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With the exception of a few big names, most of the top prospects in the 2018 NBA Draft descended on Quest Multisport in Chicago last week for the annual Draft Combine.
While the event doesn’t hold quite the weight that its NFL brethren does, how a prospect performs -- whether in athletic testing, individual interviews or 5-on-5 scrimmages -- can have a major bearing on his stock with the NBA Draft just a month away.
To be clear, the DeAndre Aytons and Luka Doncics and Marvin Bagleys of the world are solidified in the high-lottery. Nothing that happens at the combine -- short of discovering that Bagley is actually, like, 6’5” without shoes -- is going to change that. In fact, two of the three skipped the combine altogether, while Bagley only met privately with teams, bypassing the measurement, athletic testing, and group interview portions of the event.
For lottery-bound prospects, the combine offers little to gain. But for those scrapping to claw their way into the first round, or into the draft altogether, it can mean all the difference.
With some help from our own James Anderson, who was also in attendance for the two days open to the media, here are some of the players who turned heads at the combine:
Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova
Whalen: In talking with James after Friday’s 5-on-5 session, we came to the relatively easy conclusion that no one helped himself at the combine as much as DiVincenzo. He came into the weekend in a similar position to that of Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo last year -- an intriguing prospect, but one that NBA evaluators hadn’t put much time into evaluating. While scouts had actual college footage of DiVincenzo to evaluate, he wasn’t really on NBA radars -- at least not for 2018 -- until his breakout in the NCAA Tournament.
Prior to the combine, DiVincenzo looked like a borderline-first-rounder who many assumed would return to school, but after faring well in both days of 5-on-5 and, more importantly, throwing up top-notch athletic testing numbers, it would now be surprising if he does return for his junior season.
Anderson: The star of this year’s NCAA tournament continued his ascension up draft boards, likely helping himself more at the combine than any other player who took part in the scrimmages. He led all combine participants with a 34.5-inch standing vertical leap and tied for first with a 42-inch max vertical leap. DiVincenzo also ranked sixth among guards with a 10.72-second time in the lane agility drill and clocked above-average times in the shuttle run and three quarter sprint. Similarly impressive, and perhaps more important than any of his drill times, was the fact he measured in at 6’4.5” with shoes -- the same measurement as Lonnie Walker, Josh Okogie, and Grayson Allen, and a taller measurement than notable guards like Zhaire Smith, Khyri Thomas, DeAnthony Melton, Anfernee Simons and Trevon Duval. He was several inches taller than Trae Young (6’1.75”) and Collin Sexton (6’1.5”), but that was not a surprise.
The one knock on DiVincenzo was his 6-foot-6 wingspan, which was the ninth-worst measurement at the combine, but theoretically his height and athleticism should help make up for that shortcoming. At 6’4.5” it’s easy to make a case that he will be able to check point guards and shooting guards at the next level. Obviously he will have a hard time guarding super-fast point guards and bigger two guards, but those are the type of players who cause matchup problems for the vast majority of teams.
He was above average and in some cases elite in the variety of shooting drills, and that performance carried over in the two scrimmages. In 48:28 minutes, he was 7-for-16 from the field and 3-for-9 from behind the arc (16 total points), hitting several deep above the break three-pointers. He also grabbed 13 rebounds, dished five assists, and notched six steals while turning it over just four times over that two-game stretch. Simply put, he was a winning player on both sides of the ball, which was backed up by his team being plus-19 while he was on the court over those two games.
DiVincenzo obviously won’t be a star, and he probably won’t be a starter at the next level, but he doesn’t have to be to be a good pick in the back half of the first round. It would be pretty surprising at this point if he didn’t come off the board in the first 30 picks, and he may have played his way into the 15-to-25 range. His ability to guard most ones and twos while stretching the floor and rebounding well for a shooting guard is very appealing in that range. He also gets rave reviews for his intangibles, and we saw in the NCAA tournament that he is a winner. DiVincenzo’s best fits would be at 17 to the Bucks, 18 to the Spurs, 21 to the Jazz, 23 to the Pacers, 26 to the 76ers or 28 to the Warriors.
Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia
Whalen: I’ve watched Carter play on plenty of occasions over the last few years, but seeing him in person -- and imagining what it would be like to be guarded by him -- was a truly frightening experience. In both days of scrimmages, Carter picked up opposing point guards full-court, driving the likes of Tony Carr (Penn State), Devonte Graham (Kansas) and Jaylen Hands (UCLA), among others, into wearing themselves out just to get the ball into the frontcourt.
On Thursday, Carter helped hold Graham to five points on 2-of-13 shooting, and he baited Hands into a several ill-advised shots in Friday’s session. The lasting image, though, came during Thursday’s 5-on-5, when Carter picked up Carr out of bounds on the baseline after a made basket, forcing Carr to bully his way back onto the court to receive an inbounds pass.
Carter played particularly well in Friday’s scrimmage (17 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast) and left no doubt that he has the defensive intensity any organization covets, but at the end of the day, scouts don’t exactly drool over soon-to-be-23-year-olds with average athleticism and below-average size. Carter measured in at just 6’1.5” in shoes, and while he has a decent, 6’4” wingspan, it’s unlikely to be enough to get him into the top 30 or 35 picks.
Anderson: Here is the measurable darling from the combine. Okogie tied with DiVincenzo for first in max vertical (42”), led all combine participants with a 3.04-second three quarter sprint, tied for fourth in standing vertical (33”) and finished fifth among all players with a 3.03-second shuttle run. He also ranked fourth among guards with a seven-foot wingspan, which is pretty impressive considering he only stands 6’4.5” with shoes.
In the scrimmages he made winning plays on both ends of the court. In 43 total minutes, he scored 26 points on 8-of-19 shooting (2-of-4 from deep) with seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and two turnovers. He also led his team with a plus-21 plus/minus over the two games. Okogie shot 38 percent from behind the arc last year for the Yellow Jackets, so he pretty clearly fits into the 3-and-D mold. It’s quite possible he measured and performed his way into the back end of the first round, as all the 3-and-D wings outside the lottery have clear flaws, and one could argue that Okogie has the fewest flaws of the bunch.
His wingspan and athleticism gives him a shot at defending ones and twos, along with some threes, and his three-point shooting should force opposing teams to respect him on the offensive end, even if he is unlikely to be able to do much besides catch and shoot.
Whalen: Trent was swept up in the wash on a loaded Blue Devils team last season, so it’s easy to forget he was a top-10 recruit in the class and a player many expected to be a clear one-and-done.
The Minnesota native was pigeonholed as a three-point marksman at Duke, and while shot-making will be his primary tool at the next level, he showed that he’s more than just a specialist. Trent measured in at just under 6’6” in shoes and put up a near-40” max vertical, to go with a 33.5” standing vert -- good for third at the combine behind only DiVincenzo and his teammate at Duke, Trevon Duval. He also ranked in the top-15 in three-quarter court sprint and shuttle run times and closed the week on a high note with 22 points, including three three-pointers, in Friday’s 5-on-5 scrimmage.
Trent likely won’t be able to work his way into the top-20, but it’s pretty easy to imagine him finding his niche as a Wayne Ellington-type at the NBA level.
Melvin Frazier, SF/SG, Tulane
Anderson: Frazier is an explosive athlete who stands 6’6” in shoes and has a 7’1.75” wingspan. His 40.5-inch max vertical was the ninth-best mark at the combine, and his 3.08-second three quarter sprint ranked fifth. He didn’t participate in the shooting drills, and only scrimmaged on the first day, likely cementing a spot in the first round. In that game, he played 20:50 minutes and dropped 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting (1-of-3 from three) with one rebound, four assists, four steals and three turnovers.
Like most of the players who stood out in the scrimmages, Frazier is going to have to be a 3-and-D wing in order to have a long NBA career. After shooting 26.4 percent on threes as a sophomore, Frazier shot 38.5 percent from behind the arc as a junior. That improved three-point shooting combined with good length and athleticism makes him an appealing late-first-round target.
Sagaba Konate, C, West Virginia
Whalen: Perhaps the only prospect who played harder than Jevon Carter in 5-on-5 was his college teammate. Known for his emphatic, two-handed shot-blocking at West Virginia, Konate swatted four shots at the rim in 23 minutes of action on Thursday, each one seemingly taking on a higher degree of difficulty.
