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NBA Draft: Nine prospects to watch at the Combine

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

Rawle Alkins, G, Arizona
Alkins participated in the 2017 Combine, taking advantage of a rule that allowed him gather feedback on his draft stock before ultimately deciding to return to Arizona for his sophomore season. The Brooklyn native didn’t have a bad year, but he was banged up for much of it and struggled to settle in after missing the first month with a broken right foot. While Alkins improved his per-game scoring (13.1 PPG), his rebounding and assists numbers were roughly unchanged, while his efficiency waned a bit (43.2% FG) after shooting better than 46 percent from the floor as a freshman.

Looking back, Alkins’ decision to return to Tucson likely won’t have much of an effect on his draft stock. He would have been a second-rounder last year, and he’ll enter his second Combine as a borderline-first-round pick. A big, strong guard, Alkins should again fare well in portions of the athletic testing. He recorded the fifth-highest max vertical (40.5” -- tied with Donovan Mitchell) at last year’s event, though his lane agility, shuttle run and three-quarter court sprint times were average, at best.

Regardless, Alkins has the kind of upside that’s not often available late in the first round. Alkins projects to defend three spots at the NBA level, an increasingly valuable skill as the league continues to embrace a more positionless template. He’s a bit of a risk, but all it’ll take is a team willing to gamble that Alkins’ inconsistent sophomore season was mostly a byproduct of an all-around tumultuous year for the Arizona program.



Kostas Antetokounmpo, F, Dayton
Antetokounmpo spent just one true season at Dayton, redshirting as a freshman before averaging 5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in limited action as a sophomore. He showed flashes of two-way potential, but he’s much more of an athlete than a basketball player at this point and likely wouldn’t be invited to the Combine if not for his close connection to a certain NBA star. I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.

Nonetheless, Antetokounmpo is an intriguing prospect despite the lack of production. He’s only 20 years old and is still in the infantile stages of his basketball career. In hindsight, his brother was much more polished at that age, but there are similarities between Kostas and Giannis -- most notably in length and stature. Kostas measured in at 6-10 before last season, and the hope is that he’ll continue to add bulk (and perhaps even height) in the same way Giannis has.

Of course, that kind of rapid progression is borderline-unprecedented. And if we’re being realistic, there’s a good chance Kostas never plays an NBA minute. Developing him into a good NBA player will be a monumental task, but it certainly helps to have the blueprint for going from one of the biggest unknowns in Draft history to a top-five NBA player sitting across the dinner table. That connection alone -- and the one percent chance Kostas can follow in Giannis’ footsteps -- may be enough for a team to take a stab at Antetokounmpo late in Round 2.



Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State
Bates-Diop is the polar opposite of Antetokounmpo. An upperclassmen whose resume is built on elite college production, Bates-Diop doesn’t exactly scream NBA superstar, but he’s among only a handful of non-lottery prospects who could be a productive rotation player next season.

The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year has already signed with an agent and is currently projected as a late-first-round pick.



Brian Bowen, G, Ex-Louisville Commit
You probably know Bowen’s story by now. A top-20 recruit in the 2017 class, Bowen was a late commit to Louisville before landing at the center of an FBI probe that ultimately robbed him of his freshman eligibility. Bowen has since transferred to South Carolina, where he’s prepared to play next season, but he’ll test the draft waters as a backup option with his NCAA eligibility still somewhat up in the air.

An athletic wing with deep range, Bowen will be on some radars, but with no college tape to pull from, he’s unlikely to work his way into first-round consideration. Bowen’s situation is similar to that of Hamidou Diallo, who came to the 2017 Combine having only practiced with Kentucky after graduating high school a semester early. While Diallo tested off the charts, the lack of experience kept him from securing the first-round promise he likely would have needed to prevent him from returning to Lexington.



Chandler Hutchison, F, Boise State
Hutchison has quietly dominated the Mountain West over the last two seasons, capping his four years at Boise State with a monster senior campaign. The 6’7” wing averaged 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and shot 36 percent from three and has worked his way into late-first-round consideration.

While his age (22) will work against him, Hutchison has the length (7’1” wingspan) and offensive versatility teams look for in modern NBA wings. His defense will rightfully be called into question after playing in a zone-heavy scheme at Boise State, but the physical tools are there. If you’re looking for this year’s version of Kyle Kuzma, Hutchison might be the best bet.



Malik Newman, G, Kansas
Coming out of high school, Newman was earmarked as a possible one-and-done, but his freshman year at Mississippi State was a disaster, and he landed at Kansas as a transfer. Newman could have benefited from another college season, but as a 21-year-old there’s not much he could do to boost his stock after a dynamic run through the NCAA Tournament.

Newman had 32 points and seven rebounds in a Final Four win over Duke and had 21 points and eight boards in the National Championship game. The strong finish overshadowed a mostly inconsistent regular season, but Newman should find a home somewhere early in Round 2, even if he’s a bit undersized for his natural two-guard spot.



Anfernee Simons, G, IMG Academy
One of the more unique prospects in the draft, Simons skipped what would have been his freshman season to spend a post-grad year at IMG Academy -- so despite never playing a minute of college basketball, Simons is draft-eligible, given that he’s a year removed from graduating high school.

Like Bowen, the lack of tape could hurt Simons. But it can work both ways. He’s currently projected as a late-first-rounder, and it’s entirely possible that a so-so freshman year at Louisville, where he initially committed, could have set him on a different course.



Zhaire Smith, F, Texas Tech
Less than a year ago, the three-star recruit wasn’t anywhere near an NBA radar, but after an impressive freshman season, Smith is on course to become the first Texas Tech player drafted since Andre Emmett in 2004. Projected as a mid-to-late-first-rounder, he’ll likely be only the second first-round pick in school history (Tony Battie, 5th overall in 1997).

Smith initially entered the draft on a test-the-waters basis, but he’s since signed with an agency (Roc Nation). Numbers-wise, Smith’s production doesn’t leap off the page -- 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds -- but he was hyper-efficient (55.6% FG, 45.0% 3PT) by freshman wing standards and is one of the best pure athletes in the class. Smith may be a year or two away from being a meaningful rotation player on a playoff team, but he has the athletic profile -- including a reported 45” vertical leap -- of a prospect who could turn heads in a Combine setting.



Lonnie Walker, G, Miami
The freshman had and up-and-down season at Miami, but he has the makings of a combo guard who could flourish at the next level. Walker shot just 41.5 percent from the field last season, but he’s more than comfortable beyond the arc (5.1 3PA/G) and has the athleticism and length (6’10” wingspan) to be a plus-defender at both backcourt spots.

Walker is a virtual lock for the first-round who will likely hear his name called in the top 20, and Combine testing should only help solidify his stock. If Walker’s agility and bounce are as good as advertised, brace yourself for the folks, he could be this year’s Donovan Mitchell takes (even if there’s a stronger chance Walker ends up as a better version of Iman Shumpert).


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