Inside the 2017 NBA Draft Combine

Sam Smith gives us his initial takes from the 2017 draft combine:

By Sam Smith

I think I may have spoken Thursday with at least one of the Bulls selections in this year’s NBA draft.

Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s the super athletic shooting guard, the religiously well rounded guy, the clever, mature point guard or the Brooklyn guy who says he intends to show everyone New Yorkers are not jerks. Now, that last guy could really be talented if he can do that.

The NBA Thursday began its intense testing, measuring, prodding and poking of most of the best young basketball players in the world at the NBA Draft Combine on the West Side at Quest MultiSport.

Not really all the best players because many of the projected top picks in the draft don’t show up. Some do for measurements, but opt out of playing in the scrimmages or doing media interviews. Yes, they practice before getting into the NBA how to avoid the media and public.

The top draft picks this year are projected to be Markelle Fultz of Washington, a near unanimous No. 1, Lonzo Ball of UCLA, a near unanimous potential pain in the butt because of his father’s media activism, Kansas Josh Jackson, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and perhaps Duke’s Jason Tatum. Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen sneaks in on the lists of some teams.

It’s not unusual for the top picks these days to skip either the camp, the workouts and media for fear of falling in the draft. Yes, the NBA is investing a lot of money these days in kids who fear competing.

But no one passes on talent.

Like Kevin Durant, who still seems to be holding a grudge about being mocked when he came to the camp and couldn’t lift 200 pounds. Of course, he still ended up as the No. 2 pick. But in the fake tough guy image he’s lately adopted, Durant told ESPN players should, “Stay your ass home, work out and get better on your own time.”

I personally would make any player failing to attend the camp ineligible to play in the NBA. After all, it is a job interview, and if you are first in your class at Yale, don’t you still interview? Or even at a higher caliber university like Ball State.

It turns out no one asked me and Fultz seems safe at the top.

Though I did overhear Ball’s UCLA teammate, T.J. Leaf-- who one scout told me was the next Nikola Mirotic (not exactly sure what he meant)—say he wasn’t paying $500 for a pair of Ball’s new sneakers. And Leaf should be a first round pick with maybe a three-year deal worth more than $10 million. So good at economics already.

But even if most of the top 10 picks weren’t around, or for long, that shouldn’t matter much to the Bulls picking No. 16. Of course, that could change in the month ahead with the lottery drawing next Tuesday and then the draft June 22. There figures to be much speculation regarding the Bulls after a 41-41 season and first round playoff ouster.

But for now it looks like picks Nos. 16 and 38.

There’s an infinitesimal chance the Bulls could get into the lottery with the Sacramento pick from the Luol Deng trade. But that would require three teams between Nos. 9 and 14 to all jump into the top three in the lottery. That’s never come close to happening. So the Bulls likely will finalize that deal with getting pick No. 38, No. 8 in the second round from the Kings.

The Bulls probably will conduct interviews and workouts with more than 40 players, so there’s no point in even trying to guess their selection by whom they meet. I’d say if I were making the pick, I’d most want shooting, great athletic ability and a playmaking point guard.

So how about Donovan Mitchell from Louisville, a big time athlete who can guard multiple positions, play some point guard? His shot isn’t great, but isn’t quite broken.

“I’m a guy willing to work,” said Mitchell, who talked about how proud he was being able to buy new clothes and accessories for his sister, though he said the new car will have to wait. “I feel I have the wing span and being defensive minded like I am, the focus on defense can help in my rookie year.”

At 6-3 he’s a bit small at shooting guard, but he has been compared with players like Avery Bradley and Eric Bledsoe. “Those are smaller guys able to defend taller wings,” noted Mitchell.

Or just perhaps go for the all-Tomball wing.

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson is a versatile wing player generally projected to be selected around the Bulls’ position. He’s from Tomball, Texas like the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler. But seemingly the other side of the city. Jackson said he was home schooled, so he didn’t know if Butler was celebrated in high schools there. He is deeply religious to the point he talked about making sure teams understand his commitment to God first doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about basketball. As a player he seems a bit like Paul Zipser with perhaps some more athletic ability.

