2014 NBA Draft: Things We Learned from Thursday's Chicago Combine Workouts
There were plenty of high-profile executives and coaches in the gym Thursday for the NBA Draft Combine. And while most of the high-profile prospects stayed on the sidelines in sandals and sweats, some intriguing talent participated in drills.
Between the action on the floor, the big names off it and the bevy of evaluators and decision-makers looking on, there was plenty to take away from the first day of actual action at the combine.
All quotes were gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Something Needs to Change
A ridiculous number of prospects decided to sit out the drilling portion of the 2014 NBA combine. Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid and Duke's Jabari Parker didn't even bother showing up.
Kentucky's Julius Randle and James Young, Australia's Dante Exum, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Indiana's Noah Vonleh, Michigan State's Gary Harris, Arizona's Aaron Gordon, Michigan's Nik Stauskas, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, Creighton's Doug McDermott, Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton skipped drills without an injury.
That's 15 high-profile prospects.
Though plenty of high-level NBA executives were in attendance, few seemed locked in to what was happening on the floor.
I saw a couple of general managers take off before the event even wrapped up.
Unless something changes, this is likely going to become a recurring theme. Agents clearly feel their clients have more to lose than gain by participating.
The NBA guys will ultimately have to come up with something before the NBA combine loses its appeal as a must-attend scouting showcase for both players and evaluators.
Dante Exum Is the Most Interesting Prospect in the Class
Based on the crowd that filled out around his table in the media room, you'd think Jay-Z, Beyonce and Solange were holding a press conference.
Everybody wants to see and know more about Australia's Dante Exum, who scouts have pegged as a top-five pick despite having so little material to evaluate.
He's dominated back-to-back summers at the FIBA World Championships, and he played well at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit, which is more of an exhibition showcase than anything else.
But other than that, his production has come against underwhelming Australian competition.
Just listening to him speak, he's an insightful, articulate, bright young kid who seems extremely likable off the bat. As a basketball player, his 6'6" size, world-class athleticism and skill set for a point guard give him a towering NBA ceiling.
No matter whether you view him as an elite prospect in this draft, he's easily the most interesting.
Zach LaVine Was Built for the Predraft Process—Not UCLA
Zach LaVine finished his freshman season with modest averages of 9.4 points and 1.8 assists, having played behind three older guards in a methodical offense.
Rarely was LaVine given many playmaking touches.
In doses, he flashed his upside, but given the crowded backcourt he found himself in, LaVine struggled to string together much consistency throughout the year.
That's why it's a good thing he chose to participate in drills at the combine, where he was able to show off his breathtaking athleticism, tight handle and lethal outside jumper.
He just made everything look so easy, whether he was bouncing above the rim for a tomahawk slam or flicking in a jumper from 26 feet away. He nailed 14-of-25 NBA three-pointers during shooting drills, and his stroke and mechanics looked as smooth as can be.
And having struggled with creating, defending and finishing during the season, these are three weaknesses likely to go hidden during workouts.
Expect LaVine to turn heads over the next month in settings that play to his strengths as a high-flier and shot-maker.
Noah Vonleh Is a Monster
Noah Vonleh stole the show during measurements, when he came in at 6'8" in socks with a whopping 7'4.25" wingspan. It was the second-longest wingspan in the gym next to Baylor's Isaiah Austin, who's 3.5 inches taller.
ESPN's Ryen Russillo thought it was the most impressive thing from Thursday.
Vonleh also weighed in at 247 pounds with the biggest hands in the group.
The fact that's he's still just 18 years old is frightening. He's a physical specimen with measurements that come close to Kevin Durant's (6'9" in socks, 7'4.75" wingspan), and given his strength, post game and promising jumper, Vonleh should be able to get shots off with ease at the NBA level.
I've had him ranked No. 5 on my big board (behind Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum) all season long. And after the measurements he put up at the combine, I don't plan on changing my mind.
