Though the NBA Draft is still more than a month away, the build-up toward it will take a major step forward this week when the Draft Combine starts Tuesday in Chicago. The basketball version doesn’t get the hype its football counterpart does, but the Combine is still a key evaluation tool used by all 30 teams.
And this year is certainly no exception. Some big names (Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith) have elected to skip the Combine and others (De’Aaron Fox, T.J. Leaf) won’t play 5-on-5, but the draft stock of a lot of fringe picks can be made or broken in Chicago. Last year some (like Malachi Richardson) used a big Combine to vault into the first round, while others (Justin Jackson, Caleb Swanigan and Josh Hart) used feedback from NBA personnel to return to school and improve positioning for this year.
So what players could help or hurt their stock depending on how they do in Chicago? Here are 11:
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Hamidou Diallo, G, Kentucky
Diallo is the rare “none and done” prospect, a highly touted 2017 recruit who graduated from prep school a semester early and enrolled at Kentucky but never actually played for the Wildcats. Because he’s 19 years old, Diallo is eligible for this year’s draft and will be by far the most fascinating prospect in Chicago.
That’s also what makes Diallo’s presence in Chicago fascinating. Because no one has seen him play in six months, he will be the ultimate boom-or-bust player this week. If his skills are advanced and his effort is in the right place, he has everything needed to be a first-round pick. If he’s only incrementally better than he was in high school, then it probably makes sense for him to go to school and re-enter the draft in 2018 -- when he’d likely be a lottery pick.
Editor's note: On late Sunday, Draft Express reported that Diallo will not take part in five-on-five drills at the combine this week. He remains without an agent, meaning he can still return to Kentucky next season.
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Frank Jackson, G, Duke
In a topsy-turvy season at Duke that was filled with injuries, a month-long absence from Coach K and one, ahem, “tripping” situation, Jackson was one of the few constants for the Blue Devils. He averaged 10.9 points and put up 14 per contest in the Blue Devils’ two NCAA tournament games.
Unfortunately for Jackson, he faces the same question entering the Combine that has followed him since high school: Can he run the point? Or is he an undersized two, masquerading as a primary ballhandler?
Considering Jackson averaged just slightly more assists per game (1.7) than turnovers (1.4) last season, it feels like the latter, but he will have a chance to prove otherwise in Chicago. If he can't, he’ll probably head back to Durham for his sophomore year.
Tony Bradley, F/C, North Carolina
Because the 6-foot-10 Bradley averaged a modest 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds off the bench for North Carolina last season, most expected him to return to school for his sophomore year. So you can imagine the shock when Bradley announced he’d be entering the draft without an agent, following North Carolina’s national championship game victory.
Dig deeper, though, and you shouldn’t be surprised. Keep in mind that Bradley got his numbers in just 14.6 minutes per game. When you extrapolate those numbers out to 30 minutes he'd average a double-double. So is Bradley really that far from being an NBA prospect? Or was he simply overshadowed in a loaded UNC front court?
We should start to find that out this week. It feels like an exceptional performance could land Bradley in the first round.
Moe Wagner, F/C, Michigan
Wagner was one of two Michigan big men who were helped immensely by the Wolverines' Sweet 16 run, which he highlighted with a 26-point effort against Louisville in the second round. That – coupled with Michigan's Big Ten tourney title – put Wagner in front of pro scouts for a month and probably helped convince a player already on the NBA’s radar to enter the draft to receive feedback.
Teams should find quite a bit to like. Remember, he is young for his class -- Wagner just turned 20 in late April -- and has the perfect skill-set for a modern NBA stretch-four. He averaged 12.1 points and hit 45 three-pointers last season. Wagner isn’t projected by most as a guy who will be drafted in 2017, but you’d have to think a super-strong performance in Chicago could change that.
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D.J. Wilson, F/C, Michigan
Wilson is the other Michigan big man who used a strong March run to help his draft stock, but he enters the draft under completely different circumstances than Wagner. Wilson is more than a full-year older than Wagner and put up less impressive stats than his teammate (11 ppg, 5.3 rpg). But he is also the better athlete and is much more of a “developmental” prospect; he played just 24 total minutes two years ago as a freshman in Ann Arbor.
