By Max Rosenberg
It’s that time of year real hoop-heads love. Whether your team missed the playoffs or had an early exit or you just want to know who’s got next in the league, the Combine is preview into the future of the league and also makes for great trivia as well. Did you know Kevin Durant famously could not bench press 185 pounds just 1 rep during his Combine? He seems to have done alright for himself so far in the league even though he was considered a failure in that sense at the combine. What we are going to dive into head first are the scrimmage games. Seeing a mix of college players with G League Ignite or Overtime Elite players all on the same court vying for a spot in the draft or to get recognized and feedback on how to improve for a real go at it next year. The Combine has helped players move up draft boards from the unknown depths and become a 2nd rounder or for a talented tweener to move into the late or middle first round by having a good showing.
Looking back at Game 1, there were some players that stood out and probably garnered a few more glances from a team’s brain trust as the draft approaches. Once of the first that surprised me, as well as the announcing team covering the game was Team Curry’s Kenneth Lofton Jr., no relation to the baseball player. I know, I thought they were related as well back when I had first heard his name. Lofton has an interesting game, he’s a great rebounder and is active enough on the glass to have finished in the top 10 this season in rebounds per game but he is undersized at 6’7” for his position at the next level, though he can probably take some of the physicality due to his larger frame. Lofton has decent spring in his game for that second effort rebound, which did catch me off guard as he popped up in the second half and one-handed a put back with ease. I thought he was mostly a below the rim player, and while I don’t expect that bounce to be on display each and every time he has the ball, it is nice to know a player has some surprises when you are evaluating. Lofton has decided to hire and agent and stay in the draft and may have gotten himself a late second round guarantee from a team, but I feel his best scenario will be the undrafted free agent route and show up to camp a bit trimmer and more ready to work and learn.
Next on the list in no particular order is Toledo’s Ryan Rollins. A 6’4” guard who decided to enter the draft after his sophomore year suited up for Team Weaver. While his turnovers were a bit high, one must also consider the fact that these guys did not get real practice time together and some were “traded” minutes prior to the start of the first scrimmage. What Rollins did show though was his playmaking ability and knack for the ball. He finished the scrimmage with 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. His shot selection also caught scouts and front office personnel as he closed the game at 56% from the field. Rollins is a coach’s son who grew up in Detroit and was around hoops for as far back as he can remember and is the type of player with a chip on his shoulder that can motivate in all the right ways. After having a very successful high school career, he was not receiving any offers from major programs. His under-recruitment led him to Toledo and the mentality to prove the bigger schools wrong. Now he is climbing up draft boards due to his defensive prowess and playmaking ability that teams are falling in love with. Rollins may even hear his name called late in the first round depending on how interviews go.
UConn, yet again puts forth another guard who is ready to make the jump to the NBA and has heads turning. Tyrese Martin dropped 12 points in 22 minutes and also had 5 rebounds on just a shade under 50% shooting from the field. While not flashy numbers, the 6’6” guard showed a silky-smooth jumper and the ability to get to the cup when his team needed it. The recipient of a few of Scotty Pippen Jr.’s dimes, Martin also highlighted his ability to play within his game and leave it all out on the floor for his team. Tyrese is a solid guard, strong finisher and is also an impressive athlete. He measured a 39-inch vertical in testing. Martin showed the ability to improve his last year at UConn as well as he raised attempts from deep from 50 to 100 but also increased his percentage from 32% to 43% during the year. Also, being one of the top two-way players at UConn showed his toughness that coaches all fall in love with. His approach to the game has a level of consistency that tells me when he gets his shot, he will be ready. Martin could end up being another player with a late 2nd round name calling or more likely, undrafted free agent flier. Max Strus is a similar comp for Martin who also made his way in the league undrafted and chasing a two-way contract and always being ready when called upon. Now he was playing important minutes in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Last up, from Scrimmage Game 1 we have Terquavion Smith from NC State. Smith has decided to return to school and take everything he learned in this process and use it next year at NC State. A standout in the drills portion of the combine and leading all scorers in Game 1, Smith dropped 17 points and snatched 6 rebounds. Smith, who will return for his sophomore year, now takes all the critiques and feedback of his game in the hopes of getting better. Hoping to build on All-Rookie ACC honors, Smith withdrew because merely being a first-round pick was not suitable for him. He wants to be drafted in the lottery and is betting on himself and his game this upcoming year to lead NC State to more success than this past season. Terquavion was considered a late bloomer and was not highly recruited out of high school but last year in the ACC showed the ability to shoot the deep ball, connecting on 96 shots at a 37% clip. He was a bit trigger happy in Game 1 trying to find his jumper and launching 10 from deep, only connecting on 3, but these things are the exact reason he put his name in the draft to get feedback on. He plans on having a very different Combine experience next year after more teams see his games and his skills on display and also be able to determine if he can take this as a learning experience and grow his game to where teams need it.
Next up…..Game 2! Stop back here in a few days to find out who’s rising or falling from the second scrimmage.