The 2023 NBA Draft Combine Recap
The 2023 NBA Combine is in the books! Maxwell takes you through the stock risers, interesting measurements, players with tough choices ahead, and the fallers from the event!
The 2023 NBA Combine is in the books! As per usual, we saw a wide variety of performances. Some players rocketed themselves up boards, others solidified their stock, and a few, unfortunately, had a rough week. Let’s dive right in! But before that, make sure you follow me on Twitter here!
There may not have been a bigger winner than Olivier-Maxence Prosper. The forward from Marquette measured well, coming in at 6’6.75” with a 7’1” wingspan. As far as his scrimmage performance…woah baby. He shut it down after one game, scoring 21 points on 11 shots, getting to the line 12 times, securing seven rebounds, and racking up two assists. Some of it was obvious—Prosper has an NBA body and is ready for the physicality of the league. From a pure frame/athleticism standpoint, I don’t know that anyone in the scrimmages looked more like a guy that you could plop right into a playoff game and hold their own. He got to the charity stripe so much because his aggressiveness, polished face-up game, and strength make him exceedingly difficult for smaller players to contain. There’s a reason he shot 62.4% on twos this season and had a preposterous .515 free throw rate, so to solely write this off as “he got hot” would be ill-advised. This performance matched his track record! This is who he is! He loves to bump bodies, he can jump high and far (40.5” max vert), and contact doesn’t bother his touch. O-Max can get downhill, draw fouls, and finish. Two “new” things popped for him. While I noted his polished face-up game, in college, it was much more simplified, simply because many players struggled to stay in front of him. In Chicago, he was more dynamic in terms of how he utilized his handle, and how he played ball screens. Prosper showed that he’s comfortable putting the rock on the floor for longer periods of time and making defenders dance more. With a downright scary career AST% of 5.5, I had major reservations about his ability to move the ball. That seems to have been more a function of Marquette’s system, though, where Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro played with the ball in their hands while Prosper acted more strictly as a play finisher. At the Combine, Prosper drove with his head up to find the open man and moved the ball quickly. Defensively, he’s always done a great job of preventing players from getting to their spots. He’s long, he moves his feet, and he’s got good hands. Still, his block rates have been below where they should be based on his tools. He’ll need to grow as a weakside rim protector, but we’re also talking about a player with loads of tools who has taken gigantic strides in each of his three college seasons. That isn’t off the table for him. He was 33.9% from three this past year, and his 1-5 mark from three in his lone outing doesn’t erase those concerns, but again, O-Max has improved at a significant clip every year. No prospect is perfect, especially in the late-first, early-second round. Propser has a real chance to go in the first round. Players with his size, motor, and track record of improvement don’t grow on trees. He seems like the type of player who will hit his ceiling and maximize everything he possibly can. With an NBA frame, potent finishing prowess, and defensive versatility, Prosper makes sense as a guy teams would give a guaranteed contract too, especially since he still has heaps of upside and the work ethic to reach it.
Brandin Podziemski had himself a hot start in Chicago. While he did measure small, as had long been speculated (6’3.75, 6’5.5” wingspan), his athletic testing went as well as it could have, especially with regard to his 39-inch max vertical. In the first scrimmage, he set the world on fire. In under 22 minutes, he did it all, posting 10 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. He was carving up the defense with his timing and footwork, and he was able to capitalize immediately when one of his teammates sprung open. His sense of the floor is sublime, knowing where every defender is at all times, and even more importantly, knowing where their momentum is headed and where they are going next. His jumper is easy and repeatable, and his high-arching floater touch is unreal.
In hindsight, I wonder if he would have been better off shutting himself down after that first game, but don’t think calling it a “mistake” is fair, either. The second game he played in was one of the worst in the week, and I don’t mean that on his front—he was fine. The game as a whole was just a mess and everything that people deride when it comes to combine basketball. The ball was sticking, miscommunication was abundant; it was just ugly. Podz didn’t get much of a chance to leave his imprint on the game, he scored two points, and he made some good passes.
