The road to the 2014 NBA draft is officially underway now that 59 prospects from arguably the deepest class in recent history are headed to the NBA draft combine.
Interestingly enough, of those 59, the three headliners of the class—Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker—will not be in attendance.
Oh well. That just means more time to shine for prospects in need of an event they can control stock-wise. Those who are supposed to be in attendance are as follows, per ESPN's Chad Ford:
NBA just released official NBA Draft Combine list. Take a look pic.twitter.com/CgJBCVzSGl— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 12, 2014
It's a great opportunity. It's like you're trying to get hired for a job. If you're going to do an interview or an internship, you've got to try to leave a good statement. Either you get up there and stutter and mess up, or you get some confidence and get it done. So I think that makes it a lot easier. Especially in those interviews, they know everything about you. They know your whole background check. You've just got to be upfront with them, be honest with them and be confident with what you're telling them.
With that in mind, here's a look at the schedule and some players with a lot riding on the outcome.
|May 15||10 a.m. - 1 p.m.||ESPNU||WatchESPN|
|May 15||1 p.m. - 3 p.m.||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
|May 16||10 a.m. - 1 p.m.||ESPNU||WatchESPN|
|May 16||1 p.m. - 3 p.m.||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
Players With Most to Gain
Dante Exum, PG, Australia
There's a certain mystique around Dante Exum that is hard to ignore as the draft approaches.
The star point guard absolutely destroyed the competition overseas and at just 18 years old is set to take his talents to the NBA. Only one question really surrounds his stock—can he keep up the same pace and mature quickly in the face of stiffer competition?
As Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix points out, the spectacle in Chicago is our first look at the answer:
Most fascinating combine attendee: Dante Exum. For a lot of execs, Chicago will be the first real look at the projected top-five pick.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 11, 2014
Like all attendees, Exum will be measured, put through athletic drills and hit the court. If he's smart, he'll participate in every single thing the combine has to offer in order to show his goods.
Should Exum live up to the hype, he'll further cement his status as a lottery pick, and possibly surpass one of the big three who have elected to sit out of the event.
Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
With the news Michigan State's Adreian Payne will miss the combine with mononucleosis, Indiana's Noah Vonleh has a legitimate chance to break away in the power forward arms race the 2014 class provides.
The Indiana product, Payne, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle all have an eye on being the top power forward off the board, with the general consensus being that Vonleh lags a bit behind Gordon and Randle.
Ford elaborated on this battle (subscription required):
He's a lock for the Top 10. The question really is: How high can he go? Two players who play his position, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon, are currently ranked ahead of him right now. Randle is more NBA-ready, and has more offensive skills in the paint at the moment. Gordon is the best athlete of the group, and is already an elite defender. But Vonleh is bigger than both, has a more established outside game than either player and is a terrific rebounder. He's probably less ready than Randle and Gordon to come in and compete as a rookie, but many scouts believe that in three years, he might be the best of the bunch.
In other words, if Vonleh shows up at the combine with a more refined game—we know his athleticism will be in attendance—there is a chance he can overtake the top names at the position.
He may anyway if a team is willing to forgo instant production for long-term potential, but Vonleh certainly wouldn't mind the help via a strong combine.
Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
The man who led UConn to a title win has plenty to gain in Chicago, as his lack of elite athleticism is something widely cited as an issue for his draft stock.
Of course, athleticism is merely half the battle for the prospects en route to the draft. Napier has to interview well and continue to prove via pretty passing and a strong scoring ability that he is still worth a first-round pick.
Since the big title win, scouting praise has poured in, as captured by Mannix and Josh Newman of SNYtv:
NBA Scout on Shabazz Napier: "I'd trust him with the ball more than a lot of backup point guards in the league right now."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 29, 2014
Veteran NBA scout to SNY.tv on Shabazz Napier: "First round. Smart, tough, clever, lives for the big moment. Has improved every year."— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) March 30, 2014
Look, 21.2 points and 4.5 assists per game over the course of the Big Dance is great. Napier's also elite with the basketball, and as the scout notes, he is the one who should be in charge of the rock in critical moments.
But the spectacle in Chicago has to continue to see this from Napier, who has a lengthy ladder to climb in order to surpass others at his position such as Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis.
It's a task Napier will certainly be up for considering he's no stranger to high-pressure situations.