NBA Combine Storylines, Part One
Who Stood Out?
While the value of a strong Combine showing is still very much up for debate in terms of a player's long-term NBA prospects, there is no denying that certain players showed better than others. Here are a couple that caught our (highly subjective) eye in particular, with the help of a great deal of feedback from the dozens of NBA personnel we interacted with in Chicago.
Before continuing, make sure you've checked out part one of this article, which helps explain what happened at the NBA Combine and what it actually means for a prospect long term.
Steven Adams Adams looked like a different player than the one we analyzed on film a few weeks ago, as he showed a higher skill-level than expected and was not tentative or calculated in the least bit. Adams had a tendency to overthink things in his one year in college and looked very mechanical for the most part offensively, but that really wasn't the case here in Chicago. His hands looked much better, as he didn't bobble the ball even once on any of his catches, which was a major issue for him as a freshman. He shot the ball relatively well from the perimeter and put in great effort on both ends of the floor, which goes a long ways considering how impressive a physical specimen he is. Adams has a terrific frame and a near 7-5 wingspan and can run and jump with the best of them, so NBA scouts were definitely paying attention to how much further along he looked offensively in the drills. How much this really means in the grand scheme of things is still very much up for debate, as he still appears to be a few years away from contributing, but Adams did a nice job of increasing his popularity among scouts with the work he put in, and then complimented that by reportedly interviewing extremely well off the court too.
Tony Snell The New Mexico product was criticized when he decided to enter the draft, but he may have known something we didn't at the time. Snell measured out very well here in Chicago in terms of height and length, and appears to be one of the best long-range shooters in the class. He has a very smooth stroke, to go along with a better frame than we initially thought. His ball-handling skills appear rudimentary and there are still question marks about his assertiveness (something he was quick to dismiss in our interview), but there's no doubt that NBA teams are warming up to him, as he appears to be a strong candidate to get picked in the early to mid-second round and possibly even before.
Tim Hardaway Jr With his father in attendance, Hardaway Jr looked like one of the most confident prospects at the Combine, executing every drill crisply and shooting the ball exceptionally well both off the dribble and with his feet set. We charted him making 35 of his 45 college 3-pointers (78%) in one drill. He was strong with the ball in the post and highly aggressive in the competitive portions. With other younger wing prospects looking rather tentative, and some being unable to make a basket period, Hardaway Jr took advantage and was the top performer in his group, which should help get him some serious looks in the first round if he can continue to build on his momentum.
Glen Rice Jr Rice didn't shoot as well from NBA 3-point range as you thought he might considering he was the lone player in attendance who was practicing shooting from that distance all season, but he did a solid job of competing defensively in the one on one and two on two drills. That's fairly important for him considering the fact that he guarded power forwards almost exclusively this season and did so fairly lackadaisically. He showed a solid first step driving in both directions and was explosive around the basket.
Tony Mitchell Mitchell looked like he'd been well-prepped for what to expect here, and he left a positive impression on the first day in particular with his tremendous physical tools. Just in terms of size, length, explosiveness and frame, he stood out clearly and loudly from the other players in his group. He flew up and down the court and was the author of some extremely impressive plays around the basket. He came down to earth a bit in the second day, reminding us of his deficiencies as a decision maker and with his lapses defensively, but all in all had a positive showing in Chicago, reminding us once again of why he was so highly regarded going into this past season.
Jackie Carmichael As one of the most physically mature prospects in attendance, and also one of the oldest, Carmichael did a great job of bodying up opponents inside the post on both ends of the floor. He has strong hands and an excellent frame, and also showed a solid skill-level and basketball IQ in most of the drills. Carmichael also played up to his rep as a versatile big man who is ready to step in from day one, even if his upside perhaps isn't as high as some of the other prospects in attendance.