Coming into the week, Podziemski doubters pointed to his lack of athleticism and wondered if his rebounding was scalable. It wasn’t a true NBA floor, but he still found ways to get to his spots, the game speed didn’t trip him up, and he still got to the glass because of his savvy instincts. He may not be the biggest and he doesn’t always gain separation, but he’s incredibly smart and his touch is outrageous. He’s going to find a way to make it work in the NBA. I believe a more analytically inclined front office will snag him in the first round, but if that doesn’t happen, anything past the early second round feels wild to me. Air Podz proved that what happened at Santa Clara wasn’t a mid-major fluke, and he’s the real deal.
The Flock Follows the Sheppard
The Combine got off to a pretty normal start for Ben Sheppard. His measurements and athletic testing went pretty well with no red flags, and he showed himself to be a bit more mobile than expected. He scored ten points in his first game and didn’t look out of place, which in reality, is good to see for a prospect coming out of the Missouri Valley Conference. Sometimes, players from smaller conferences can find themselves overwhelmed with the speed and length on the floor, but Sheppard wasn’t. In game two, though, he was on fire, scoring 25 points on 10 shots. He rocketed up boards and is now firmly in the better half of the second round with even more room to climb.
Sheppard had a shooter’s reputation coming in, and fairly so. Last year, he hit 41.5% of his threes on 6.0 per game and hit 48.7% of his threes off screens and 47.6% of his threes in handoff settings, per Synergy. Nothing came easy for the 6’5” wing from Belmont, as he was the top priority on opponents’ scouting reports. This leading man role also helped him grow substantially as a passer and playmaker. He looked comfortable coming off ball screens and he was slinging mesmerizing, needle-threading dimes in transition. Back to a more reduced role, his defensive intensity shined, and his off-ball work as a cutter/mover opened up a few easy looks for him at the basket. The additional size on the floor didn’t faze him, and he didn’t shy away from physicality at the rim.
I’ve been a big fan of Ben Sheppard for some time and noted him as a Top 60 prospect before the start of the season. His further developments as a shooter and playmaker have only further legitimized him. Teams constantly want players who have NBA size, the ability to space the floor, can pass, and are able to hold their own defensively. Sheppard checks those boxes. A first round selection isn’t off the table; at this point, him going undrafted is unfathomable. Similar to Prosper, Sheppard has a fantastic developmental track record, essentially entering Belmont as a non-shooter and leaving as a lethal deep threat who can hit a variety of shots from NBA distance. He’s the type of guy you buy into, trust, and bet on.
Tristan Vukcevic Shuts It Down
If I’m going to take a victory lap on Ben Sheppard, I’ve got to take a big fat L on Tristan Vukcevic. The 20-year-old 6’11” big man, who currently plays for KK Partizan is never someone I “saw it” in while playing in the Adriatic League. He’s always been a stellar shooter for his size and has converted 37.3% of his triples across various leagues this year. However, I misjudged his dynamism as a scorer by viewing him too solely through the role he played, primarily as a spot-up guy.
Vukcevic scored 21 points on 10 shots. While a few were more traditional catch-and-shoot looks, he showed off more of a bag in the mid-range, too. He’s comfortable dribbling and pulling up, hitting tough ones in the mid-range that you don’t traditionally see from a player his size, especially at his age. Vukcevic is truly a well-rounded scorer, not just a knockdown spacer that you park at the top of the key or in the corner. He was so dominant in his lone game that he rightfully shut himself down, having likely secured himself a selection on draft night.
I still have a few questions about Vukcevic defensively. He’s never been a potent rim protector, and he’s a bit awkward when he has to guard in space. Still, he’s a young big man, and even if he’s a bit clumsy, he’s far from immobile. I’ll need to deep dive into his film, particularly past games against players his own age, to get a better grasp of what he’s fully capable of in an expanded role. Holding him out of a Top 60, as I have, seems entirely inadvisable going forward. His size and touch are outrageous for a 20-year-old, and he simply needs to find a way to survive on defense to have a long career at the NBA level.
