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5 overlooked players making an impression

These players weren't first-round picks, but they're impacting the league now

Team building in the NBA has long been a process best rooted in high lottery picks and first-round talent. Player acquisition is as much art as it is science, which requires more work to be done outside of those 30 first-round slots in a given Draft.

Draft night surprises come in all shapes and sizes, beyond the first round sometimes and even after the Draft is over.

Plenty of former second-round picks and undrafted players – both veterans and youngsters – are making their mark around the league this season.

That group includes NBA champions, All-Stars, award winners and franchise staples such as Draymond Green, Marc Gasol, Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams.

It also includes surprising rookies like Eric Paschall and Kendrick Nunn, who will square off tonight in Miami when Paschall’s Golden State Warriors visit Nunn’s Miami Heat (8 ET, League Pass).

Here’s a look at five players – some of them former second-rounders, some of them undrafted players – shining bright this season.

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Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers: A staple for a Milwaukee team that earned the best record in the league last season, Brogdon left for Indiana this past offseason and is flourishing in his new role there. A second-round pick in 2016 (No. 36 overall), Brogdon was the Kia Rookie of the Year in 2016-17 and leads the Pacers in points (19.0 ppg) and assists (8.1 apg) as they await the return of All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The heartland “Big Three” of Oladipo, Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis forms the nucleus of the scrappy bunch coach Nate McMillan directs that could be a dark horse contender in the Eastern Conference this season.

Spencer Dindwiddie, Brooklyn Nets: The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Dinwiddie is a critical component for a Nets team grinding along without Kevin Durant. A second-round pick (No. 39 overall) of the Detroit Pistons in 2014, he spent his first two seasons with the Pistons before finding a home with the rebuilding Nets in 2016-17. Kyrie Irving is the Nets’ best player but Dinwiddie has been their most consistent and reliable performer to this point of the season.

Montrezl Harrell, LA Clippers: On a team with superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, it would be easy to overlook the contributions of a grinder like Harrell. He can’t even claim the title of best sixth man on his own team (given that Lou Williams is the NBA’s reigning award-winner there). Clippers coach Doc Rivers could care less about labels where the relentless Harrell, a second-round pick in 2015 (No. 32 overall by Houston), is concerned. Harrell could easily be a starter (and perhaps an All-Star) on a lot of other teams. But he’s an invaluable piece, as both a game-changing reserve (alongside Williams) and a tone-setter in the paint for the deepest in the league. If the Clippers reach their championship goals this season, it’ll be with Harrell playing a major role.

Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat: Anyone outside of Miami who says they saw Nunn coming this season couldn’t pass a lie detector test. Plenty of folks in Miami couldn’t have predicted the undrafted rookie would get off to this sort of start for a Heat team that was prepared to lean on Jimmy Butler all season. Nunn plays with an ease that suggest he, more than anyone else, knew he was destined to be this good. Unlike many of his peers, he’s shown no signs of trepidation about asserting himself on offense as a starter for what looks like an Eastern Conference playoff team. Nunn has cooled from his sizzling October (22.4 ppg, 48.4% on 3-pointers), but is still holding his own in ways few expected.

Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors: Speaking of pleasant surprises, Paschall has been a glaring bright spot in an otherwise dreadful start to the Warriors’ difficult season. What makes Paschall’s star turn even more intriguing is that he’s operating with the patron saint of second rounders, Green, serving as a mentor. If anyone understands how to appreciate the sudden rise and impact of a second-round pick (Paschall went No. 41 in 2019), it’s the Warriors. Paschall burst on the scene with a 34-point, 13-round performance on his birthday against the Portland Trail Blazers. An undersized power forward (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) with a blue-blood college pedigree (Villanova), Paschall plays with a confidence and awareness on both ends that should remind Bay Area fans of Green’s rise years ago.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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