CHICAGO — This year’s NBA Draft Combine was the second year in which college players testing the waters were allowed to participate and get feedback from NBA teams. Here’s a look at five main takeaways.
1. The Combine still serves an important purpose for testing players
We saw a handful of players make permanent decisions based on the combine this year.
Duke’s Frank Jackson opted to sign with an agent and stay in the NBA Draft after his first-day performance as he told reporters that he felt comfortable with how he played and how he felt that he belonged in the pros.
Testing well for himself in the combine and playing well in five-on-five, Jackson certainly elevated his profile and having an agent like Bill Duffy is only going to enhance his workout schedule for NBA teams as he hopes to vault into the first round.
SMU’s Semi Ojeleye also looked very good during combine testing as his max vertical (40.5″), lane agility (10.58) and three-quarter court sprint (3.16) all ranked in the top ten among prospects. With all of that athleticism at 241 pounds, Ojeleye has the size, strength and athleticism to be a unique force in the right system. After the combine, Ojeleye also decided to stick in the draft and sign with the agent as the combine also gave him confirmation that it was okay to go.
Others who are testing (more on some below) also received necessary feedback in Chicago through their play and testing against others.
2. Interviews with NBA teams show actual value
Interviewing with NBA teams is another underrated component of the Combine and the week in Chicago. Every team is located within one small area of Chicago and nearly every draft hopeful — combine participant or not — is interviewing with NBA teams.
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson mentioned to reporters that he got a lot of important feedback last year during the interview process that helped him enhance his game. Jackson improved his three-point percentages as a junior and now stands to be a potential lottery pick after being a fringe first-rounder last season. He listened to what teams had to say, got better at those things and helped the Tar Heels win a title, and now he’s a potential lottery pick.
That’s the type of win-win-win situation that this process is hoping to accomplish.
These interviews by NBA teams are being conducted by NBA legends like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. When these players hear criticisms from guys wearing rings on both hands, it registers a little bit more in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone testing decides to return and elevates into lottery status in 2018 based on feedback from this year’s combine.
3. Hamidou Diallo made the right decisions at the Combine
Kentucky redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo is attempting to become the first “none-and-done” player of all time. He spent the second semester this season on the Wildcat roster while going through practices, but he was redshirted to prepare for next season. But Diallo decided to gather information by going through the NBA Draft process and participating in Combine testing.
And as a former five-star prospect who is an elite athlete at shooting guard, Diallo really showed well for himself by going through this process.
Diallo had plenty of buzz in Chicago with his 44.5″ max vertical leap — which would be the highest mark of any player drafted into the NBA since they started testing for this. Also second in shuttle run time (2.79) and third in three-quarter court sprint (3.11) at this year’s combine, Diallo showed that he could be a mega athlete at the next level while he could be steadily climbing up boards.
For perspective, Diallo’s max vertical was three inches higher than Zach LaVine while also running slightly faster. And Diallo also measured well as he was 6’5″ with a 6’11” wingspan. (H/T to Julian Applebome at Draft Express for that great Diallo/LaVine tidbit.)
It was also smart of Diallo to pull out of of the five-on-five portion of the Combine because it might have exposed some flaws in his overall skill level. Diallo might still need to work on the inconsistent jumper that he showed in high school and he might also stand to improve his handle with the ball. But by skipping out on playing at the combine, Diallo protects himself to a degree as only teams who are serious about him will get to see what he’s capable of in private workouts.
All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Diallo during a workout and suddenly he sneaks into the first round of the NBA Draft. That’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion at this point, but Diallo has a lot of people saying good things about him at this point in the process.
4. Tony Bradley remains college basketball’s biggest returning decision
North Carolina freshman Tony Bradley surprised last season as he got in great shape before the year while looking like one of the more productive newcomers in the country. The former McDonald’s All-American played a vital role in helping the Tar Heels win the national championship by coming off the bench. His strong play and winning a title led to Bradley putting his name in the NBA Draft testing process this year.
Currently sitting at No. 40 overall, a second-round pick, on Draft Express, Bradley has an intriguing decision because the Tar Heels still have plenty back for next season while potentially giving him a chance to be a showcase piece on the interior.
With Joel Berry II returning and the Tar Heels losing both Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, that means an ample opportunity for post touches and other scoring opportunities for Bradley. When coupled with the departure of Justin Jackson, it means North Carolina could turn to Bradley as a go-to scoring option at times during the season.
Since North Carolina returns so many weapons from a national championship team, they could be a solid contender to repeat if Bradley comes back next season and elevates his play.
5. The lack of star power was noticeable at this year’s combine.
As the NBA Draft becomes more of a television-focused event, it is hard to imagine the NBA being thrilled about most top picks not showing up to do media sessions in Chicago. In the past, most potential top picks would interview with media at the combine because they were already in town to talk to NBA teams.
But this year’s event lacked serious star power as there were a lot of unanswered questions going around about how this process is playing out. This isn’t me, a member of the media, complaining about the lack of access. It’s me saying that there won’t be as much relevant information being reported about where potential top picks have worked out and who they interviewed with.
It makes for an NBA Draft process where there isn’t a lot of insight from top players.