1 Critical Thing Each Top Prospect Must Prove During 2013 NBA Draft Combine

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 12, 2013

1 Critical Thing Each Top Prospect Must Prove During 2013 NBA Draft Combine

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    Every NBA prospect has at least one thing to prove to NBA scouts. There isn't anyone out there without a tally in the weakness column.

    Some of these weaknesses are related to fundamentals. Others are centered on physical limitations.

    These top prospects should look to eliminate any red flags that scouts believe exist.

    2013 NBA Combine TV Schedule

    Thursday, May 16: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on ESPNU and 2-3 p.m. ET on ESPN2

    Friday, May 17: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on ESPNU and 2-3 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Cody Zeller, Indiana

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    Must Prove: His jumper is a weapon

    One of Cody Zeller's most glaring weaknesses is his inability to embrace contact at the rim. Many of his poor performances came against front lines who were more physical with him down low.

    But he won't be able prove anything at the combine with regard to finishing in traffic amongst stronger forwards and centers.

    What he can do is show scouts that he has a counter for heavy rim protection. It's called a jump shot.

    Instead of recklessly barreling into the paint in an attempt to get closer to the hoop, a jumper will allow him to score without having to absorb any contact at all. All too often at Indiana you'd see Zeller with the ball at the high post either try to beat his man off the dribble or simply give it up to a teammate.

    He has to recognize the scoring opportunity here. A jumper at the elbow or elsewhere in the mid-range will not only increase the threat he poses offensively, but it will give him a higher-percentage look than a shot that must be taken on the move.

    There aren't many skills you can really show off at the combine, but a jumper is one. Zeller must take advantage of the opportunity and prove he can stick 16-to-20-footers with comfort and confidence.

Ben McLemore, Kansas

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    Must Prove: Dribble creativity exists

    Though it could be tough to show at the combine, Ben McLemore must look to show he's comfortable getting to his spots off the dribble.

    At Kansas, most of McLemore's made shots came off one dribble or less—spot-up shooting, off-ball slashing, dunking in transition.

    But rarely did McLemore get the ball and go to work. It's not necessarily a deal-breaker, as he doesn't project as an isolation scorer at the NBA level, but not being able to create or score one-on-one lowers his ceiling as a prospect.

    Every team needs complementary scorers, but typically it's the featured scorers who are considered top-three picks.

    Again, demonstrating dribble creativity will be tough to showcase at an event like the combine, but McLemore should look to be aggressive during the three-on-three portion of drills.

Trey Burke, Michigan

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    Must Prove: He's big, strong and athletic enough to start

    We've seen Trey Burke with the ball in his hands a lot over the past two years. There isn't anything during the drilling portion of the combine that Burke has to prove.

    The physical measurements and athletic testing are another story.

    Burke should hope to measure in at least 6'0", and not 5'11". It's a mental thing, like when stores charge $19.99 for an item instead of $20.00 flat.

    Burke's skeptics also say he isn't athletic enough, considering his size. His sprinting, agility and vertical tests will certainly be reviewed. Many will want to see results that match up with previous participants like Kemba Walker or Ty Lawson— two of the quickest, more explosive undersized NBA point guards.

    There aren't any question marks surrounding Burke's fundamentals as a player. It's his perceived physical limitations that could ultimately keep the Orlando Magic from taking him top three, or No. 1 overall.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    Must Prove: Ability to create his own shot

    Shabazz Muhammad doesn't project as the best combine or workout prospect. Most of Muhammad's offense is driven by instincts as opposed to a refined and polished skill set—which is what these workouts test for.

    Very rarely did Muhammad create shots for himself on the perimeter this past season. He did a lot of spotting up and floating shots off one foot. But you didn't see any step-back or pull-up jump shooting, a tool that propels scorers from one level to the next. Creating separation before rising and firing just did not appear to be a strength.

    The three-on-three portion of the combine will give Muhammad an opportunity to play half-court basketball with space. Five-on-five gets crowded, which can limit driving lanes and scoring opportunities.

    In three-on-three, Muhammad will get the opportunity to work one-on-one with room to operate. Though this drill is just one slice of the combine's pie, it's one that can help move the needle with a standout performance.

Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga

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    Must Prove: Lack of athleticism won't be an issue

    It's not Kelly Olynyk's talent and skill level that anyone's concerned with. It's his lack of athleticism at a position that's evolving.

