Anunoby projected as mid-first round pick in Thursday’s draft

When he committed to Indiana in the fall of 2014, OG Anunoby was considered the 280th overall player in the 2015 recruiting class.

Thursday night, he’ll be one of 20 prospects sitting in the green room at the NBA Draft.

“It’s pretty cool, I guess,” Anunoby told The Herald-Times this week.

After two years at IU, Anunoby is set up to become the Hoosiers’ first player drafted since 2014 when the event gets underway Thursday night at 7 from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Projected as a mid-first round pick, Anunoby is about to cash in on the potential he honed during his time in Bloomington.

ESPN projects Anunoby as the No. 13 overall pick to the Denver Nuggets, while CBS Sports has Anunoby going 14th to the Miami Heat. In the Draft Express mock draft, Anunoby goes 20th to the Portland Trailblazers.

Although he missed most of Big Ten season after suffering a season-ending knee injury at Penn State on Jan. 18, the 6-foot-8 forward believes he’s on track to get back on the court in either October or November. His pre-draft timeline was limited merely to interviews as his knee continues to recover, but Anunoby put that time to good use.

He says he’s met with 16 teams during the past two months, and with the draft only hours away, Anunoby is most looking forward to finally knowing what’s next.

“I’m excited and ready to get to a team,” he said.

His length and defensive potential at the NBA level make him a solid first-round prospect. Draft Express considers him the No. 14 player available and the second best sophomore in the class, behind only Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell.

Whichever team takes him will clearly be banking on Anunoby’s upside, which he flashed during the season and a half he actually spent in an IU uniform. Though Anunoby started only 10 of the 50 college games he played, he memorably helped key IU’s run to the 2016 Big Ten title with his defensive contributions off the bench.

Later, in that season’s NCAA Tournament, Anunoby broke out on a national stage with 14 points — including a 360-degree dunk — in 15 minutes in a first-round win over Chattanooga.

He was often one of the first players on the floor prior to IU games during his sophomore season, emerging from the locker room approximately two hours prior to tipoff most nights to work on his shooting from 3-point range.

Although he shot only 31 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore, he did make 13 of the 29 3s he attempted as a freshman.

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla says Anunoby has the potential to be the “ultimate 3-and-D” player at the next level.

“He doesn’t have the ball handling ability of a Kawhi Leonard yet, but that’s the comparison,” Fraschilla said. “But 3 and D for sure. … He’s going to have to show that he’s athletic enough to be able to guard on the perimeter, as all big guys have to do in the league right now. It helps that he shot the ball well.”

Anunoby’s former classmate at Indiana, Thomas Bryant, also appears likely to get picked Thursday.

Bryant’s stock, however, is not as high after an inconsistent sophomore year.

CBS Sports has Bryant going to Boston with the seventh pick of the second round, while Draft Express has him going to Philadelphia with the ninth pick of the second round.

ESPN, meanwhile, has Bryant as the second to last pick of the entire draft.

Bryant, projected as a first-round talent after his freshman year, did improve his long-distance shooting stroke as a sophomore, making 38 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

But questions about his defensive instincts and athleticism remain. The good thing for Bryant — and the team that selects him — is that he’s still only 19 years old with plenty of developmental time left to use.

“Second rounders now get guaranteed contracts, a lot of them,” ESPN’s Jeff Goodman said, “so that’s the difference these days is some kids just feel like, ‘Hey, if I’m going to go from 30 to 40, I’ll get a guaranteed deal, and that’s good enough for me.”

Former Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. is not projected as a draft pick, but could quickly find an NBA Summer League opportunity if he does go unselected.

And for the second consecutive year, former IU coach Tom Crean will provide analysis on The Vertical’s live draft show at Yahoo.com.

At least for the first part of the night, all Hoosier eyes will be on Anunoby — an underrated high school player from Missouri who came to Indiana and turned himself into an NBA talent.

“I’ve worked hard,” Anunoby said. “I think I deserve it.”

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