Draft Combine Notebook: Day 1

The opinions expressed in this column do not represent those of the Boston Celtics front office personnel.

CHICAGO – The Quest Multisport facility in Chicago is playing host to this year’s NBA Draft Combine. Believe me when I tell you, there is a lot taking place on that premises.

About sixty players and a countless number of NBA executives cycled through the facility on Thursday for Day 1 of the Combine. Today’s events featured a series of group workouts by position, physical tests and media interviews over the course of five-plus hours. Players will rotate through a similar day of events on Friday, all while mixing in individual team interviews outside of the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. time frame.

Many of the projected lottery picks did not participate in the workouts, but there were still some pretty darn good players out on the floor. Below are some of the notes I took throughout the day on the general process and each crop of players who took the court.

Some Combine Notables

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) is one of many lottery-bound players who chose not to work out at the Draft Combine.
Marc D'Amico/Boston Celtics

  • Nearly every player who is projected to be drafted in the lottery does not work out at the Combine, but almost all Draft entrants are here to participate in interviews with both the media and team representatives.
  • Three players who are expected to compete for the top overall pick in the Draft, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, are not in town to participate in the Combine.
  • Whistles don’t get blown here. Every now and then a coach who is running a drill will yell “foul,” but for the most part, whistles are swallowed.
  • This thing is a big deal. The bleachers, which span from baseline to baseline and go about 15-20 rows deep, are pretty much full all day, and then there’s additional floor seating that’s filled all around the court. Every team’s executives are here and hundreds of media outlets are here. ESPN broadcasted the entire day live with at least seven personalities being on air.
  • Players whose positions are debatable are thrown into one group or another. Their grouping here does not necessarily mean they will play a specific position in the pros.
  • It was easy to get a full look at the first group of players, but time was limited watching the final three groups due to interviews coinciding with the workouts.

The Point Guards

  • This group included some pretty big names despite missing some of the lottery-bound players. Star players such as Russ Smith (Louisville), Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and Zach LaVine (UCLA) participated in the workouts.
  • Of those players, Smith, who helped Louisville win a title in 2013, stood out. He’s exactly what you’d expect him to be: an undersized yet swaggeriffic guard who can make some plays. Smith shot the ball very well, making 13 of 25 3s, 12 of his 18 midrange shots off the dribble, and 25 of his 36 attempts in the “on the move fifteen” drill (players attempt as many shots as possible within 35 seconds while shooting on the move from 15 feet).
  • Zach LaVine’s length is quite impressive for a potential point guard. Think Michael Carter-Williams. He has a high release but needs to become more consistent with his jumper. His high release, combined with his already-elite size and length, could become deadly if he improves that jumper. LaVine also tended to foul quite a bit during live drills.
  • DeAndre Kane, who averaged 17.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 5.9 APG for Iowa State last season, doesn’t have much lift on his shot. Reminded me a little bit of Dwyane Wade’s jumper… on a bad night. Kane improved his shooting numbers dramatically this past season compared to his first three collegiate years, but that stroke may need some tweaking at the next level.
  • Craft, who was Jared Sullinger’s former teammate at Ohio State, showed that he can be a sound decision maker but still lacks a reliable jumper. His release is quite slow. That being said, he can run an offense and is a great defender, which are two huge pluses.
  • Jahii Carson stood out to me, and quickly. The 5-foot-10 guard out of Arizona State possesses great explosiveness and I really liked his base on his jumper. He easily blew past Craft, a great defender, on a couple of plays. Now it doesn’t surprise me that Carson averaged 18.6 PPG and shot 39.1 percent from long range this past season.

The Shooting Guards

  • The shooting guards looked like the shooting guards. They were much more consistent with their shot than the point guards were.
  • One guy who shot the ball extremely well was Nick Johnson out of Arizona. He made 12 of his 25 NBA 3s and 19 of his 25 college 3s. The only true negative for Johnson was that he struggled to create his own shot against other guards during live drills.
  • Jordan McRae averaged 18.7 PPG for Tennessee last season but what stood out to me on Thursday was his defense. His wingspan is an absolute weapon. He’s only 6-foot-3 and change but possesses a wingspan that officially measured in at an incredible 7’0.50”. That, my friends, is on par with most of the power forwards and centers at the Combine. McRae showed some tenacity on defense and looked like he really cared about that side of the ball. I loved the way he fought through screens.

The Small Forwards

  • Rodney Hood (Duke) is a heck of a shooter. A confident, smooth jumper rolls off of his fingertips every time he releases a shot. He was lights-out on spot-up 3s, making 15 of his 25 attempts. He also made 14 of his 18 midrange shots off the dribble. The kid can shoot. End of story.
  • Cleanthony Early has a solid NBA small forward body. His body make-up reminds me a lot of a young Joe Johnson. Strong build with potential to bang with the big boys at his position.

The Power Forwards and Centers

  • This was a very skilled group of big men. Several bigs showed off strong shooting mechanics that could lead to a reliable outside jumper, including Cory Jefferson (Baylor) and Alex Kirk (New Mexico).
  • Alec Brown (Green Bay) already has that consistency. This little-known 7-footer can really shoot the rock… and that includes from long range. He shot an incredible 18-of-25 on spot-up NBA 3s.