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.