NBA Draft Combine Week Recap | The Prospect Overview
Now that the NBA Draft Combine Week has wrapped up, it is time to recap the events of the week and the prospects who stood out.
NBA Draft Combine week is in the book! After a slew of surprise breakout performances and disappointments, it’s time to take a look back at what we learned. There is a ton to unpack, so let’s get right into it!
It’s Jalen Williams’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams has long been one of “my guys,” so it truly warmed my heart to see him knock it out of the park. It started with his measurements, where he came in at just a hair under 6’6” with a tantalizing 7’2.25” wingspan. During the athletic testing, he posted the fourth-best max vertical and three-quarter court sprint time, showing that while he plays with pace, he’s far from being an average athlete. Over his two scrimmage games, he scored a preposterously efficient 30 points on 16 shots. Williams wasn’t simply having a hot shooting week—he was just clearly better than everyone else on the floor. His handle, wiggle, footwork, and ability to navigate screens saw him get wherever he wanted to on the court. The game looked easy for Williams. While he wasn’t playing against the Holmgrens and Bancheros of this class, it became abundantly obvious that he shouldn’t be discussed with the people he played against this past week. Perhaps no one did themselves more favors than Williams.
Terquavion Smith set the world on fire
Similar to Jalen Williams, Terquavion Smith felt like he was simply too good to be playing at the NBA Combine. As a result, he shut it down like an owner on Bar Rescue. His 17 points on 17 shots doesn’t scream it, but he showed everything you could want from a scoring guard. His floor vision appeared to have improved, he hit threes from deep behind the NBA line, hit tough shots against good competition, and demonstrated soft touch on his floater. He didn’t play on the second day, and it was the right call— he showed what he needed to and didn’t have anything else to gain.
Go Go Gadget Seabron
Terquavion Smith’s teammate Dereon Seabron had himself a great combine as well. Despite not showing much new to his game, he was effective against a better level of competition than he faced in college, which is encouraging for the scalability of his game. His 32 points on 18 shots were a result of his supreme slashing skills. When he wanted to get to the rim, he did. His ability to grab and go off rebounds and deliver passes held steady, too. Though he’s not the most exciting defensive prospect, he’s old for his class, and the outside shot (25.4% across two seasons in college) are all reasonable concerns, his translation at the combine could turn the gears of front offices who see him as a potential gadget player. 6’6” initiators who get to the rack at will and can run the break aren’t easy to come by.
Mark Williams has super long arms
Look, it was pretty obvious to anyone who watched Duke basketball these past two seasons that Mark Williams isn’t exactly stubby. His block and catch radius are part of what makes him so effective as a shot-swatting, play-finishing big man. Still, his 7’6.5” wingspan and 9’9” standing reach almost made me spit out my coffee. 9’9”! That’s not a typo! When you pair those physical tools with his growing intelligence as a defender, ability to get off the floor quickly, and his basketball bloodlines, there is so much to like about him.
Mac and Cheese, Baby! Mac and Cheese!
In my debut piece for No Ceilings, I wrote about Andrew Nembhard, who I called “College Basketball’s Macaroni and Cheese.” The gist of it was this: he’s exceptional at the simple stuff. NBA teams are always going to need a backup guard who can run the pick-and-roll well. Nembhard absolutely feasted in his lone combine game, scoring 26 points and tallying 11 assists. In a post-game interview, Nembhard credited his pick-and-roll ability and noted the opposing teams’ sloppy coverages due to the nature of the event. He’s a cerebral guard who has the propensity to capitalize on mistakes immediately. There are not many ready-made playmakers in this class, and Nembhard looked like one at the combine.
Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollins
I am so sorry for making you think about Limp Bizkit. Just kidding; every day, I pray for a Nu Metal revival. Anyway, Ryan Rollins! The Toledo scoring sensation only played in one scrimmage, but he stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. My hang-up with Rollins has always been his defense, as he wasn’t always keyed in at the college level and tended to die on screens. He wasn’t Marcus Smart this past week, but he looked better without having to carry such a big offensive workload. To top it off, his 6’9.75” wingspan was great to see, as every inch counts toward giving him a longer leash.
