Draft prospects talk weaknesses, NBA adjustment and more
CHICAGO -- Overhauling the combine was among the topics NBA general managers discussed last week. The absence of five-on-five drills -- something league executives desperately want to bring back but understand it will likely have to be collectively bargained with the players' union -- has made most of the combine, according to one GM, "a big waste of time." Next year, the combine could be shortened to include only the three things team officials care about: measurements, medicals and interviews.
The interviews are often especially useful. While some questions seem a bit strange -- one team asked players how many Ping-Pong balls fit in the room; another asked a word problem -- it's the first chance for teams to get inside the mind of prospects.
At media availability, SI.com posed questions that teams were likely to ask draft hopefuls during individual interviews. Here's how Aaron Gordon, Kyle Anderson, Doug McDermott and more top prospects analyzed their strengths and weaknesses, assessed their NBA potential and -- for the underclassmen -- made the decision to ddeclare for the June 26 draft.
Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona
The 6-foot-9 Gordon, who averaged 12.4 points and eight rebounds as a freshman, went seventh in SI.com's first Mock Draft. He shot only 42.2 percent from the free throw line and made 16 three-pointers in 45 attempts.
SI.com: Your perimeter game is your biggest weakness. Are you overhauling your jump shot?
Gordon: "I overhauled my free throws. I didn't have a consistent free throw shot. I had a consistent jump shot. I had about three different ones before; now I have one. But my free throws were disconnected from my jumper. I would get to the peak of my shot, and then shoot it. What I've done is connected my three, my pull-up, my 17-footer and my free throw. They are all the same shot, and it feels great. Everything feels smoother."
SI.com: What position do you see yourself playing?
Gordon: "I see myself as a forward. I see myself as a basketball player. Obviously, you have to play a position in the NBA, but I'm going to do a little bit of everything. Post up, hit jumpers, go by people. I'm going to do it all. I'm confident that I can play both the three and four."
Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan
Stauskas, who averaged 17.5 points and shot 44.2 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, measured 6-6½ in shoes at the combine. He was 11th in SI.com's first Mock Draft.
SI.com: Is there an unofficial battle between you and Michigan State's Gary Harris to be the first Big Ten two guard off the board?
Stauskas: "I haven't talked to Gary about that. But if I'm matched up with him in a workout, I'm going to go at him."
SI.com: Michigan teammate Mitch McGary has been dealing with some issues coming into the draft. [If he had returned for his junior season, McGary would have faced a year-long suspension after testing positive for marijuana.] How do you feel about what he has had to go through?
Stauskas: "It's been a tough situation for him. I'm proud of him for being honest about everything that happened, for letting the media know before things came out without him saying it. He's been working really hard to get back into shape after that back injury [which ended his season in mid-December]."
SI.com: Do you think he would have stayed in school if he had the opportunity to play?
Stauskas: "I'm not sure. I don't know what advice he was getting from the advisory board. I think he was on the fence. It was a 50-50 decision. What happened to him, I think he was forced to leave. For a one-time offense, it's pretty rough to have a one-year suspension on the spot."
Kyle Anderson, G, UCLA
Anderson, who averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists as a sophomore, measured 6-8½ at the combine. He went 17th in SI.com's first Mock Draft.
SI.com: Do teams ask you what position you want to play?
Anderson: "No. They told me what they see me playing in their offense. A lot of the NBA game is interchangeable between the one, two and three positions. It's just talking about where they would have me playing. Nobody has really told me what exact position they would have me play. A few teams told me they have multiple guys bringing up the ball.
SI.com: If a team does ask you what position you wanted to play, what would you say?
Anderson: "I'm not sure. I'm going to let that all come to me and leave that to the front office of whatever team I'd go to."
SI.com: That's surprising because you did blossom as a point guard this year.
Anderson: "I have to credit my teammates for that. The way we shared the ball, the way they knocked down shots, they made me look a lot better. I understand that point guard may not be the position I'm able to play in the NBA. Defensively, it could be something. But big point guards have had success in the NBA. I'm not comparing myself to Magic Johnson, but he put little guards on his hip and sometimes defended threes and fours. [Rookie of the Year] Michael Carter-Williams is paving the way for bigger point guards as well."
Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State
The 6-10 Payne, 23, who averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior, went 18th in SI.com's first Mock Draft. Payne said he learned recently that he has been suffering from mononucleosis since January.
SI.com: You ever been called old this much before?
Payne: "No, never. I hear that a lot, mostly from media, not players or teams. I don't think it's fair. Being 23 doesn't mean anything. I feel I have a lot of room to grow. I started playing basketball late. I don't know everything about the game yet. I got better in a short period of time. Just imagine what I can do if I had more time."
SI.com: How did the mono affect you during the season?
Payne: "It was strange. I would wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats. I didn't know what it was. My throat was sore. I told the trainer and we did what we could do during the season. I didn't know why I was getting so tired. I felt weak on the court. During games, at times I felt exhausted and I didn't know why. There was nothing you could do about it. Just rest. If I [had found out about the mono diagnosis] during the season, I probably wouldn't have been playing."
Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
The 6-8 McDermott, who averaged 26.7 points and seven rebounds as a senior, went 20th in SI.com's first Mock Draft.
SI.com: What's the question you are most sick of answering?
McDermott: "What's it like playing for your dad? Thankfully, that will be put to rest."
SI.com: You ever get compared to a non-white player?
McDermott: "I don't think so. It's a tough one. I hope I do. I hope someone comes up with someone."
SI.com: If you could compare yourself to a non-white player ...
McDermott: "I really don't know. It's hard because [comparisons to white players] is all I think about. I hear Wally Szczerbiak, Kyle Korver. I guess I've heard Antawn Jamison before. That's a decent one."
