While not the momentous event the NFL combine is, the NBA Draft combine is an important time for front offices. On the national stage, it is the final time for many prospects to show themselves off in a live game setting and in testing. Inevitably, players’ stock will rise and fall (further than it should) based off of combine performances.
I don’t put much stock into combine testing. Numbers are helpful, but only if they back up what’s been seen on tape all year. The scrimmages are more interesting, as we get to see prospects compete in a less organized structure than NCAA basketball. Players with high feel and smarts usually stand out in these scenarios. I’m going to talk about 10 prospects who stood out to me, whether in measurements, testing or scrimmage performance.
For the wrong reasons, headlines shifted to Brandon Clarke early in the NBA combine. His underwhelming measurements were the talk of the combine, with overreactions rife among the draft community. Yes, Brandon Clarke’s six-foot-eight wingspan (+0) and eight-foot-six standing reach are disappointing figures for a so-called elite big man defender. Here’s the thing: we all knew Brandon Clarke wasn’t very long. Some may have suspected his wingspan was +1 or +2, but nobody claimed he was Tacko Fall.
Long arms or not, Brandon Clarke is a special rim protector. His vertical explosion and timing is rare and allows him to reach most balls despite his lack of length. Brandon Clarke had the same amount of missed field goals as blocks (117). Lowering him considerably because of a predictable measurement, one not essential to his success, is silly. By every account, Clarke projects to be an elite defender and no measurement will change that.
Too bad Brandon Clarke wasn’t long enough to make this block. https://t.co/RZ85CFglCz
— Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) May 16, 2019
As for the rest of the combine, Brandon Clarke dominated testing. His strength and agility results are as follows:
10.61 lane agility
3.05 shuttle run
3.28 three-quarter sprint
34.0 standing vertical leap
40.5 max vertical leap
Those are all-time historic for a big man and elite numbers regardless of position. Despite being mistakenly included in the small forward category, he ranked second in lane agility, fourth in shuttle run, third in the three-quarter sprint, first in standing vertical leap and first in the max vertical leap.
In 2010, John Wall posted a 10.84 lane agility, 30 standing vert and a 39 max vert. In 2008, Russel Westbrook posted a 10.98 lane agility, 30 standing vert and 36.5 max vert. Clarke’s lane agility is faster than Lonnie Walker, Trevon Duval, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler.
Some foolish teams are going to overthink Brandon Clarke’s lack of traditional size and offensive skill, picking his teammate over him. Brandon Clarke’s elite athleticism, instincts and feel and burgeoning offensive came all but ensure him a place as one of this draft’s best prospects, yet he will needlessly fall. Whichever team ends up with Brandon Clarke is going to rub it in the face of many teams who faded him for all the wrong reasons.
One of my favorite prospects in this class, Isaiah Roby has fallen this year. His athleticism and shooting+skill remain promising, but his unaggressive mentality and lack of IQ makes him a difficult bet high in the draft. Though, at the combine, he had a great showing, potentially boosting his draft stock. He had maybe the most underrated testing of any prospect, with a 10.63 lane agility, 3.05 shuttle run, 3.21 three-quarter sprint, 32.5 standing vertical leap and 35.5 max vertical leap. His 3.9 percent body fat (sixth lowest) along with his seven-foot-one wingspan and eight-foot-one standing reach was impressive.
In the first scrimmage, Roby struggled on both sides of the ball, failing to make too much of an impact. His decision making was rushed and off for much of the game, here taking a bad step back mid range. On the other end, Luka Samanic easily beats him on the baseline spin:
Defending off of the ball, Oshae Brissett squeaks by Roby, who spaces and allows a free cut behind him:
The second game was a different story for Isaiah Roby. One of the main issues with Roby is his overall passivity, which was pleasantly absent in his second game. Roby is a talented offensive player, with legitimate handling and shooting ability. When those come out of their shells, Roby looks like a valuable small ball four prospect.