Grant Jerrett Jerrett appeared to be one of the best shooters in attendance regardless of position, which is fairly impressive considering he's 6-10. It's difficult to find stretch power forwards these days and he seems to fit the bill in that regard at least. He struggled at times defensively and with the physicality of the older players, but showed a high skill-level utilizing both hands in the post and a soft touch. With his long wingspan and standing reach and solid skill-level, Jerrett had a good week in Chicago and could have some strong momentum to build off moving forward in the draft process. He's only 19 years old and clearly a ways away from being able to contribute to a NBA team, but the long-term payoff with him may be a bit higher than some of the other players projected to be picked in the second round, which could help him on draft night.
Colton Iverson Iverson impressed first and foremost with his measurements, coming in a legit 7-footer in shoes with a 263 pound frame and a 9-2 standing reach. While his skill-level didn't look like anything to write home about, he looked very happy throwing his body around in the competitive drills, showing great toughness and intensity and attacking the basket with ferocity any time he was given a chance to. Iverson looks the part of a backup or third string NBA center and could stick with a team thanks to his motor and rebounding ability.
Rudy Gobert It was very interesting first and foremost to see Gobert here considering his background. He probably helped himself by simply showing up and running up and down the floor. Gobert's offensive skill-level looked average at best in most of the drills, but he has good hands and the ability to finish with ease around the rim, which should allow him to score some points with the right personnel around him. Where Gobert really stood out was on the defensive end, where he made a huge impact with his size and length. None of the opposing big man could score on him inside the paint thanks to his amazing 9-7 standing reach and terrific instincts. His body still has a ways to go at 238 pounds, but his frame looks capable of carrying more weight. Gobert may need a few years to develop into a regular contributor, which is not ideal considering he turns 21 the day before the draft, but players with his tools are exceptionally rare, and the feedback we heard from NBA teams was quite strong.
Kelly Olynyk Olynyk was one of the more highly regarded prospects to elect to participate in all basketball activities, and it wasn't difficult to tell why when watching him in the drills. Olynyk is one of the most skilled players in this draft class, looking capable of doing a little bit of everything on the floor. He's an excellent ball-handler for his size, capable of making shots with his feet set or off the dribble, is extremely rangy and unpredictable with his moves, and also proved to be a fairly adept passer. Olynyk measured a poor wingspan and didn't test very well athletically, but there are few big men in this draft with his fluidity and versatility.
Dewayne Dedmon Dedmon shot the ball much better than expected in drills, which combined with his terrific measurements, could very well help him secure a NBA roster spot considering how few players with his size, length and athleticism there are available on the open market. He is not overly skilled in terms of his post moves or feel for the game, but showed a high energy level and was able to make some plays around the basket thanks to his physical tools.
Mike Muscala Muscala was one of the best shooters at the Combine (certainly from 15-20 feet at least) and overall flashed an extremely high skill-level for a player his size with his terrific footwork and ability to finish with either hand in the paint. His 230 pound frame still needs to fill out, and he struggled at times defensively, but it's difficult to find skilled big men his size and he seems to have the type of body that can put on another 15-20 pounds at least in the next few years.
Reggie Bullock Bullock shot the ball very well and also played solid defense in the one on one and two on two competitive action. He's not a prolific ball-handler or an overly creative scorer, but players like him are very much in demand in today's NBA and he did a good job of looking like someone who can play a role and do so pretty quickly at that.
Isaiah Canaan While it was difficult for the point guards to separate themselves in the drills and minimal competitive action playing against each other, Canaan stood out by virtue of making seemingly every shot he attempted in Chicago, both with his feet set and off the dribble.
Ray McCallum We remembered McCallum showing off his hops at the McDonald's All-American dunk contest a few years back, and he did a great job of reminding us of that in Chicago. He showed terrific explosiveness coming up with a number of dunks, blocks, offensive rebounds and more. Point guards with McCallum's athleticism are difficult to come by, and even though his perimeter shot still looks like a work in progress, he still seems to have a little more untapped potential than most of the point guards in this class, which bodes well for his future.
