How the Big Ten Fared at the NBA Draft Combine
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

How the Big Ten Fared at the NBA Draft Combine

May 21, 2018

The 2018 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago officially wrapped up on Sunday. Neither of the Huskers who have declared for the draft were invited, but 10 other Big Ten players did participate and a few of them are facing tough decisions. 

Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop, Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, Maryland’s Justin Jackson and Penn State’s Tony Carr all signed with agents and are officially staying in the draft. Purdue’s Isaac Haas was the only senior from the Big Ten invited. 

Three players testing the waters without an agent also participated at the combine — Maryland’s Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando and Purdue’s Carsen Edwards.

All 10 players went through the measurement portion of the combine but Bridges, both Jacksons and Haas sat out the athletic testing. Huerter, Edwards, Carr and Fernando took part in the five-on-five scrimmages. 

Both of the Spartans are expected to be lottery picks. Jackson turned some heads with his measurements — 6-foot-11.25 in shoes and 236 pounds with a 7-foot-5.25 wingspan (third longest at the combine). He’s expected to be a top-five pick come June. Bridges’ results weren’t quite as spectacular — 6-foot-6.75 in shoes with a 6-foot-9.5 wingspan and an 8-foot-7.5 standing reach for a forward who is probably better at the four than playing on the wing — but he should still come off the board in the 10-to-14 range.

Haas weighed in at a massive 303 pounds at 7-foot-2.75 in shoes with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. Justin Jackson participated in the combine last year before withdrawing from the draft to spend another year at Maryland, but he suffered a torn labrum that ended his season after 11 games. Jackson skipped the basketball portion of the combine but measured an impressive 7-foot-3 wingspan at 6-foot-6.75 in shoes.

Wagner also participated in the combine last year before returning to school, and his decision worked out much better than Jackson’s. In addition to helping the Wolverines make it to the National Championship game, Wagner did improve his game. He tested well at the combine this year as well. Sixteen players listed as power forwards or centers took part, and Wagner finished among the top six in four of the five tests (second in shuttle run, third in three quarter sprint, fifth in lane agility and sixth in max vertical). He certainly lacks length with a 7-foot- wingspan at 6-foot-11.5 in shoes but his perhaps better-than-expected ability to move together with his deft shooting touch from the perimeter and his size could have him as a late first- or early second-rounder.

Bates-Diop, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, cashed in a phenomenal junior season for a chance at the NBA. His testing was fairly average across the board, but he did measure at 6-foot-8.5 in shoes and 223.8 pounds with a 7-foot-3.25 wingspan, which means he should be able to man the power forward position just fine. Bates-Diop’s lack of explosiveness could give him trouble guarding wings at the NBA level, but his length and knack for scoring are assets against forwards. He looks to be a mid-to-late first-rounder.

Carr is the last one on this list who has already signed an agent. He has great size for a point guard at 6-foot-4.5 in shoes with a 6-foot-8.25 wingspan, but he was one of the worst athletes at the combine. He was in the bottom 10 in four of the five tests including dead last (out of 56) in the standing vertical with a 25-inch leap. Carr can shoot the ball, but his lack of athleticism is really going to hurt him in the NBA. He looks like a mid-to-late second-round pick who could possibly go undrafted. 

Edwards, who scored a late invitation after a few other players dropped out, measured in really small at 6-foot in shoes and his athletic testing was pretty average-at-best across the board. He does have a 6-foot-6.25 wingspan, but he’s much more of a shooting guard than a point guard. If Edwards chooses to return to Purdue, he has to be an early favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year next season after putting up 18.5 points per game as a sophomore.

Perhaps no team in the Big Ten has more riding on the early-entry final decisions than the Terrapins of Maryland. The Terps return a stud point guard in Anthony Cowan for his junior year and also add a top-10 recruiting class featuring a 5-star big man and a pair of 4-star wings. If Fernando and Huerter both return, Maryland could be the favorite to win the Big Ten next season.

Fernando measured in at 6-foot-9.75 in shoes and 233.2 pounds with a 7-foot-4.25 wingspan and just 5.25 percent body fat. He’s a physical specimen of a center who struggled somewhat in the lane agility drill but did fairly well in all the other tests including posting the fifth-best shuttle run overall, not just against other big men. Fernando is still pretty raw and could do well for himself with another season of, well, seasoning, but he probably would hear his name called at some point if he decides to stay in the draft.

The other Terrapin is one who has showed up in every single combine review story as a “winner.” Huerter had a strong sophomore year for Maryland, averaging 14.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 41.7 percent from 3 on nearly six attempts per game. Known as a shooter, Hurter proved himself to be much more than that at the combine. He has great size for a wing at 6-foot-7.25 (albeit just a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan) and tested very well athletically with top-10 marks in the shuttle run, lane agility and three-quarter sprint and was 16th in the vertical with a max of 38 inches. He participated in the five-on-five scrimmage on the first day and did so well that he called it good after that, sitting out day two. It sounds like Huerter is still strongly considering a return to school, but if he stays in the draft there’s a good chance a team pulls the trigger on him in the first round.

Corey Sanders (Rutgers) and Leron Black (Illinois) both entered the draft as juniors and signed with agents, but both are very unlikely to get drafted and are likely headed for the NBA G-League or an overseas league next season.

Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Michigan State’s Nick Ward, Indiana’s Juwan Morgan, Purdue’s Nojel Eastern, Iowa’s Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss and of course Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland are the rest of the players testing the waters who did not go to the combine. For those players — along with Edwards, Huerter and Fernando, they have until the NCAA’s deadline on May 30 to make their decisions. With the combine in the books, those players can once again schedule workouts with teams.

Tim Miles has been optimistic about Palmer and Copeland returning for one last go-around in Lincoln, and now we’re less than a week-and-a-half from a final resolution. If they do return, Nebraska should have a chance to build off of last season’s 13-5 record and fourth-place finish in the Big Ten. 

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