Jordan Adams Made the Right Move by Declaring for the 2014 Draft
Jordan Adams originally hinted at staying at UCLA for his junior year, but later changed his mind and decided to declare for the 2014 draft.
"I had two productive years at UCLA, and I didn't think I'd get much better as a basketball player staying there," Adams said on Thursday at the combine.
Adams also said he had a group of teams tell him late-first round as a draft projection, while others told him early second.
Based on what I saw Thursday during drills, along with his measurements—he dropped almost 11 pounds to 208.8 and registered a 6'10" wingspan—Adams looked like a guy who's going to draw first-round interest for sure.
He hit 36-of-50 spot-up jumpers, the second-best number of the 2-guards during shooting drills. He also dominated two-on-twos and three-on-threes.
Adams looked in shape, converted from outside and finished the few opportunities he got around the rim in traffic. If I had to bet, my money is on Adams getting called in the 20-30 range.
This Is One Shallow Field of Big Men
It didn't even seem like anyone was paying attention when the big men took the floor Thursday afternoon at the combine.
The headliner? Baylor's Isaiah Austin, who appears to be slated for that mid-second round.
Of course, Joel Embiid, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon are all strong prospects. We'll throw in Adreian Payne's name in there as well. But that about covers it for the American big men.
Unless you've got a lottery pick, don't count on drastically improving your frontcourt through the draft this year.
If you're looking for an under-the-radar big man from the combine, look no further than Green Bay's Alec Brown. At 7'1", he nailed 18-of-25 from behind the arc and 21-of-25 from 15 feet.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo Has Shooting Potential
For the most part, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis' older brother, has generated hype in the D-League based on his physical tools, motor and defensive versatility.
But he showed he's more than just an athlete at the NBA combine. He finished tied for fourth amongst small forwards in spot-up shooting, having hit 29 of his 50 shots (one behind Duke's Rodney Hood, who was a 42-percent three-point shooter this season), including 15-of-25 from behind the NBA arc.
This was pretty significant, considering he made just 30.9 percent of his threes for the Delaware 87ers. Without a jumper, it's hard to say if Antetokounmpo brings enough to the NBA table.
But after his promising shooting performance at the combine, he just might have given general managers a good enough reason to draft him. I wouldn't call him a shooter yet, but he clearly has potential.
Marcus Smart Is Diesel
Marcus Smart didn't participate in drills, but he did get measured. And his numbers were pretty wild.
Smart only measured in at 6'3.25" in shoes, but he weighed in at 227.2 pounds. That's more than 7'1" center Isaiah Austin.
He also registered a 6'9.25" wingspan, which was longer than 6'8" forward Rodney Hood's.
You can argue about his position, his jumper or his mentality. But there's no denying that Smart is one diesel weapon in the backcourt.
Glenn Robinson III Could Be the Value Pick of 2014
After losing in the national title game as a freshman, Glenn Robinson III was looking like a potential lottery selection.
But instead of declaring for the draft, Robinson returned to school to compete with a deeper, more talented field of prospects in 2014.
Robinson told me he heard that his draft range this year is 20-40, but last year, he was hearing top 15.
If you ask me, Robinson is the same player today as he was in 2013, only his efficiency fell off without Trey Burke setting him up.
He just didn't get as many good looks this past year, resulting in inconsistency and a drop-off in his shooting percentages.
Robinson's jumper sure looked sharp at the combine—he finished first amongst small forwards during spot-up shooting drills, where he drained 31-of-50.
On the move, he made 25-of-39 shots, good for 64 percent.
Robinson also measured in less than a quarter-inch below 6'7", slightly bigger than his 6'6" listing at Michigan suggests.
He already met with four teams, and he was scheduled to meet with six more before Friday, per Brendan Quinn of MLive Media Group.
Robinson a terrific athlete and a better-than-advertised shooter who can also slash and defend. Chances are someone will be getting a guy with lottery-type upside somewhere late in the first or early in the second round.
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