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Draft Dispatch: Combine Standouts, Buzz and Luka Doncic’s Potential Return to Europe

Who impressed during the first day of scrimmages at the NBA draft combine? Could Luka Doncic really choose not to enter the draft this year? The answers to those questions and more in our draft dispatch.

CHICAGO—While the two first-day scrimmages were stricken with poor shot selection, bad misses, head-scratching turnovers and unforced errors, the quality of basketball is only part of the picture at the draft combine. The NBA’s annual pre-draft camp began its on-court portion on Thursday, following a full day of interviews and player programming. The big picture is always fluid, and much will change over the next few days before players ship out to continue workouts and the decision clock starts for players without agents. The Crossover’s Front Office has been on the scene all week working to piece together the draft puzzle. You’ll find the lowdown below.

On-court standouts

While it sounds rational to refrain from overvaluing a prospect’s performance playing rotating minutes in scrimmages with unfamiliar teammates, the fact is that every year, the combine has a major impact on the draft itself. How players handle face-to-face meetings with teams and how they test athletically makes a major difference. The NBA is no stranger to recency bias, and the overall uncertain nature of projecting and finding players always leads to intrigue and rumors flying around this time of year.

 A big day at the combine can solidify draft stock—last year, Kyle Kuzma had a big first day, shut it down on Day Two and secured a first-round selection with the Lakers. The majority of top decision makers are seeing these players for the first or second time, and it’s a huge opportunity to leave an impression.

There was no one revelatory prospect Thursday, but a handful of players set themselves apart from their peers. They’re in alphabetical order below.

Jevon Carter, PG, West Virginia

Perhaps the draft’s top defensive guard, Carter spent a lot of time matched up against Devonte' Graham and Tony Carr and reinforced his stock in the 25–40 range. He began the game by picking up Carr man-to-man across the length of the court, and his unrelenting intensity makes it easy to group him in with success stories like Patrick Beverley, another Chicago native who has made a living off of ball pressure and making open shots. Carter’s offensive decision-making can be up and down and he fell into a spell of trying to do too much, but he should be able to find a role despite a lack of great physical measurements. He specializes in making opponents uncomfortable, uses his hands extremely well and understands positioning on the perimeter. Expect a team to fall in love with him.

Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova

DiVincenzo has yet to hire an agent, though the feeling among team executives coming into combine week was that he’s leaning toward the draft. He offered more proof Thursday that his strong play in March wasn’t a mirage, piecing together productive minutes with defensive toughness, three-point shooting, smarts and rebounding ability. He also registered the day’s top vertical leap numbers with an eye-opening 42-inch max vert and 34.5-inch standing vertical. Between his size (6’4”), willingness to defend, perimeter shooting ability, unselfishness and NBA-caliber athletic traits, DiVincenzo brings enough to the table to warrant late first-round consideration.

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Melvin Frazier, G/F, Tulane

This was our first in-person look at Frazier, who stands 6’6” in shoes with a whopping 7’1.75” wingspan and 40.5” vertical. He has clear potential as an athletic, defensive-minded wing with some shooting ability. He’s capable of defending at least three positions, and if he makes enough three-pointers will have a chance to become valuable and stick around. The big question with him is offensive feel as well as eliminating some bad habits: he feels like more of a reactive player than a cerebral player. Frazier had enough strong moments over the course of the day to win over some of the scouts in attendance, with Miami’s Josh Richardson coming up as a comparison. He came into the day sitting on the cusp of the first round.

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Huerter looked like the most natural shooter at the combine, and between strong performances in drills, a positive 6’7.5” height measurement in shoes and a handful of slick passes during the scrimmages, it’s clear that his talent may have been undersold over the course of the season. Huerter played point guard in high school, and has the size, skill set and pure stroke to stick around the NBA for a long time. He’s far more athletic than he looks and certainly helped his stock with his showing. Huerter and Maryland teammate Bruno Fernando are two of the most intriguing prospects who have yet to hire agents, and it’s a bit of a wonder the Terps didn’t make the tournament this year. Another big day for Huerter on Friday will further help his first-round case.

