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NBA Draft: 18 Prospects to Watch at the Draft Combine

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

The 2017 NBA Draft is still nearly two months away, but a number of noteworthy prospects will flock to Chicago next week for the annual NBA Draft Combine.

While the event, put on by the NBA itself, officially runs from Tuesday, May 9 through Sunday, May 14th, the bulk of the action -- measurements, athletic testing, 5-on-5 scrimmages --unfolds on Thursday and Friday, the two days open to the media.

Upwards of 60 prospects are expected to be in attendance, although most of the draft’s blue chip talent will forego the event, as has been the case in recent years.

Projected lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith, Lauri Markkanen, and Frank Ntilikina have already confirmed they will not attend, although likely No.
1 pick Markelle Fultz is expected to be in Chicago.

For the draft’s elite prospects, the Combine offers very little incentive. Players who have already proven their worth at the college or international level are in full-on “playing not to lose” mode as soon as the season ends. The Combine is viewed, in many ways rightfully, as an opportunity for evaluators to uncover flaws, which, if you’re a projected top-10 pick, can only hurt draft stock. Plus, there’s the inherent risk of injury, though we shouldn’t pretend every projected lottery pick is spending the next two months encased in bubble wrap.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of opportunity cost, and the draft’s elite stand almost nothing to gain. The counterargument, of course, is that if a prospect is considered a lottery pick, he should have no trouble backing that up against what’s, in theory, mostly inferior competition. And sure, Malik Monk could show up, jump out of the gym and dominate a scrimmage, but that’s what everyone would expect to happen, and it wouldn’t be enough to vault him into the conversation with Fultz, Ball or Jackson, the elite of the elite in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.

Most of the household names staying home leaves Kentucky’s De'Aaron Fox, a probable top-10 pick in his own right, as the top talent expected to participate. Fox, however, will not take part in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, an unsurprising decision considering the closely monitored sessions are typically reserved for prospects who, at best, project as borderline-first-round picks.

Fox isn’t the only notable name who will be in Chicago, so below we’ll take a look at some of the more intriguing prospects to keep an eye on throughout the week.

Bam Adebayo, F, Kentucky


The athletic freshman waffled bit on hiring an agent after declaring for the draft, but his decision to do so likely indicates that his camp believes he’ll be a first-round pick. Adebayo’s athleticism and motor alone make him an appealing prospect, even if he wasn’t quite as dominant last season as some expected. While Adebayo rebounds well, blocks shots and tries to dunk everything inside five feet, his game is very much underdeveloped outside of the paint, which stands as a red flag in an increasingly spacing-obsessed NBA.

Ultimately, Adebayo is young and has plenty of time to develop a better mid-to-long-range game, but he’s the type of prospect who could spend more time in the D-League than the NBA next season. That said, he’s also the type of prospect who can shine in a Combine setting. Adebayo won’t participate in 5-on-5, but his physical testing -- particularly vertical leap and strength assessments -- should be off the charts for a 19-year-old, 250-pound big man.

D.J. Wilson, F, Michigan


Wilson is on the short list of players whose stock could truly be impacted by his Combine performance. He was barely on NBA radars at the start of the 2016-17 season, but a midseason breakout game against Iowa (28pts, 14reb, 6ast) and a strong second half have propelled the redshirt sophomore into high-second-round consideration. The 6'10" Wilson averaged 16.0 points per game during Michigan’s run to the Sweet 16 and finished the year shooting 37.3 percent from three, while blocking 1.5 shots per game. With a strong showing in Chicago, Wilson’s combination of athleticism, shooting and defensive ability could be enough to vault him into the end of the first round. However, Wilson, who will participate in 5-on-5 sessions, has not yet closed the door on returning to school.

Donovan Mitchell, G, Louisville


If Mitchell returns to Louisville for his junior season, the Cardinals will likely be a preseason top-five team. So if he comes down with food poisoning Thursday morning, look in Rick Pitino’s direction. Just saying.
Currently projected as a late-first-rounder, Mitchell is coming off of a breakout sophomore campaign, during which he averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game, while shooting better than 35 percent from three. Athleticism and defensive ability are Mitchell’s strong suits, but he spent much of his time off the ball at Louisville, and at 6’3” he projects as a point guard at the pro level. Proving to scouts he can make that adjustment is what could ultimately solidify his place in Round 1.

UPDATE: Mitchell has hired an agent and will remain in the draft.