    Olynyk has something to prove during the athletic testing portion of the combine. Scouts will want to see his footwork during the agility drills, his leaping ability at the max vertical jump, his upper body strength at the bench press and his speed during three-quarter-court sprints.

    At 7'0", Olynyk appeals to NBA scouts because of his ability to score facing the rim or with his back to it. He can step out to 18 feet and knock down or a jumper, shake in the post or attack his man off the bounce.

    But his production came in the West Coast Conference. Scouts want to see if that production was a result of inferior competition or if he's really talented enough to compete with the big boys. Olynyk will be paired with top power-conference centers like Mason Plumlee, Cody Zeller, Gorgui Dieng and Steven Adams throughout the combine.

    Olynyk's goal should be to look like he fits in physically and athletically, and hopefully his refined offensive skill set will do the rest of the talking.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana

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    Must Prove: NBA three-point range

    One of the reasons Victor Oladipo saw his stock skyrocket this season was because of his improved perimeter shooting.

    He didn't make many, but Oladipo saw his three-point percentage rise from 21 percent to 44 percent (30-of-68). Considering the small sample size, scouts will want to put that jumper to the test.

    Oladipo is a line-drive shooter. I currently question whether he has the range to be considered a reliable threat from behind the NBA three-point arc (22 feet in corners out to 23'9", compared to 20'9" in college).

    Those scouting Oladipo will want to see how comfortable he is shooting 26 feet from the rim. If he does prove his improved stroke is no joke, Oladipo could get looks starting at the No. 4 pick in this draft.

Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse

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    Must Prove: Ability to shoot off the dribble

    One of Michael Carter-Williams' most glaring red flags is his 29.2 percent three-point stroke. But more important than looking comfortable during the three-point drills, which are essentially rapid-fire spot-up shooting, Carter-Williams will want to look comfortable and accurate stopping and popping off the dribble.

    For shooting guards, the catch-and-shoot drill is significant. Most of a shooting guard's three-point attempts come in spot-up situations, considering they play off the ball (hence the term off-guard).

    But point guards have the ball in their hands longer than anyone else on a possession-by-possession basis. Scouts will want to see Carter-Williams show he can dribble over a screen and pull up in space, not just from long range but from the mid-range as well.

    Carter-Williams took a lot of tough shots off one foot instead stopping, setting and rising with balance. He only shot 39.3 percent from the floor as a result.

    If there's one thing Carter-Williams should look to prove at the combine, it's that he's capable of shooting off the dribble from dozens of spots across the floor.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

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    Must Prove: He's back to full strength

    C.J. McCollum was the second-leading scorer in the country before breaking his foot in January. McCollum should just want to prove that he's good to go and that none of his quickness or speed was lost as a result of the injury.

    Scouts haven't seen him play in around five months. Getting out there and competing with the other top prospects, along with excelling during the speed and agility testing, will allow scouts to forget he missed most of his senior year at Lehigh.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia

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    Must Prove: He projects as an elite three-point shooter

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made 2.6 threes per game as a sophomore at Georgia. He averaged 18.5 points, though very few of them came in isolation.

    Caldwell-Pope projects as a floor-stretcher—a wing who can catch and shoot from 27 feet away, attack the rim in line drives and complement the team's ball-dominant scorers.

    Caldwell-Pope's three-ball accuracy will be what determines how successful he is at the NBA level. He shot 37 percent as a sophomore—a good number, but one that could be better considering his offensive arsenal will feature the long ball.

    Scouts will want to see him put on a show from downtown, or at least convince them of his potential as a deep threat. Bradley Beal only shot 34 percent from three as a freshman at Florida, but because of his mechanics and comfort level, scouts and executives ignored that statistic.

    Caldwell-Pope is likely to fall in that same boat, but a strong shooting performance will improve his chances.

Mason Plumlee, Duke

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    Must Prove: Mid-range jumper exists

    Mason Plumlee scored a ton of his points at Duke above the rim. That's really what drives his stock—his athleticism, hops and coordination in terms of catching and finishing inside.

    But Plumlee rarely went to the mid-range jumper. We've seen him make it in warm-ups and practice, but Plumlee never showed the confidence to take it during games.

    Considering Plumlee has the foot speed to face the rim and take defenders off the dribble, he'll need to complement that with a mid-range stroke. That way, if defenders play off him with the fear of getting blown by, Plumlee can stick a jumper with the room he's given. It's just another avenue to explore for points, which increases the threat he poses with the ball in his hands.

    Proving to scouts this skill was hidden in Duke's offense should be his primary goal at this year's combine.