Roby’s newfound aggression popped in transition, where Roby flashed his grab-and-go ability. Roby swipes at the ball, eventually grabbing the ball, igniting the break. Flashing impressive handling and coordination, Roby waltzes through the defense for the off-hand finish in traffic:
And this time, Roby accrues a full head of steam and punishes the defense with a thunderous slam:
Full of confidence, Roby sizes up Darius Bazley, before beating him off of the dribble and finishing with the and-one:
While his passing feel is inconsistent, his uptick in aggression seems to fuel better decision making. Again, Roby sizes up his defender, driving and drawing in the help before kicking to Reggie Perry. If a shooter is in the corner, Roby adds an assist to his totals:
On defense, Roby locked in further as the game progressed. His engine revving at full capacity, Roby pokes the ball away from Dedric Lawson, blowing up the dribble handoff and passing up the floor to a running Kyle Guy:
I’ve soured on Roby as the season has progressed, coming to the realization his rawness mentally and physically is more damning than I originally thought. However, there’s a good NBA player trapped in Isaiah Roby and he had the chance to show himself off on a big stage.
He’ll need the right development system to develop his mental side of the game, along with working on his general feel and consistency. At the combine, Roby may have done enough to provide himself a worthwhile flyer at some point in the second round.
A relative unknown to many, Darius Bazley de-committed from Syracuse to prepare for the NBA draft. There’s not much tape out there on Bazley, with scouts and fans relying on often unreliable high school film to decipher his game. Like Roby, Bazley is another player who struggles with consistency and feel issues, who has another gear.
In both games, Bazley had some issues with shot selection, but his overall feel and decision making was vastly improved in his second scrimmage. As a passer, Bazley flashed a different comfort reading the floor than he did in the first game. The spin move frees Bazley from the clamps of Miye Oni and he proceeds to find the cutting Ignas Brazdeikis for the bucket:
Bazley drives past Oni, getting middle and drawing in help before kicking out to Brazdeikis open in the corner:
An athletic wing, Bazley showed off his defensive ability. Off the ball, he was focused for most of the game and didn’t frequent errors in team defense. Measuring well, Bazley’s six-foot-nine height, seven-foot wingspan and eight-foot-11 standing reach are solid measurements for a small-ball four type.
He’s got the lateral quickness to survive on the perimeter, here, staying low, sliding his feet and pressuring Oni into a miss:
On offense, Bazley’s shot selection is questionable, but his handle is his most exciting tool creating offense. His hang dribble is great, using deft timing to find cracks in the defense and gain space on his opponents. The release is slow and long, but Bazley was able to size up Roby and pull-up in the mid-range:
Again, he slinks in early offense, the double cross setting up his man for the blowby. The hang dribble is all he needs to get separation on Ponds, finishing with the sweet reverse layup:
Bazley flashed some stupid shot making; generally you don’t want these high-risk, low-reward type shots, though the ability to hit tough looks like this can be valuable in the playoffs especially:
There are major question marks surrounding Bazley, one being his inconsistent three-point shot. Is he going to space the floor? It is always difficult to bet on inconsistent, low feel players. Bazley looked undraftable in his first game and looked like a first round pick in his second game.
At this point, Bazley is worth a mid-late second gamble for his handling creation and physical tools alone and would be an intriguing project for a team to take on.
Transitioning from one unknown to the other, Jalen Lecque was the second of two players who didn’t play college (or overseas) basketball this season to enter the draft. Instead of attending NC State, Lecque decided to prepare for the NBA draft and it seems his decision has paid off. He left the combine after the first game of the scrimmage, with NBA front offices clearly impressed.
All it takes is a few minutes of viewership to notice the eye-candy some call Lecque’s athleticism. The moment he steps in the NBA, he’ll be one of the top run/jump athletes in the league. His speed, shiftiness and vertical explosiveness are outlier traits. Lecque detonated at the combine, posting the highest max vertical leap (43 inches), the second highest standing vertical leap (35 inches) and the 10th fastest three-quarter sprint (3.21 seconds).
His dominant athleticism is apparent in all facets of his game, springing quickly to spike Quentin Grimes’ layup off of the backboard:
More defense from Lecque, who reads Grimes filling to the wing, intercepting the lazy Martin pass and taking it to the house, finishing with authority:
Lecque is electric careening downhill, creating separation with his ungodly burst and change of speeds/directions. His elite change of speed is on display here: watch Lecque’s feet on the off-beat crossover, freezing Brissett on his way to two points:
While Lecque’s skill game is raw on the whole, I was surprised by how well Lecque saw the floor and passed the ball. I thought Lecque needed to be more aggressive attacking the rim, especially when big men switched onto him. Despite often playing without purpose, Lecque’s passing stood out in his only combine scrimmage. Here’s a high-level pass by Lecque, blowing by Hernandez on the switch and making a live-dribble lefty bounce pass to the rolling Tyler Cook.