Frank Jackson, G, Duke


Duke was so talented last season that it was easy to forget Jackson was considered one of the 10 best recruits in the 2016 class, ranked one spot behind Malik Monk and two spots ahead of Jonathan Isaac by ESPN. Jackson reached double figures in each of his first eight games with the Blue Devils but fell into a mid-season mini-slum that wore some of the luster off of the impressive start. Playing in the shadow Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum, Jackson flew under the radar for much of the second half, save for a couple of 20-points efforts in wins over Florida State and Clemson late in the conference season.

As a prospect, Jackson is tricky to project. He has excellent size for a point guard at 6’4” with a 6’8.5” wingspan, but scouts question whether he’ll play that position in the NBA. Just how comfortable Jackson can be in a “true point guard” role remains unknown. The 19-year-old is a capable passer, but as a big-time athlete with explosive burst, he profiles as more of a score-first guard and doesn’t quite have the height to consistently play off the ball at the pro level.

Jackson, who will not play 5-on-5, should fare well in testing sessions, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’ll stay in the draft. In top-heavy point guard class, heading back to Durham may be Jackson’s best bet, though several factors are at play in his decision. Allen has already announced he’ll be back for his senior season, and if blue-chip recruit Trevon Duval joins fellow-five-star guard Gary Grent, Jr. in committing to Duke, Jackson could have a difficult time carving out a primary role as a sophomore.



Jarrett Allen, F/C, Texas


Allen simply has to show up, flash his wingspan, test reasonably well and not get hurt. If he does those things, he’ll hear his name called somewhere in the middle of the first round on June 22. At 6’11” with a 7.5.’5” wingspan, Allen has prototypical size and length for the modern NBA, and on top of that he’s a very good athlete. The freshman will need some polishing on the defensive end and will eventually have to extend his shooting range, but he flashed moments of comfortability shooting jumpers, despite struggling (56% FT) at the line. Even if he’s somewhat of a project player, Allen’s upside will be enough to convince a team he could be a borderline-All-Star down the road.

Hamidou Diallo, G, Kentucky


Diallo’s path to the Combine is a unique one. The five-star, class of 2017 recruit graduated early and enrolled at Kentucky for the spring semester. All along, the idea was for Diallo to practice but not play, and the team stuck to that plan, even as the Wildcats could have used some extra backcourt depth late in the season. Considering Diallo hasn’t played in a college setting, he’s one of the Combine’s biggest mysteries. The prevailing belief is that he’ll return to Kentucky to lead a rebuilding effort after yet another mass exodus to the NBA. However, Diallo clearly hasn’t closed his mind to the idea of staying in the draft, and he’ll be a name to watch throughout the week.

Diallo was an explosive scorer in high school and is on par with Malik Monk as an athlete, so he’s expected to test well. If Diallo does that and impresses in interviews, whether or not he stays in the draft could become a much hotter topic.

UPDATE: Diallo was initially expected to participate in 5-on-5 scrimmages but has since opted out.


Harry Giles, F, Duke


The fact that Giles is still a projected first-round pick after averaging 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman speaks to just how highly he’s regarded when healthy. The top recruit in the 2016 class suffered two major knee injuries in high school, and he never seemed fully comfortable after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure last fall. Giles made his highly anticipated college debut in mid-December, but he was never truly a factor for the Blue Devils and played just 15 total minutes in the team’s two NCAA Tournament games.

Even so, Giles remains on the NBA radar, though at this point his injury history is probably enough of a red flag to keep him out of the first 15 or 20 picks. However, if he checks out medically and showcases that he’s even 80 percent as explosive as he was in high school, Giles could end up being a steal late in Round 1. Giles has hired an agent, ruling out the possibility of a return to Duke to rehab his stock, and he will not participate in 5-on-5 scrimmages.

Ike Anigbogu, F/C, UCLA


Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf were the headliners for a revitalized Bruins program last season, but Anigbogu has steadily risen up draft boards and could end up hearing his name called before Leaf's next month. The 6’10” Anigbogu averaged only 13.0 minutes per game as a freshman but showcased elite athleticism and quickness for his size, excelling as Ball’s lob-catching partner in transition. Anigbogu hustles and runs the court extremely well, but in terms of one-on-one scoring, he’s very much underdeveloped, sometimes struggling with touch around the rim. That said, he’s only scratching the surface of his potential -- he won’t turn 19 until October -- and whatever team pulls the trigger on Anigbogu will do so with the understanding that he won’t be a major contributor right away.

