NBA Combine 2014: 10 Prospects with Most to Prove
The NBA combine is an event that allows scouts and executives to get an up-close look at the prospects they'll be evaluating for the draft.
Prospects are put through drills, measurements, athletic testing and interviews. And for some, this is a chance to move the needle.
These are the prospects who need to capitalize on this opportunity and ultimately answer the questions that scouts have raised about their games and outlooks.
P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends, 6'6", SG
P.J. Hairston spent the season in the D-League after getting suspended from North Carolina for a series of off-the-court violations.
And now he'll have some explaining to do.
Hairston is going to get absolutely grilled during interviews at the NBA combine. General managers and executives are going to ask any and everything in an attempt to evaluate his character.
"I am extremely disappointed for P.J., his family and our team as he will no longer be playing basketball at North Carolina," head coach Roy Williams said in a statement back in December via Eric Prisbell of USA Today. "P.J. made mistakes and I was very disappointed by his actions and now he is suffering the very difficult consequences. He is not a bad kid; he just made some mistakes."
Hairston will ultimately have to prove that these were indeed mistakes resulting from immaturity, and not ones stemming from a deeper issue.
The goal here is to prove he's got some self-awareness, and that he understands the meaning of zero tolerance moving forward.
Because Hairston can certainly play some ball. If he can make a strong impression during interviews, we could be talking about a mid-first-rounder based on legitimate talent and a sharp skill set.
Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5", SG, Freshman
Zach LaVine looked great this year—in flashes. In terms of his whole body of work, it wasn't the smoothest of seasons from start to finish.
LaVine scored just 11 points total over his final five games, and he made just six of his last 31 attempts from behind the arc. That might have had something to do with LaVine's inconsistent role in the offense behind three older guards and alongside the coach's son.
But at the NBA combine, LaVine will be placed on an equal playing field with every other prospect. There won't be any coach limiting his minutes or a methodical offensive set that limits his opportunities. This is a chance for LaVine to stand out by capitalizing on his drills and tests—something his skill set and physical tools should allow him to do.
Shooting and ball-handling drills, three-on-threes, max vertical leaps, agility tests—this is a setting built for LaVine to shine, given his strengths as a spectacular athlete and shot-maker.
Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'3", PG, Junior
Elfrid Payton had a monster season at Louisiana-Lafayette, where he averaged a wild stat line of 19.2 points, 6.0 boards and 5.9 assists. But he put up those numbers in the Sun Belt Conference against some mediocre competition.
Earlier in the year, he shot just 6-of-19 against Baylor and 3-of-11 against Louisville—two power-conference schools with NBA-caliber athletes in its lineups.
At the NBA combine, Payton will have his chance to prove he belongs with the higher-profile prospects—guys who competed against top-notch competition on a game-to-game basis.
He's also going to have to prove he can knock down open shots. In three years at Louisiana-Lafayette, Payton made a total of 30 three-pointers (he shot 25.9 percent from downtown this past season), and he's never shot above 65 percent from the stripe.
If Payton shows any type of promise as a shooter, it could catapult him up boards, given his two-way upside (Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year) at the point guard position.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4", PG, Sophomore
After losing his cool a couple times throughout the year, NBA evaluators will likely have a few questions to ask Marcus Smart.
Between the chair-kicking incident in West Virginia and the shoving incident with a fan in the stands at Texas Tech, Smart will have to prove during interviews that his outbursts were a result of a razor-sharp competitive edge and not a temper problem.
It also wouldn't hurt if he knocked down a few jumpers during workouts and shooting drills, given he shot below 30 percent from downtown in back-to-back years.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure Smart can gain much from the NBA combine. But if he's able to eliminate some potential red flags, it could keep him from slipping in the draft.
Jerami Grant, Syracuse, 6'8", SF/PF, Sophomore
If I'm an NBA evaluator, I'm sitting up close for Jerami Grant's shooting drills. Because I just don't know where he's going to play in the NBA without a jumper.
At 6'8", 210 pounds, Grant doesn't have the strength, rebounding instincts or post game to make a living as a power forward.
And you won't find many wings who don't play behind the arc. Small forwards unable to stretch the floor can really hurt offensive spacing. Grant didn't hit one three-pointer all year as a sophomore.