Nate Wolters Wolters only participated in one day of drills after waking up the second day feeling pain in his hip, but he definitely made good use of his time here. He looked like arguably the most creative point guard in the group with the ball in his hands, getting to seemingly wherever he wanted on the floor thanks to his excellent ball-handling skills and array of hesitation moves while also shooting the ball well from the perimeter. He struggled badly on the defensive end, which wasn't a surprise considering how poorly his wingspan measured (6-3 3/4, an inch less than his height in shoes), but offensively there's little doubt that Wolters has what it takes to play in the NBA.
Allen Crabbe Crabbe shot the ball extremely well and generally looked like a player with a very high skill-level. His ball-handling skills appeared to be solid in transition, even if he wasn't quite as effective creating for himself in the half-court, being forced to settle for tough off the dribble jumpers at times. To his credit, he can make these type of tough shots over length and also did not appear to have much of an issue translating his stroke to the NBA 3-point line. Crabbe seems to have added some weight to his frame and should be able to continue to do so in the pros. He measured a long 6-11 ¼ wingspan, tested well athletically, and generally seemed to help himself throughout the week.
Did Not Stand Out
Shabazz Muhammad Muhammad shot the ball very poorly in the first day of drills, going 16/50 (32%) from NBA range in the shots we charted. He was very active and aggressive in the competitive action, repeatedly going at his opponent on both ends of the floor. Being so left-hand dominant and not showing great athleticism, Muhammad is somewhat predictable with his moves, which other players were able to use against him. Defensively, Muhammad put great effort in, even diving on the floor for a loose ball on one memorable occasion. After widely being lauded for his willingness to compete and not back down from competition on the first day, Muhammad elected to sit out the second day of drills for unknown reasons, although he was present for the athletic testing and media session.
Andre Roberson Measuring just 6-6 without shoes and 206 pounds, Roberson is severely undersized for a power forward. He struggled quite a bit in the drills, not shooting the ball well and having a difficult time asserting himself on either end of the floor in the competitive action due to his skinny frame and average skill-level. While it's not a surprise that Roberson will need to make it at the professional level as a hustle player in the Kenneth Faried mold, his body language left a lot to be desired, as he lost his confidence quickly and got very down on himself seemingly.
Jeff Withey Some players just aren't very well suited to showing off their strengths in this setting, and Withey seems to be one of them. He did not stand out from the pack of centers physically, and struggled to distinguish himself in any of the drills with his average skill-level. His lack of bulk and one on one skills didn't help him in the competitive action, and he didn't show great energy or enthusiasm in most of the things he did. Withey is arguably the best shot-blocker and team defender in this draft class, and would have looked much better in five on five action had that type of competition existed here.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Caldwell-Pope struggled with his shooting here in Chicago, which makes things difficult for a player like him considering that's far and away the best part of his game. He didn't do much to distinguish himself athletically or as a ball-handler or defender either in the one on one or two on two action, looking somewhat shy or timid at times, and a bit one-dimensional in others. To his credit, he played within himself and made a couple of nice passes that caught the other wing players off guard, as most prospects here were only looking to shoot whenever they got the ball.
Archie Goodwin The youngest player at the Combine, and also one of the least polished, Goodwin simply couldn't make a shot in Chicago, sometimes missing the basket badly altogether. He clearly lost his confidence and had a difficult time recovering from his poor shooting performance in both days. To Goodwin's credit, he did a solid job of competing defensively and also got to the rim a few times and finished with a nice euro-step. Goodwin will need to improve his shooting mechanics and then do whatever he can to improve his consistency from long-range. Teams knew going into this Combine that he was a long-term prospect, but he struggled to show the good sides of his game here. He'll have to try and reverse his fortunes in his workouts over the next five weeks.
B.J. Young Similar to Goodwin, Young simply couldn't buy a basket in Chicago, showing inconsistent mechanics and sometimes not even hitting the rim on some of his attempts. He did show off his lightning quick first step, but had a difficult time finishing around the basket at times.
Vander Blue Blue's shooting mechanics were all over the place in Chicago, as he seemed intent on jumping as high in the air as he could on every attempt and often released the ball on the way down, seeing very poor results in turn. He did have some nice moments defensively, but had a difficult time getting anything going on the offensive end.