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2014 NBA Draft Combine: What You Need to Know About Dante Exum, Shabazz Napier and Other Stars

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The NBA Draft Combine begins today in Chicago. Though the three best players – Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid – are not participating, the there will be plenty of talent on the floor. The event will be televised on ESPN. The draft lottery, which will determine the order for the Top 14 picks, is on Tuesday. The draft is Thursday, June 26th. Here’s what you need to know about the Combine:

1. The three best players – Wiggins, Embiid and Parker – won’t be there. Who the hell should I keep an eye on?

I don’t see anyone cracking the Big 3, but a few names who could: Julius Randle (Kentucky), Aaron Gordon (Arizona) and Dante Exum (Australia).

Randle, who struggled in the National Title game, actually had a terrific NCAA Tournament: Four straight double-doubles, and in the memorable game against Wichita State, displayed uncanny passing ability (six assists). Physically he’s ready for the pros, and at 6-8, 240 (measurements pending), he looks to have a solid career ahead of him as a power forward.

Aaron Gordon might be the most fascinating player outside the big three because his measurements are bound to be off-the-charts, he has the makings of an elite defender, and offensively, it’s unclear what he’s capable of because he was usually not a top three option on the Wildcats. What will Aaron Gordon be in the pros? A Dennis Rodman or Serge Ibaka-type rebounder/defender? Is he a baby Blake Griffin who is just a dunker now, but could be much, much more in 4-5 years?

This will be the first extended glimpse anyone has had of Exum against high-end competition. The expectations are high, but it’ll be impossible for him to do anything at the Combine that could trump what Wiggins/Parker showed in college.

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2. Could Marcus Smart further hurt his draft stock if General Managers see his ugly outside shot up close?

Yes. Smart is a dynamic talent, and a rare breed for a point guard: 6-foot-4, stocky (he’ll have 30-40 pounds on the other elite PGs) but quick, and a relentless defensive player (3.0 steals per game as a freshman, 2.9 as a sophomore). But he ostensibly came back to school to improve his shooting and, well, that didn’t happen: 40 percent from the field as a freshman, 42 percent as a sophomore; 29 percent on three-pointers in both seasons. Depending on how the draft lottery shakes out, Smart could go anywhere from 5th to – gulp – 14th.

3. Who could help their stock the most, like leaping from the 2nd round to the 1st, or late 1st into the lottery?

Last year, Miami’s Shane Larkin, impressed with a 44-inch vertical leap, and wound up going 18th overall. Remember how Cody Zeller’s college career ended with a thud against Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament? His athletic ability was off-the-charts at the 2013 Combine and he was taken 4th overall by the Bobcats. Steven Adams was maddeningly inconsistent at Pittsburgh, but opened eyes at the Combine and was taken 12th overall by OKC.

This year, Elfrid Payton wasn’t a household college basketball name playing for Louisiana-Lafayette, but the 6-foot-3 guard was a scoring machine (19.2 ppg). It wouldn’t shock me if he crept into the late lottery. I’d love to see him go head-to-head with Tyler Ennis (Syracuse).

PJ Hairston, who starred for UNC two years ago, didn’t play last season because “mistakes” jeopardized his eligibility, the school said. Hairston torched the NBDL, so I’ll assume he shows up to the Combine in tip top shape and ready to prove he’s worth a mid-late 1st round pick. I wouldn’t be shocked if he rivaled Doug McDermott for best shooter at the Combine.

NCAA Final Four championship game

4. Shabazz Napier dominated the NCAA Tournament, but at under 6-feet and maybe 170 pounds soaking wet, is he even a 1st round pick?

Yes. I’ve had him in the first round in a couple NBA mock drafts. Obviously he doesn’t possess ideal size. How would he match up against John Wall (6-foot-4), Russell Westbrook (6-foot-4), Damian Lillard (6-foot-3) and Stephen Curry (6-foot-3)? The easy answer is few can. Napier is a hound on defense, using his quickness to disrupt offenses. And at the other end, everyone knows what he’s capable of as a scorer. Napier is a lethal offensive player with a flair for the dramatic, a guy you want with the ball in his hands late in the game. He might remind you of another UConn point guard who possessed a lot of those qualities and led the Huskies to a title – Kemba Walker. He was selected 9th in 2011.

Look at the Bulls, who draft 16th and 19th. When Derrick Rose went down, their season was shot, and they relied upon DJ Augustin and Kirk Hinrich. Augustin’s a free agent and Hinrich is too. has one more year left on his deal. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls give a long, hard look at Napier with one of those two picks.

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