The NBA Draft combine begins today in Chicago, and 67 players are expected to attend. It’s a pivotal week not only for the players, but college basketball teams as well. Over a dozen players who declared for the draft but did not hire an agent could boost their stock and not return to school, or decide they could use an extra year in college.
The players to watch this week aren’t the lottery locks like Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Markelle Fultz, but players coming off injuries who can enhance their stock, or players who haven’t hired an agent, and may return to college next Fall. Here are the five players with the most on the line:
Harry Giles, PF, Duke: Two years ago, when he was a high school junior, Giles was pegged as the potential #1 pick in 2017. (See here, here and here.) Last year, we asked if he was Baby KG. But after another knee injury in 2016 – his third knee surgery – Giles might not even be a 1st round pick. Giles, 19, has already had ACL surgery on both knees. Prodigiously talented, Giles played more than 20 minutes once in his career; he scored in double figures twice. All that being said … if he performs well this week, and looks healthy, I think there’s a small chance he could sneak into the lottery.
Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue: Biggie Smalls was the most dominant player in the Big 10 last year, and could win the conference POY again if he returns to school. Right now he’s a fringe 1st round pick. Ten years ago, he definitely comes out and maybe goes in the lottery. But in the current pace-and-space NBA? He has improved his perimeter shooting. His issue will be defensively. That’s why he has chosen to sit out the scrimmage at the Combine.
TJ Leaf, PF, UCLA: Played in the shadow of Lonzo Ball, so his profile isn’t big, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he snuck into the Top 10. Quietly, he shot 46 percent on 3-pointers (27-of-58). Could he make a stretch four in a couple years, the way Draymond Green pivoted from tweener to guy who could defend all five positions?
OG Anunoby, F, Indiana: After a quiet freshman year with a few explosive moments, Anunoby was poised for greatness last season. In the season opener vs Kansas, he had three blocks and showed a 3-point stroke, going 3-for-7 from deep. Against North Carolina, he did this. But his injury in January ended the Hoosiers’ postseason hopes, and one could say it eventually led to Tom Crean’s firing. Anunoby won’t participate in drills or 5-on-5 at the Combine, but he could certainly win over teams in the interview process.
Frank Jackson, PG, Duke: It was a major surprise that he left school early, and it left the Blue Devils scrambling to find another point guard. Jackson was maybe the 3rd best player on the team this season, depending on how you think Grayson Allen played. At 6-foot-3, 205-pounds, he’s got good NBA size and shot 39 percent on 3-pointers. The drawback: He only played 24 minutes a night. He can still return to Durham, which would make Blue Devils fans thrilled. The cautionary aspect of this is William Avery, who barely played as a freshman, broke out as a sophomore, but still had work to do. He lasted three years in the NBA, then had a lengthy, successful career in Europe.
Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia: A bit of an unknown because instead of attending the University of Arizona – he was a five-star recruit – he went to play professionally in Australia. He didn’t play particularly well on the other side of the world, but he was only 18-years old (turns 19 this month). This is why Ferguson is so intriguing – and remember, he’s a 6-foot-7 shooting guard in a draft loaded with point guards, but light on shooters. Will Ferguson be matched up with Duke’s Luke Kennard?