The NBA Draft Combine tips off Monday with the league’s top prospects weighed, measured and put through the paces by NBA decision-makers. While the NBA Combine doesn’t get the publicity or love that its football counterpart does, the results can be no less impactful, particularly when talking about a draft that includes just 60 picks.
The invite itself is a big thing: some players are under the illusion that they are legitimate prospects for the upcoming draft until they aren’t among the players invited to the combine. And those who do attend can see their draft stock rise and fall before they even bounce a basketball: like the football combine, some will fall in love with a player’s measurements, while showcasing athleticism through great testing numbers can also cause an NBA team or two to rub its chin in thought.
The opposite is also true. A player who measures shorter than expected or with short arms, who then tests poorly athletically, can plummet.
Here’s a look at 10 players invited to the NBA Draft Combine with the most on the line.
Christian Braun, Kansas
Many mock drafts have Braun just barely squeezing into the first round. And for many players, that would seem to guarantee them leaving school. But Braun kept his eligibility intact, and a rough combine showing could push him out of that first-round range (and potentially back to Kansas). Don’t forget that his Jayhawks teammate Ochai Agbaji, who could use his own strong combine showing after slumping in the last part of the season, appeared to have similar draft stock last year but returned to Kansas and became an All-American and a potential lottery pick. Braun’s size, strength, athleticism and toughness should all impress, but he needs to be a bit more 3-point heavy as someone who made almost 39% of his 3-pointers last year, and the added polish of another season wouldn’t hurt .
JD Davison, Alabama
Davison is a bit different than most here because he told ESPN he’s “done with college,” so a return is out. But he still needs a strong combine because the former No. 13 overall player in the 247Sports Composite didn’t put enough on the court in college to nail down strong draft status. He’s currently no. 41 on ESPN’s list of the best available players, and we’ve seen players ranked around that range go undrafted all the time. Davison’s explosive athleticism and ability to impact games in the lane and on the glass are plusses, but it would help too if he could show the makings of a projectable outside shot. If he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him waiting a long time to hear his name called, if it is called at all.
Moussa Diabate, Michigan
Some considered Diabate the more likely of the two Michigan five-star freshmen to stay in the draft, though Caleb Houstan declined an invite to the NBA Combine, which may mean that he has a guarantee from an NBA team. That leaves Diabate, who, like Houstan, currently sits outside ESPN’s top 60. The truth is that Diabate is far from a finished product, and while he has high potential, it might not be high enough to entice an NBA team to take a long -term look at him through the draft. Coming back to school, continuing to work on and fill out his body, and filling out his scoring arsenal all seem great bets to make, though if Diabate’s athleticism and motor play up in the combine, it might be enough for a team to suggest taking him in the second round, which could keep him in the draft pool.
Trevor Keels, Duke
One of the toughest things about the one-and-done model is that players are expected to be dominant forces right away. And Keels was in his first game as a Blue Devil, shining at Madison Square Garden with 25 points in a win over Kentucky at Champions Classic. But there were also some no-shows in there for the former five-star player in the 247Sports Composite, and after two single-digit scoring games in the ACC Tournament, he was pulled from the starting lineup for the NCAA Tournament. He still played a role, and Keels’ game leaves a lot to be excited about, particularly when he’s aggressive about getting his linebacker-sized body downhill. But a return to Duke, which remains a possibility, could allow him to clean up whatever he needs to be a more consistent star.
Christian Koloko, Arizona
Will Koloko stay in the draft, or return to an Arizona team that could ultimately prove to be one of college basketball’s best teams again? ESPN currently has him as a fringe first-round prospect at No. 36 overall, but Koloko would seem capable of improving that status rather quickly if he comes back to school. Of course, if Koloko shows out at the combine, there’s a chance that he gets a guarantee late in the first round, which could throw a monkey wrench in Arizona’s plans. Will that be enough for a player who could potentially go lottery if he comes back to Tucson? He was already one of college basketball’s best two-way big men.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
While he’s a different player, Jackson-Davis appears to fit into that group with Big Ten mates Hunter Dickinson and Kofi Cockburn, among others: big men who have significantly more value to their college teams than they do to the NBA. And that’s where the combine comes in. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, Jackson-Davis isn’t as tall as most NBA centers, and he doesn’t compensate by shooting from the outside—he’s only taken three total 3-pointers in his three college seasons. That in itself isn’t dooming, it just places more emphasis on Jackson-Davis having to hit all the other notes, on showing that he can hold up and potentially switch defensively while showing capability as a pick-and-roll player. A return to Indiana certainly seems in the cards.
Matthew Mayer, Baylor
It looks like Mayer isn’t likely to return to the Bears, with the Baylor wing entering the transfer portal. But heading into last season, Mayer appeared to carry a solid spot on NBA radars. His shot didn’t fall at the level most projected heading into the year; he shot 40.9% from the field and 32.4% from 3, his worst marks since his freshman year. But he also showed improvement on the glass, as a defender and as a floor-game player—he was arguably a better player in every area except knocking down shots. The combine is obviously a small sample size, but if he shoots well and the stroke looks good, will he entice teams to bet on his size and all-round package?
Shaedon Sharpe, Kentucky
It’s easy to forget that with 247Sports releasing its final 2022 rankings Wednesday that Sharpe was once the top-ranked player in that cycle. According to that, Sharpe should just be heading off to college and ready to potentially stake his claim as the No. 1 overall pick. Instead he reclassified, enrolled at Kentucky at semester, but didn’t play and now he’s eligible for the NBA Draft. He’s kept the door open for a return to the college game, but Sharpe’s combine is important because nobody ever saw him on a college or G League court of consequence — only scouts who went to Kentucky’s practices saw him battling other college players, and those weren ‘t game-like settings. A combine isn’t either, but he’ll be matched up against many of the draft’s other top talents with a chance to make a case that he belongs in the high lottery.
Julian Strawther, Gonzaga
Strawther may have a cleaner line to NBA playing time than his All-America teammate Drew Timme. And in truth, Timme is the more valuable piece to Gonzaga should he decide to return to school. But Strawther is also key: a 6-foot-7 wing who averaged 11.8 points per game and made 36.5% of his 3-pointers while shooting almost seven per 40 minutes. Size and shooting is certainly prized by the NBA, and if Strawther shoots the ball the way he’s capable, he could win some fans in NBA front offices. But if he returns to the Bulldogs, they could have a second All-America-caliber player to add should Timme also decide to take advantage of his remaining college eligibility. Both coming back makes Gonzaga a national title contender yet again.