Josh Okogie, G, Georgia Tech

An impressive, extended display of defensive intensity from Okogie during the first half of his game helped cement what was an outstanding day for his draft stock overall. He had perhaps the best day in terms of athletic testing, tying DiVincenzo for top max vertical (42”), posting elite three-quarter sprint and shuttle run times, and coming in at 6’4.5” with a 7’0” wingspan. Okogie’s shot selection leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s clearly still tapping into his natural talent and may have a level of shot-creation potential as he refines his approach. The modern-day hunt for 3-and-D wing players is a real one, and Okogie has a good case to hire an agent and stay in the draft at this point.

What’s up with the No. 1 pick?

One of the day’s bigger draft storylines involved that of projected top-two pick Luka Doncic, who said publicly at the EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade (where a good chunk of league executives are presently headed) that it’s not a definite that he remains in this year’s draft. “Ι’m not sure if these are the last two games [in EuroLeague],” he told reporters. “We have yet to make this decision. Perhaps after the season.” 

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It’s very much relevant to consider that Doncic shares an agency with his main competition for draft position, Deandre Ayton (both are repped by Bill Duffy and BDA). Doncic’s apparent hedge feels a lot like political posturing and an attempt to create leverage as it pertains to steering Doncic to an ideal team situation. The Suns have the first pick and the Kings are at No. 2, and if Doncic stayed with Real Madrid another year, he’d have another chance to go first overall in the 2019 draft. He has an opportunity to go back and try to find a different destination next year, but delaying his first run at NBA free agency and a big extension simply to land with a different lottery team carries risk in addition to the circus that another year would bring. The Suns and Kings have had bad runs, but Doncic is an on-court fit in both situations, and would be viewed as a tone-setting catalyst for either team.

While it’s widely known that Doncic played for new Suns coach Igor Kokoskov with the Slovenian national team, pairing up for a Eurobasket title in 2017, it’s important to point out that Kokoskov, previously a well-regarded and well-traveled assistant with the Jazz, was the third candidate Phoenix offered the job to—Mike Budenholzer and David Fizdale are said to have been initially approached. With that in mind, it feels unlikely that Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough, who is already under pressure to turn results out of the Suns’ young core of lottery-level talent, would hitch his wagon to a player based entirely on his coach’s preference, whatever it may be.

Passing on an immensely gifted prospect like Ayton is a career-defining move regardless of the break, and given the Suns’ situation, playing it safe and rolling with him would appear prudent. That’s not to say there won’t be a diligent process for Phoenix at No. 1, and the intimate intel on Doncic will certainly help them make an educated choice. Still, jumping to conclusions at this point about any of it feels rash. Contrary to popular belief there are still Doncic skeptics to be found around the league and even overseas, and his ability to create his own shot will be called into question. It’s a situation worth monitoring in the days that follow. Doncic and Real Madrid take on fellow powerhouse CSKA Moscow in a Final Four game Thursday, providing a nice viewing opportunity for those at home.

Off-court Buzz

• News trickled out Wednesday that two players, Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison and Western Kentucky deserter Mitchell Robinson, had withdrawn from the combine entirely. There’s a widely-held belief around the league that Hutchison has a first-round promise, with his range likely falling between 18–22 based on our sources. Hutchison, a 22-year-old senior, is viewed as a player who can help immediately, able to play on or off the ball and supply extra scoring on the wing.

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The situation with Robinson is cloudier. Several team executives were bemused by his decision to leave the combine entirely, after spending an entire year away from basketball. It’s a totally understandable move from an agent’s perspective: Robinson would almost certainly have trouble playing in the scrimmage given all his time off from competition. Allowing him to answer questions from interested teams during the interview process could be constructive, or it could raise more concerns. There’s something to be said for allowing him to face the music, but oftentimes prospects benefit from as much tangential mystery as possible. His range is wide and he’s a first-round caliber talent, but it will require major guts to use a first-round pick on him. Given the circumstances, the current sense is he’s unlikely to fall past 40.

• There was a lot head-scratching around the gym after a number of players opted to sit out scrimmages at the last minute. While it was unsurprising that guys like Hamidou Diallo and Anfernee Simons didn’t play given the nature of their situations as athletic projects, healthy scratches like Trevon Duval and Billy Preston did themselves few favors. Duval, a highly rated high school talent, missed an opportunity to show off outside of Duke’s team context. Preston is a fringe draftable player at this point after his long-winding saga that saw him attend five different high schools, leave Kansas due to an eligibility struggle and spend a brief period of time playing in Bosnia before entering the draft.

