- The Front Office takes a look at which players have improved or deteriorated their draft stock after the two days of scrimmages at the NBA draft combine.
CHICAGO — The draft combine’s on-court portion has drawn to a close, and the decision clock has officially started for every underclassman yet to make a decision on whether to remain in the draft. May 30 is the NCAA’s deadline for college players without agents to return to school. Naturally, the majority of underclassmen still mulling their options partook in combine scrimmages Thursday and Friday, hoping to help their stock and move up in the draft and garner interest with nearly all of the NBA’s major decision-makers inhabiting the gym.
It’s usually better not to get too caught up in the point totals or statistics over the two days of combine games, and it’s good not to overreact too hard. The players who stand out in this setting are typically those who play to their strengths and reinforce positive opinions, rather than those who attempt to showcase new skills or take on different roles. You need'nt be a finished product, but it greatly helps to at least have an idea of what you are.
The unique thing about the combine is that all 30 teams get to see the same thing at the same time, which regardless of intel or analytics tends to generate some level of consensus. Even though the environment is unfamiliar and the on-court situation is far from ideal, it’s the only time of year to ensure that every evaluator gets to see you do the same things. The physical data and testing results also offer a non-subjective point of comparison. Though in the end, a player’s actual draft slot hinges on how much a team falls in love, playing well at the combine at the very least will help raise the floor of their range.
With that in mind, here are the players who noticeably helped or hurt themselves, plus a few who wound up somewhere in between. We’ll have updates to our mock draft and Top 100 coming next week.
Rising: Donte DiVincenzo, G, Villanova
DiVincenzo looked like one of the better players at the entire combine on both days, with his decision-making ability, elite functional athleticism and impressive anticipation skills on full display. His shooting and scoring weren’t jaw-dropping, and he made just one of six threes on Friday, but his all-around skill set is clearly there given the role he’ll eventually play at the next level. DiVincenzo tied for the top max vertical leap at the combine and consistently used it to rebound in traffic, in addition to his nifty passing and constantly jumping passing lanes.
Donte DiVincenzo just had a one-handed offensive rebound in traffic, dished it off to keep possession as he fell to the ground, and turned some heads in the gym. Lot of great moments from him. Wins you over with how hard he plays.— Jeremy Woo (@JeremyWoo) May 18, 2018
He simply understands how to play with others, and the overall showing should provide a lot of positive reinforcement for evaluators who were already high on him. After a strong week, DiVincenzo is trending toward the first round, and it appears even more likely he’ll remain in the draft.
Rising: Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland
After displaying his full skill set during Thursday’s scrimmages, Huerter opted to sit out the second day of the combine. In addition to clearly being one of the top shooters in attendance, it was clear that his ability to read the floor and make quick decisions were advanced relative to the rest of the field. He tested well athletically, which certainly helps his case. Huerter is extremely skilled, checks a lot of boxes for a shooting guard and it appears he may have earned himself first-round money if he chooses to stay in the draft.
Rising: Melvin Frazier, G/F, Tulane
A popular sleeper coming into the week, Frazier was one of the most impressive players on the first day of the combine and chose to shut it down on Friday and skip the scrimmage. Although teams have questions about his awareness and basketball instincts, he has the type of tools on the wing that NBA teams are eager to develop, with long arms, impressive foot speed and quickness and some ability to shoot from outside. He’s viewed as a player who carries some risk, but the glimpse he offered helped stabilize him as a potential first-rounder. Frazier will be able to capitalize on his tools and get a real opportunity to become a rotation player.
Falling: Shake Milton, G, SMU
Milton failed to convert a single field goal over the course of two days at the combine, and his flaws were exposed in this competitive environment. Placed on a team that lacked a true point guard, there was an opportunity for Milton to show he could control the game, run the show and be a legitimate combo guard. He did have a couple of moments where his 6’6” size made a difference defensively, but the overall offensive ineffectiveness and what at times looks like a lack of fight left a poor impression. Milton still has some good tools and two bad days won’t erase his résumé, but it was concerning to see him out of place here.
Rising: Josh Okogie, SG, Georgia Tech
Okogie was better on Thursday than Friday, but on the whole he fortified his case to remain in the draft. His strong build and athletic tools are ideal for his role as an off-guard who plays both ends of the floor and adds a little bit of everything. After spending the season anchoring a struggling Georgia Tech team in a large role, it was positive to see Okogie rise to the level of talent around him. He does have a bit of an on/off switch, particularly on defense, but when engaged he really stood out moving his feet on the perimeter. His shot selection and occasionally wild play is also a concern. Okogie’s not a lock for the first round but you can see it happening, particularly given he doesn’t turn 20 until September.
