Friedlander: Sizing up the draft prospects of the ACC's NBA Combine invitees
The deadline for college players with remaining eligibility to withdraw from the NBA draft is rapidly approaching. Those in the process have until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31 to decide whether to stay in the draft or return to school.
It’s a decision that became a lot easier for some when the league announced its list of invitees to next week’s pre-draft Combine in Chicago.
Only 7 ACC underclassmen made the cut, along with Miami senior Jordan Miller, leaving a large contingent from the league to consider their options.
The NBA has announced the official invite list for the 2023 NBA Draft Combine. pic.twitter.com/po4c33ixrJ
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 9, 2023
It’s a group that includes Duke’s Jeremy Roach, Miami’s Nijel Pack and Omier Norchad, Clemson’s PJ Hall, Pittsburgh’s Blake Hinson, Louisville’s El Ellis, Virginia’s Armaan Franklin, Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly and NC State’s Casey Morsell.
According to research done by Syracuse.com back in 2019, an average of only 3 players per year during the previous 5 seasons were drafted after going uninvited to the Combine. The highest pick among them was Stanford’s Josh Huestis, who went No. 29 to the Oklahoma City Thunder and spent most of his career in the G League.
While the odds are much better for those attending the week-long event, which consists of strength, agility and shooting drills, interviews with team representatives and a series of 5-on-5 games, participation still doesn’t guarantee selection.
There are only 58 spots available in next month’s 2-round draft and 78 college and international players expected at the Combine. That doesn’t even include the projected No. 1 overall pick, Victor Wembanyama from France.
Here’s a look at the 6 ACC underclassmen who will be vying for the scouts’ attention in Chicago and how their draft prospects might hinge on their performance:
Beekman’s offensive stats don’t immediately jump off the page, although he did finish 2nd in the ACC at 5.3 assists per game while leading the league with a 3.4 assist-to-turnover rate. But scoring potential isn’t what helped the 6-foot-3 Virginia junior earn his invitation to Chicago.
Beekman has long been considered the ACC’s premier on-ball defender. It’s a status that was validated this season with his selection as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
He’ll still have to prove that he’s capable of locking down the elite talent that will join him at the Combine and that his success as a defender wasn’t just a product of the Cavaliers’ pack line scheme.
Beekman is currently projected as a mid-to-late 2nd round pick. But he can help his case considerably by consistently knocking down his perimeter jumper during the 5-on-5 games and showing that there’s still room for improvement after a career-best 35% performance from 3-point range in 2022-23.
The 6-10 Wake Forest freshman (pictured above blocking the shot of Syracuse’s Judah Mintz) is by far the least-known ACC player to earn a Combine invite.
That’s what exactly makes him such an intriguing prospect.
The native of Sweden is an impressive physical presence who showed signs of promise by shooting 36.8% from beyond the arc and blocking 20 shots in his limited role for the Deacons. He punctuated his rookie season by scoring 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting in a breakout performance against Syracuse at the ACC Tournament.
Still, after averaging just 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game, he remains something of a blank canvas. Since the NBA loves to draft on potential rather than production, his upside positions him to make a quantum leap from off the radar into the 1st round with a strong performance next week.
Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead
The 2 Duke freshmen aren’t exactly a package deal. But they face similar circumstances as they look to improve their draft stock.
Both got off to slow starts in their 1-and-done college seasons because of injuries. Both still ended up making major contributions to a Blue Devils team that improved steadily and won an ACC Tournament championship.
And both have renounced the remainder of their college eligibility to remain in the draft.
Lively is a 7-1 rim protector whose defense is far more advanced than his offensive game. Whitehead is a sleek 6-7 wing who when healthy, gave glimpses of his ability as a scorer and elite perimeter shooter.
They’re both projected as late 1st round picks. So while moving up on the draft board is the ultimate goal, the emphasis for Lively and Whitehead is to keep from giving the scouts a reason to drop them into the 2nd, where contracts are not guaranteed.
Like Klintman, Mintz has a high ceiling and plenty of untapped potential. His body of work during his freshman season at Syracuse, however, make him much more of a known quantity.
A former 4-star recruit, the 6-3 guard combines length and physicality with quickness and a soft shooting touch that gives him the ability to play either on or off the ball. He averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists with an ACC-leading 59 steals for the Orange in earning a spot on the ACC’s All-Freshman team.
Because the range of his draft projections vary so wildly – ranging everywhere from late 1st round to not getting picked at all – his performance at the Combine will go a long way toward determining whether he stays in the draft or returns for his sophomore year.
NC State’s slender 6-4 sophomore shooting guard had a spectacular performance at last year’s Combine to project him solidly into the middle of the 1st round. But instead of striking while the iron was hot, he professed his love for his school and returned to the Wolfpack.
Although he’s still a streaky, high volume shooter whose 3-point percentage went down from 36.9 to 33.6 this season, his scoring average went up from 16.3 to 17.9. He also showed vast improvement in his ballhandling and playmaking skills while continuing to be a willing defender.
He remains a 1st round prospect as he heads to Chicago for the 2nd straight year. This time, though, he’s announced that he’s in the draft to stay.
The 6-4 guard tested the waters of the NBA draft last year before returning for another season at Miami. It turned out to be a smart move.
Not only did Wong win the ACC’s Player of the Year award, but he was a driving force behind the Hurricanes’ surprise run to the Final 4 – averaging 16.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists along the way.
Despite those credentials, Wong rates low – if at all – on most draft boards heading into the Combine. Since he has already announced his intention to forego his final season of college eligibility, he has a lot riding on his performance in Chicago.