Amari Bailey Reminds Us Who He Is
UCLA freshman Amari Bailey has been a tricky evaluation for me. A highly-touted incoming prospect, Bailey dazzled in high school as a pace-oriented combo guard. Playing alongside Tyger Campbell this past season, his role changed. He was off the ball more, and he initially struggled as a catch-and-shoot player. This came around later in the season, though. His playmaking seemed a little over-eager, with his 2.2-to-2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio being underwhelming. Bailey would play too frantically when he got a chance to create offense. Defensively, his initial on-ball reactions could be slow, and with a 6’7” wingspan, he’s not tiny, but he can play narrow and get beat too easily. He made up for that, though, playing with a new-found intensity. Bailey would scrap on the glass, make plays, and dive for loose balls.
In Chicago, we got to see the full picture of Amari Bailey again. Through two scrimmages, he posted 14 assists to only five turnovers. He looked more composed and comfortable on the ball. His jumper is still a work in progress, but that’s the case for many players his age. It was a stark reminder that if a player can do something, just because they didn’t do it for one season doesn't mean that their skill disappeared. The reliable playmaker version of Bailey, paired with a competitive streak on defense, is highly intriguing. His stock is on the way up coming out of the Combine. The first round isn’t entirely off the table, but a guaranteed deal/top half of the second-round selection feels like more of a certainty than it did coming into the week.
Isaiah Wong, and the Value of Changing Speeds
Miami’s Isaiah Wong has been on draft radars for a few years now. Standing 6’2.5”, Wong was long considered sort of an undersized combo guard with real athletic punch. He’s got straight-line speed and can soar for jams in the halfcourt. However, Wong was often playing at full force at all times. In the past two years, he’s managed to play at different speeds. By leveraging pace, he’s been able to not only get to his own spots better but also slow down the game for himself as a playmaker while accentuating the value of his burst. This was on full display in Chicago, where Wong was consistently outsmarting his peers on the floor. He posted 11 assists to only three turnovers, easing the “what is he?” concerns. The dude is a point guard. He may not have been a few years ago, but he is now. With quick hands to create steals and the capability to contest well, he’ll be able to hold his own against your standard NBA point guard, set the table on the other end, and operate as a cutter/spacer without the ball. As an older guard in a league that values them less and less, a draft night selection might not be guaranteed, but he did himself a lot of favors in Chicago, and he’ll certainly have some sort of roster spot (whether it’s a two-way or something more formal) before the start of the season.
Re-Thinking Some Big Men
A few big men had strong weeks in Chicago.
Adama Sanogo is at the top of that list. While he wasn’t always the most potent rim protector for UConn’s national title team, the 6’7” big man with a 7’2.5” wingspan is more than capable of guarding in space. A former soccer player, he slides well and moves lightly on his feet. Plus, while he may not have gaudy block numbers, his instincts around the rim are good. He’s also got great touch inside the arc, and he’s willing to take a three when he’s left open (36.5% on 1.3 3PA per game). Sanogo is strong, too, which helps compensate for his lack of height and enables him to nab rebounds against anybody. There’s some passing here, too. One possession that stood out was where he faked a handoff before slinging a pass from the top of the key to Seth Lundy, who burned a defender on a back-door cut. A guy who gets it done on the glass, can hold his own on an island, pass, and potentially space the floor is a draftable prospect.
Johni Broome should consider changing his name to Johni BROOM, because he CLEANED UP this past week! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m trying to delete it. Broome earned the call-up to the NBA Combine from G League Elite Camp, and he continued to look good at the second event. The biggest thing that stands out about him is his physicality. He’s harder to move than a house. Broome is a potent screener, a force on the boards, and a real threat on the block. He has finesse, too, paired with a tremendous sense of his defender’s balance. When someone plays him too far to one side, he’ll take what’s given to him and get himself an easy look. He doesn’t fly off the floor, but his chest swallows up drivers and enables him to garner blocks at a high clip. Add in a burgeoning jump shot (29% from three last season after rarely taking them prior), and he’s more than worthy of a two-way.
