Six Takeaways from the 2016 NBA Draft Combine

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CHICAGO — The 2016 NBA Draft Combine offered some interesting twists this year since the rule changes meant college players could still play and opt to later go back to school. The combine has been a bit stale in recent years, but this new development meant that current college players got to play against each other in front of nearly every relevant NBA person and it made for an intriguing few days.

1. The new format is a good thing for the players and NBA teams

It quickly became apparent that the new rules to allow college players to test the waters and return to school multiple times has paid off for quite a few underclassmen who were invited to the combine and allowed to play. It seemed as though the NBA opted to select underclassmen who haven’t signed with an agent rather than some battle-tested seniors, but it shed some light on where a lot of on-the-fence college players stand entering the May 25th deadline.

Since players can actually get seen by NBA personnel and they have a chance to interview with NBA teams, this is really a win-win scenario for both parties. If a college player goes through this combine process and still decides to go back to school, they’ll have done so after playing in front of every NBA team while also likely interviewing with at least a dozen of them. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback and it also amounts to relationship building for a future employer.

Jobs are constantly changing in the league and a player could impress someone in an interview one year and that person could become a general manager elsewhere by the next offseason and make a move on that player. It starts to get players involved in the professional conversation and helps them get mentally prepared to make the pro transition, even if they don’t decide to turn pro right away.

2. On-the-fence college players are working out a lot for local teams

One of the interesting things I learned at the NBA Draft Combine is how the players who are still amateurs are going through this NBA Draft process. In the past few years, everyone had an agent with professionally-run training sessions and workout regimens. But with the new rules in place, a lot of players without representation are training on campus with their college strength and conditioning coach.

It also means they have to be aware of NBA workouts. Under the new rules, college players who haven’t signed can also workout for NBA teams, but they must repay any costs if they decide to return to school. This means a lot of players who could return to school are trying to stay local and work out for NBA teams in their region.

Players from the Big Ten seemed to workout with a lot of Central Division teams within driving distance of campus while the same could be said for ACC and Big East players on the East Coast. It means that proximity becomes a new and interesting recruiting tool if a program embraces getting players to the professional ranks. If a college program is in a major market, or close to a lot of NBA teams, that could be an additional recruiting tool as long as these rules are in place.

3. This draft doesn’t appear very strong

The NBA Draft Combine doesn’t feature a lot of potential first-round picks playing in the 5-on-5 scrimmages. Even without that kind of talent on the floor, the games this year showed how this class just isn’t very strong when it comes to depth or star power. There wasn’t a lot of positive chatter from folks at the combine this year in terms of a group of prospects that would bring big returns.

There are some promising potential role players who appeared at the combine, but a lot of players have glaring holes that need to be addressed before they’re ready to really contribute at the pro level. Many have projected that this first round could see a lot of draft-and-stash overseas prospects in the first round. This allows teams not to spend money now against the salary cap while also letting a player develop with more time away.

A lot of teams are also beginning to stockpile second-round picks and use them as assets for potential D League guys and end-of-bench skill guys. There are plenty of players from the college ranks who will likely fall in this category and get a chance to prove themselves in Summer League after falling to the second round.

4. Cheick Diallo takes advantage of 5-on-5

During his freshman year at Kansas, former McDonald’s All-American Cheick Diallo played a total of 202 minutes. Issues with the NCAA and his former high school along with falling out of the Kansas rotation forced Diallo to spend a lot of time on the bench, but he still opted to test the pro process as a highly-regarded player coming out of high school.

Diallo made a statement on the first day of the Combine as he had people buzzing with his 18-point, 4-block performance as he seemed comfortable in the setting. The second day, Diallo followed that up with a solid nine points and 10 rebounds, so it comes as no surprise that he’s staying in the draft after hiring an agent after this weekend.

On an NBA floor in an up-and-down setting, Diallo looked really solid and he could see himself move into a few team’s first-round boards with the way he played. But he also has to show that he can produce in the half court and there is still a lot of time before next month’s draft.

If the motor is running like this and Diallo continues to show well in workouts, this is a pretty weak draft, so he could see himself shoot up draft boards.

5. People are fascinated by Thon Maker

One of the players who drew the biggest media gatherings was Thon Maker. The center is going from high school straight into the draft and it’s a shame he’ll never get a chance to play college basketball because there’s just so much intrigue surrounding his game and his persona.

With a media gathering about two-to-three deep Maker was poised as he went over his background and his process of getting into the draft.

But a lot of question marks remain.

Maker didn’t play in the 5-on-5 games at the NBA Draft Combine and he’ll likely only work out for a select group of teams. When you talk to people about his NBA draft stock it ranges anywhere from lottery to second round. People just don’t know what to make of Thon at this point and he’ll have to do well in workouts to rise in the draft.

This current group of college freshmen will be a ton of fun to watch but Maker would have added a unique player to that crop.

6. Small guards are still finding a way

Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas has become a popular man among players. Not only was the point guard the last pick in the NBA Draft in 2011, but he’s also 5-foot-9.

The rise of Thomas into All-Star has given new motivation to smaller guards like Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Oakland’s Kay Felder.

Ulis just opted to through testing and didn’t play in the combine, but he is still a likely first-round pick after being one of college basketball’s best players this past season. Felder played very well at the combine and has a lot of confidence going into the draft.

With the NBA game going smaller and putting a focus on perimeter shooting and ball handlers, there is still plenty of room for smaller guards who can still make plays. Ulis and Felder are both elite playmakers who should be able to make a roster if given the right tools to work with.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.