Christian Braun and the Case for Just Playing in the Stupid Scrimmages
We’ll talk about a few players who passed on the scrimmages later, but Christian Braun was not one of them. He didn’t light the world on fire, but he looked like a total pro and let the game come to him. In his first game, his shot wasn’t falling, so he found other ways to impact the game, grabbing seven rebounds, slinging six assists, and nabbing four steals. He scored 17 points in his second game, including going 3-for-8 from three and showing more aggression with his trigger than he did in college. Braun demonstrated why playing in these games is lower risk than you might think— his bad game didn’t get him picked apart much on social media, and his willingness to take a back seat and find ways to pitch in on an off-day probably helped his stock more than if he’d just sat out.
Elite Camp Risers
A handful of G League Elite Camp Invitees made their way to the NBA Combine, but two in particular managed to string together a second consecutive impressive outing. Tyrese Martin scored 12 and 15 points, respectively, knocking down open shots and getting to the cup with an improved ball-handling arsenal. Tallying 14 rebounds across two games, his willingness to mix it up on the glass was evident. His two assists per game also displayed his heads-up playmaking, something I noted after his impressive run in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. Martin has been a true King of the Combines. After spending his entire college season on the outside of every major Top 100, he’s broken out in the months following his senior season at UConn, and now he may hear his name called on draft night. He’s been the most exciting story of the pre-draft process for a deep-in-the-weeds sicko like me.
The other Elite Camp standout at the NBA Draft Combine was Kenneth Lofton Jr. In his lone scrimmage, he posted 13 points and posted three rebounds, three steals, and one block. All week long, Lofton showed improved shooting from three-point range. He’d shown an impressive passing portfolio at Louisiana Tech, but he looked even better with improved spacing during the combine events. After losing about 25 pounds, his foot speed and first step have become frightening. Lofton has long been an NBA-level talent, but now he’s getting his body where it needs to be to actualize it. If he can consistently shoot it the way he did this past week, he’s going to be ready sooner rather than later. He’d had some buzz around the time of the U19s, but his name disappeared from the conversation during the college season. After a strong pre-draft process, Lofton appears to have made himself a lot of money. Whether he cashes checks from an NBA organization or receives NIL money via a different outlet is the only question that remains.
John Butler- The Actually Interesting “Is He Too Skinny?” Discussion.
Florida State’s Butler has been a flummoxing player to evaluate. The seven-footer moves exceptionally well laterally and hit 39.3% of his three-pointers last season. However, he has long looked frighteningly thin for the NBA. He makes Chet Holmgren look like Scott Steiner.
Butler’s listed weight of 190 pounds was always suspicious, so when he clocked in at 174 pounds, I wasn’t shocked. Only four players weighed less than him, and they’re all under 6’5” in shoes.
Basketball isn’t bodybuilding, though, and John Butler is a damn good basketball player. Butler hit 5-of-13 three-pointers over two games and blocked three shots in each outing. Though his rebound totals (three in each game) left a lot to be desired, it’s clear that he can shoot and block shots at the NBA level. I’d long thought teams would let Butler go back to school and put on size there first, but when you factor in his side-to-side mobility and ability to process the game defensively, he has everything you could want in a modern big. Well, except for the size. But a refrain we have heard for the past few years is that NBA teams believe in their strength and conditioning programs and aren’t put off by skinniness. Butler could be the most extreme test case we’ve seen of that idea.
This I Promise You
There were a few “draft promise” murmurs. The first one that jumped out was Michigan State’s Max Christie. He was one of many “one and maybe, possibly done” prospects headed into this week. When Christie announced he would definitively stay in the draft and not participate in 5-on-5 play, people started to ask questions. He’s an interesting “buy low” proposition after an up-and-down freshman season. His defensive rotations are better than he’s given credit for, and everyone I’ve ever spoken to believes his shooting is better than he showed. A team may be looking to get him now as a 3-and-D bargain before he drives up his value too high after an emergent sophomore campaign.
The other potential promise moment came when Jake LaRavia pulled himself out of five-on-five play after a series of impressive shooting performances. At 6’8” with a 6’10” wingspan, strong defensive instincts, good feet, knock-down shooting, and plus-playmaking for his position, LaRavia has the makings of a valuable modern 4-man. It would make all the sense in the world for a team later in the first round to commit to him.
