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The 14 players with the most on the line at the NBA Draft Combine

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The NBA Draft Combine begins on Wednesday, and meaning that nearly 70 of the best basketball prospects this side of the NBA will be trying to prove themselves up close and personal with NBA front office personnel. 

Interviews, 5-on-5 hoops, athletic testing, physical measurements. 

This is, essentially, a job fair for NBA prospects, and there are quite a few that will have plenty on the line this week.

This list is made up of 14 players that have quite a bit on the line as this week commences.

A player with a * next to their name has not yet signed with an agent.

THE GUYS THAT WEREN’T SEEN

One thing that was clear with the players that were invited to the Combine is that the NBA prioritized the unknown. College basketball All-Americans like Trevon Bluiett and Joel Berry II, players that every NBA scout has seen play dozens of times, did not get invited while talented underclassmen that missed some or all of last season did make the cut.

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MICHAEL PORTER Jr., Missouri: The big thing for Porter in this draft process is going to be his medical records and who he decides to share them with. He missed essentially the entire season after undergoing back surgery, and no team is going to risk a top five pick on him unless their doctors give the all-clear. That likely will not happen at the Combine. What will happen, though, is that Porter is going to have a chance to interview with some front offices, and that could help assuage some other concerns about him: That his arrogance and cockiness is too much. Does he already think he’s an NBA superstar? Is the work ethic there to capitalize on the potential that he has?

JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky*: Vanderbilt is another guy whose season was derailed by injury. He averaged just 17 minutes in 14 games this season, missing the first 17 games of the year with a lower left leg injury, the same thing that kept him out of the lineup for Kentucky’s final six games of the season. Vanderbilt is a big-time athletic with a body that can handle some physicality and the versatility to defend multiple positions. For someone whose career has been marked by injuries, selling a team on taking him early enough that he can get some guaranteed money has more importance for him that it does other players at his level.

DE’ANTHONY MELTON, USC: Melton was in line for what many believed to be a breakout season before getting caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. He didn’t play one possession for USC this year despite putting up impressive per-40 assists, steals and blocks numbers as a freshman. He’s had nearly a full year to train and develop for this year’s draft, and this week will be his chance to show to NBA scouts what he’s now capable of. Proving he has a consistent jumper would be nice.

BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina*: Bowen, a top 25 prospect coming out of high school, did not play this season after the FBI alleged that a $100,000 payment plan was set up to get him to Louisville. Bowen has since transferred to South Carolina, but there is no guarantee that he’ll ever be eligible to play next season. If he can get himself drafted in a range where he can get a guaranteed deal, that might be his best bet.

BILLY PRESTON, Kansas: After spending the first two months of the college basketball season waiting to get cleared, Preston left to sign a professional contract in Bosnia. He played a few games for KK Igokea, but he didn’t make much of an impact. Preston was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, a 6-foot-10 power forward with plenty of talent and even more question marks. There is a lot on the line for him this week as he tries to prove he is an NBA talent with an NBA outlook.

THE 3-AND-D GUYS THAT NEED TO PROVE THEY CAN 3 OR D

Everyone knows how valuable a 3-and-D wing can be, but that’s not the only thing that NBA teams are looking for. They want multi-positional defenders that can prevent penetration as well as rim protectors, all of whom that can, of course, make threes. Here are four names that could play their way into the first round.

KEVIN HUERTER*, Maryland: The guy that NBA draftniks fell in love with from Maryland was Justin Jackson, their long-armed, 6-foot-7 combo-forward who spent much of this season battling through injury. Jackson has some things to prove in his own right this year, but it may surprise some Terps fans to know that there’s an outside shot of Huerter playing his way into the first round of the draft. Huerter, a lanky, 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 14.8 points on 42 percent three-point shooting last season. The key question with him is going to be whether or not he has the tools to be a multi-positional defenders. The shooting stroke is already there.

SAGABA KONATE*, West Virginia and OMARI SPELLMAN*, Villanova: In an ideal world, an NBA team would be able to draft both Konate and Spellman and then blend Konate’s shot-blocking ability — a block-rate of 15.6, better than Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba —  with Spellman’s ability to stretch the floor — 43.3 percent three-point shooting — to create the NBA’s ideal 3-and-D center. Unfortunately, this is not yet something that is medically possibly, which means that NBA teams will be evaluating a couple of things during the combine. Just how much more room for improvement is there with Omari Spellman’s body? Can he lose more weight and get more explosive, thus making him a better shot-blocker, without doing himself any physical harm? With Konate, NBA teams will likely be looking at whether or not his 79 percent free throw shooting (on 100 attempts) is the kind of thing that could lead to being a capable three-point shooter at some point in his career?

MELVIN FRAZIER, Tulane: Frazier’s name is probably not one that you’ve heard all that much about, but there is a very real chance that the Louisiana-native hears his name in the first round. An athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Frazier is well-built with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He also significantly improved his shooting this season, making 38.5 percent of his threes and improving this true-shooting percentage by more than ten points. Defensive-minded, positionally-versatile and three-point range. That has NBA role player all over him. The question that people at the combine will be looking to answer is whether or not this shooting was a fluky season or a legitimate improvement.

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THE GUARDS TRYING TO PROVE THEY CAN BE NBA PLAYMAKERS

TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse*: Trying to figure out what to make of Battle as a prospect is difficult. On the one hand, he spent this season as an inefficient, shoot-first lead guard that had more turnovers than assists. On the other hand, he was more or less the only outlet offensively on a Syracuse team that didn’t provide him with much help and asked him to take a large number of bad shots. Did he shoot under 40 percent on the season because he’s a bad shooter or a good shooter that spent the season taking low-percentage shots? That, along with the question of whether or not Battle is going to be a good defender at the NBA level, are the things he will be looking to prove to NBA teams.

DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova*: DiVincenzo is in such a weird spot here. He was very much in the eye of NBA scouts this year, playing on the nation’s best team alongside four more guys that could end up getting to the NBA at some point. But he also spent the year looking like he was an inconsistent, streaky scorer that struggled when handling the ball against pressure. Can he prove he’s more than that?

JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: We all know how good of a defender Jevon Carter is. The question that needs to be answered is whether or not he can be a point guard. One problem he had throughout his college career was shot selection, but like Battle, was that a product of who he is as a player or the way that West Virginia played?

DEVON HALL, Virginia: People don’t seem to realize just how good Virginia’s players are until they get to the NBA. Tony Bennett has done a terrific job of turning his program into a pipeline for role players at the next level, and Hall might be the next in line. A lefty-playmaker, Hall shot 43.2 percent from three and averaged 3.1 assists despite playing at the slowest tempo nationally and not being a point guard. He has good size and, playing for Virginia, is clearly going to be able to defend. This will be his chance to prove himself worthy of a pick that will get him a guaranteed contract.

JAYLEN HANDS, UCLA*: Jaylen Hands didn’t exactly have a great season. He didn’t defend well this season, he made poor decisions, he’s not a great passer, he’s an inconsistent shooter and he he did all that while playing behind one of the best point guards in the country in Aaron Holiday. That last part might be the one that is the most relevant here. Were Hands’ struggles this season a result of simply being forced out of position by a guy having an all-american season, or should there be legitimate concern about Hands’ future as a basketball player?

 

 

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.