Oscar Tshiebwe deserves a level of reconsideration, too. He’s been written off in some circles due to his struggles as a pick-and-roll defender, and those are still entirely fair concerns. Still, he produces as a rebounder and finisher. He had 25 rebounds in two games and scored 26 points. If nothing else, he feels rosterable at some point, because he’s going to find ways to contribute, even if he’s not a playoff rotation guy or someone a team wants to spend draft capital on. That still means something.
Will someone take The Bates?
Coming into the NBA Combine, it was generally understood based on his Memphis Pro Day a year and a half ago that Emoni Bates wouldn’t exactly dominate the athletic testing and measurements portion of the event, and he didn’t. Bates is 6’8.25” with a 6’9” wingspan, he can’t jump very high, and he isn’t very fast.
Still, in the scrimmages, he got buckets. Bates scored 21 points on 14 shots, displaying his ability to hit tough shots. He showed more competitiveness on the defensive end, embraced physicality more consistently, and most importantly, he moved the ball. Bates had some genuine moments as a passer, which were few and far between at Eastern Michigan.
Teams will have pause about the once highly-touted recruit. He doesn’t generate space downhill, and even east-west separation proved more challenging in Chicago. His step-back is his clearest path to a clean look as a shot creator, and that becomes easy to telegraph. Even worse, there’s no way for him to make defenders pay if they sell out on that move. He’s not that athletic, he’s faced off-the-court concerns, and he still needs to show a larger sample of work as a defender and passer before he gets real NBA minutes. Emoni Bates is going to be one of the most fascinating prospects to follow heading into draft night.
Seth Lundy is Every Good Cliche
I adored Seth Lundy throughout the last college season, and he frequently popped up in the “Quick Hits” section of my column. He’s every good cliché. He’s a blue-collar player. A lunch-pail guy. A hard-hat guy. He’s got that dog in him. You can go to war with Seth Lundy. He’s a real scrapper. He’s just a winner. But more than anything, he’s now, in my mind at least, a Top 60 prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft.
While Lundy measured short at 6’4”, he posted a fantastic 6’10.25” wingspan, and he weighs 214.4 pounds. Lundy has NBA length and he’s got NBA strength. He’s a brick wall, but he still moves like a wing. A 40% three-point shooter this past season, Lundy hit it up from deep in Chicago, knocking down 8-of-11 three-point attempts. He took no time to adapt to the new three-point line, even when he was coming off movement. Having played alongside a ball-dominant guard in Jalen Pickett, Lundy knows how to position himself open on the perimeter and cut when his defender loses track of him. Add in his raw power, and he can finish at the rim against bigger bodies. He’s always been a tough on-ball defender, too, using his frame and lateral agility to keep opponents in front of him. A beautiful hit-ahead pass in transition eased my concerns about his passing on the go, too. He moved the ball, posting seven assists to three turnovers in Chicago. If he can be a true connector as opposed to a more bland 3-and-D guy, that wildly swings his trajectory.
Seth Lundy did everything that was asked of him at Penn State. He made tough threes, finished inside, covered the toughest defensive assignment, and hustled like few others to make winning plays. He has the fabric of a winning role player.
Two Clemson prospects had themselves great weeks.
Let’s start with Hunter Tyson, who I’d previously noted as having some “Cole Swider vibes” to him. The 6’8” graduate was a 40.5% three-point shooter on high volume this past season, and he grabbed 9.6 RPG, too. Tyson went wild in his first Portsmouth Invitational game before going down with an ankle injury. He showed up to G Leauge Elite Camp and continued his hot-shooting ways enough to earn an NBA Combine invite. The biggest leap for Tyson has been in terms of his lateral agility. There would be times when he struggled to slide his feet in ACC play, but he’s looking more limber now. He won’t be an unmitigated disaster on defense. At this point, I’d be stunned if he doesn’t at least earn a two-way look given his size and shooting.