Therefore, his draft stock is all over the board. Most have him pegged as – at best – a second-round selection this year, and based on his overall skill he doesn’t strike most as the type who will dominate in a setting like the Combine. But because he’s such a developmental project he also has much more upside than most prospects his age, which could convince one (or more) NBA team to take an early flier on him.
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Devin Robinson, F, Florida
The buzz term in NBA circles right now is “three and D” – a wing player with the ability to defend, as well as hit 3-point shots. And there aren’t many players in this draft who better personify that mantra than Robinson.
The 6-foot-8 Robinson averaged 11.1 points last season while connecting on 34 3-pointers at a 39.1 percent clip. Because he has hired an agent, Robinson is in the draft to stay. But with the way the NBA is trending, you’d have to think that a strong week in Chicago could generate some late first-round buzz for the former Gators star.
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Jordan Bell, F, Oregon
Bell was the backbone of Oregon’s Final Four run, putting up a near triple-double (11 points, 13 rebounds, eight blocks) vs. Kansas in the Elite Eight and then tallying 13 and 16 against a much bigger North Carolina squad in the Final Four. While the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year was already on the radar of NBA scouts as a potential second-round pick, you’ve got to think a big week in Chicago could change that.
Remember, NBA teams drafting in the back end of the first round aren’t necessarily looking for stars but instead players who can step in and fill a role – something Bell did his entire career at Oregon. What better way to get value out of a selection in the mid- to late 20s than by grabbing a guy who is more than willing to do all the dirty work as an energy rebounder/defender and doesn’t care how much he scores?
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Nigel Williams-Goss, G, Gonzaga
Despite serving as one of the breakout stars of the NCAA tournament, Williams-Goss surprised many when he elected to declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent (most assumed if he did declare it’d be without an agent). But dig deeper, and it makes sense. Williams-Goss spent last season as a 22-year-old, fourth-year junior who will be 23 in September. That’s ancient by NBA Draft standards, and there’s no guarantee returning would help his draft stock.
Williams-Goss will need this week to show NBA personnel that he can not only run a team but do it against NBA-caliber size and length. Even with a strong performance, Williams-Goss probably can’t play his way into the first round, but he can solidify his standing in the second.
Omer Yurtseven, F, NC State
Yurtseven was projected as a lottery pick before the season began, but a combination of a nine-game suspension to start the year, along with Mark Gottfried doing Mark Gottfried things at N.C. State, led to a disappointing freshman campaign. He averaged just 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in his only season in Raleigh.
This week in Chicago will allow Yurtseven to show NBA scouts that he can still be what many projected him to be a season ago: a smooth, versatile and efficient low-post player. Doing that almost certainly won’t get him into the first round. But it could leave NBA scouts with a good impression as he returns to N.C. State, where he could potentially play his way into Round 1 in 2018.
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Andrew Jones, G, Texas
Because Texas was so miserable this season (finishing just 11-20 overall) Jones fell of most people’s radars sometime around late January. To his credit, Jones finished strong, scoring in double figures in 15 of his last 17 games.
But Jones still has a long way to go as an NBA prospect. The 6-foot-4 guard has elite athleticism, but his jump shot still needs work (he shot just 32.8 percent from 3-point range last season). Jones seems like a prime candidate to use feedback he receives at the Combine this year to improve into a 2018 first-round prospect.
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Eric Mika, F, BYU
Put simply, Mika might be one of the most interesting players in this draft. He’s certainly got the most unique back story as a 22-year-old sophomore who missed two years of basketball while serving a Mormon mission. Upon his return he picked up right where he left off at BYU (and then some), averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in 2016-17.
Despite those numbers, prognosticators are dubious at best about Mika’s ability to get drafted. The question now is whether Mika cares about those prognostications. Although he hasn’t officially hired an agent, Mika seems intent on staying in this draft, and as a 22-year-old married man it’s hard to blame him if he’s ready to start his pro career.
It will be interesting to see if a strong performance in Chicago can solidify him as a second-round pick.