CHICAGO — With every release, Melvin Ijim’s confidence grew. Catch, release, splash.
The Iowa State power forward is viewed by most teams as a wing player at 6 feet 6, but he made good on his determined intent to show at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine that he could shoot with the best of them.
“I think I bring a lot of those intangibles, a lot of versatility. Those are valuable pieces to teams. Vocal guys that help you win,” said Ejim, comparing his NBA-like traits with Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler and Miami Heat forward Shane Battier.
“I think I bring a lot to the table and a team that chooses to invest in me is going to have nothing to worry about and someone that is going to work hard every day, push guys on the team, want to be coached, want to get better.”
Ejim was also second in the three-quarter court sprint 3.14 seconds. He said he expected doubters this week, but left no question about his ability to shoot after playing many minutes in the paint for the Cyclones.
Ejim made 18 of 25 from NBA 3-point range on Thursday and kept pouring on the positives in Friday’s workout to leave the two-day event as one of the most buzzworthy in a draft overcrowded with shooters.
In part, Ejim was able to separate himself based on who did not participate. Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas said even a great shooting week “really wasn’t going to do much for me.”
Like Ejim, Stauskas could have some position versatility. He measured 6-6 1/2 and 206.9 pounds, and despite a wiry frame, some see him as a combo guard with the handle to slide to point guard.
He is working out daily with Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who said Stauskas opened his eyes with his ability to shoot off the dribble.
McDermott shot 45 percent from 3-point range last season and led the NCAA in scoring the past two years. He is the kind of “space creating shooter” that could be deadly on a team with an established big man.
“We dream of playing in the Spurs’ system,” McDermott said of his ideal NBA fit.
Duke guard Rod Hood was a popular interview for NBA teams this week, too, and said he is largely viewed as a score-first guard. He watched Manu Ginobili of the Spurs, James Harden of the Thunder — both left-handers scorers, like Hood — and would like to pattern his NBA game after Pacers All-Star Paul George.
“I’m a scorer, they’re wing players that can score,” he said.
Australian Dante Exum was listed by NBA scouting as a shooting guard. At 6-6, he is more of a ballhandler and said his range is a work in progress. Exum did not shoot or work in on-court drills, and told teams in interviews that he was a point guard.
“I said straight up that I’m a 1, that’s the one position that got me here and that’s what I’m going to keep going forward with,” Exum said.
Two players who generated a ton of buzz at the combine were Pac-12 standouts Aaron Gordon of Arizona and UCLA’s Zach LaVine.
Both freshmen are extremely athletic, but raw and underdeveloped physically. Gordon could be a lottery pick, and it would not be a surprise to see LaVine drafted in the teens.
“I see myself as a forward, I see myself as a basketball player,” Gordon said. “Obviously, you have to play a position in the NBA, but I’m going to be out there, I’ll be able to do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Post-ups, knock down jumpers, hit 3s, get by people. I feel very confident in myself that I can put 4 and 3 and whichever somebody wants to play me at is fine.”
Gordon skipped shooting and other basketball drills here. But he impressed nonetheless. Only Indiana 7-footer Noah Vonleh (11 3/4 inches) had bigger hands than Gordon (10 1/2), who had a 7-foot wingspan and 5 percent body fat percentage on his 220-pound frame. His max vertical was 39 inches, and he cleared the entire measurement rack on his first attempt. Gordon said he was disappointed and his all-time best is 42 inches.
Gordon (2.76 seconds) and LaVine (2.80 seconds) were 1-2 in the shuttle drill, measuring stop-and-start agility and explosiveness.
LaVine was the fastest player measured in lane-agility drill, a combination of lateral defensive slide and sprint. He also was third at the event with a 41 1/2-inch vertical, which showed on the court when he elevated to release the ball smoothly over defenders.
LaVine moved into the point guard group on Thursday after initially being scheduled to participate with shooting guards.
“I’m always going to be in the gym … whatever it takes to win,” LaVine said. “I really feel like I can benefit whatever position they put me in. I’m going to go out and work my hardest and do whatever the team needs me to do.”
Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft might be viewed as a long shot. He is only 6 feet tall and an unorthodox setup and release could lead to having his shots easily blocked in the NBA. That was an issue in two-on-two drills Friday.
Craft said he did not interview with any NBA teams this week, which could be an indication of his current draft stock.
Craft is open to being viewed as a deep rotational player whose expertise is defense. He was fourth in the lane agility drill (10.78 seconds).
“We all wish we could shoot like Steph Curry,” he said.
“My calling card has been defense since I’ve been playing basketball. That’s what I’m going to continue to lean on. That’s what I do. The people I’ve gotten to play against has helped show that I can guard the most athletic if I need to.”
Likely lottery pick Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State was overshadowed Thursday and Friday by former Cowboys teammate Markel Brown.
Brown was a combine all-star, finishing in the top three of most strength and agility drills. He blazed a 3.18-second three-quarter court sprint (fifth), tied for first with a 36 1/2-inch standing vertical and tied for first with Arizona State’s Jahii Carson with a 43 1/2-inch max vertical. The event record is 46 inches set by Memphis’ D.J. Stevens in 2013.
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