“Getting stronger is an every day battle for me. Whoever decides to take a chance on me, I will try to not make them look like a fool. For me, each and every day is trying to get better and help myself and the team succeed. (A team taking me) won’t have to worry about off the court. I’m a guy who will work his butt off each and every day and help the team any way possible; if I do that I’ll be happy with my life."

Justin Jackson

“At times,” Jackson said, “people can take my beliefs sometimes as a negative. For me, my faith and my family are the most important things in my life; basketball comes right underneath that. So people may take that as, ‘He’s not as serious about basketball.’ In these interviews hopefully I can portray basketball as a talent I’ve been given by God. So if I don’t try to work as hard as I can at those abilities, I feel that’s a disgrace to Him.

“I’ve never met him or talked to him,” Jackson said about fellow Tomball native Butler. “It is a cool connection because he is one of the best guards in the league. That would be cool to have two Tombalians on the same team. I’m not sure (what Tomball tough, a favorite Butler expression, means). I guess hard nosed, continues to work hard. I’ve never heard that saying before. I usually say I’m from the Houston area because nobody really knows where Tomball is. For him it is the pride he has and that’s major respect the way he takes off for Tomball.”

Jackson was asked about North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and whether they’d become great pals if he becomes a Bull. Jackson said he thought Trubisky would have more pressing business.

I also liked the resume on Rawle Alkins, a freshman shooting guard from Arizona, though perhaps as a second round pick. He still could return to college because he hasn’t signed with an agent. Alkins is the Brooklyn kid who came into this week’s interviews—called speed dating by the kids for the quick sessions with teams—having studied the staffs of every team so he could call every one of the gms and scouts by their first names.

“Every interview, I do research on the team,” said Alkins. “I make sure I know the general manager’s name, people on staff. I try to get them as comfortable as possible about the stigma of New York athletes. They’re not that rude. You’re applying for a job; do your best to get it.”

Alkins is a physical scoring guard with an improving shot, an intriguing prospect “I really don’t have a position,” says Alkins. “I play multiple roles, guard the four man, wing, point guards.”

Another interesting possibility is Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who is a likely second round selection and not quite the NBA level starter. But he’s a natural point guard who led Gonzaga in points, rebounds and assists in the championship game. He’s not exceptionally fast, but a top playmaker and floor leader type who can run an offense.

“You kind of know what you are getting with a player like me,” he said. “My maturity, coming into this league probably as backup you have to be solid; can’t be a high risk, high reward guard. I’m someone who can take the reigns and be in control. Coming into this league you have to earn your stripes; a backup has to be a solid point guard. The coach has to know what he’ll get and I feel I can bring that to table. I’m not a converted point guard. I’ve been a point guard my whole life and that comes naturally.”

Another interesting guy who isn’t your typical ham ‘n egger is Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon. He’s an athletic wing man who can shoot well enough to be a big shooting guard. He’s been projected anywhere from the late teens in the draft into the 30s.

“I play two and three mostly,” he said. “I feel as I get older I can play some point guard as well.”

In that realm as well is South Carolina’s P.J. Dozier, a big guard who can play point but doesn’t yet shoot well enough at shooting guard.

“It’s something I work on countless hours,” he said about the shooting. “I’m versatile and can play the one through the three. I’ve been playing point all my life and also defend one through three. The more positions you can play, the more you can be on the court and help your team.”

Josh Hart, who returned to Villanova after they won the 2016 title, is an experienced shooting guard. Though he corrected me there.

“I’m not a shooting guard. I’m a basketball player. I do everything on the court; that’s my strength. Someone might say their strength is shooting. My strength is winning. I’m a four-year player, more mentally mature and can come in and make an impact. You know what you are going to get with me.”

Josh Hart

Probably a second round pick and too bad since the Bulls could use a shooting guard.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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