The 2015 Draft Combine: 10 Players To Watch
Thursday and Friday from 3pm to 7pm (EST)
It’s that time of year once again. The hours upon hours spent watching amateur YouTube highlights, the flimsy and forced comparisons between 19-year-old prospects and established NBA veterans, and smokescreens within smokescreens that are in fact smokescreens of other smokescreens. Yes, the NBA Draft is right around the corner, and the action heats up this week as the basketball world descends upon Chicago for the league’s annual combine.
Here’s the lowdown:
Every year, the nation’s top prospects travel to the Windy City to be poked, prodded, measured, and interviewed by representatives from all 30 franchises. This year, the NBA has added a new wrinkle to the proceedings, implementing a set of five-on-five games at the event. And while most of the projected lottery picks from this class have opted out of the scrimmage, a handful of intriguing prospects will still suit up. Here’s the full list of combine participants (highlighted in blue are players who have elected to compete in five-on-five in addition to medical/physical testing).
|Pat Connaughton||SG||Notre Dame|
|Branden Dawson||F||Michigan State|
|George Lucas de Paula||PG||Brazil|
|Olivier Hanlan||G||Boston College|
|Tyler Harvey||G||Eastern Washington|
|Corey Hawkins||G||UC Davis|
|Jonathan Holmes||PF||Bowling Green|
|Keifer Sykes||PG||Green Bay|
|Marcus Thornton||SG||William and Mary|
|R.J. Hunter||SG||Georgia State|
|Cameron Payne||PG||Murray State|
|D'Angelo Russell||G||Ohio State|
Here are some players of note to pay attention to throughout the week:
George Lucas de Paula, PG, Brazil
As if the fact that his name is literally George Lucas and his nickname is Georginho weren’t enough, de Paula is also one of the most unique players in this year’s class. At 6’6” and 197 pounds with a 7’0” wingspan, the 18-year-old has an impressive physical profile for a point guard. His hands are absolutely massive – measured exactly as long and as wide as those of Nerlens Noel, and his ability to turn defense into fastbreak offense makes him an interesting prospect.
The native of Diadema, Brazil is one of 36 players expected to participate in five-on-five play at the Combine.
R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State
As a three-year standout at Georgia State, R.J. Hunter largely flew under the radar despite his gaudy statistical output (18.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, and 1.9 SPG in 99 career games). But that all changed after he led the #14-seeded Panthers to an improbable 57-56 victory over the #3-seeded Baylor Bears courtesy of a miraculous 26-footer in the final seconds of the teams’ first-round Tournament meeting. Cinderella-hopeful Georgia State was knocked off by #6-seeded Xavier two days later.
Hunter is a volume shooter from the perimeter (715 three-point attempts in three seasons), and although his efficiency from distance dropped from 39.5% in 2013-14 to 30.5% last season he’s still considered one of the best shooters in this year’s class. Like D’Angelo Russell, his athleticism been questioned throughout the pre-draft process, and also like Russell he’ll have the chance to squash some of those criticisms with a strong showing at the combine. Hunter has opted not to compete in five-on-five drills.
With Karl Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and Emmanuel Mudiay all declining invitations to this year’s combine, D’Angelo Russell is the event’s marquee attendee. The 6’5” combo guard was a consensus All-American as a freshman at Ohio State last season, drawing comparisons to Manu Ginobili, James Harden, and even Steph Curry because of his polished all-around game and ability to stretch the floor along with his potential to play both backcourt positions.
While Russell will not compete in five-on-five play, he will go through medical/physical testing. Criticized at times as a smooth but unspectacular athlete, he’ll have the chance to prove doubters wrong with a strong showing at the combine.
Chris Walker, PF, Florida
As a high school senior, Chris Walker looked like a can’t-miss prospect. At 6’9” with a near 7’3” wingspan and all-world athleticism, he was expected to go one-and-done en route to a lottery selection last year. But after eligibility issues and growing pains limited him to averages of just 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.0 minutes per game through two seasons at Florida, he’s looking to prove that he has what it takes to contribute at the professional level.
Walker will play alongside Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison and Arizona’s T.J. McConnell as a member of Team 4 at the Combine this week. He’ll also look to show off his impressive physical tools in the testing portion of the event.
Like most of the projected lottery picks in this year’s class, Justise Winslow will not be participating in the five-on-five portion of the Combine, but the swingman will be putting his elite athleticism on display during physical testing. Winslow, who won a National Championship with Duke as a freshman, has a chance to bolster his claim as a top-7 prospect with a big performance in Chicago.
Mouhammadou Jaiteh, C, France
If this name looks familiar (and frankly, it’s not an easy one to forget), that’s probably because this is his third go-around with the NBA Draft. In 2013, he initially declared for the draft before dropping out in mid-June due to concerns about his falling stock, and in 2014 he expressed interest in entering the draft once again but opted not to do so in the end. This time around, the 20-year-old is projected as an early second-round pick, but with a strong performance at the combine he could push his stock into the late first-round.
Jaiteh, who goes by the nickname “Mam”, is an impressive rebounder due to his 9’2.5” standing reach, 247-pound frame, and keen sense of positioning. He’ll be able to show off his two-way ability in five-on-five play at the Combine.
Tyler Harvey, SG, Eastern Washington University
Dude attempted 602 career threes at Eastern Washington and converted at at a 43.2% clip. Enough said.
Oh, and he'll be participating in five-on-five.
Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas
Standing 6’7” with a wide frame, a massive 7’2.25” wingspan, and explosive leaping ability, Kelly Oubre is one of the most athletically gifted wings in this year’s class. Coming into his freshman year, many expected Oubre to make an immediate impact and push for consideration as a top-seven pick, but his minutes were limited early in the season and his production was up and down even once consistent playing time came following winter break.
Projected as a mid-late lottery pick, Oubre is a lefty with a smooth game and a nice outside stroke, and if his measurables shake out the way many expect he could climb boards as draft day approaches in late June.
Michael Qualls, SG, Arkansas
If you’re someone with an affinity for the Giannis Antetokounmpos, Rudy Goberts, and even Saer Senes of the world, Michael Qualls may be your guy. At 6’5” and 201 pounds, his 7’0.25” wingspan, freakishly large hands, and otherworldly athleticism make him stand out immediately when you watch the Razorbacks play.
As a junior last season, the 21-year-old averaged 15.9 points (43.6 FG%, 33.3 3P%) and 5.3 rebounds, earning Second-team All-SEC honors. He’s expected to be drafted in the 25-40 range, and the Sixers hold the #35 and #37 picks. Qualls will compete in five-on-five at the Combine.
Robert Upshaw, C, Washington
Perhaps no player in this year’s class is more enigmatic than Robert Upshaw. Standing 7’0”, weighing 258 pounds, and possessing a massive 7’5.5” wingspan and 9’5” standing reach, he has ideal measurables for a center prospect. But his resume is anything but ideal.
Upshaw has been dismissed from two different Division I programs – Washington in 2015 and Fresno State in 2013 – for violations of team rules, and as a result the 21-year-old sophomore has appeared in just 39 games since graduating from high school in 2012. But his ability, especially on the defensive end, is undeniable. Before his most recent dismissal, he was averaging 10.9 points (59.3 FG%), 8.2 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game. For those of you doing the math in your heads, yes, that equates 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes.
Upshaw arguably has a lot more to prove to teams during one-on-one interviews than through his play in the Combine’s five-on-five scrimmages, but the latter will give fans a closer look at one of this year’s biggest sleeper prospects.