SI.com: You ever want to say to people, "You know I'm not Kyle Korver, right?"
McDermott: "Yeah. Same school, both three-point shooters, but we have differences in our games that are pretty clear."
McDermott: "I think it might affect some people's opinions. But for me, I use that as motivation. If it didn't work out for these guys, obviously I have to do something different to try to change that perception. Sometimes it's all about being in the right fit. That's what I'm hoping for."
SI.com: Is there a team that runs a system that you think you would be a good fit in?
McDermott: "I like to play up and down. I'd say the Spurs -- that's who everyone on Creighton dreams of playing for. They have great ball movement. They don't care about who is scoring. We liked watching the Spurs back in Omaha. A lot of teams are moving in that direction. The Hawks, the Suns -- a lot of shooters that like to space the floor."
SI.com: Do you see yourself as a three or a four?
McDermott: "I think I'm a three. I can play some two as well. It's all about matchups. It's not like I'm going to be guarding LeBron or Durant every night. I'm not a lockdown defender, but I'm good enough, smart enough to fit in out there. I hate getting scored on. I'm really competitive."
Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
The 6-6 LaVine, who averaged 9.4 points and 1.8 assists in 24.4 minutes as a freshman, was 22nd in SI.com's first Mock Draft.
SI.com: When did you start thinking you were going to play only one year at college?
LaVine: "I felt like my game had developed enough. My agent, Bill Duffy, grew up with my dad. At the end of the year he told me that it would be better to go into the NBA than stay in the situation I was in now. It wasn't a tough decision. Last season was a little frustrating for me. We didn't see eye to eye. I took a couple of days and then went right into training."
SI.com: Did UCLA try to convince you to come back?
LaVine: "I made the decision on my own. I never involved them."
SI.com: What do you hope teams see in you?
LaVine: "I want them to know I can play the point guard position. They ask me, but when they see me play they will know that's part of my game. I have been playing it my whole life. I can see the floor and I can defend [the position]. I feel like I have the tools to be a very good defender at the next level. Me and Russell Westbrook compare in different ways. I think I play a little like Steph Curry. I'm not saying I'm them, just saying there are similarities. Jamal Crawford, too. We both have a lot of moves and can shoot."
Jordan Adams, G, UCLA
The 6-5 Adams, who averaged 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 steals as a sophomore, is projected to be a late first-round pick. He told UCLA that he would be returning to school but changed his mind.
SI.com: You were out of the draft, then at the last minute you were back in?
Adams: "UCLA gave us the date of the 17th [of April] to decide. Some NBA teams were still playing so I couldn't get all the information. After I decided to come back, I got more information. Teams contacted me. That's what led to it."
SI.com: Do you regret announcing you were coming back?
Adams: "I regret saying it, but [the NCAA} gave us a date and it seemed like we had to or something was going to happen. So I did it. It wasn't that I just wanted to be in the draft, but teams showed interest after I decided to come back. Every team that has interviewed me has asked about it and I said the exact same thing to them."
Jahii Carson, G, Arizona State
The 5-11 Carson, who averaged 18.5 points as a freshman and 18.6 points as a sophomore, had a maximum vertical leap of 43½ inches at the combine, tied for the best in Chicago. He is projected to be a second-round pick.
SI.com: You were determined to come out all year long. Why?
Carson: "I'm a competitor. A huge competitor. I wanted to compete against the best players in the world. The NBA has it. I wanted to see how I stacked up."
SI.com: You could be a first-round pick. You could also not get drafted. How much did that uncertainty factor into your decision?
Carson: "It's not a huge factor for a competitor. It's not where you get drafted. It's who you get drafted to. It's what you do when you're there. Hopefully I get a great opportunity to show my competitiveness. I want to go out and prove myself. I tell teams I'm a winner. That's what NBA programs want. A lot of guys know I can score, but in the NBA that's not going to be my main role. A good game manager, that's something I'm hoping to translate my game to."
SI.com: Whom do you play like?
Carson: "Ty Lawson. Quick, explosive guy."
Russ Smith, G, Louisville
The 6-1 Smith, who averaged 18.2 points and 4.6 assists as a senior, is projected to be a second-round pick.
SI.com: Can you explain what happened last year, when your father said you were entering the draft and you ultimately decided to go back to school for your senior year?
Smith: "The draft is different now. They draft on potential and athleticism. The guys who do the work, a lot of times you don't get drafted. When you do the work that I did in the tournament last year, you're supposed to go lottery. That's how it has been up until the last five years or so. I can't blame my dad for saying that; he's old school. I looked at the last five years and I saw who was being drafted and I looked at my game. What I saw was that my game wasn't fully developed for the NBA. So I said I would go back next year and show guys that I can average five or six assists. Let me show them I can get better. I raised my field goal percentage [from 41.4 to 46.8], I raised my three-point percentage [from 32.8 to 38.7]. Potential is all mental. That's why there are a lot of guys who don't get better."
SI.com: Did it surprise you to learn that after that 2013 tournament run you would not be a lottery pick?
Smith: "I was devastated that I wasn't talked about as being in the first round. I don't have an ego. But I wasn't mentioned in the first round. I was like, 'What do I have to do?' We won a championship, I was an All-American, I averaged 25 points [actually 22.3] in the tournament against elite competition. I should have been gone. I'm not playing against Joe Blows. I'm playing against lottery and first-round picks."
SI.com: A perception of you is that your shot selection ...
Smith: I averaged 13 shots per game this year. I was the most efficient player in the country the last two years, according to Ken Pomeroy [the analytics guru named Smith the most productive player in the country those seasons]. For someone to say that I just jack shots, that's kind of making fun of me. That's disrespectful. I work hard. I play both ends of the floor. Last year, maybe you could pull that card. But I was still the most efficient player in the country."