CHICAGO — Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid skipped the entire two-day event. Julius Randle, Dante Exum and 15 more top prospects took part only in the testing and measurement portion at the NBA Draft Combine Thursday and Friday at Quest Multisport.
In what the league views as a disturbing trend that began last year, players who didn’t participate overshadowed the prospects who did everything asked of them at the showcase for NBA prospects. Seventeen of the 59 invites didn’t suit up for Friday’s workouts, not including those who bowed out due to injury — Michigan State forward Adreian Payne and Michigan’s Mitch McGary.
The NBA could not provide an official list of participants compared to the 2013 combine, but after reviewing last year’s combine, of the 63 prospects to attend — eventual No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett did not attend because of shoulder surgery — eight players skipped the first day of workouts, and most of them were lottery picks. In 2012, lottery picks participated both days.
Even players who aren’t necessarily locks to be lottery picks said Thursday they avoided the Thursday on-court sessions at the recommendation of their agents.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott, despite working out at the facility since the end of the college season, said agent Mark Bartelstein made the call. He gave the same advice to Michigan’s Nik Stauskas — also training at Quest Multisport for weeks — one of the other top shooters in the draft.
Michigan State’s Gary Harris, who surprisingly measured 6-feet-2 and not 6-4, told The Sports Xchange he learned Wednesday that his agent “was holding me out.”
Ryan Blake, director of NBA scouting operations, says a player’s decision not to participate is their agent “posturing” a player’s potential, which he disagrees with because the draft hopefuls “only get so many opportunities.”
One player who surprised Blake by not participating was Australian point guard Dante Exum.
“He hasn’t played since October,” Blake said. “It was a chance for him to do it against (future NBA) competition.”
Blake, who also organizes the Portsmouth Invitational camp in which prospects compete in full-court scrimmages, is drafting a letter for prospects next year to help better prepare them for the draft process. If nothing else, it is Blake’s hope that prospects will weigh the NBA perspective rather than just listening to an agent who may only be focused on his own interests.
Blake did lament the combine’s apparent evolution toward measurements and away from full-court scrimmages that once took place before agents influenced a slower-paced environment. From a scout’s view, Blake said there are definitely some players that need the five-on-five setting to show their full arsenal. For example, a point guard can display court vision.
He did say the strength of the draft does play a role in how many players could opt to sit out, which could be the reason for the dramatic decline in participation. Kansas forward Wiggins — like teammate Embiid and Parker of Duke — is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick but was not in Chicago this week. He did, however, get the attention of those in attendance, Tweeting a picture of his 44-inch vertical leap at P3 Sports Science in Santa Barbara, Calif.
As it stands, the NBA Draft Combine — expected to remain in Chicago — is a focus on live measurements of prospects with height, wingspan, vertical leap and agility skills, and a showcase for late first-round and second-round picks, and those who will make NBA Summer League rosters. It is Blake’s hope the decline in participation this year is the exception.
“It would be unfortunate,” he said.
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