PJ Hall similarly started at G League Elite Camp before getting an NBA Combine nod. His counting numbers this past season were deceiving, as he played limited minutes at the start of the year due to injury. Still, he was highly productive. Standing 6’9” with a 7’2” wingspan, Hall converted 39.8% of his threes as a junior. He was 4-of-11 from deep at Elite Camp, and the ones he hit were genuine NBA-level shots. They were from comfortably behind the line, and they weren’t “I am standing perfectly still and I am wide open” looks, either. Add in that he’s a physically strong 241 pounds and can move his feet, and it’s become increasingly clear that he’ll be on an NBA floor at some point.
While Hall didn’t destroy the opposition at the NBA Combine, he was good, and he did a lot of things that raised my eyebrows. Hall’s passing, an underrated skill in college, translated seamlessly. He looked right at home shooting corner threes. His motor was red-hot, making hustle plays on the glass, including a big put-back dunk in his second scrimmage. While it may seem tacky, I also thought Hall stood out as a great teammate. He was visibly fired up for his guys when they made a big play, and his competitive fire radiated off the screen.
PJ Hall is testing the draft waters, so he could still return to school if he doesn’t like his outlook after this week. There is going to be real interest in Hall as a 4/5 who can move, pass, shoot, and compete. Part of me wonders if it may make more sense to return to school and parlay this new attention into a final college season. Either way, PJ Hall playing on an NBA floor feels like much more of a “when, not if” prospect than it did a few weeks ago.
Elite Camp Snubs
There were two big men who I thought were snubbed when it came to getting the call-up from G League Elite Camp. Clifford Omoruyi had a quiet second game, but in the first, his tools were on full display. At 6’10” with a 7’6” wingspan, few players his size present his same size and motor. While his ball skills may be raw, he looked the part of a play-finishing big man who can play in multiple defensive schemes. Colin Castleton was the other. He stifled opponents at the rim while using his physicality to finish and grab rebounds. He’s a known commodity, so perhaps that hurt him in the voting process, but I still feel he deserved the nod given his performance. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s still picked on draft night, and he’ll definitely have some sort of NBA contract come the end of June.
Tough Choices Ahead
For some players, the NBA Combine may have left more questions than answers.
Judah Mintz had a series of good scoring performances, posting 13 and nine points in his two outings. He showed some stuff defensively, too, really digging into opponents at the point of attack. Having been hidden in the 2-3 zone of Syracuse, there were questions about his defense, but he held his own. After shooting 30.3% from three this past season, he was 0-for-2 in Chicago. He also measured small at 6’3” with a 6’3.5” wingspan. NBA life has never been harder for smaller players, and few manage to stick without a reliable jumper. For Judah Mintz, his future is no clearer than it was coming into Chicago, but his defense and physicality have raised his stock with me, personally.
It was mostly a good week for Coleman Hawkins. I’d been wishy-washy on his defense at Illinois, but he looked great on an NBA floor, holding his own in space and blocking four shots in a series of games where few blocked any at all. His passing dazzled in his second game, where he posted seven assists to zero turnovers. I still have reservations about him as a scorer, and I’m not positive he’ll be able to contribute efficiently in that way at the NBA level. But Hawkins is big, he can pass, his defensive outlook is better than it was going into the week, and most importantly, he played a more refined style of basketball. He could be wildly frustrating as a decision-maker at Illinois, but in a more reduced role, he popped. I’d misjudged that, imagining that without the ball, he may have less value. Instead, Hawkins was able to pick his spots and play within the flow of the game. Still projected as a second-round pick, the ball is in Hawkins’s court. Given his size and unique skillset, he won’t magically become less interesting a year from now. The question is simply: “do you want to go in now, or do you want to wait and see if you can be a first round pick next year?”
