With NBA Draft projections and mock drafts galore this time a year, it is easy to forget the group of former Big Ten players likely to go unselected on June 23rd. Yet, there is a sizable pool of talent of prospects that could very well become valuable undrafted free agents for some NBA team out there. Of course, many of these players will not pan out in the league, opting to apply their talents in the D-League or internationally. Below are some of the top potential undrafted free agents out of the Big Ten.
As offensive a league the NBA is nowadays, there is still a demand for defensive specialists— and the former Michigan State defensive stalwart fits that mold. Matt Costello was one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten last season, ranking second in the conference in defensive rating and third in defensive box plus/minus. He further complemented these stellar numbers with a fourth -ranked defensive win share total. The Spartans were perennially a top defensive squad with Costello in the lineup.
Complementing his defensive prowess, Costello is an equally skilled rebounder. In his senior season, he was third in the Big Ten with 8.2 rebounds per game, while ranking first in both offensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage. Yet, the biggest question mark for Costello remains how his rebounding skills could transfer over to the professional scene. That ultimately brings us to his weakest link as an NBA prospect—his lack of size as a center. At only 6'9", Costello is undersized compared to most NBA centers.
Costello’s undersized nature as a center is probably what keeps him undrafted, so a stint internationally or in the D-League is likely. Still, his impressive college resume as a defender and rebounder is valuable enough for NBA team to give him a chance in the near future.
Sulaimon boasts a nice combination of three-point shooting and wing defending. Last season at Maryland, he shot 42.9 percent from three-point range, along with a true shooting percentage of 59%. According to his scouting report at Draft Express, he has a wingspan of 6’7", which gives him the skill set to become a solid perimeter defender. Though his name does not appear on Draft Express’s latest mock draft, this strong combo of perimeter defense and outside shooting could make him an enticing undrafted free agent later on in the summer.
The same scouting report listed his ball-handling skills and court vision as weaknesses that could hamper his offensive output as a pro. The scouting report also indicates worries regarding his ability to finish at the rim and to draw fouls. These factors are probably what keep Sulaimon from being drafted, though his strengths may still allow him to find a spot somewhere in the NBA.
What stands out most about the former Nebraska Cornhusker is his size at 6’7" for a power forward. Due to his size, he became a versatile offensive threat for Nebraska last season, scoring 16.8 points per game to go along with the shooting percentage of 47 percent. As an efficient scorer, Shields put up a strong 0.96 points per play last season. Though he was a pretty effective, high-volume scorer for the most part, he only shot 36 percent from three-point range.
While Shields does have good size for a college player at the power forward position, his size in fact puts him in an awkward position in terms of his future in the NBA. As outlined in a profile here at BTPowerhouse, at 6’7" he is not quite big enough to be a power forward. Because of that, Shields as a better chance to make it in the NBA as a small forward. As a result, this size dilemma is possibly what keeps him out of the draft.
If Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors have taught us anything, it is that three-point shooting is the hottest commodity on the NBA market. This should be enough to make Bryn Forbes, three-point marksman extraordinaire, a valuable pick in the second round, but he is ranked all the way down to 43rd among seniors entering the draft, leaving his draft status in doubt.
As a three-point shooter, Forbes was one of the best in the Big Ten. He ranked first in the conference in three-point field goals (112) and three-point field goal percentage (48 percent). These three-point shooting marks allowed him to have the highest offensive rating in the conference and the second highest in the country. Forbes is lights out from beyond the arc, a skill that he could bring to a team as a valuable reserve.
Forbes’ one-dimensional nature as a shooter off the catch is perhaps the biggest liability in his game that will likely keep him out of the draft. While he is certainly an elite three-point, nothing else in his arsenal really jumps out. He averaged an unimpressive 1.2 assists per game in his time at Michigan State, so he has never been much of a distributor. Furthermore, Forbes does not have great size at only 6'3". Ultimately, he is in the strange position of excelling tremendously as a three-point shooter though not excelling in much else.