft process into account when evaluating players. If Raptors scouts and coaches are satisfied with Austin’s shooting form, missing shots at this point in the process won’t be held against him.
Isaiah Austin audio:
If Austin’s slow start to his sophomore season was the result of coming back from injury and his freshman year was the better indicator of his prospects, then some NBA team could land themselves a huge steal in the second round of the draft with this year’s biggest sleeper.
Raptors Search For Role Players In The Draft Nears An End
“We definitely like where we are at in the draft right now,” Tolzman said. “We have a good feeling of the type of players we are going to be looking at each of our picks and it is kind of nice where we are at where we are at 20, 37, and 59, they are spaced out enough to where we are looking at different groups of people at each one and at this point we have done so much of our homework and we are doing a lot of discussions and watching film sessions together and narrowing down the guys we are really zeroing in on.”