However, he did show some promise in the mid-range, which is a start. Grant will ultimately have to prove he's a capable shooter from outside who just needs a few years of polish and repetition.
If Grant looks too far away from posing as a consistent shooting threat, I wouldn't be surprised to see him slip in what should be a tremendously competitive first round.
Mitch McGary, Michigan, 6'10", PF/C, Sophomore
After missing the last 27 games of the year following back surgery, and then testing positive for marijuana in April, Mitch McGary will have something to prove heading into the NBA combine.
McGary has been working out for over a month, so scouts will likely be tuned in to see just how fluid he looks on the floor. His predraft physical should also end up playing a major role in where he ends up, as any red flags with his back could really deflate his stock.
He'll also have to answer questions about the failed drug test, but at the end of the day, I can't see this being an issue as long as he doen't make it one during interviews. McGary has a pretty strong reputation, and considering he wasn't even playing at the time of the failed test, the NBA guys might take it easy on him.
McGary's goal should be to leave the NBA combine having convinced teams his back is good to go, and that he's physically and mentally locked in after sitting out most of the season.
And it wouldn't hurt to show teams that elbow jumper is a realistic threat.
Nick Johnson, Arizona, 6'3", PG/SG, Junior
On paper, Nick Johnson projects as a tweener—at 6'3", he's too small to play the 2 without the instincts of a point guard.
However, he's a ridiculous athlete—maybe one of the best expected to participate at the NBA combine. And if there's anything that can make up for a few inches in height, it's top-notch athleticism.
The athletic testing portion of the NBA combine will be Jonhson's chance to make a name for himself among other high-profile prospects.
Shane Larkin did it last year—at just 5'11", he tested as the best athlete in the class thanks to a 44" max vertical leap, the fastest sprint time and the sixth-best agility score. And it ended up boosting his stock.
If Johnson wants a shot at cracking that first round, he's going to have to turn heads the way Larkin did during the athletic tests at the NBA combine.
Semaj Christon, Xavier, 6'3", PG, Sophomore
There's a lot to like about Semaj Christon, but there's also a lot to question. The biggest one entering the season was about his jumper—he hit just seven three-pointers his entire freshman season, and he shot just 67.2 percent from the line.
This year, his accuracy improved, but he hit just 19 three-pointers, or .6 per game, making his 38.8 percent stroke tough to evaluate.
Christon shot below 70 percent from the line again this year, and given that only 11.7 percent of his shots came from behind the arc, his improved long-range shooting accuracy just wasn't overly convincing.
The NBA combine will be a nice chance for Christon to prove that his 38.8 percent three-point stroke wasn't a fluke.
LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State, 6'8", SF, Junior
LaQuinton Ross entered the draft following a productive yet unconvincing season where he didn't really establish any core strengths.
At this point, Ross is a shot-maker—he doesn't create his own shots; rather, he makes the ones that find him in the offense. However, if you're going to live on the perimeter, which is something Ross will likely have to do, given his nonthreatening first step and minimal dribble creativity, you better be a darn good shooter.
Ross hit just 35.3 percent of his three-pointers, and he made just 42 of them all year.
Capable isn't going to cut it, when you consider his limitations as a playmaker (.8 assists per game) and defender (.7 steals per game). Ross is going to have to walk into that NBA combine and shoot the lights out if he wants to draw first-round interest.
C.J. Wilcox, Washington, 6'5", SG, Senior
C.J. Wilcox will enter the draft with a perimeter-scoring specialist label. And that means he's gotta look special during shooting drills.
There isn't much margin for error for specialists. Wilcox has to prove to scouts that he's the best shooter in the gym, considering his jumper is pretty much the only weapon he's offering.
The stats alone won't get Wilcox into the first round. Though he's hit 301 threes in four seasons, he's also shot below 40 percent from downtown in back-to-back years—and you'd expect a future NBA three-point specialist to be above that magic number.
But at 6'5" with smooth athleticism and a quick release, Wilcox has the physical tools and mechanics to get shots off in the pros. He certainly looks the part of an NBA off-guard.
And when it comes to evaluating a jumper, the eye test can be big. Wilcox aces the eye test. If he's able to make it rain during the shooting drills with his size, length and picturesque form, he might be able to convince a playoff team he can help them right away.
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