This week marks the official start of the pre-draft process. The NBA Combine started yesterday and will run through Sunday, with Thursday and Friday being televised on NBA TV and ESPN. Here's a full list of the participants.
While measurements and athletic drills were the only thing to look forward to in the combine for the past couple of years, the NBA has brought back 5-on-5 drills this year. There will be no lottery prospects participating in those scrimmages, but a lot of the prospects that will be involved in the jostling near the end of the first round and the start of the second round will participate.
This is where that large cluster of players that are rated all over the place by just about every expert will try to separate themselves and probably will with a better way of showcasing themselves.
Another thing to watch throughout the combine is the confirmation for scouts of guys who have soared through the process. A guy like D'Angelo Russell came out of nowhere in the summer in terms of being a lottery pick and now seems like a lock for the top five.
Damian Lillard a few years ago came to the combine from Weber State with a similar kind of buzz and he left the combine leaving no doubt in anyone's mind on who was the best point guard in the draft that year. That's what Russell can do this year in terms of the guard battle with Emmanuel Mudiay sitting out of every drill.
Who else should you be watching during the combine? To be honest, this is a great time to see how your favorite prospects are doing or find some new ones. I'll throw a couple of names out there though just for fun.
Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
If you've been reading our draft coverage for most of the year you are probably annoyed of us talking about this guy by now. However, this is a big week for Harrell. He's undersized, but makes up for it with wingspan. He looks like he projects to be a plus on the defensive end, but he played a lot of zone and some of these athletic drills will give us a better idea of his physical skills. He's one of the few guys you should really be watching in regards to measurements.
Robert Upshaw, C, Washington
Upshaw is a large athletic center who tries to dunk and block everything around the rim. He's going to really stand out on the athletic tests and it's going to be interesting to see how he measures because of the various reports on his wingspan and height. He has a lot of raw aspects to his game, most notably on offense, but including defense as well. Interviews are going to be humongous for him with his off the court issues. He is probably the best prospect in the 5-on-5 game and I'm pretty sure you'll be able to realize who he is pretty quickly.For more on Upshaw check out this terrific in-depth breakdown from Sam Vecenie at CBS Sports.
Elite College Scorers
With the 5-on-5 scrimmages this season, this is a huge chance for those typical prospects we see every year that float around the second round after some monster years of scoring the basketball in college. There's Joe Young from Oregon, Ryan Boatwright from UConn, Dez Wells from Maryland, Tyler Harvey from Eastern Washington, Olivier Hanlan out of Boston College, and even more. At least one of these guys is going to stand out in those scrimmages and it's going to be fascinating to see how it translates to their draft stock.
There's two specific players I'd focus on in those scrimmages that could be steals in the second round. Both are projected at the end of the second round, but could make huge impacts this week that see them drastically improve their stock.
The first of which is Brandon Ashley out of Arizona, who is going to soar up draft boards if he can hit threes this week. He's a terrific team defender who had a huge performance individually at Madison Square Garden in 2013 when he was the main contributor to shutting down Jabari Parker. He's a long guy who rebounds well and has an underrated scoring game that is juiced by a great touch around the rim. Like I said, if he can prove that he can shoot he's a guy that projects to help you just about anywhere on the floor.
The second is Branden Dawson out of Michigan State. The two best areas for an elite athlete to use their gifts is defensively and on the glass. Dawson does both, as he averaged an insane 9.1 RPG on the wing and guarded three positions very well for the Spartans. Like Ashley the problem for him comes from the other end in regards to his jumper and he will climb up draft boards if he shoots it well this week.
Lastly, there are two guys in the scrimmage that are going to making all of their money on defense.
J.P. Tokoto out of North Carolina is one of the best perimeter defenders in this draft and uses his insane athleticism to shut players down. He contributes offensively by being a beast in transition and unlike most cliché fantastic athletes who excel on the run, he really sees the floor and can be a playmaker passing the ball. He's way too streaky of a shooter to be relied upon on that end, but he's going to make money from defending.
The other guy is Jordan Mickey out of LSU, who stands at only 6'8", but is one of the best shot blockers in this draft. He has a little bit of an offensive game, which is a nice change of pace compared to some of these other prospects that contribute the most on defense. His jumper is consistent and is a guy that could eventually start hitting threes. Mickey can just springboard around the floor while you wait on other parts of his game to develop and that possibility makes him very interesting in the beginning of the second round.
Who are some of the prospects you are looking forward to watching this week?