There were a few players who made the decision to pass on the scrimmage games that truly stunned me. The biggest was UCLA’s Peyton Watson. A highly-touted recruit headed into the season, Watson had a disappointing year, struggling to score and rarely finding minutes behind Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, and Jaime Jaquez. He’s still seen as a potential “buy low” option with significant upside, thanks to his high school reputation. Still, the decision not to play in the scrimmage shocked me. It seemed like a no-lose proposition. If he performed poorly, so what? Everyone knows he’s a raw prospect who isn’t likely to contribute right away. If he knocked it out of the park, his stock could skyrocket as teams talk themselves back into him.
Another decision that made me scratch my chin was that of JD Davison. His remark that he was “done with college” makes it clear he’s committed to the draft process, but his stock has been tumbling recently. In the $DRFT rankings, he’s fallen from 27th in February to 45th in May. The scrimmages would’ve favored his transition-heavy, up-and-down style of play. Instead, Davison sat on the sideline while guards like Terquavion Smith, Andrew Nembhard, and Scottie Pippen Jr. looked like kings.
I hate going negative, but I have a responsibility to tell you when things aren’t good.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. should have at least considered claiming he fell ill after a chef took a sloppy mud pie and then wiped with too small of a slice prior to serving him food. He followed up on a disappointing freshman season by looking wildly unprepared for the athletic testing portion of the combine. If he was going to perform this poorly, he should have legitimately sat it out or claimed injury. His max vertical leap of 26.5” ranked dead last behind ground-bound big men like Trevion Williams, Orlando Robinson, and Jaylin Williams. He barely edged out Kofi Cockburn and Drew Timme in the shuttle run, was fourth to last in the three-quarter court sprint, and only beat Trevion Williams in the lane agility drill. These are horrific numbers for someone who will be playing the forward spots. With each passing day, I would be less surprised if he heads back to school or signs on with the G-League Ignite for a bounce-back year.
International guard Hugo Besson and Matteo Spagnolo both struggled in the athletic testing as well, placing in the bottom-10 in the three-quarter court sprint and vertical leap categories. The two have long faced questions about their athleticism and ability to handle NBA rim protection, and they didn’t do themselves any favors.
Leonard Miller had been receiving an awful lot of love on Draft Twitter recently. I was skeptical given the nature of his high school film, where he didn’t face high-level competition. After Hoop Summit, I thought he looked solid but raw. He’s an interesting player at 6’10”, especially when you take into account that he’s a late-bloomer, but the notion that he’s a can’t-miss, must-take-now prospect was wild to me. In his first combine game, it was clear that the speed of play was a bit much for him. He traveled, got baited by fakes, played too upright defensively, threw the ball to where players were rather than where they were going, and failed to make snappy decisions. These are kinks that can absolutely work themselves out in time, but it’s important to remember that NBA front offices are far less patient than we would like them to be from a player development standpoint. Plus, there may be gambles NBA teams would feel safer taking than Miller at this stage. His second game was better, but he still struggled with his balance on defense and got burned by the previously-mentioned slow Hugo Besson on a poor closeout. Miller is a true project, and I think it would be irresponsible for the hype train in certain circles to continue at the same pace. He is miles away from being ready on defense and doesn’t have a guaranteed path to scoring at the NBA level. Still, he’s a 6’10” player with wiggle who has shown interesting passing ability. He’s worth a second round gamble, in my estimation, but anything more than that would feel rich for my blood after this week.
David Roddy once received first-round buzz, but I’d be stunned if he goes there now. His defense held up alright, but he’s still a bit too slow for perimeter players and too short to handle bigs in the post. The bigger issue is that his offense didn’t scale up when the court was filled with other professional hopefuls, going 1-for-5 and 4-for-12 in his two scrimmages. His lack of off-ball experience showed in a major way, and he seemed lost without the ball in his hands. Roddy was never going to have a totally seamless transition to the NBA, but the roads appears longer than shorter as of now. The questions were always about his defensive fit, so two frustrating offensive outings will not help his cause.
One of my picks to advance from the G League Elite Camp was Kevin McCullar. I loved his defense all year and thought that with less responsibility, his playmaking and shooting would flourish. Instead, his offense appeared pedestrian, and he forced a few shots. His defense was more “good” than “great,” and he committed a few frustrating fouls. I’ve long been a fan of McCullar’s, but it was a shaky set of outings. He announced his commitment to Kansas if he doesn’t stay in the draft, and that seems more likely than not after last week.