Padding the Stats: A Look at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine Participants
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: A Look at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine Participants

May 10, 2019

The NBA released the full list of Combine invitations this week, and unsurprisingly, Isaiah Roby was on it. He is the first Husker to participate since Terran Petteway in 2015. Before him, Aleks Maric was the last Husker to get a look at the pre-draft camp.

The NBA G League Elite Camp (featuring another Husker in James Palmer Jr.) could produce a few more invitations for the combine, but for the time being the number is set for 66. I’m a bit of a draft nerd, so I decided to break down the list of participants for this year’s combine.

From a class perspective, unsurprisingly, there were more freshmen invited to the combine than any other class with 24 participants. Twenty sophomores got the call as did 13 juniors including Roby. Only five seniors are included. When projecting players to the next level, age has become a key factor. The younger you are, the more upside you’re perceived to have once you get into a team’s developmental system. Oftentimes, the players with NBA ability show it in their first year or two of college, at which point there’s no reason for them to stick around any longer.

Two players were invited from the international ranks — Luka Samanic, a Croatian native playing in Slovenia, and Brian Bowen, the former 5-star recruit who got caught up in the corruption case and spent the last season playing in Australia. 

Rounding out the field is a pair of players straight out of high school, Darius Bazley and Jalen Lecque. Lecque, who spent last season at Brewster Academy, is exploiting the same loophole Anfernee Simons did last year that argues a post-grad year spent at a prep school makes a player eligible for the draft since the player had graduated from his traditional high school the year prior. 

As for Bazley, he’s a unique case. The 5-star prospect initially committed to Syracuse, but decommitted and announced he was going to spend a year in the NBA G League instead of playing college basketball. He changed course again, however, and instead he signed a first-of-its-kind deal with New Balance to serve a three-month internship that paid him $1 million. The deal was negotiated by LeBron James’ buddy and agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Basically, New Balance gave Bazley an advance on the shoe deal he signed with them in anticipation of entering the 2019 NBA Draft and in the mean time he learned about the shoe industry and worked on his body and game.

From a conference perspective, the SEC and ACC were way out in front with 15 and 14 representatives, respectively. The Pac 12 has nine players, the Big 10 eight, the Big 12 five and the Big East two. Nine participants came from the mid-major ranks.

Nine different schools had three players invited: Duke, Tennessee, Michigan, UCLA, Gonzaga, Kansas, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina. Seven of those teams made it to the Sweet 16 and four of them made it to the Elite Eight. Virginia won the whole thing. It’s also worth noting that Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura turned down an invitation to the combine otherwise the Zags would have had four players headed to Chicago.

The outliers are Kansas, who still made the tournament and won a game but lost a few key players to injury or other reasons and fell int he second round, and UCLA, whose coach, Steve Alford, got fired midseason.

Three teams had two players invited: Oregon, Vanderbilt and LSU. The Tigers reached the Sweet 16 while both the Ducks and the Commodores were crippled by injuries to 5-star freshmen.

Nebraska is in a group of 28 different schools who had one player invited to the Combine. In total, 40 schools (out of 353 in Division I) sent 62 players to the combine. That’s 11.3 percent of Division I basketball schools. Looking at just the high-majors (ACC, AAC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC), 33 of the 87 teams sent players to the combine (37.9 percent). Nebraska is included in that, which is pretty cool.

As for Roby himself, he’s got a big week coming up. He’s already worked out for a few teams and will likely work out for more after the combine concludes. I expect him to do well with the athletic testing and measurements portions of the combine, and I think he’ll also interview well. The part that will be interesting to monitor is how he does in the five-on-five portion of the combine, assuming he plans to participate. He’ll have a chance to help himself if he shows off the versatile skill set that he flashed so many times at Nebraska. He’ll need to display a solid feel for the game — he can’t turn down open jumpers, he can’t get moved around in the paint without much resistance and he can’t turn the ball over a lot or miss bunnies.

Roby entered this process with the intention of staying in the draft. With almost all of his teammates from last year’s Nebraska team heading elsewhere, there isn’t a whole lot for him to return to in Lincoln. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has Roby going 37th in his latest mock draft. Unless he tanks the combine, he looks poised to become the first Husker drafted since Venson Hamilton in 1999, even if its only in the second round.

Either way, we’ll know for sure no later than May 29. 

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