The 2013 NBA draft is still over a month away, but Thursday's combine will be a golden opportunity for some of the best athletes in the class to showcase their physical abilities, shooting prowess and aptitude for other critical drills.
Prospects with a lot of upside, no matter how raw, can significantly boost their stock by blowing scouts away with workouts, and several stand out as candidates to do just that.
Below is a breakdown of some of the premier future pros whose natural gifts may net bigger NBA paydays in June's draft.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
The Bulldogs aren't known for their prowess on the hardwood and finished just 15-17 this past season with a 9-9 SEC record. However, it's hard to imagine how dire the cause would have been without Caldwell-Pope.
En route to winning the SEC Player of the Year, the sophomore sensation put up 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and two steals per contest—all team-highs.
At 6'5" and 205 pounds, there is considerable room for Caldwell-Pope to fill out more, but he is already strong with the basketball and has a stellar offensive game with legitimate NBA three-point range.
Me too. Caldwell-Pope is a good athlete and he can really shoot the basketball and he's aggressive.Should end up a Top 10 pick.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 8, 2013
Caldwell-Pope can only help himself at the combine, as his ability to shoot will be on display, along with his exceptional gifts and lateral quickness that allows him to be an effective defender.
C.J. Leslie, PF, North Carolina State
Leslie's stock is perpetually dropping, so he desperately needs an impressive showing at the combine to get him back into the first-round conversation.
at dinner last night, @sandydarity and i talked about c.j. leslie's inability to keep his head in the game. SIX to's in 14 mins.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) February 23, 2013
For a player with Leslie's potential, it's surprising that three years of ball with the Wolfpack hasn't enhanced his stature in scouts' eyes. With a frame of 6'9" and 200 pounds, significant strength needs to be added if Leslie is meant to play the 4 in the NBA.
Given how quick-twitched he is, his effectiveness at rebounding and his still-developing perimeter game, it's feasible that Leslie could be a 3 at the next level.
The post is not where Leslie is most comfortable, though he is showing improvement. When he is able to face-up with his man, he has the explosiveness to get by driving either way with his first step, and he has the craftiness to finish at the rim in any fashion—mostly by emphatic dunks.
In the vertical jump, sprints and lane agility drills in particular, Leslie should shine in Chicago at the combine. His massive, 71.5" wingspan and quickness will also flash his defensive upside (h/t DraftExpress.com).
There isn't really anywhere else for Leslie to go but up in terms of his draft stock.
James Ennis, SF, Long Beach State
Despite being a guard-forward hybrid for the 49ers, Ennis managed to lead his squad with 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. The latter two stats are typically reserved for a traditional big man to be the focal point.
Well, this is an unconventional swingman in Ennis. Thanks to his outstanding vertical and relentless motor, he has the ability to wreak havoc at both ends of the court.
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Ennis, though, has a high release point on his jumper and a compact technique, with the length and height on his takeoff to shoot over most of his counterparts.
Despite being the only Long Beach State player averaging in double figures and the clear focus of opposing defenses, he still shot 49 percent overall and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc, averaging nearly five attempts per game from deep.
That kind of all-around game is what gets players like Ennis drafted, and the buzz surrounding him should only continue to grow after this week.
Don’t forget to catch the 2013 NBA Draft Combine action on Thursday, May 16th and Friday, May 17th. The event will be broadcast both days from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU and 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET on ESPN 2. For reairs of the NBA Combine, NBATV will be airing Day 1 coverage on Saturday, May 18 at 12pm ET. Day 2 replays will be Sunday May 19th at 12pm ET.