College players whose NBA draft decisions could hinge on their combine performance

Many players have already declared for the NBA draft and signed with agents, renouncing their college eligibility. However, some players will head to the draft combine this week still undecided about their futures. The feedback they receive could be pivotal in their choices.
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With the NBA draft combine only days away, the landscape for the upcoming college basketball season hangs in the balance. A number of teams await decisions from key players who, one way or another, will heavily impact those squads’ ability to contend nationally in 2017-18. Underclassmen who have yet to sign with agents are given until 10 days after the combine (by May 24) to make their respective choices. For many, the feedback they’ll receive at the combine will be a large factor in their decisions of whether to turn pro. 

Below is a look at some of the key individual cases to monitor in Chicago this week.

Frank Jackson, PG, Duke

The Blue Devils typically have no issue restocking their roster, but this week will have serious implications on how they address the point guard position. Ideally, Jackson—an athletic playmaker who came on strong later in the season—returns for one more year and joins a 2018 draft class in which he could be part of the first-round conversation. The issue is that his potential replacement is Trevon Duval, who’s nearing a college decision and would be more than ready to start at Duke from day one. As far as breadcrumbs go, the Blue Devils recently pulled unheralded point guard Jordan Goldwire out of the blue, preemptively addressing their backcourt depth. Jackson is expected to play in five-on-five drills at the combine and can certainly prove some things with a strong showing. He should also test well athletically. However, his choice may hinge more on the status of Duval, who’s arguably the top incoming point guard recruit in the nation. 

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Caleb Swanigan, PF/C, Purdue

After the season Swanigan just had, one would figure he will turn pro, although the Boilermakers star has yet to hire an agent. The combine will provide another opportunity for Swanigan to receive feedback as well as a chance to leave an impression with improved athletic testing. He has little to prove on the court, but there are questions surrounding his capacity to keep his weight down. Given that Swanigan’s body of work may never get stronger, it’d be a surprise if he doesn’t come out, but he’s not a lock for the first round.

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky

Diallo also won’t play five-on-five in Chicago, but will have a chance to receive critical face time with teams, assess where he stands, and show off his considerable athletic chops in drills. His decision will mostly hinge on what happens behind the scenes. If he lands a first-round promise, we may not see him back in Lexington.

DJ Wilson, PF/C, Michigan

In the middle of the college season, some NBA scouts saw Wilson as a player to watch for next year. He accelerated that conversation after a good finish for the Wolverines and has offered tantalizing glimpses of the versatile contributor he could become in the NBA. Wilson needs to gain weight, which won’t happen overnight, but if he shows he’s willing to play physically on the interior and shoots the ball well from three, he could make a strong case for himself. His strengths and athletic ability line up well with where the league is headed.

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Rawle Alkins, SG, Arizona

Allonzo Trier’s return to Tuscon leaves Alkins with an interesting decision to make, given the Wildcats will again be national title contenders. He’s coming off a strong freshman year in which he played a key supporting role and in theory should be in line for more touches if he returns. But because the high-usage Trier will be back, it’s fair to wonder whether Alkins’s opportunities as a scorer would increase significantly enough to help him improve his draft status. With that in mind, the combine presents an opportunity for him to showcase his versatile skills and leave an impression. Alkins worked out for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the weekend, who pick 21st in the draft.


Semi Ojeleye, SF/PF, SMU

Ojeleye doesn’t have a ton left to prove in college following a breakout year at SMU. His physicality, ability to attack the basket and potential as a shooter have him on the cusp of the first round. However, Ojeleye’s a combo forward without elite height or length and has to address questions about what position he’ll defend, as well as whether he’s more than just a floor-spacer. Keep an eye on how he handles a variety of matchups on both ends.

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Justin Jackson, SF, Maryland

We can all admit that the potential of not one, but two Justin Jacksons in this draft could make life extremely confusing for everyone. That said, the lesser-known one is a legitimate prospect in his own right. Jackson is a versatile forward from Canada coming off a strong freshman year in which he functioned as a jack-of-all-trades for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. He’s a talented passer and ball-handler and good jump shooter who has potential to become a plus three-and-D forward down the line. Jackson’s freakish length should measure out well, and he’ll want to show he can guard several positions in the five-on-five and work from there. Whether it’s this year or next, he’s one to follow.

Moritz Wagner, C, Michigan

The Wolverines will hold their breath over both their star big men as Wagner weighs a leap to the pros. He’s among the more skilled post players expected to play five-on-five and could certainly stand out in this environment given his near 7-foot height, shooting ability and youth for his class. Showing there’s more to his game than just scoring will be pivotal, given that he has offered little rebounding or rim protection during his time in Ann Arbor. He arguably stands more to gain from another year of college than Wilson, who’s a year older.

Tony Bradley, C, UNC

Carolina’s repeat hopes would be significantly bolstered by the return of Bradley, who’s ticketed for increased playing time and touches if he comes back. He possesses impressive measurables at 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan in addition to good feet and hands and looks the part of an NBA center. The question is whether it’s better to return to school and further prove himself given increased opportunity, or ride the high of UNC’s title run and his impressive per-minute numbers in this draft class. Bradley’s in the late first-round conversation as it stands, and could solidify his status with a good showing this week.

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Andrew Jones, PG, Texas

After an up-and-down freshman year, Jones is all over the board for people but remains in the late first round conversation based on his upside as an athletic, attack-minded combo guard with good size and defensive potential. Expect him to test well athletically. He’s almost surely not ready to contribute right away, and the feedback he gets at the combine will be especially critical as he weighs the risks here.