The NBA Draft Combine is upon us. From today until Friday, the best college prospects will be competing to catch the eyes of NBA scouts, coaches and GMs.
Although potential top picks like Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingis already have chosen against participating in the combine altogether, the field remains strong.
What used to be a glorified beauty pageant for the top NBA prospects aspiring to make it in the NBA has now turned into something more with the NBA announcing a new 5v5 portion for prospects to participate in starting on Thursday and Friday.
But to start, prospects will go through the typical testing of height, weight, athleticism and shooting drills from NBA range. Most uber-athletic prospects tend to do well in this setting, and here are five that could see their stock increase with their performance in the next few days.
Honorable mention: Stanley Johnson (SF, Arizona), Michael Qualls (SF, Arkansas), Keifer Sykes (PG, UW-GB), Dakari Johnson (C, Kentucky), Dez Wells (SG/SF, Maryland)
5. Chris Walker 6-10, 220, PF, Florida, Sophomore
Walker, a consensus top-10 recruit in the class of 2013, was supposed to be a one-and-done at Florida, but academic issues were problematic before he even arrived on campus. When dust cleared the air and he was deemed eligible, Walker went through two tumultuous seasons at Florida where he was a relative non-factor. Although Walker didn’t improve much, he declared for the NBA draft.
The reason he’s on this list is because of his electrifying athleticism that is unmatched by even most power forwards in the NBA today. This will impress scouts as Walker has plus quickness, speed and athletic ability as a power forward. He has ideal physical tools for a power forward but needs to add weight (only 220 pounds).
The only problem for Walker will be when they turn on the game film, as he is more an athlete than basketball player. Walker most likely won’t be drafted, but it’ll be exciting to see the numbers he puts up in the testing drills.
4. J.P. Tokoto, 6-6, 200, SG/SF, North Carolina, Junior
In scouting J.P. Tokoto, the first thing that jumps off the film is his ability for sky-high for dunks. Scouts will see a lot of the same during testing, and his quickness will be on full display as well. Tokoto defended a lot of the best opposing wings for Carolina, where his lateral quickness allowed him to stay in front of even the best wings at the college level.
What’s most concerning for Tokoto will be how he fares during the jump shooting portion of testing–clearly the weakest part of his game. If he turns into even a decent shooter, Tokoto could rocket up in mock drafts. Tokoto looks to be in second round territory right now.
3. Branden Dawson, 6-6, 225, PF/SF, Michigan State, Senior
Most likely the most gifted athlete in the class, Dawson soars for rebounds and tip-ins among traffic regularly. The ex-Spartan has all the athleticism in the world to be a standout at even the NBA level, but his skills are far behind. Dawson has a decent handle and is an underrated passer for a power forward, but he has a hitch in his jump shot and zero range.
Dawson should benefit from his showing at the combine, as he will put up great numbers across the board athletically. He was the smallest player (6-6) to lead the Big Ten in rebounding, and is a menace defensively – able to guard 1-4 in college, something he might be able to do in the NBA. His lack of perimeter ability will push him to the second round, but if he impresses enough athletically, it could push him closer to be an earlier second-round pick.
2. Robert Upshaw, 7-0, 265, C, Washington, Sophomore
Upshaw has some of the highest upside in the draft, and will most likely be picked in the second round, if at all. He has immense size as a shot-blocker but is still very raw offensively. Upshaw should dominate the testing portion of the draft.
There are also off-the-court issues to worry about with Upshaw after being kicked off the Washington mid-season in January. If those problems check out, Upshaw could potentially be a steal as a second round pick a la DeAndre Jordan. He has the size, length (7-4 wingspan) and defensive aptitude to be a starter in the league at center down the line. With good combine workouts, Upshaw could move into definitive draft position, increasing the likelihood he fulfills his huge potential.
1. Willie Cauley-Stein, 7-0, 240, C/PF, Kentucky, Junior
Cauley-Stein, as a 7-foot basketball recruit, also played wide receiver in high school. This gives you the type of athletic ability Cauley-Stein offers to NBA teams. Cauley-Stein is arguably the quickest lateral big man in this year’s draft, allowing him to switch on pick-and-rolls seamlessly. He can also attack the rim with force, using his length to go up for lobs.
He’s raw offensively, but NBA teams won’t be taking him for his offense. In the pick-and-roll friendly NBA, Cauley-Stein’s value is higher than it would have been in past years. His numbers at the combine shouldn’t shock anybody and could push him to be a top-eight selection. Cauley-Stein is the highest ranked prospect on this list, but he could benefit a bunch from the athletic testing if he proves to be the most athletic big man in the draft.