Ivan Rabb, F, California


Rabb would have been a lottery pick last year, and his decision to return to California will likely cost him 5-10 draft spots. The sophomore didn’t underwhelm, but he also didn’t demonstrate the necessary improvement to solidify himself as a top-15 pick in what’s a much deeper 2017 class. Rabb averaged 14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.0 block per game but his shooting percentage fell off by more than 13 percentage points. On top of that, he failed to showcase more than occasional effectiveness as a three-point shooter (8-20 3PT).

Rabb is still a clear-cut first-round talent, and if he tests well, athletically, he could prevent himself from falling beyond the top 20. Rabb showcased a 7’2” wingspan at the Nike Hoops Summit nearly two years ago, so his measurements should be fine, and he’s considered one of the more NBA-ready big men in the draft, so going to a playoff-caliber team later in Round 1 could, at least in theory, be mutually beneficial.

Jawun Evans, G, Oklahoma State


On paper, this is one of the strongest point guard drafts of all time. As many as five point guards could go in the top 10, something that hasn’t happened since “The Johnny Flynn Draft” in 2009 (and that’s if we’re counting James Harden as a point guard). The likes of Fultz, Ball, Fox, Smith and Ntilikina will likely be long gone by the time Evans’ name is called, but the Oklahoma State sophomore may be the best pure point guard in the class. The biggest knock on Evans is his size. He’s listed at 6-1 but measured in at 5’11.5” (in shoes) at the Nike Basketball Academy last summer. Evans’ wingspan is decent (6’4”) but unremarkable, and while he’s a good athlete, he’s nowhere near the jaw-dropping leaper that Fultz or Smith are.

All that said, Evans’ production -- 19.2 points, 6.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 38% 3PT -- stacks up with any guard in the draft, and he certainly has the “look” of an NBA point guard, for whatever that’s worth. Evans has mastered snaking around screens in the half-court and is as comfortable finishing at the rim as he is slinging cross-court passes for corner threes. The Chris Paul comparisons simply aren’t fair, but Evans’ intangibles are impressive, and he’ll have a chance to be a rotation guard right away in the right situation. Testing well could be key for Evans, as he’s opted out of the scrimmaging portion of the Combine.



John Collins, F, Wake Forest


A late-bloomer out of high school, Collins emerged as one of the five best players in the ACC last season, putting up averages of 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks after modest production as a freshman. At 6’10”, 235 pounds, Collins looks like a prototypical NBA four, but despite being an excellent athlete with reasonably soft touch, he’s yet to showcase an offensive game beyond 17 feet. Collins attempted just one three-pointer in two collegiate seasons. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he’s a good free throw shooter (75% FT) for a big man and looks comfortable shooting off the catch and the dribble in the mid-range. As a passer, Collins has a long way to go, so it’s difficult to ever imagine him as much more than a score-first big man, but if everything breaks right he could top out as a more athletic LaMarcus Aldridge type.

As an under-the-radar high school prospect, Collins didn’t attend the major camps and, thus, doesn’t have recent, official measurement data, so it’s unclear what to expect in that regard. However, his wingspan has been reported in the ballpark of 7’1”, which is fine but not elite for a player with a 6’10” frame. Collins figures to excel in athletic testing, however, and has noticeably improved his body since first arriving at Wake Forest in the fall of 2015.

Jordan Bell, F, Oregon


Six weeks ago, Bell was an afterthought on NBA radars. A Final Four run and four double-doubles -- including an 11-point, 13-rebound, four-assist, eight-block masterpiece against Kansas -- later, Bell has worked his way into second-round consideration. Bell is a bit undersized at 6’8.5”, but he makes up for it with elite athleticism and an uncanny ability to time his leaps.
As an offensive player, he finishes well at the rim (63.6% FG) and is a decent passer but hasn’t shown much interest in stepping beyond the three-point line (career 3-16 3PT). Demonstrating that he can be a true stretch four is what will likely make the difference for Bell long-term. The junior signed with an agent last month, so neither he nor Dillon Brooks will be back in Eugene next season, regardless of what happens at the Combine.

Justin Patton, F/C, Creighton


A virtual unknown who had just one scholarship offer out of high school, Patton redshirted in 2015-16 before bursting onto the scene last season. Patton’s numbers -- 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks -- aren’t eye-popping, but he played fewer than 26 minutes per game and lost one of the nation’s best point guards in Maurice Watson midway through the season. A true seven-footer with fluid athleticism and quick leaping ability, Patton is the blueprint for the modern NBA center, and he’s even flashed comfortability as an occasional perimeter threat (8-15 3PT). He’s still developing as a passer and has shown flashes of above-average vision for a still-developing big man. On tape, Patton bears some resemblance to Skal Labissiere -- mostly the late-season Kings version, not the Kentucky version.

Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin


In some ways, Hayes is the poster child for why prospects skip out on the Combine. Hayes was never considered a lottery pick -- although his stock was probably highest after his sophomore year -- but he was among the prospects “exposed,” for lack of a better term, at last year’s event. By most accounts, Hayes had a disastrous showing, testing poorly and, more concerningly, virtually disappearing during 5-on-5 sessions. Afterward, Hayes had little choice but to return to Wisconsin for his senior season, and while he didn’t necessarily underwhelm, it’s tough to argue he lived up to his billing as the preseason Big Ten player of the Year.

While Hayes came up big late in the season and was outstanding during the Badgers’ run to the Sweet 16, his weaknesses -- poor shooting, horrific free throw shooting (59% FT), general inconsistency -- were often on display, and it’s difficult to peg where, exactly, he’d fit in the NBA. Hayes has the body of a three but plays more like a four, and his spotty three-point shooting all but disqualifies him for a proverbial three-and-D label. Still, Hayes is an incredibly heady player and has a unique set of two-way skills that might just be enough to convince a team to take a flyer late in Round 2.

Sindarius Thornwell, G, South Carolina


A run to the Final Four made Thornwell a household name, but he’d quietly been dominating the SEC all season, taking home conference Player of the Year honors after averaging 21.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game. One of the better all-around players in the country, Thornwell showed marked improvement from three between his junior and senior years (39% 3PT last season, up from 33%), but he remains firmly in second round territory, due in large part to the fact that he’ll turn 23 in November. Thornwell is the classic “high-floor/low-ceiling” prospect, and he’ll likely need a few situational factors to break his way in order to carve out a career as a rotation player.



Terrance Ferguson, G/F, International


The class of 2016 clue-chipper took the Brandon Jennings path of committing to Arizona, only to end up playing professionally overseas (and landing an Under Armour deal along the way). As was the case for Jennings, who played in Italy, Ferguson toiled in a reduced role for his Australian club, making it difficult to evaluate just how developed his game is. Despite modest production, Ferguson is considered a borderline-lottery pick, based largely on the fact that he’ll immediately be one of the 10 best athletes in the NBA. Ferguson and Diallo will compete for the unofficial “freakiest athlete at the Combine” crown, but unfortunately Ferguson will be skipping the 5-on-5 sessions.

Thomas Bryant, F, Indiana


Like Rabb, Bryant probably would have been better served coming out after his freshman year. Bryant had a fine sophomore campaign but, as was also the case for Rabb, his efficiency plummeted (FG% down 16 percentage points), and he was wildly inconsistent during a thoroughly disappointing season that ultimately cost Tom Crean his job. Save for a few standout performances -- 23pts, 12reb vs. Northwestern; 31pts, 11reb vs. Penn State -- Bryant struggled to assert himself offensively and too often drifted out to the perimeter. The issue wasn’t that Bryant can’t shoot threes (38% 3PT), it’s that he seemed more interested in attacking from the outside in, even after bullying defenders at the rim for most of his freshman season.

Physically, Bryant is one of the most impressive prospects at any position in this draft. Athletically built at 6’10.5” with a nearly 7’6” wingspan, he’s an impressive leaper and moves well laterally for his size. Those physical tools never translated to elite rebounding numbers in college, however, and Bryant won’t be able to get by on athleticism alone in the NBA.

Bryant was initially going to attend the Combine to test the waters, but he’s since officially signed with an agent and will remain the draft. He’s expected to take part in 5-on-5, though that always could change in the coming days.

Tony Bradley, F/C, North Carolina


Lawmakers in North Carolina have gone as far as to attempt to pass a bill requiring Bradley to return for his sophomore season. That’s the kind of talent Roy Williams had stashed on his bench behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks for much of last year. Bradley was highly recruited out of high school, but going one-and-done didn’t seem like a real possibility until late in the season. The 6’10” freshman averaged just 14.6 minutes per game but translated that to 17.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.

He’s already remarkably filled out (240 pounds) for a 19-year-old, and his wingspan was measured at 7’4” at the Nike Skills Academy two years ago. Estimates as to where, exactly, Bradley might go if he stays in the draft are all over the place, but his trajectory over the past few months would seem to indicate that somewhere in the 25-35 range seems most realistic. If Bradley joins Theo Pinson and Joel Berry III back in Chapel Hill, he’ll have a great chance to be a lottery pick in 2018. However, next year’s draft already projects to be more frontcourt-heavy, so that’s something Bradley will have to consider.