CHICAGO — There were 78 college, overseas and professional (Overtime Elite, G League Ignite) players invited to the NBA Draft Combine this past week, and six players were called up from the G League Camp that took place last weekend. NBA Draft prospects and their agents choose which parts of the combine they participate in with 37 players opting out of the 5-on-5 competition. This is typically a strategic move by agents when a player is projected in the first round or it’s to force individual workouts if a team wants to get another look at players who might be a fringe first-rounder or getting late buzz heading into the draft.
“I wish they would make everyone play so the best guys can play and we all have to compete,” Santa Clara sophomore guard Brandin Podziemski told Yahoo Sports. “There’s no hiding once we’re all on the court together.”
For those who participate and compete in everything all week long, it can pay off and help improve a player’s draft stock if they play well. Last year Jalen Williams, a wing out of Santa Clara, made a lasting impression and played his way into a lottery pick a month later. There are always players who rise to the occasion with every NBA team scout and executive in the building at Wintrust Arena. It’s a bigger sample size too with international, Power 5 conference and mid-major players all going head-to-head.
Here’s a look at six players who helped themselves the most at the NBA Draft Combine and could hear their names called sooner than previously projected on June 22.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Marquette
Ht./Wt.: 6-8, 214 pounds
Prosper did enough in the first day of scrimmages to shut it down and not play the second day. The wing out of Marquette tested well, showcasing a 40.5 inch max vertical jump, and shot 64% in the 3-point star drill. He was a player a lot of teams had their eye on prior to the scrimmages even starting.
Once the ball was tipped, Prosper looked comfortable and let the game come to him. He beat players off the perimeter and really showed how impactful he can be as a two-way wing. There are a lot of teams that covet his size, length and versatility, especially teams picking in the 20s. The way he played so confidently, stepping into the jumper in the pick-and-pop and hitting the glass hard on both ends, Prosper is now receiving first-round buzz. He finished with 21 points on 11 shot attempts and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes.
“I just wanted to come out here and play with great energy, go make hustle plays, and really impact the game in multiple ways,” Prosper, who averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds this past season, said after the game.
Ben Sheppard, Belmont
Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 190 pounds
Sheppard was one of the most impressive guards on the court, especially during the second day of scrimmages. He led all players with 25 points (3-for-5 from 3-point range) and added 3 assists and 2 steals in 20 minutes on the court. Sheppard consistently makes the right offensive reads and limits his turnovers. He’s aggressive at the rim and repeatedly got to the line, using his body to draw contact. He has great vision in transition and sent a bullet through traffic to Drew Timme that got a lot of scouts’ attention.
Sheppard, a senior, is a plug-and-play guard who can come in right away and contribute to any secondary unit in the NBA. He showed poise and patience when converting shots at all three levels. If his defender went under a screen, he let it fly. Sheppard averaged 18.8 points and 5.2 rebounds and shot 41.5% from 3-point range last season at Belmont. Although a landing spot in the first round might be a stretch, Sheppard is a guard who teams should prioritize in the early-to-mid-second round.
Tristan Vukčević, KK Partizan (Serbia)
Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 234 pounds
There was a stretch in the first quarter of the first day of scrimmages when Vukčević scored 10 consecutive points in a matter of minutes, hitting back-to-back 3s and tough shots around the rim. Being an international player, the center made a strong first impression for scouts who had yet to see him in person. He moves very well for his size and frame and has a bit of a second burst in transition when he wants to get out and run. There were times defensively when he got lazy stepping out to guard the wing, but his presence inside the key is felt with his 7-3 wingspan. Vukčević put up 21 points (including three 3-pointers) in just 16 minutes of playing time.
Seth Lundy, Penn State
Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 214 pounds
Coming into the combine, NBA scouts knew Lundy could shoot the 3 ball well, but what was impressive during scrimmage play was the variety of how he was getting his shots off. During Day 1, it was tough step-back 3s in the corner with a defender in his face. During the second day, Lundy took more advantage of screens. He shot 4-for-5 from deep and finished with 12 points in the first scrimmage and 4-for-6 from 3-point range, finishing with 18 points in the second scrimmage.
“This entire week, the feedback I got from NBA teams was to just go out there and do what you do and don’t try to switch anything up,” Lundy told Yahoo Sports. “I know I’m a shooter, so I went out there with a shooter’s mentality. If I catch anyone with their hands down, it’s going up. Hopefully I showcased my talents a little bit, and hopefully scouts liked what they saw.”
Lundy met with the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks this week and had workouts with the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks prior to the combine. The Penn State guard averaged 14.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and shot 40% from 3-point range during his senior season.
Amari Bailey, UCLA
Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 190 pounds
Bailey started to find his stride late in the season and really became an offensive threat for UCLA during the NCAA tournament. The freshman guard entered the combine with NBA scouts wanting to see improvement in his 3-point shot. During shooting drills on Monday, he was one of the most efficient players in shooting off the dribble, connecting on 24-of-30 shots (80%). When the scrimmages started, Bailey took on more of a point guard role and did well, dishing out 8 assists in the first game and 6 in the second. He also combined for 36 points in the two games.
“I just wanted to show NBA scouts my playmaking ability and just improvement to my overall game,” Bailey told Yahoo Sports. “I really enjoy getting others open and just being able to showcase that in the pick-and-roll.”
Bailey connected on 1-of-4 3-point attempts in the second scrimmage, but is showing confidence stepping into his shot.
“I’m not out here to force anything,” Bailey added. “There are four other guys on the court and if I’m open, I’m going to take the shot, but it’s really about the best option each possession and getting the ball to the right guy. If someone else is hot, I’m going to find them.”
Bailey met with the Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers this week and has workouts coming up following the combine. Bailey averaged 11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists during his freshman season at UCLA.
Brandin Podziemski, Santa Clara
Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 205 pounds
Podziemski played with last year’s big combine riser, Williams, at Santa Clara and came in this past week knowing if his former teammate could turn some heads in the pre-draft process, he could do the same. Podziemski was one of the toughest guards on Day 1 of scrimmages and did a variety of things offensively while dishing out 8 assists and posting 10 points. He leaned on Williams for advice before coming to Chicago.
“Any questions, concerns or nervousness I’ve had I’ve just turned to him and he’s been great about it,” Podziemski said. “His biggest thing he told me was show executives, scouts and GMs other things than shoot and score because they already know that. They’re watching way more than that. How good of a teammate you are, how you are on the bench, how you look when you come out. So it was super beneficial knowing that coming in and now learning it on the fly so it’s been great being able to lean on to him.”
Podziemski’s draft range is anywhere from end of the first round to early second. Although he wouldn’t name specific teams, Podziemski said he met with 20 clubs this week.
“I’m just making my rounds and hearing what teams have to say and it’s been all positive feedback so far,” he said.