CHICAGO — The 2016 NBA Draft Combine had more than a dozen players who are still trying to decide whether or not to return to college basketball or go pro immediately.
CBT caught up with many of them and also watched workouts at the combine and spoke to a handful of NBA scouts to get a feel for where each prospect stands as the May 25th deadline approaches. While some players have already officially signed with an agent or opted to go back to school, many others are still weighing their options for next season.
Cheick Diallo, Kansas – After a freshman season that only saw him play 201 total minutes, the former McDonald’s All-American has signed with an agent and will stay in the draft. With the way he played at the combine, this is probably the best decision for Diallo.
Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville – Rick Pitino is expecting his sophomore center to stay in the draft. The 6-foot-10 big man is having a minor heart procedure on Monday and will likely keep his name in the draft. At the combine, Onuaku measured well and showed that he can be a solid rotational big man in the NBA thanks to his ability to score around the basket, rebound his area and defend.
Malachi Richardson, Syracuse – Richardson signing with an agent and staying in the draft doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since the freshman wing had opted not to play in the combine. The 6-foot-6 Richardson will have a great chance to be a first-round pick if he works out well for a few teams.
Already returning to school
Justin Jackson, North Carolina – The sophomore is returning to North Carolina after a so-so showing at the combine. Jackson told NBCSports.com that he interviewed with 11 teams at the combine and got a lot of feedback regarding his shooting and ability to put on strength. Jackson could have been a second-round selection this year, but with another year of work on those problem areas, maybe he tries to test again next year.
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Players who should go
Ben Bentil, Providence – Showing at the combine that he didn’t need Kris Dunn to be productive, Bentil was very good after an outstanding sophomore season. One of the more productive players in the camp’s scrimmages, Bentil hit shots from the perimeter, scored inside and also measured at a solid 6-foot-8 with a 7-1.5 wingspan. Providence could be in for a rebuilding year and Bentil won’t have Dunn making life easier on him, so it might be time for him to leave school.
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson – One player who will likely make a late decision is Blossomgame, as the junior forward was very solid at the combine as he has a week of important workouts ahead. Blossomgame told reporters at the combine that he’s hoping to stick somewhere in the 25-to-40 range, and that’s very possible after he measured well and showed some good traits during combine scrimmages. With the way Blossomgame performed at the combine, a lot of NBA teams have positive things to say about him and he might be in position to be a late first-round pick.
Marcus Lee, Kentucky – It was not a good camp for the Kentucky junior big man, as he wasn’t productive in scrimmages and didn’t impress that much in athletic testing. Since Lee needs to add weight and increase his skill level, returning to Kentucky might seem like the obvious option. But is Lee going to get that many minutes when Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries, Tai Wynyard, Sasha Killeya-Jones and, potentially Marques Bolden, are all on the roster? Lee probably won’t be drafted, but he might as well get paid to sit on the bench and develop rather than sit a lot during his senior season.
Malik Newman, Mississippi State – One of the draft’s most intriguing players is Newman, a freshman guard who was up-and-down in his first year under Ben Howland. Many have believed that Newman would always be a one-and-done player but he’s seriously considering returning to school with a Mississippi State roster that is much better next season. Newman performed okay at the combine, as he showed he can take (and make) tough jumpers, but he wasn’t great in any one facet. With Mississippi State’s backcourt looking crowded next season, Newman might be best served to leave now if a team really likes him.
Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State – The junior big man is in a solid spot after the combine as Siakam measured in with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and showed that he can be a high-motor big man with a developing skill set. Since his former head coach, Marvin Menzies, is now at UNLV and Siakam is already 22 years old, he might be best served to leave now while his stock is the highest.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall – While the consensus seems to be that Whitehead will stay in the draft, he told reporters at the combine that he’s still deciding on things as his decision will come on Thursday. With his ability to score and distribute a bit, Whitehead is an attractive guard for some teams who want a boost off the bench while others don’t want to deal with the potential headaches of a bad decision maker. Since Whitehead is coming off of a big sophomore season — in which the Big East produced two expected lottery picks and the national champions — I’m not sure his stock is going to get any higher if he returns and has another good year.
Players who should stay:
Josh Hart, Villanova – The defending champion and Wildcat junior guard told NBCSports.com that he’s “50/50” right now with his decision. I went a lot more in-depth on Hart and Villanova’s situation here. Given the way Hart struggled to adapt at the combine scrimmages, another year of building his offensive skills would help a lot.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin – Wisconsin junior forward Nigel Hayes has already played in two Final Fours and a Sweet 16, but he’s also trying to get a feel for what his draft stock is. “All the teams are asking, ‘why are you here?’ They want to see if they’re wasting their time speaking to me and evaluating me and if I’m here to have fun or go on to the next level and be prepared,” Hayes said. With the way he passively went through combine scrimmages, it would be surprising to see Hayes stick in the draft. But this is a good learning experience for next year when Hayes is a senior.
Dedric Lawson, Memphis – One of the combine’s youngest players, Lawson didn’t look prepared at all for this setting as he was completely overmatched during most of the scrimmages. With Lawson’s brother and father still around at Memphis next season, a return to play for a year under Tubby Smith — at the very least — seems like a wise decision for Dedric’s NBA prospects.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – Because of a calf issue, Swanigan has been working through therapy and had to cancel a couple of team workouts. He told NBCSports.com that he’s about 85 percent at the moment and he didn’t look particularly great at the combine. Swanigan was sluggish at times and didn’t do much to help his own offense. He still hasn’t decided on next season, but he’d be wise to consider returning to a solid Purdue team. “I haven’t really thought about [signing with an agent or not]. Just focused on playing and enjoying the process,” Swanigan said.
Melo Trimble, Maryland – One of the more intriguing decisions left is from Maryland sophomore guard Melo Trimble. Since Trimble would be the only returning starter for the Terps, it gives him a unique perspective. “It makes it a lot harder. You’re not going to have any starters come back at all. For me, being the only starter coming back, it would be very difficult,” Trimble said. “If I went back to Maryland I also have people that have been there since I’ve been there — Damonte [Dodd], Jared [Nickens] and Dion Wiley — and everyone keeps getting better. That’s just how it is. The NBA is new faces all the time. It’s tough to think about how [last year’s starters around me are] not going to be back.” With the way he measured poorly, didn’t look in great shape and didn’t play well in scrimmages, another year of Trimble showing he’s a developing lead guard wouldn’t hurt.
Troy Williams, Indiana – It wasn’t a great week at the combine for the Indiana junior wing, but he’s still weighing his options for the future. “I would say I’m in the middle still. I’ll most likely make my decision after this week. Sometime next week, I go back to Indiana, I’ll talk to my family then,” Williams said. Williams shot the ball poorly, was reckless with the ball in his hands and didn’t show that great of a basketball IQ at the combine. I’m not sure Williams has a ton to gain by returning to Indiana, but he would have a potentially great team to play on in Bloomington.