Wednesday, 03 June 2015 16:39

Five things to know about the NBA Draft Combine Thursday session

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CHICAGO -- The 2015 NBA Draft Combine kicked into full gear on Thursday, with athletic testing and a pair of games taking center stage.

There were plenty of takeaways from the day, but here are the five things you need to know, as well as some other notes from media sessions.

1. Pat Connaughton might be the best pure athlete at the combine

Seriously. It shouldn't be a total surprise to those who have watched the Notre Dame product play (I mean, did you see this block against Butler?) but his performance today was exemplary by any measure. His 44-inch vertical leap led the way among players tested today (35 of the 63), and is tied for the highest recorded since 2001 when Kenny Gregory put up a 45.5-inch leap. Connaughton also performed well in the lane agility drill (tied for fourth among the 35 tested) and the sprint (tied for seventh). It's also worth noting that he made a decent impression on scouts in the 5-on-5 session, with the crowd universally noting how hard he plays. His defensive communication was also pretty strong in calling out screens, and his offensive game looked okay as he knocked down a pair of first-half 3s.

DRAFT COMBINEWinners and losers after players are measured

The wing was something of an afterthought coming into the combine, but he certainly won't leave it that way. On top of his athleticism, he measured well at 6-5 with a 6-8 wingspan, which should give him solid size to play the 2 in the NBA if he can work to improve his body (he put up that 44-inch vertical despite carrying 10 percent body fat, one of the highest in attendance). Whether or not all of this translates into someone using a second round pick on him and convincing him to leave his professional baseball career on the table is debatable, but he's definitely one of the big winners of the combine process thus far.

2. Overall, the group tested today looked very good athletically

Already, there are seven players to post a vertical over 40 inches after only six did out of all of the players tested. In fact, this is the first combine since at least 2000 that at least four players have posted a vertical leap of 43 inches. One of those players, Justin Anderson with a chiseled 6-6, 230-pound frame that has sub-5 percent body fat, put up a 43-inch vertical leap. Rondae Hollis-Jeffferson had a 38-inch vertical leap to go with a 10.51-second lane agility time, the second-lowest posted by a small forward since 2007. Larry Nance leaped 37.5 inches at 6-9 and posted one of the better agility times from a power forward since 2009. Diminutive Green Bay point guard Keifer Sykes finished in the top-three of all three categories tested today, and is probably the only player with an argument to athletically be superior to Connaughton.

A lot of guys had pretty strong days.

3. However, some players didn't particularly perform well

Branden Dawson was unfortunately the player with the lowest measurements of the day from someone that was expected to test well, as the Michigan State forward posted one of the worst agility scores of the past decade for a potential small forward at 12.37 seconds, then followed that up with a 34-inch vertical (although he did put up a solid sprint score).

A pair of point guards also didn't have great days, although with these two it was mostly expected given that their games rely much more on feel and basketball intelligence. Delon Wright's 31-inch vertical was worst among the guards tested today, and his agility score placed him in the bottom-third of players. The same goes for Tyus Jones, who also wasn't particularly expected to wow anyone. His 32.5-inch vertical was third-lowest among point guards, as was his sprint score. Not a huge deal, but overall this won't kill them.

4. Rakeem Christmas was the best player in the first scrimmage

Christmas is the second-oldest player in attendance behind UC Davis' Corey Hawkins, but he has certainly helped himself this week with his performance and measurements. He scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in Team 1's loss today. He was really aggressive offensively, making shots with both hands in the paint and drawing fouls consistently. Also, he set some solid screens both on and off ball and showed some potential in the pick-and-roll.

Others who impressed included Mouhammadou Jaiteh, a 6-11 French center that scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He finished a few hook shots over Christmas with both hands, although his defense could use some work for someone his size. Jaiteh is arguably the best player on the second-best team in France (JSF Nanterre, who allowed him to come over for the combine because they have clinched that spot). He averages 11.6 points per game, is the team's leading rebounder, and is their PER leader with a mark of 22.4. It wouldn't be a surprise if this solidly built center got some looks in the late first round.

Others who played well included J.P. Tokoto, Terry Rozier, Dez Wells, Richaun Holmes, and the aforementioned Connaughton.