• I spoke with a handful of league types in the gym who agreed that potentially adjusting the combine format could improve the pre-draft process on whole. While totally theoretical, it stands to reason that adding a third on-court day, inviting more players and structuring the scrimmages as an eight-team bracket with smaller rosters could benefit everyone. Teams will have more time and more players to evaluate, players will have added space to adjust to their new teammates and a more competitive environment and all the athletic testing could conceivably be done earlier in the week. There are always myriad factors that make a change like this far more difficult in practice than theory, but improving the combine structure, which has remained the same for the last handful of years, is at least worth some thought.

• Boston College’s Jerome Robinson opted to sit out of five-on-five play and has interest from teams in the late first round and beyond. His stock is said to be fairly stable, and measuring in at 6’5” in shoes (he looks a tad shorter in person based on the eye test) will certainly help his case as a scoring combo guard.

• Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt pulled out of the combine earlier this week and is facing a difficult stay-or-go decision given his long injury history. Leaving the combine can be reasonably viewed as a choice to withhold his medical results from teams for the time being and control the flow of information. The former All-American recruit spent much of his freshman year injured, and while he certainly can do more at full strength, there’s also something to be said for using that pedigree to try and secure guaranteed money and work back to full strength as a pro, before injury strikes again.

Notable Measurements

• Projected lottery picks Marvin Bagley and Mikal Bridges are at the combine, but chose not to measure or test. Bagley has previously measured with an unfavorable 7’0” wingspan for his 6’11” listed frame, while Bridges is listed at 6’7” and has measured with a wingspan around 7’0”.

• As most suspected, Trae Young won’t be helped by his physical profile: he has the smallest measured wingspan at the combine, at 6’3” while standing just under 6’2” in shoes. It’s nothing new, as his appeal will always be tied to his considerable skill set.

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• Conversely, several guards at the combine measured noticeably well in terms of wingspan. In scouting parlances, longer arms help guys play bigger than their size, and can be of particular use as it translates to defensive capability. Most notable were Anfernee Simons (standing 6’3.25” in shoes with a 6’9.25” wingspan), De’Anthony Melton (6’3.25”; 6’8.5”), Khyri Thomas (6’3.75; 6’10.5”) and Lonnie Walker (6’4.5”; 6’10.25”). Collin Sexton, Carsen Edwards, Aaron Holiday, Devonte' Graham and Trevon Duval will also get a small boost from their length measurements.

• Among the notable bigs were Mohamed Bamba, who in case you haven’t heard has very long arms. He came in at nearly 7’1” in shoes with a 7’10” wingspan and 9’7.5” standing reach. Jaren Jackson Jr., another likely top-five pick, fared well at 6’11.25” with a wingspan over 7’5” and 9’2” reach. Both will measure out much better than Marvin Bagley, who probably didn’t really help himself by choosing not to partake—it’s nowhere close to a secret that his length isn’t quite as impressive as the others in his draft range. The three bigs are likely to go 3-4-5 in some order.

• In the mild curiosity department: Nevada’s Caleb and Cody Martin are identical twins, but didn’t measure exactly the same—despite being the same height, Cody’s wingspan is a quarter-inch longer, Caleb’s standing reach came in one inch shorter and he stands about seven pounds heavier. Perhaps more relevant: both stood 6’6” in shoes, an inch or so shorter than their listed heights. They’re potential second-round picks.

• Hand size can often be overlooked in favor of other measurables and testing results, but can be a meaningful number to consider given the obvious utility of having larger ones. Jaren Jackson Jr. had the largest hands of any player except Purdue’s Isaac Haas. Humorously, the smallest hands belonged to UCLA’s Jaylen Hands (who teams feel ought to return to school).

For those interested in digging through them, the full measurement results can be found here, and athletic testing here.

The Crossover’s Front Office will have more from the combine on Day Two, and major updates to the mock draft and Top 100 in the days to come. Stay tuned.