By Flint Wheeler
The upcoming NBA draft (June 25th) features the Lakers and Knicks drafting very early. And while the usual Kentucky and Duke royalty is favored to be drafted at the top, here is the list released by the NBA Combine showing who performed way above and beyond their current draft rankings. My prediction; look for these guys to compete, make rosters and grow within the league with that chip on their shoulder showing them the way.
Over the years the top prospects, who really have nothing to gain by playing at the combine, started to decline invitations to play in the basketball portion of the event. The dwindling participation eventually led to the cancellation of the 5-on-5 games in 2008.
Even with the return of games at the combine, many first round draft picks elected to skip participating in the games. Some, such as Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Emmanuel Mudiay, decided to skip the event, a growing trend for players projected to go at the top of the draft. Still, the return of 5-on-5 basketball was a welcome development, as it gave everyone a chance to see prospects play in a game full of legitimate NBA prospects.
While the caveat of “it’s only two games” still hold true, being able to evaluate how guys perform against legitimate NBA caliber athletes certainly has value. The combine isn’t something that should override what a prospect has done over the course of their college career, but it has legitimate value as a piece of the puzzle.
Who improved their standing the most?
Jordan Mickey, Sophomore, PF, LSU
Mickey was a defensive force all weekend, averaging six blocks per game over his two games. Beyond just the numbers, Mickey controlled the paint, altering more shots than his block total indicated, and visibly changing the opponent’s offensive game plan and mindset.
That combination of shot blocking and rebounding is Mickey’s calling card, but he also showed some ability on the offensive end, making a couple of hook shots and even showing some touch on his jumpers. Those jump shots are important, and will be crucial in his ability to transition to playing the power forward spot in the NBA.
Mickey also measured out well in the athletic testing. While he only measured just over 6-8 in shoes, which is slightly undersized for a power forward, his 7-3 1/4 wingspan and 37 1/2-inch vertical leap were very impressive measurements for somebody of his size, and help show why he’s such a dynamic shot blocking force.
Rakeem Christmas, Senior, C, Syracuse
Christmas finished his first game in Chicago with an impressive 20 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes of work, making 7-of-10 field goals. He then followed that up with 19 points and six rebounds in Game 2, once again looking like the best player on the court.
Christmas’ ability to score inside and block shots wasn’t exactly a revelation, as both were strengths of his during the latter part of his career at Syracuse. What was impressive was Christmas’ confidence in stepping out from 15-17 feet and hitting jump shots, something which he didn’t do much of in the Syracuse offense.
Pat Connaughton, Senior, SG, Notre Dame
After a relatively quiet first game, Connaughton had 18 points in his second game. He reportedly was measured with a 44-inch vertical leap. Connaughton was able to hit three’s from NBA range both with his feet set and off the dribble, and that combination of three point shooting and impressive athleticism was on full display.
Michael Frazier, Junior, SG, Florida
Frazier had a lot to like heading into the combine, with a combination of perimeter defense, athleticism, and three point shooting that draws interest from teams. He helped himself more at Chicago, with strong play and good measurements.
While Frazier measured just a shade taller than 6-4 in shoes, slightly undersized for a shooting guard, he came away with above average measurements for both his wing span and standing reach.
Devin Booker, Freshman, SG, Kentucky
While Booker didn’t take part in the 5-on-5 portion of the combine, he did likely improve his draft stock by virtue of his athletic testing. He came into the combine slightly trimmed down, and measured just under 6-6 with shoes on and with a solid, if unspectacular, vertical leap.
Where Booker really shined was in the agility testing done at the combine, coming away with the fastest lane agility score of any player in attendance. Part of Booker’s intrigue is in his ability to be a two-way player, and being able to move his feet is a key part of that.