Where the NFL Draft Combine gets all the players to at least show up for interviews and measurements, including the top picks, the NBA’s version is looking more and more like an open tryout for later picks to separate themselves from a stampeding herd.
Who is NOT going
The NBA will hold it’s annual Draft Combine in Chicago this week, but already seven of the projected 14 lottery picks won’t even show up and most of the ones who do won’t participate in any competitive workouts, let alone scrimmages.
As had previously been reported by the Vertical’s Shams Charania, Lonzo Ball will not attend the events. Notable players joining him include Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac.
Why wouldn’t players like Markkanen or Isaac show up to the combine, given that they could as high 4 or 5 or drop as low as late lottery? Wouldn’t they want to showcase themselves to NBA teams to make them appear even more irresistable?
There’s the rub.
The NBA Draft Combine doesn’t do anything to improve a top player’s draft stock, especially those who have been dissected for years by scouts.
In fact, the only thing that CAN happen is to hurt your stock. In a league where every ounce of athleticism and quarter inch of size matters, coming up short in either area compared to your peers could cost you millions of dollars.
So, many of the top players skip these meat markets.
As well, international players often don’t go to the Combine because they are still playing in their league games. Instead, they visit teams privately, where they can sell themselves on live solo or small-group workouts rather than 60+ players.
Frank Ntilikina, a 6-5’ PG from France won’t be at the combine, but like Dragan Bender a year ago he will find a way to make himself available for private workouts for certain preferred teams.
Who IS going
At the Combine, the Suns will enjoy seeing Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. on the same floor running drills. Fultz is the potential #1 overall pick, while Fox and Smith are hovering around the 4-10 range. All are dynamic point guards the Suns should be coveting, though with a post-lottery floor of the #5 pick it’s unlikely Dennis Smith will be a Suns target unless they trade down for some reason.
Fox, in particular, has an opportunity to measure out fantastically while showing off nearly-unmatched athletic skills in the events. He could rise the way Russell Westbrook shot up the charts in May and June and eventually went 4th overall to the Thunder.
The remaining 60+ players at the Combine are fighting for the last 50 picks in the June draft, along with another 60+ players who declared but did not get a combine invite.
The Suns plan
Don’t worry, the Suns get to meet all the top guys they could pick. Those meetings will occur here in Phoenix, and generally last 1-2 days apiece. Who agrees to those visits, including multiple meetings and get-togethers with different team officials, the training staff mafia and the coaches, will partly depend on the outcome of the NBA Draft Lottery next week. The Suns could end up anywhere from #1 overall to #5 overall.
Where things get more interesting - and public, including 6-man pre-draft workouts a few days each week - is the Suns other pick: at #32 overall and the fact that rosters will expand from 15 to 17 players next year.
Holding the 32nd overall pick, the Suns will probably host 30+ players for that slot alone over the coming weeks. The draft is kind of a free-for-all after the lottery, with guys rising and falling like yo-yos.
With the #32 pick, the Suns might have a hard time getting some clear late-lotto and mid-round guys in, depending on travel schedules, but since the draft is so unpredictable and the Suns have a history of trading around I don’t know if that will be a problem.
But still, the travel is a grind. By early June, these prospects are worn out going city to city and at some point they have to start saying no to teams they really don’t think will take them. You might not see a Zach Collins or O.G. Anunoby, both projected late-lottery, come through town, but guys like Harry Giles and Jawun Evans will almost certainly agree to come to Phoenix because of their late-first projections.
They will also bring in dozens of second-round-and-out prospects to potentially fill out their two-way slots being introduced next year. Under the new CBA, teams can sign up to two players to two-way contracts, in addition to their 15 regular slots, that are higher paid than D-League contracts but not as highly paid as full NBA roster contracts.
Happy Draft Season!