As he often did at the college level, after each rejection Konata unleashed a primal scream, which was particularly audible -- and a bit unsettling -- in a gym with very little background noise.
Konate didn’t record a single block in Friday’s scrimmage, but he finished with 12 points in just over 20 minutes, flashing increased comfortability shooting mid-range jumpers. Konate has the kind of timing and rim-protecting intensity you can’t teach, but given his age and size, he’ll have a difficult time working his way out of the back-end of Round 2. It’s no secret that Konate is undersized, but he measured in at just 6’ 7.5”, though he did post the best standing vertical (31.5”) and fourth-best max vertical (35”) among big men.
De’Anthony Melton, SG/SF, USC
Anderson: Props to Melton for participating in the scrimmages both days. Nobody would have thought twice about him opting out, as he seems locked in as a first-round pick. In 39:04 minutes, Melton had 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting (1-of-2 from deep) with 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals, three blocks and four turnovers. That’s a great line across two games, showcasing his potential as a 3-and-D wing.
Unfortunately he measured in at just 6’3.25” in shoes, with a 6’8.5” wingspan, so he won’t be an option against small forwards, and may struggle against bigger guards. His game is more about competing defensively and making the right plays than explosive athleticism, as he didn’t really impress in any of the speed/agility/jumping drills. He didn’t shoot it well from deep in college, but he’s only 20 and was held out for the entirety of what would have been his sophomore season, so he can improve there with pro instruction.
Brian Bowen, G, Louisville
Whalen: By now, you’re probably familiar Bowen’s story, but here’s a quick refresher: A blue-chip recruit in the 2017 class, Bowen was a late commit to Louisville before getting caught up in the NCAA scandal that ultimately took down his head coach. Bowen was never cleared by the NCAA and sat out the entire 2017-18 season before transferring to South Carolina. With his eligibility (somehow) still hanging in the balance eight months later, Bowen opted to test the NBA waters at the combine out of necessity.
While Bowen measured well (6’7.5” in shoes with a 6’ 10” wingspan) and certainly looked like an NBA player, he appeared uncomfortable in the first day of scrimmages, committing six turnovers and struggling from the floor. Bowen was much better on Day 2, finishing with 13 points (6-13 FG, 1-4 3PT) and 12 boards in 30 minutes, but the general consensus is that he’d benefit greatly from a year of college basketball. The problem, of course, is that Bowen may not be cleared to play for South Carolina. In that scenario, he’d have no choice but to look head overseas or look to the G-League.
Bowen, himself, has maintained that playing internationally is not an option, but at this point it’s unlikely he’ll hear his name called in the second round on draft night.
On a more positive note, Bowen had the best hair at the combine at it wasn’t even close.
Anderson: Perhaps the highest-projected player to take part in 5-on-5, Evans scrimmaged on the first day and sat out the second day, likely doing what he needed to do to ensure he gets selected in the first round. He was 4-for-9 from the field and 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, but had just one rebound and one block with zero assists or steals. He measured in at 6’5.5” with shoes and has a 6’9.25” wingspan, which are great measurements for a two guard but obviously not great for a three.
The big selling point, however, is that he should be able to check all two guards while capably switching onto ones and threes. He did not participate in the shooting drills, and was not particularly impressive in any of the combine drills, but looks the part of a quality late first rounder, as his skill set fits perfectly in today’s game.
Omari Spellman, F, Villanova
Whalen: Spellman’s measurables -- 6’9.5” in shoes; 7’2” wingspan -- were strong, and his vertical leap (35.5”) was near the top among non-guards, but he really struggled shooting the ball in Thursday’s scrimmage. For a player of his physical profile, the foundation of a decent jumper is there, but his (literally) shaky release is noticeably in need of an overhaul. He went just 1-of-5 from three and missed a few more in the mid-range.
To Spellman’s credit, he bounced back on Friday, hitting 6-of-9 field goal attempts and racking up a game-high five assists to go with nine boards, two steals and a block.
Kevin Hervey, SF/PF, Texas-Arlington
Anderson: The case for Hervey is pretty simple,. He’s got excellent size and he’s a lights out shooter. He measured in at 6’7.75” with shoes and has a 7’3.5” wingspan. That’s the prototypical size NBA teams are looking for, as it allows a player to theoretically switch two through four. Unfortunately, he’s not an explosive athlete (he has torn his ACL in both knees), so he will need to be able to make quick, sound decisions to be a difference maker on that end of the court, and that is to be determined.