Falling: Tyus Battle, SG, Syracuse
There was some head-scratching in the bleachers over the decision to place Battle, Allonzo Trier and Jaylen Hands on to one team, grouping three shoot-first guards and making them share one basketball. Unsurprisingly, their team lost one game by 32 points and the other by 27. Battle, in particular, faded into the background this week, struggling to impose his will as a scorer, forcing some shots and displaying very little secondary skill set on offense. He shot well in drills, but the hitch at the top of his shot remains evident. This was a chance for him to show he could be more than an iso-heavy player, and while he did display some aptitude as a man-to-man defender outside of Syracuse’s zone, his floor game leaves a lot to be desired. Battle doesn’t offer much aside from his plus build and athletic tools, and didn’t look like a Top 40 pick. He can still go back to school, but it’s worth wondering how much better he’ll look in a year if he does.
Rising: Kevin Hervey, F, UT-Arlington
Hervey’s 21-point performance on Friday left a good impression, and with his size, length and ability to shoot the ball from deep, he’s an interesting case. Able to score at every level and shoot off the catch and dribble, his game is similar in many ways to longtime NBA role player Anthony Tolliver. There’s value in tall floor-spacers who rebound, and while there were some questions about his shot selection coming into the week, Hervey acquitted himself well. He’s had two ACL tears dating back to high school, and how his medicals check out may determine whether he gets drafted.
Push: Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland
Fernando is one of the most physically gifted bigs in the draft, but is still learning to play the game. He’s a bit of a divisive prospect among scouts, but his well-sculpted frame, potential as a rim-running center and surprising touch as a shooter will get him drafted. Fernando’s feel leaves something to be desired, but it’s also to be expected from a kid who picked up the game relatively late and has made big strides over the past two years. He has a shot at the late first round, and has a good case to enter the draft.
Push: De’Anthony Melton, G, USC
Scouts were eager to see how Melton fared after sitting out the year at USC, and his strong second day of scrimmages stood as a nice reminder of his strengths. A wiry, athletic guard, Melton is exceptional at forcing opponents into making mistakes and is a smart transition player with definite talent. His jumper has been labeled as a swing skill for his success, but Melton’s shooting form looks fine and leaves room for optimism. His biggest weaknesses were also on display: he’s not a point guard and struggles to create offense in the halfcourt, and if his jumper isn’t falling, he’s a fourth or fifth option. He remains a potential first-rounder, all things considered.
Rising: PJ Washington, F/C, Kentucky
Two strong combine days makes Washington’s draft decision a bit more interesting. He’s said publicly he wants to turn pro only if he’s a first-round pick, and while that deal is far from sealed, he at least gave teams more to think about this week. Washington is a unique player, standing 6’7” but utilizing long arms and plus athletic ability to bang on the inside. He showed a good understanding of the floor, rebounded aggressively, and notably hit three midrange jumpers in a row early in Friday’s scrimmage. Washington’s unique skill set will only fit with certain lineups as a small-ball big, but he certainly does enough to get drafted. If he really wants to be a first-rounder it may help his case to go back, but he’s at least turned some heads.
Falling: Kris Wilkes, F, UCLA
Wilkes looked completely out of place on Thursday, and while he showed a bit better on Friday, it was clear he needs to return to UCLA and work on some things. He forced shots and had a couple of embarrassing moments, and the shine of his pedigree as an elite high school recruit has begun to wear off. Pegged as a 3-and-D prospect, Wilkes does neither thing exceptionally well, and also needs to improve his ball-handling ability to have a chance. He’s long and athletic, but that only gets you so far.
Push: Omari Spellman, F/C, Villanova
Spellman has some fans around the league, and if he comes out, expect him to be the fourth Villanova player drafted. His actual draft range is pretty wide, but given the uniqueness of his skill set, it’s likely he’ll end up with a team that really wants him, which will give him a chance to succeed. He’s gotten in better shape and still needs to keep working on his body to maximize his talent, but his overall court awareness really pops. He’s an outstanding rebounder, active communicator and seems more focused on winning games than anything else, a trend with Villanova’s prospects. Those things and his ability to shoot threes will give him a chance to be a role player. Going back to school could give him a better shot at the first round, but there could be some downside in returning if he’s forced into an outsized role on a team that may take a step back.
Falling: Brian Bowen, SG, South Carolina
Give Bowen credit for showing up and playing while others with no college basketball experience like Billy Preston and Anfernee Simons chose to skip scrimmages entirely. However, it was clear he didn’t belong in this environment and that he lacks any secondary skills beyond his jump shot. He’s stuck in limbo given his eligibility situation at South Carolina remains in flux due to his involvement in the NCAA-FBI scandal, and it makes sense for him to turn pro rather than risk missing another season. It’s a crappy situation and Bowen deserves some sympathy, but fully expect him to wind up in the G League or overseas.