Dillon Mitchell generated a ton of buzz after shooting well during the skill testing portion of the event. After making a pull-up jumper in his first game, there was a mad dash on Twitter to reconsider what happened during his odd freshman season at Texas. The #5 recruit in his class via the RSCI metric, Mitchell rarely took or looked to take jump shots this past year. He let it fly at the Combine, but the results were shaky after that initial make. He was 1-for-6 and 2-for-9 in his two games. Mitchell can certainly defend and he’s unquestionably a great athlete. That said, he lacks ball skills, leading to a few bad turnovers and missed opportunities. It’s unclear how he scores at the NBA level outside of dunks. Still, players with his past pedigree rarely slip through the cracks on draft night. Mitchell could return to school and look to add to his game, but risk losing his mystique. Conversely, he could enter a lukewarm pool and potentially end up in a less-favorable NBA situation.
Reece Beekman quietly had a nice week, but didn’t generate the headlines that the event’s mega-producers put out. After struggling to score efficiently in his first game, he scored 15 points on nine shots in the second. Beekman’s passing was as clever and composed as it was at Virginia, and his pesky hands got him several steals, as expected. After putting a hamstring injury behind him, he looked more athletic in every sense, too. Still, Beekman will have to decide if he’s okay with a second round pick, or if he wants to try and roll the dice and generate more momentum as a senior.
The Creighton trio of Trey Alexander, Arthur Kaluma, and Ryan Kalkbrenner are all in a tough spot. I remain more bullish on Alexander than the consensus, but he didn’t pop in a major way in Chicago. His pace worked, he made shots, and he converted against physicality at the basket. Still, he didn’t steal the show, and he didn’t get to show off his full playmaking repertoire. Kaluma was forgettable, and while he has an NBA frame, his lack of a standout, signature skill to hang his hat on prevented him from leaving an imprint on games. Kalkbrenner protected the rim well, but in a week where so many other bigs stood out, he got lost in the shuffle. They could all go either way at this stage, but it was a rough week for the Blue Jays prospects.
Weber State prospect Dillon Jones was a massive riser, blowing past Elite Camp to the NBA Combine. The physically strong wing with a 6’11” wingspan used his physicality and handle craft to get to his spots at both events and his heads-up passing does him favors on the go, too. The biggest things for Jones this past week were his fitness and defensive prowess, though. I covered Jones before the season during my No Stone Unturned series, and my biggest concerns at the time were his conditioning levels and who he would defend. No longer does his motor run cold, and with the way he was moving in Chicago, he should be able to hold his own against NBA wings. Jones’s intellect extends to his defense, where he made smart reads on lazy passes to get steals and create transition offense. It may be too late of a push for a player who was largely off the mainstream radar this past season, but I wouldn’t blame a team for swinging on a skilled wing with plus-positional rebounding and high feel in the second round.
Guys Who Are Interesting
Jordan Miller picked his spots and posted good counting numbers with 28 points and 15 rebounds in two games. Still, his athleticism looked a bit muted, particularly in the first scrimmage. He seemed to struggle to get to his spots at times, and he’d pick up the ball when stuck afterward. The 6’4.5” wing is long and knows how to play, though, and he’s parlayed that into production both at Miami and in Chicago. He’ll need a reliable jump shot to stick, and despite the stat totals, he didn’t particularly move the needle for me. Ricky Council IV played his physical, tough brand of basketball, but didn’t take many threes or change the perception around him as a shooter. Princeton’s Tosan Evbuomwan earned a Combine Invite after a strong Elite Camp performance. While his jump shot is a giant question mark, he’s long and strong with a 7’2” wingspan and 215-pound frame, he makes plays for others, and he can defend up and down the lineup. Given that he didn’t start playing until age 14 and he missed a college season when the Ivy League suspended play during the 2020-2021 season, there’s upside in him as a high-feel player with size who can guard a few positions. Mojave King did what he did for Ignite all season—he filled the gaps and made highlight plays with his athleticism. A 32% three-point shooter in the G League, he still needs a reliable jumper to earn a consistent rotation spot, but he’s as clear of a “he won’t get killed out there” guy as you can find at a certain point in a Top 100. Jalen Slawson was up-and-down. He stuffed the stat sheet in the second game after feeling invisible in the first. Still, he’s got size, his feel is solid, and he can move. As an older prospect with shooting concerns, his 0-for-3 from deep didn’t help. Andre Jackson was one of the highest-ranked scrimmage participants, and he didn’t do much to help or hurt himself.
