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Latest Buzz Ahead of 2021 NBA Draft Combine

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJune 21, 2021

Jaylen Hoard participates during the second day of the NBA draft basketball combine in Chicago, Friday, May 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The G League last week announced 40 players will attend its Elite Camp, and the NBA announced 69 prospects will appear at the draft combine. The general feeling from scouts was that the lists were thorough without any notable snubs.

Some did decline to attend the combine, including projected No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, projected top-four pick Jalen Suggs and potential lottery pick Franz Wagner. Two players who surprisingly won't attend: Oregon's Chris Duarte and Gonzaga's Joel Ayayi.

One rumor circulating suggests Duarte did not want to take a week off from working with his personal trainer, as the NBA requires prospects to participate in combine-sanctioned workouts only in Chicago.

As for why Ayayi won't attend, sources close to the French combo guard expressed confidence and assurance about his draft outlook, though there were no indications a promise was given.

Multiple international prospects projected for the first round were also left off the list. I'm told Josh Giddey will be with the Australian National Team preparing for July exhibitions in Las Vegas. Multiple NBA decision-makers are expected to scout him there for the first time. We're still awaiting word on Turkey's Alperen Sengun and Spain's Usman Garuba, whose season ended Tuesday.

Among college prospects, Loyola Maryland's Santi Aldama was the highest-ranked player on my board who did not receive an invitation.

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The invitees who were furthest from my top-50 rankings during the season are USC's Isaiah Mobley, Tennessee's Yves Pons, Texas' Jericho Sims, Ohio's Jason Preston, Alabama's John Petty Jr., Virginia's Sam Hauser, Kansas' Ochai Agbaji, Iowa's Joe Wieskamp, Georgia Tech's Moses Wright, Creighton's Marcus Zegarowski, Colorado's McKinley Wright IV.

   

Who scouts want to see most

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NBA teams aren't usually notified who will scrimmage until a day or two before the combine. Prospects who expect to go in the first round—or those who want to create the perception that they're first-rounders—typically skip five-on-fives and only participate in drills and select athletic tests.

But there are a handful of prospects whom scouts are hoping will participate in game action.

JT Thor didn't produce like a typical first-rounder at Auburn (9.4 points per game), but the skill set he flashed as a 6'10" teenager is appealing. His camp revealed to Bleacher Report that his birth year is 2002, not 2001, the year found on sites such as RealGM.com. I recently watched him play three-on-three and look noticeably sharper with his shooting, self-creation and tougher shot-making inside the arc.

The youngest player in the class, Alabama's Joshus Primo, earned an invite despite having averaged just 8.1 points per game. His age, 6'6" size and shooting have generated interest, but he played a limited, spot-up role as a freshman behind upperclassmen. He should have more freedom to showcase creation and playmaking potential during scrimmages.

Germany's Ariel Hukporti will be one of the few international players in attendance. The invitation was likely mostly a result of his MVP performance at Basketball Without Borders in 2020. He shot only 41.7 percent this year in Lithuania as a 7'0", 250-pound big, but aside from athleticism, rim-running and shot-blocking, he also flashed intriguing skill with his jump hook and shooting.

Matt York/Associated Press

Teams are still waiting to learn if Arizona State's Marcus Bagley will remain in the draft, and if he's worth drafting. On one hand, his 6'8" size, smooth stroke and shooting versatility could be valuable. On the other hand, Bagley played only 12 games because of left ankle and calf injuries and shot 38.7 percent overall and 34.7 percent from three. The fact that he was invited tells you teams are interested in his three-and-D, combo forward archetype.

Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell earned most of scouts' attention during Baylor games, but Matthew Mayer apparently caught the NBA's eye as well. Despite averaging just 8.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a third-year player, his versatility to finish, pass and shoot at 6'9" hints at an NBA fit and role-player potential scouts deemed worthy of a deeper look.

It also seems like the NBA took NCAA tournament appearances seriously with invites sent to USC's Isaiah Mobley, Creighton's Marcus Zegarowski, Oral Roberts' Max Abmas and UCLA's Johnny Juzang.

   

Most interested in interviewing

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - JANUARY 23:  	Jalen Johnson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 23, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Lottery teams will be eager to chat with Duke's Jalen Johnson. His talent has been evident for years, but his journey to this point has included multiple high schools (including a stint at IMG in which he left without ever having suited up) and a half-season of college basketball.

Johnson caused a stir by leaving Duke midway through the season once his minutes started to decrease after he returned from a foot injury.

There have been mixed opinions about whether Johnson was right to protect his stock—or if his departure reflected a me-first attitude in which he bailed on a team that wasn't expected to make the NCAA tournament.

NBA executives will want to explore the mind of Johnson and his thought process. He is not expected to participate in scrimmages.

Teams also sound eager to hear from Kentucky's Brandon Boston Jr., who took one of the most dramatic single-season, draft-stock hits in recent memory. How did he go from Sierra Canyon star and expected top-10 pick to shooting 35.5 percent and occasionally watching second halves from the bench?

Boston isn't likely to risk further damaging his stock by playing in scrimmages, wherein he won't control who he'll play with. Executives figure to have plenty of questions for the talented but erratic scoring wing.

   

James Crisp/Associated Press

Measurements to watch

  • Some scouts have sounded skeptical that Sharife Cooper is as big as Auburn's 6'1", 180-pound listing.
  • Iowa's Luka Garza is reportedly down 20 pounds from 265 pounds, a potentially significant development for scouts who question his defensive mobility and offensive quickness.
  • There are two reported listings for Jonathan Kuminga: 6'6", 210 pounds by the NBA and 6'8", 220 pounds by ESPN. The difference is noticeable and important to clear up.
  • It would be a good look for Tre Mann if he confirmed Florida's 6'5" listing, impressive size for a lead ball-handler or combo with his shiftiness and shooting skills.
  • Power and strength are key for Florida State's RaiQuan Gray, but 260 pounds for a forward sounds like excessive weight that may increase injury risk.
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