Many players succumb to pressure at the end of the shot clock and their decision making suffers because of it. Not Lecque on this play, executing an NBA read:
Lecque’s passing is most dangerous when he can drive into the teeth of the defense, drawing help and making plays. His strength and quickness get Lecque into the paint with ease and he drops the ball off to the cutting Isaiah Roby for the score:
Despite the pass being a little high and lacking zip, this read to the corner from the middle is solid:
I mentioned Lecque playing without purpose before. He often seems to stroll around the court, gliding around without amounting to any advantage. The hang dribble and left to right cross has Luka Samanic beat clean.
Instead of picking up his dribble and charging to the basket for a layup, Lecque is sloppy, allowing Jeffries to poke away at the ball and allowing Samanic to stay in front and force a pass out:
Aside from some handle and passing flashes, Lecque’s offensive skill package is underdeveloped. He is a non-threat shooting the basketball and defenses took advantage of this. Sharpening his wits on both ends will be greatly beneficial as Lecque clearly possesses the physical tools requisite for an NBA guard.
Like Bazley, Lecque will be a project for whichever NBA team enlists his services worth a selection somewhere in the second round for his blurry athleticism alone.
Playing overseas, Luka Samanic hasn’t lived up to preseason expectation and has consistently slid down boards because of it. Playing overseas meant a lack of general exposure to casual NBA fans, making him a wildcard at the NBA combine.
In his one scrimmage, Samanic played exceptionally well, flashing a multitude of valuable NBA skills for a shooting/scoring four. I loved his decisiveness on offense, attacking off the catch, blowing by Kyle Guy on his way to the tin:
Samanic shoots the ball well with fine touch, here flashing a nice three off of movement (skip to 1:26):
Luka Samanic (Croatia) showed quite a few flashes on both sides of the ball in 19 minutes in his first NBA Combine scrimmage
– Moved his feet on defense
– Contested shots
– Attacked off the catch
– Post game
– Made a nice 3 off movement pic.twitter.com/OJDJmRFfMG
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) May 17, 2019
Samanic was as impressive on offense as he was on defense, mostly on the perimeter. He looked light and nimble on his feet, sticking with perimeter attackers. Samanic slides with Roby on one end, forcing a tough shot. On the other end, he whips out a gorgeous baseline spin, again attacking quickly to burn the defense:
Revisiting this play, Samanic did a solid job recovering to stay with the rapid Lecque, staying grounded and forcing the pass out:
It was a statement performance for Lecque, putting himself on the map for fans, draft fanatics and lazy front offices (hey GarPax!). With his size and skillset, Samanic looks to be one of the more intriguing international options in this year’s class.
One of the guys who I enjoyed watching most in the scrimmages, despite his warts, was Jaylen Nowell. He didn’t do anything groundbreaking or new, though he put his skills on display to a wider offense. Nowell’s underrated passing ability stood out, despite some poor shot selection at times.
As a pick and roll ball-handler, Nowell carved up the defense with his patience and passing ability. Here’s a calculated drive, finding space and wrapping the ball around to the rolling Neemias Queta:
When he wasn’t in chucker mode, Nowell’s snappy decision making stood out. With a straight line to the rim, Nowell correctly bounces the rock to the cutting McDaniels:
Some more off-ball creation here, with Nowell attacking the closeout and locating McDaniels cutting to the basket:
While Nowell isn’t an athletic player by any means, his handle is good enough to create space out of the PNR and moving downhill. This hesitation dribble freezes the big man, opening a window to the bucket:
On defense, Nowell acted typically, with playmaking off-ball coupled with poor man defense and lapses in team defense. Nowell reads this play unfolding, scanning Shayok and breaking on the lackadaisical pass, dunking in transition:
Nowell’s lack of athleticism leads him to struggle defending on the ball, his lateral quickness and recovery speed below par to halt many ball-handlers. Quinndary Weatherspoon, who is no speed demon, has little trouble getting middle against Nowell:
Defending in transition, Nowell fixates on the ball, allowing Terance Mann to slip behind him for the score:
It is difficult to be too excited about Nowell’s NBA upside because of his overall sluggishness and feel issues. Though, his passing, shooting and shot creation along with some excellent numbers inspire hope for a capable NBA scoring wing.
Matthews is one of the best defenders in this draft class and he stood out on the defensive end in the combine scrimmages. He changes directions like an elite NFL cornerback and has the lateral quickness and strength to erase screens and dominate at the point of attack.