5. Andrew Harrison stole the show in the second half of the second 5-on-5 game

Harrison was the best player on the floor in either of the 5-on-5 games today, throwing up a 17-point, five-assist, zero turnover line that was impressive both on a statistical and scouting level. The oft-maligned Kentucky point guard changed speeds and direction really well, getting into the lane basically at will against whoever was guarding him. He also tended to make the right decision every time the ball was in his hands, something that sometimes eluded him in Kentucky's offense and led to calls for Tyler Ulis. The increased space in the professional game seems to have really helped his game. He's helped himself a lot here, and could do even more tomorrow when he is tested athletically and plays again.

A couple of big men also really impressed. UC Santa Barbara's Alan Williams dominated the boards as he so often did in college, collected 15 of them on his way to a double-double. He told me after the game that he's "ready to step into any role that coaches need (him) to play, whether that's to be a banger and a rebounder or a ball-mover and a ball-screener" on the next level, and seems to have a really good grasp of what teams will be looking for him to do.

LSU's Jordan Mickey nearly finished with a triple-double, scoring 17 points, grabbing eight rebounds and swatting eight shots. He was his extremely active self on both ends, and knocked down some midrange jumpers that will be key to his ability to carve out a role in the NBA. Still, it'll be the defense that he hangs his hat on, and he certainly brought that today.

Some other notes and buzz from around the combine.

  • Once you get beyond the top 20 to 25 players, there's really no consensus at all from NBA teams. It's not at all out of the question right now that we could get a Josh Huestis-like surprise from a team near the bottom of the first round this season.
  • A lot has been made about Myles Turner's awkward running gait this season, and whether or not it will harm his draft stock. He was asked about that today at his media availability, and his response gave a bit of insight into how it developed and what he's doing to work on it:
    -"It's a little awkward. It's something I'm working on to get better at. I don't want to say I never really learned how to run, but it's not something I ever put a lot of effort into when I was younger. I just put all my efforts into basketball. 
    -"I'm working on my core a lot. Doing a lot of physical therapy. Yoga-type exercises. Holding poses."
  • Turner also noted that he has done multiple tests this offseason to prove that he is not injury prone. He did stress tests, flexibility tests and overall movement tests, and was told that he is 100 percent healthy, he just needs to get stronger. If this holds up throughout the draft process as teams run him through their own battery of tests, he could really rise up draft boards from the mid-to-late lottery to the top-seven.
  • Rashad Vaughn suffered a meniscus tear at the end of the season that put his NBA Draft decision into doubt. But he's totally healthy now, and Vaughn has been working out "full-go" for two months, he said.
  • Cam Payne was one of the two most enjoyable players at media availability, cracking jokes and consistently making the scrum break down laughing. His response when asked why a team should draft him:
    "I feel I can bring great leadership to the team. I've been winning all my life, so I'll definitely bring my competitive nature. And I'ma bring the swagger back."
  • R.J. Hunter was Payne's only rival in the enjoyability of his answers to media day questions. The well-spoken, articulate Georgia State coach's son gave plenty of terrific responses, including one that I asked him about in regards to conversations with his father after taking long-distance jump shots that he even admitted were questionable (as I outlined in his scouting profile)
    "You don't even want to know (what those conversations were like), man," Hunter said while laughing about what it was like to play for his father. "Some of them were explicit, some of them he just kind of let me go, some of them I'd make and he'd be like 'NOP--all right, all right, cool.' So he fell (on that shot against Baylor), right? If I missed it he still would have fell. Like, it wouldn't have mattered. That's just how he is. He was just so animated that it was like he was ready to be like 'what are you doing?' but it went in and it just shocked him."
  • Finally, George de Paula is a physical marvel, but he's been a bit timid both at both Hoop Summit in Portland last month and in his play so far at the combine. I asked him about how the transition to America has gone, and he said that "the language has been hard" that he's trying to "learn English as fast as he can," but noting that it's "a long process." He also said that this event is only the second time that he's had to converse in English with other people. It's hard to deny his physical gifts, and once he gets the language down that could really lead to a quick development cycle.

By Sam Vecenie | CBSSports.com
May 14, 2015 10:44 pm ET

Read 48913 times

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