Jordan Walsh gets his own paragraph because he’s the most interesting of this crew. The freshman from Arkansas may return to school, but if he doesn’t, he’s one of my favorite raw upside bets. His feel is tremendous, as evident in his scrimmage performance. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block. Even in his first game when he went scoreless, he still had five assists. At a shade under 6’6” with a near-7’2” wingspan and a solid 204-pound frame, the building blocks are there for Walsh. He can defend, he knows the game like the back of his hand, and he plays hard. The only missing piece is his shot, and he had some scary bad shooting touch moments this past year. But if I’m a front office that believes that my staff can develop his shooting, I’d love to “buy low” on Walsh this year in case he goes back to school and rockets himself out of my draft range next season. Guys with only one thing to fix are the type of bets I love to make at the end of the first round, especially when it’s something more mechanical that can be taught more easily than something like feel or motor.
-Zach Edey was over 7’3” barefoot with a 7’10.5” wingspan and 9’7.5” standing reach. That’s a big guy right there!
-The Thompson Twins measured well, both coming in at a hair under 6’6” with 7’0” wingspans.
-Two of the stranger lottery-range measurements came from Jarace Walker and Anthony Black. Walker came in short at 6’6.5” but compensated with a 7’2.5” wingspan. That gives him an 8’8.5” standing reach—shorter than players like Julian Strawther, and one on par with Maxwell Lewis. Black also came in short at 6’5.75” but didn’t have the extra ++ wingspan that Walker has, with a 6’7.5” measurement on that front. As always, a reminder that basketball games are played on a basketball court and not a tape measure.
-Rayan Rupert and Kobe Brown were two more tape measure winners. Rupert was 6’6” with a 7’2” wingspan, which is critical for him as someone who will be hanging his hat on defense. For Brown, his 6’6.5” height and 7’+ wingspan should help ease concerns about his athleticism. It won’t make him move faster, but every inch of length helps when a player doesn’t have the quickest-twitch reaction times.
Strange Sit Outs
While some players made positive or negative impressions in the scrimmages, some chose to make no impression at all. For certain players, it makes sense. If I’m projected to go in the first round and I have guaranteed money coming my way, I’m not going to jeopardize my money or risk an injury. However, a few players left me scratching my head with their decisions.
The most defensible are up first, and that’s Colby Jones and Kobe Brown. Jones is either in, or near in the first round on most mainstream boards. For Jones, I would’ve been interested to see how his playmaking would have looked on an NBA floor, and if he would have kept up his more aggressive approach to hunting threes that he developed this past season at Xavier. I also thought he would’ve been in a similar position as Christian Braun last year, where even Colby Jones’s “bad games” aren’t bad. He does the little things and stuffs the stat sheet, so an off-scoring game likely wouldn’t have killed his stock. Kobe Brown is ranked lower on boards but has generated positive buzz after measuring well and showing off a slimmed-down physique. Still, as a player closer to the middle portion of the second round than the early part of it, I would’ve liked to see his new frame in action.
Zach Edey measured big, but his choice to skip the scrimmages didn’t sit well with me. There remain serious questions about how well he’ll hold up on an NBA-spaced court, and he chose not to answer them.
I’ve long been under the impression that Mouhamed Gueye is held in higher esteem by front offices than media and Twitter types such as myself. There’s a lot to like! He’s over 6’10” barefoot with a 7’3.25” wingspan and he moves with an uncanny level of agility. Gueye had a great run down the final stretch of the season, too, finally looking more comfortable as a passer and handoff operator. Still, for a player who is typically ranked toward the back end of Top 60s, it was puzzling to me. He’s well worth a swing in the second round, but choosing to sit out when he could have skyrocketed after a big performance was odd. Much like Coleman Hawkins, he’s not a guy who will magically become less interesting. Teams know he’s raw and rough around the edges. A good game where he showed he might be further ahead of schedule than anticipated could have dramatically swung his fortunes.