His off ball IQ and instincts are great, but Matthews dominated most defending man to man in the scrimmages. Matthews has no trouble switching onto guards, applying suffocating pressure and forcing Ky Bowman to pass:
Not wasting a second on this switch, Matthews sticks to Marial Shayok like glue for 94 feet, forcing him into the backcourt:
On offense, Matthews is poor in most areas, limiting his ceiling as a prospect. Given his elite defense, adding a passable three-point shot would be huge for his NBA value. Matthews hitting NBA range threes with this level of comfortability is scary:
Here’s a nice flash of creation, creating off of the dribble, fluidly flowing into the pull-up mid-range jumper:
He’s never discussed among the glut of prospects with “upside,” though he should be, even if his upside is unconventional. Barring something unforeseen, Matthews will be a great defender at the NBA level. If the shot or handle develops to an average level, Matthews looks like an invaluable role player who will exceed the value of his contract.
In both scrimmages, Cody Martin looked like he was playing basketball on a different mental plane. He controlled the pace of the game masterfully, with a perfect balance of setting up his teammates and getting his own. Patiently parsing the defense out of the pick and roll, Martin waits for Samanic to roll to his spot before crossing between the legs and firing the lefty bounce pass on target:
Again, Martin gets to his spot in the middle. Instead of making a rash decision, Martin surveys the floor, waiting for Mann to find his way to the middle of the floor:
While he’s not a threat from the three-point line, Cody Martin got to wherever he wanted on the floor, getting all the way to the rim and scoring in the mid-range. Martin loved probing the defense, whipping out his behind the back to create space for his buttery pull-up:
His defense was stellar as well, playing the passing lanes and taking it the other way:
Martin hasn’t generated too much buzz around the NBA, as the league seems to stay away from older guards who don’t shoot. However, Martin is the type of player I like to bet on, a tall point guard with smarts, passing, handling and defensive ability. If he ends up shooting, Cody Martin is the type of player who could stick for a long time in the league.
Nic Claxton was a big winner in the measurement department, measuring like a legitimate center. Standing six-foot-11 and three quarters with a seven-foot-two and a half (+3, larger than I thought) wingspan and a nine-foot-two standing reach, Claxton has sufficient physical tools for an NBA big man.
In the scrimmages, Claxton made a huge impact, especially game one. In the first half of game one alone, he recorded an absurd seven blocks. Moses Brown admittedly isn’t the toughest assignment, but Claxton punked the prophet all game:
Off of the ball, Claxton’s length was a deterrent as it was all season. His IQ and frame allows him to make plays in the passing lane, creating a turnover:
Claxton did his thing defending the perimeter, showing his trademark switchability that has garnered him so many fans. Switching in the pick and roll, he recovers to block Miye Oni from behind:
Again, though his opponent is no freer of slaves, Claxton has no problem drop stepping Moses Brown into oblivion:
Before the combine, I would have tabbed Nic Claxton as a guarantee to return to school. With Anthony Edwards coming to Athens next season, I would have expected Claxton to return in hopes of boosting his stock. Now, it seems like there’s a good chance Claxton stays, given the feedback he has received. With his switching ability and a slew of skills, essentially playing point guard for Georgia, Claxton is an intriguing selection somewhere in the middle of the draft.
One of the most interesting developments at the combine is Jalen McDaniels’ weight gain. Although his 191.6 pounds is the 12th lightest at the entire combine, he looks visibly bigger, notably in the upper body. Here’s McDaniels defending as a freshman:
And here’s him stonewalling Dedric Lawson in the post, notably larger in his torso:
Bulking up helps mitigate one of McDaniels’ fatal flaws, allowing his rare traits to shine through. For a near six-foot-10 player, McDaniels has rare coordination and fluidity along with some enticing skill flashes. Take this crossover to beat a plodding big man to the middle:
And here’s McDaniels switching onto the blazing Jaylen Hands, holding his own before needlessly fouling:
With his added weight, I’m back in on the McDaniels train. In the second round, his physical tools and flashes of skill are worth a speculative selection.
To close off this piece, I want to quickly mention an 11th player, Tyler Herro, one of the combine’s biggest losers. Measuring six-foot-six, his wingspan is an anemic six-foot-three and a quarter, a troubling measurement. I don’t like to have measurements impact my evaluation of a player too much, but his t-rex arms combined with not great athleticism is worrisome.
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