Many of this year’s top prospects either decided against playing in scrimmages at the NBA Draft Combine last week or opted entirely against participating – including measurements and media – but there was still much to be gleaned from the annual scouting extravaganza with dozens of this year’s top prospects all gathered together in front of scouts, executives and NBA decision-makers.
Those who did participants were rewarded with premium exposure in front of important people worth impressing, and many with that shot stole the show, ranging from guards to bigs, the shortest prospect to some of the biggest – and everyone else in between.
Here are five takeaways from the scouting combine as we wrap up the combine.
Top prospects continue trend of not participating
This appears to be a thing that will stick with respect to the draft combine. Many of the top prospects in recent years have not competed at the combine and those that are clearly lottery picks again shied away from doing so this week. Those included Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey – all likely top-five picks – as well as G League Ignite standout Jaden Hardy, Memphis’ Jalen Duren and Banchero’s teammate at Duke, AJ Griffin. No participation. Zilch. Nada.
Several other likely first-rounders and potential lottery picks like Keegan Murray and Jeremy Sochan didn’t even measure on top of not competing. Some, like Malaki Branham and Johnny Davis, measured and did media but did not participate.
There’s hardly any appeal to performing for top prospects and probably far more to lose than to gain in doing so, to be totally fair, but it’s still a disappointing trend. It’s hard to get too excited about the impact of the preeminent scouting combine if the world’s best draft-eligible prospects aren’t competing. Unfortunately, this continues a trend that I suspect this will continue to be the norm in the coming years.
Old school bigs have strong weeks
The NBA seems to be moving more and more towards favoring modern-day bigs – centers who can run the rim as lob threats or as rim protectors, with the ability to shoot the 3-point shot a huge plus – but this week some of the more old school style bigs had strong showings.
Duke big man Mark Williams was the star of the bunch, as he measured 7-feet tall with a stunning 9-foot-9 standing reach – No. 1 among prospects and ahead of the next-longest by four inches. For a player billed as a rim protector with length, his measurements fit his scouting report to a T.
Louisiana Tech big man Kenneth Lofton Jr. is another skilled big whose talents rose to the top. Though his 6-7, 275-pound frame isn’t ideal for an NBA center, his craft with the ball in his hands as a scorer and passer combined with his shooting and glue-guy traits certainly popped. He’s a non-traditional prospect purely from his body style, but he plays like a future NBA player.
Purdue’s Trevion Williams and G League Ignite’s Michael Foster round out this bunch of bigs who all had moments this week as well. Williams’ appeal as always lies in his versatility, as he acted as a quasi-point guard with his playmaking skills. Foster’s physically mature and NBA frame was promising. He’s not someone I had on the Big Board but could be someone who sneaks into the top 75 of my rankings after this week.
Mystery around Sharpe persists
Expected, but still disappointing news: Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe was one of the highest-profile prospects not to take place in competition this week. He only did measurements, with his nearly 7-foot wingspan drawing some attention.
Accordingly, Sharpe’s standing in the NBA remains a mystery since he did not play last season while at Kentucky and has not been seen in a competitive environment since his time on the Nike EYBL circuit. The chance to possibly solidify himself in a competitive setting like the Combine may have done his draft stock well.
Yet Sharpe’s still trending as a top-10 pick and possibly much higher as the aura and mystery around him continues to loom. So hey, maybe it wasn’t such a bad decision. His pedigree has teams interested. The former No. 1 overall recruit is 6-6 with a nearly 50 inch vertical, long arms and shot-making to boot. He’s a lottery pick on pure talent. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see him taking on the challenge against other prospects.
Fringe first-round guards state their cases
Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler finished first in the vertical jump at 41.5 inches and second in the pro lane drill. Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams measured with a 7-2 wingspan, a remarkable amount of length for a 6-6 wing to go with his already-solid 3-point shooting numbers in college. And Kansas’ Christian Braun notched a 40-inch max vertical, all while showcasing the competitive fire and shooting that makes him so intriguing as a prospect.
All three showed flashes and showcased why they may be deserving of first-round status this year. Chandler’s size – or lack thereof – has been of concern, but you can’t question his explosiveness. Williams’ unknown status is suddenly less of a problem, as he looked like one of the better players at the combine. And Braun’s athleticism, never a question, was officially validated this week. All three I have ranked as fringe first-rounders; all three may be moving into my top 30. There was a lot to gain from this group in particular, and they left Chicago in better standing than when they first arrived.
Buzz surrounds possible promises
I’m certainly not in position to speculate wildly about potential draft promises, but [puts on clown hat] we should absolutely speculate wildly about potential promises.
Wake Forest wing Jake LaRavia is one to watch after he withdrew before scrimmages, thanks to strong measurements and a solid showing in shooting drills. He’s been a late riser in this process as teams dig into his tape. He’s 6-8 and a killer spot-up shooter with great range.
The aforementioned Lofton Jr. also sat out scrimmages on Friday. This followed up one of the better showings at the G League Elite camp where he earned a way into the Combine. I suspect he’s not a first-round talent, so a promise does not seem like a certainty, but he certainly could have played his way into top-40 territory. Could be one of the most productive players in college hoops next season if he returns.
NC State guard Terquavion Smith is another name of note here. He too had a strong week that led to pulling out of competition on Friday. His scoring and athleticism was on full display in the scrimmage format, and he had a blow-up of 17 points Thursday to top off his week. His 3.8% body fat also ranked as the second-lowest among players who participated.
Final mentions in this space are Jean Montero and Marcus Sasser, two guards who turned heads early in the week and who later pulled out of competition. Montero’s a near lock to go top 30, possibly top 20. Sasser is more of an unknown, but he was one of the true breakout stars this last week. After missing most of last college season with injury he popped up as a playmaker and scorer and has a really tough decision on deck about whether to stay in the draft or to return to Houston as a potential preseason player of the year candidate on a loaded team.