NBA Draft

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.

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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.

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