The annual NBA Draft Combine is currently going down in Chicago with 66 of the top prospects in the 2017 draft class in attendance. Nebraska may not have any representatives present, but the Big Ten does including a few that still have to make the decision whether to stay in the draft.
As you’ve all probably guessed, I’m a bit of a basketball junkie, so of course I’ve been tuned in the last two days watching ESPN’s coverage of the combine. You can expect more NBA draft content from me as we head towards the draft in June.
The Combine consists of medical testing, measurements, athletic testing, drills and five-on-five play, but many players elect not to be full participants. Of the 66 attendees, 29 of them chose not to participate in the five-on-five portion, while a couple others played on Thursday but withdrew on Friday after a strong day-one showing. Of the 60 players on DraftExpress.com’s 2017 mock draft, 17 are not at the combine including nine projected lottery picks.
The Big Ten has 10 players at the Combine, good for third among college basketball conferences. The ACC leads with 16 and the Pac-12 is second with 13. The Big 12 has eight, the Pac-12 seven and no other conference has more than three representatives.
Three of the Big Ten players are seniors (Iowa’s Peter Jok, Wisconsin’s Caleb Swanigan and Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr.) while three others have declared for the draft and hired an agent (Indiana’s OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant and Maryland’s Melo Trimble). That leaves four players who still have a decision whether to stay in the draft or withdraw and return to college.
The biggest name of the four is Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan had a phenomenal sophomore season for the Boilermakers and was a national player of the year contender, dropping double-double after double-double. Most expect Swanigan to make the leap as he has little left to prove at the college level.
Swanigan attended the combine last season before returning to Purdue for another year. This year, he chose to participate in the measurements portion but nothing else. At 6-foot-8.5 in shoes and 246 pounds, “Biggie” Swanigan is undersized to play at center yet doesn’t necessarily have the quickness to defend athletic power forwards. However, his 7-foot-3 wingspan helps make up for that. However, he can flat out rebound the ball and has improved his perimeter jumper.
Swanigan is going to struggle defensively at the next level, but he should still be able to carve out a role in the NBA. DraftExpress currently has him coming off the board with the second pick of the second round. While he has left the door open to return to Purdue, doing so at this point would be a surprise.
Michigan has a lot riding on this draft as its starting frontcourt of sophomores DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner are both at the combine but have yet to hire agents.
Wilson is nursing a quad injury and therefore only went through the measurements portion of the combine, but his numbers were excellent. He is 6-foot-10.5 and 234 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a 9-foot-1.5 standing reach, terrific dimensions for a guy capable of playing both frontcourt spots at the next level. Wilson averaged 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line this season at Michigan, making him an intriguing stretch-four or even stretch-five option for NBA teams.
DraftExpress currently has Wilson being selected with the last pick of the first round, and he could easily rise as the pre-draft process rolls on. Without having any insight as to what Wilson is thinking, I would call it a 50-50 decision.
Wagner, a German native, was a little less impressive in Chicago. Wagner measured in at 6-foot-11.75 and 231 pounds, but his wingspan was just 7-foot and his standing reach was just 9-foot. Wagner was even more impressive as a shooter than Wilson at Michigan, averaging 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 39.5 percent from 3 and 72.6 percent from the foul line. Wagner’s athletic testing numbers were average at best and he struggled for the most part during the five-on-five portion.
Wagner, a German native, does not appear in DraftExpress’s mock draft. Unless he is ready to go pro, whether that’s in the NBA or overseas, returning to Michigan appears to be the right move for Wagner at this point.
The final player who has a big decision to make is Maryland’s Justin Jackson. Jackson had a solid freshman season for the Terrapins, averaging 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range playing primarily as a stretch-four. Jackson measured in at 6-foot-7 and wasn’t particularly explosive with a 31.5-inch max vertical leap. However, he did measure with the second-best height-to-wingspan differential with a 7-foot-3.5-inch wingspan.
Jackson did very well in the scrimmage portion of the combine as well, drawing rave reviews from draft enthusiasts on Twitter. DraftExpress currently has Jackson going in the first round of its 2018 mock draft, but if Jackson continues to impress throughout the pre-draft process, he could move up that timeline by a year. Like Wilson, I’ll call this one 50-50.
So to recap, I expect Swanigan to stay in the draft and Wagner to withdraw, while Wilson and Jackson could go either way.
The combine runs through Sunday and then players who have yet to hire an agent will have 10 days to make their decision. All four of these players would be likely preseason All-Big Ten performers, so these decisions could have a big impact on the Big Ten basketball landscape for 2017-18.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.