Julian Phillips and Chris Livingston also make this list. Phillips posted the best max vertical at the event, 43”. At a shade under 6’7” with a near-7’ wingspan, he’s an intriguing athlete with great size and solid defensive instincts. Still, he struggled to score efficiently during his freshman season at Tennessee, and he’s rail thin. I’m not sure how he scores on an NBA floor or brings offensive value in the near future, and I don’t know if his body is ready for NBA physicality at the moment, which are my concerns if I’m drafting him. I know he is tall and can jump high, those weren’t my worries. For Livingston, it was a bizarre choice. He was less productive than Phillips, who can at least point to positive defensive metrics and a savvy passing portfolio. He measured and tested well, but he’s slotted in undrafted territory more often than not. While Phillips has the tools to play the “hey, I’m interesting, bet on me” card, Livingston isn’t in that same league, both from an athletic tools and basketball skill standpoint.
This is my least favorite section. I hate it. Let’s go as quickly as we can.
Mike Miles Jr. had a rough week. He came in at 6’0.75”, a dangerous mark for a small guard. Even worse, he had a negative wingspan of 6’0.5”. Defensively, he was having a hard time during his first scrimmage game and couldn’t get it going on the other end. The smaller guards who stick in the NBA generally have something they can truly point to as a signature skill, and I’m not sure Miles has that. Add in his short measurements, and despite his strength, he may be even more of a hunting target than I anticipated throughout the college season.
Terquavion Smith got it going during his second scrimmage game after going 3-for-16 in the first. Still, that first outing showed the trouble with his game—when his shot isn’t falling, he doesn’t have a way to add positive value to the floor. Still, he’s grown as a playmaker and defender over the past year. That might not always be who he is, but out of the gate, it is a concern.
Terrence Shannon Jr. did a tremendous job during the athletic testing portion of the event. I’d long suspected he’d hang around the league simply because he’s not a super-negative-feel player and he’s so athletic that when he gets it going, he’s a great guy to have on a roster. I don’t believe his jumper will ever be a consistent part of his arsenal, but on the right day, I saw him as a guy who could give quality minutes. He’s also been a good defender who knows how to use his tools to make plays on that side of the floor. While he moved the ball well in Chicago, he went quiet for long stretches. Given a shaky outside shot and weak off-hand as a senior, he’s finding himself passed up by more skilled and higher-ceiling prospects.
Jalen Wilson was 2-of-12 in his two scrimmage outings and seemed totally out of sorts. He earned a rare combine technical (though it was ticky-tacky, in my opinion) after Dillon Jones baited him into a foul. While he was a great, productive leading man for Kansas this season, his lack of a clear NBA-level strength remains. Wilson needed a strong all-around performance, and instead, he looked worse than he did at the same event one year ago.
Omari Moore has garnered some sleeper buzz as a jack-of-all-trades at San Jose State. Those types of prospects can be scary and deceptive. While they may not have clear weaknesses, many times, it will turn out that they don’t have an area of their game that helps keep them above water at the next level. Moore wasn’t atrocious, and he wasn’t ruining things for his team by forcing nonsense, but he did fail to leave an imprint on the game in both scrimmages. I’d rather swing higher on a different prospect.
I’ve long described myself as a Grant Nelson agnostic. While some piled onto his hype train after That Viral Tweet, others reacted with vitriol, deriding him as a raw, losing player in a small conference. Ultimately, I think he’s still an intriguing prospect. He’s a legit 6’10”, and he’s a real-deal athlete who broke the lane agility drill record time. His jump shot is clean as a sheet and projectable despite a lower percentage. Lastly, his feel, which he was knocked for early in the year, improved down the stretch. He averaged 2.6 assists to 2.4 turnovers after the turn of the new year. In Chicago, though, it was obvious that Nelson was still behind the curve in comparison to other prospects. At times, one could forget that he was even on the floor. Still, he’s maintaining his college eligibility, so he doesn’t have to stay in the draft if he doesn’t want to. Nelson could continue to improve and be back again next year if he so desires.
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Also, genuine question: what makes Rupert a better prospect than Walsh?