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NBA PM: Six Recent NBA Draft Combine Snubs

Cody Taylor breaks down some of the biggest NBA Combine snubs of the last few seasons.

Cody Taylor

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Each year, the top collegiate prospects are invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine. These players go through a series of workouts and on-court drills in front of the league’s top executives to prove why they should be drafted.

We’ve seen over the years that some of the elite prospects will elect to skip the event in order to keep their draft stock high. These players feel that working out in private workouts with NBA teams can be more beneficial than participating at the Combine in front of every team.

The Combine has proven to be most effective for players that are attempting to climb up teams’ draft boards. An excellent showing at the Combine can be the difference in a player being drafted in the first round rather than in the second round.

While the Combine has proven to be beneficial for a lot of prospects over the years, not receiving an invite doesn’t necessarily mean a player won’t make it to the NBA. In fact, we’re seeing more players each year that were not invited to the Combine make it into the league.

The NBA sends out invitations to players based on feedback they receive from teams. For one reason or another, teams opted not to invite the players listed below to the Combine. Some players view being snubbed from the Combine as motivation to prove teams wrong.

As we began to see some notable prospects snubbed from this year’s Combine (the full list was announced earlier today), we decided to take a look at some of the most notable players snubbed from the Combine since 2010 based on what they’ve done during their respective NBA careers. For this list, international players and players that declined invitations were not included.

Here are six notable players that didn’t receive an invite to the Combine (in no particular order):

Tyler Johnson, Fresno State (2014):

Johnson’s path to the Miami HEAT is quite remarkable. He didn’t receive an invitation to the Combine out of Fresno State in 2014 and would eventually go undrafted. He earned a training camp invite with the HEAT after a great showing during Summer League.

He began the 2014-15 season in the D-League and eventually would be called-up to the HEAT in January of that season. He signed two 10-day contracts with the HEAT and then was signed to a multiyear contract shortly after.

Of course, Johnson signed a four-year, $50 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets last summer that the HEAT matched. He turned in a career year this season after averaging 13.7 points, four rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game with the HEAT.

Josh Richardson, Tennessee (2015):

One year after finding Johnson, the HEAT found another diamond in the rough in Richardson. It may have come as a surprise to some that he was drafted by the HEAT in the second round even though he didn’t receive an invitation to the Combine.

Richardson was thrust into a large role with the HEAT during the second half of his rookie year. The HEAT were riddled with injuries, and Richardson made big contributions for a team that was fighting for a playoff spot.

He averaged 10.2 points and shot 53.3 percent from three-point range after the All-Star break that season. During the playoffs, he averaged 6.6 points in 27.6 minutes per game. He dealt with injuries for most of the 2016-17 season but improved his scoring to 10.2 points per game.

Richardson’s $1,471,382 salary for next season guarantees on June 30 if he is still on the HEAT’s roster.

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (2016):

“Yogi Mania” was officially a thing in the NBA this season. Ferrell’s exclusion at last year’s Combine was among the biggest surprises. Instead of letting that affect him, he used it as motivation and had quite a memorable rookie season.

He went undrafted but quickly signed with the Brooklyn Nets after the draft. He bounced around in the Nets organization between the NBA and their D-League affiliate before getting picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in January.

He started his first game with the Mavericks on January 29 and recorded nine points, seven assists, two rebounds and two steals. He scored 19 points the next night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and by his fourth game with the Mavericks, he scored a career-high 32 points.

He signed a multiyear deal with the Mavericks in February and the team has until June 24 to pick up his option for next season.

Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion (2012):

Before signing a four-year, $70 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks, Bazemore had a few stops along the way. He went undrafted in 2012 and immediately signed with the Golden State Warriors. He averaged two points per game with the Warriors in 61 games that season.

He began the next season with the Warriors and averaged just 6.1 minutes in 44 games before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline. In his first real chance to play, Bazemore impressed. He averaged 13.1 points in 23 games for the Lakers following the trade.

Bazemore signed with the Hawks the next season and it wouldn’t be until his second season in Atlanta that he showed he could be an every game starter. He averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in his increased role last season, which allowed him to sign a massive deal.

Bazemore admitted that he had a poor showing in the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. He was down on himself during that time, but he stuck with it and continued to get better and is now among the best wing defenders in the game.

Jeremy Lin, Harvard (2012):

While we experienced “Yogi Mania” this season, none of us can forget “Linsanity” a few years ago. Lin was a relatively unknown player out of Harvard and wasn’t invited to the Combine and would go undrafted that year.

Lin split time between the Warriors and the Reno Bighorns of the D-League during his rookie season in the NBA. Of course, it was the chance he received with the New York Knicks the following season that allowed his to career take off.

It was against the New Jersey Nets that Lin scored 25 points off of the bench to lead the Knicks to the win. During his 25-game run as a starter during Linsanity, he averaged 18.2 points, 7.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Just seven months after waiving him, the Houston Rockets signed him to a three-year, $25 million offer sheet that the Knicks opted against matching. Lin has since played with the Lakers, Charlotte Hornets and, now, the Brooklyn Nets.

Jonathon Simmons, Houston:

Simmons’ story to this point is among the best that you’ll hear. He went undrafted out of Houston in 2012 and was eventually forced to pay the $150 tryout fee for the D-League. He made the cut and was signed by the Austin Toros (now the Austin Spurs).

Simmons spent two seasons in the D-League before getting an opportunity with the San Antonio Spurs. He averaged six points in 55 games last season and 6.2 points per game this season.

The best performance of his career came on opening night this season when the Spurs defeated the Warriors 129-100. Simmons scored 20 points in that game and threw down a highlight-reel dunk over JaVale McGee in the final seconds.

Now, Simmons is set to enter restricted free agency this summer and has likely earned himself a bigger contract. He’s come a long way since paying that tryout fee.

Honorable Mention: Tim Frazier, Langston Galloway, Willie Reed, Ish Smith, Fred VanVleet, Tarik Black, Troy Daniels, Briante Weber, T.J. McConnell, Tim Quarterman.

*****

As these players above have proven, it’s not the end of the world for a draft prospect not to be invited to the Draft Combine. Of course, participating in the Combine certainly helps a player’s chances of being drafted and making it to the NBA, but there are other ways to make it into the league as well.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers

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Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz

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The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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