Bradley University. Indiana State. University of Evansville. These are schools that share the Missouri Valley Conference with Wichita State, ones that Cleanthony Early rightfully dominated. For most of his two years with the Shockers that's all many thought Early was, an average player who feasted on tiny basketball schools.
Then the 23-year-old faced off against Kentucky in the 3rd round of the NCAA tournament and proceeded to treat a university filled with multiple lottery picks like every other team he faced in his senior campaign. His strong play against the powerhouse that is UK certainly helped his draft stock, but his age among other factors has him likely confined to the end of the first round at the very best.
And that is utter bullshit.
Early is going to be one of the most impactful players to come out of this year's draft, and those who pass on him will probably be kicking themselves for the next ten years or so. One of the main complaints about him is that he is a "tweener". A tweener is a player who can't shoot from the outside and isn't capable of playing down low. Early is damn good at both. He has greatly improved his perimeter shooting, especially from beyond the arc. He shot a solid 37.5% from deep, and knocked down four of six against Kentucky. While Early seems destined to be a wing at the pro level, there's no saying he couldn't play the four if the team opted to go small. He's incredibly strong and with his big frame and 6'10" wingspan, has no trouble finishing through contact and getting to the line.
He runs the floor incredibly well in transition, and that 40" max vert allows him to play above the rim, something the Sixers desperately need. If I have to watch one more lob to Brandon Davies I have no problems leaving this cruel and unforgiving world.
Defensively he's rather competent around the perimeter, athletic enough to defend other small forwards with his good combination of size and speed. He's not the most instinctive defensive player in the world, but has notably been a pretty solid help defender.
As it pertains to the Sixers, Early is probably a pretty good fit as a sixth man type off the bench. He is the type of player Brett Brown loves, a hustler who can run all day and plays with a little bit of swagger. Plus, there's something about that buck tooth smile of his that just melts my heart. I love him, and from what I understand, there's a large contingent in the Sixers front office that does as well.
Sleep on him all you want, but just don't be surprised when he beats down the NBA like he did Kentucky, the Missouri Valley Conference, and any other opponent placed before him.