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NBA Saturday: Draft Combine Notebook

Basketball Insiders was in Chicago for the 2014 NBA Draft Combine. Here are some news and notes from the week.

Alex Kennedy

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The 2014 NBA Draft Combine wrapped up yesterday in Chicago. Throughout the week, players completed medical testing, athletic drills, team interviews and media sessions.

Basketball Insiders was in the building and here were some of the storylines that surfaced in recent days:

   The biggest story of the combine was the introduction of Dante Exum. The 18-year-old did a terrific job dealing with the media and interviewing with teams. Over the last few days, everyone was raving about Exum and complimenting his maturity. For many teams, this was their first time meeting Exum, since the only opportunities to see him prior to this week were at the 2012 adidas Nations tournament, 2013 Nike Hoops Summit and FIBA U-19 2013 tournament. Exum met with team after team, including some that are outside of the lottery and were just curious to meet the Australian phenom.

Exum measured in at 6’6 with a 6′9.5 wingspan and 8’7 standing reach, proving that his height and length are just as impressive as rumored. Not to mention, he finished in the top 10 in all of the speed-related athletic drills. Exum really blew people away with how he handled interviews, with the media and teams. He is incredibly down to earth and friendly, and he really won some people over during those sessions. While Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid were at home, Exum was creating a lot of buzz and plenty of teams around the league.

IN RELATED: Dante Exum: The Draft’s Mystery Man


   The 30-minute team interviews are probably the most important part of the combine. Sure, teams look at the measurements and athletic testing, but the face-to-face interviews with prospects is where they are able to learn the most about a kid. Teams ask a wide variety of questions to find out how the player thinks, whether he’s a good teammate, what he would do in certain situations, how responsible he is and what his priorities are.

Some teams ask tough questions (“If you were a few inches tall and stuck in a blender, how would you get out?”) while others just ask basic ones (“Who will you live with during your rookie year?”). Teams also ask players about their drug use, relationship with coaches, background, close friends and incidents from the past. Teams are allowed to interview 18 players. Doug McDermott, Dante Exum, Cleanthony Early, Shabazz Napier, Jarnell Stokes and Patric Young were some of the players who executives said did well in the interviews.


   Phil Jackson was in Chicago and actively involved in the New York Knicks’ interviews with players. One prospect told Basketball Insiders that after he told Jackson his wingspan, Phil didn’t believe him so he stood up and measured his wingspan against the prospect’s arms. Jackson’s wingspan was a little bit longer. Jackson was also asking players questions and providing feedback. Jackson didn’t go to the gym to watch the drills and testing (likely to avoid a media horde trying to interview him), but he was very involved in the Knicks’ pre-draft process, according to the prospects who sat down with him.

   Marcus Smart did very well at the combine, measuring in at 6′ 3.25 and 227 lbs with a 6′ 9.25 wingspan. Smart looked more like a linebacker than a point guard, to the point that it didn’t seem like he belonged in the point guard group alongside all of his skinny peers. He also did well in the athletic drills, with his 36’ max vertical and an incredible 19 bench press reps. That was tied for third-most reps of any player in attendance at the combine (only big men Patric Young and Jarnell Stokes did more) and one of the best ever bench-press performances for a point guard. It’s easy to see why teams are intrigued by Smart, with his enormous frame, potential to cause matchup problems and impressive athleticism. Smart also has an excellent work ethic. To get an idea of how much he loves the game and how hard he works, consider that he left the hotel on Thursday night to get in a late-night workout at DePaul University.

IN RELATED: Smart is Intense, Confident and Ready to Lead


   Tyler Ennis made headlines when he said that he feels he’s the best point-guard prospect in the 2014 draft class, ahead of Dante Exum and Marcus Smart among others.

“Definitely,” Ennis said without hesitation when asked if he’s the best point guard in the class. “ I think I have the ability to lead a team, I think I have the ability to make others better and I think I’m able to put those together into a true point guard, who is also able to score when my team needs me. There are a lot of guys who can really score the ball, maybe some who can score better than me, but none that can put together the whole package as a point guard better than I can in this draft.”

Ennis said that his best NBA comparison is Tony Parker and that he grew up modeling his game after Jason Kidd. Ennis said he’s looking forward to proving he’s a top prospect and told the media that he’s going to “take names” just as he has done throughout his entire life.

   Noah Vonleh had the second-largest hands in NBA combine history, measuring in at 9.75 inches long and 11.75 inches wide. He said that he was first able to palm a basketball at “six or seven years old” and, just before interviewing with the media, Hall of Famer Wayne Embry came over and compared hand sizes. Vonleh was bigger, but not by much. The only player whose hands were larger than Vonleh’s in combine history was Greg Smith, who was in the 2011 draft class.


Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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