During the spot-up shooting drills, Hervey shot at least 60 percent from everywhere 18 feet and out. That shooting translated to the games. In 46:04 minutes, he scored 30 points on 8-of-16 shooting (6-of-10 from beyond the arc). He chipped in eight rebounds, three assists, four steals and one block. Hervey won’t be a force on the glass, but his ability to get steals was encouraging, as there are some questions about his disruptiveness on that end.
He is probably the closest thing at this year’s combine to Kyle Kuzma, as he really lit it up from behind the arc despite coming in with very little fanfare. He won’t go as high in the draft as Kuzma did last year, but I could see him sneaking into the top-40 if a team believes they can turn him into a quality defender.
Alize Johnson, SF/PF, Missouri State
Anderson: I didn’t know much about Johnson before the combine, but he quickly stood out to me as someone built for the current NBA. He measured in at 6’8” with shoes and can handle the ball a little. Johnson also competes hard on both ends, and I can picture him being able to check some threes and most fours, while being able to capably switch onto threes, fours and fives.
In 50:28 minutes he scored 24 points on 11-of-20 shooting (2-of-4 from three), with 19 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and one block with just one turnover across two games. His team was plus-34 when he was on the court. One knock against him is that he doesn’t really protect the rim, but he’s a force on the glass and I could see him initiating some offense on a second unit. The eight assists in those two games were particularly impressive from a forward with literally no hype coming in. He’s already 22 years old, so I don’t see him going in the top 40 of the draft, but if a team thinks he can capably stretch the floor (32.5 percent from beyond the arc in college), he will go in the back half of the second round, where I think he could be a steal.
- We knew Grayson Allen was athletic, but a 40.5” max vertical was better than expected. Allen finished tied for sixth in that category, as well as the standing vertical (32.5”). He also placed in the top-10 in the shuttle run and had the best overall lane agility time (10.31 seconds).
- As expected, Kostas Antetokounmpo looked a bit overmatched at times in 5-on-5, but he had a few highlight finishes at the rim and showed that he has the same ability to cover ground in the open court as his older brothers. He’s still maybe the rawest player in the draft, but it wouldn’t be shocking if someone gives him a shot late in Round 2 with the expectation that he’d develop as a two-way player in the G League.
- Speaking of measurements, Porter came in at just a hair under 6’11” in shoes, though his wingspan was underwhelming (7’.25”) for a player that size. Both Young (6’1.75”) and Sexton (6’1.5”) didn’t help themselves in that regard, but Sexton did show off a 6’7.25” wingspan, more than four inches wider than Young’s.
- After a rough showing at the combine a year ago, Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk bounced back with a much better showing this time around. Mykhailiuk shot at least 60 percent from each of the five three-point zones during spot-up shooting drills and nailed six threes on his way to 20 points in Thursday’s scrimmage. Athletically, Mykhailiuk was middle-of-the-pack, at best, in most drills, though he looked like he was in better shape than last year and improved his max vertical (37”) by four inches. Mykhailiuk will get dinged for his Dillon Brooks-esque wingspan (three inches shorter than his height), but he’s extremely young for his class and will enter the draft with four years of college experience, despite turning 21 three weeks after the combine.
- Curiously, Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo didn’t take part in 5-on-5. It would have been an opportunity for the freshman to improve his stock, especially after his max vertical (40.5”) came in four inches lower than last year’s number. He didn’t kill his stock, but it was nonetheless a bit of a disappointing week for a player whose calling card is his athleticism.
- Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison backed out of the Combine on Wednesday and is rumored to have a promise somewhere in the back-half of Round 1, per Jonathan Givony of ESPN. It’s anyone’s guess which team may have extended that guarantee, but it’s widely believed to be the Chicago Bulls.
- Missouri’s Jontay Porter came into the Combine as one of the draft’s fastest risers, but it now appears as though he’s strongly considering heading back to Columbia for his sophomore season. In hindsight, Porter probably should have taken part in scrimmages, especially after placing dead-last in the three-quarter court sprint, standing vertical and max vertical.
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