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How No NBA Combine Would Affect Kentucky Draft Hopefuls

(Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

(Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

On Saturday, it was reported by Jon Rothstein that the chances of a 2020 NBA Draft Combine are growing less and less likely. With the remainder of the 2019-20 NBA season still in limbo, this wasn’t unexpected. For the last few days, several reliable personalities in the media have suggested there likely won’t be a combine or any kind of Pro Day for players wanting to make the leap to the pros.

For top prospects expected to go in the lottery, they’ll lose out on trying to work themselves into a more favorable situation or onto a specific team. For players on the outside of the first-round looking in, or even fringe draft players that have to decide if they should come back to college for another year, this is devastating to their potential stock.

Kentucky will have at least one sure-fire lottery pick in Tyrese Maxey. While his status on mock draft boards ranges anywhere from the top-6 to the late lottery, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the freshman will be the 22nd Calipari-era player to be selected as one of the top-14 picks. But even with that in mind, the lack of a Combine will hurt Maxey’s chances of securing the most possible money.

The higher he’s picked, the more money his rookie salary will contain. The difference between being drafted 6th and 13th in the 2019 Draft was over $2.5 million in first-year money. The four-year difference between those two picks will end up being roughly $12 million. Maxey still needs all the pre-draft help he can get. He needed a chance to prove to teams that his 29 percent clip from beyond the arc at Kentucky might just be an outlier or that he could effectively run the point. He has an entire season’s worth of film littered with his exceptional play and most of those highlights are in Kentucky’s most high-profile games of the season. Maxey will be the Wildcat least-effected by the lack of a pre-draft schedule, however, that doesn’t mean he’s immune.

But once we look past Maxey and set our sights on his teammates, things get murky.

Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, and Ashton Hagans will all have a chance to slither their way into a draftable position, but they need could use the benefits of the Combine, especially Hagans.

The sophomore point guard has plenty of great qualities that franchises are looking for in NBA point guards, but he also possesses traits that raise question marks; Will his decision-making improve? Can he become a consistent outside shooter? Will his offense ever catch up to his defense? These are all fair questions for a prospect slotted to go anywhere from the late first round to even undrafted. Following the inter-personal “debacle” between him and Calipari near the end of the season, questions surrounding Hagans’ mental health will surely surface – whether they are fair or not. Having a pre-draft process would help smooth out those issues with teams that might be willing to draft him. Now, he’ll have to convince them over a Skype video call.

Richards has long been viewed as a project at the next level and his draft status is mixed – although he should still find his way into the first two rounds. That doesn’t change all that much with or without the pre-draft process. The junior big man doesn’t have a perimeter game (he did showcase a consistent mid-range jumper in his third season, but never beyond the arc) and his defensive tendencies need some work. NBA teams already know this and they would know the same thing after working him out (unless he’s been hiding his three-point shot until now). Now, Richards is more than capable of becoming an NBA-caliber player. To deny that he can grow his talent after what happened this past season would be irresponsible. But any team that takes a chance on Richards is going to be doing so with the hope of what he can be, not what he is right now.

As for Quickley, he is the outlier. He came on late in the season, improving with each and every game before ultimately winning co-SEC Player of the Year. I would argue that he shows the most NBA potential out of any current Kentucky player, including Maxey. The pre-draft process would have been HUGE for Quickley to keep improving his stock. Had he been able to play in the NCAA Tournament, I don’t think there would be any questions as to whether or not Quickley would leave for the NBA. Now, a junior season isn’t out of the question. Some mock drafts have Quickley in the second-round, others don’t have him at all. His feedback will have a wide range.

Other players such as sophomore EJ Montgomery won’t be able to test the waters as efficiently as past pre-draft processes. Nate Sestina likely won’t be granted a sixth-year of eligibility – something he still has to wait to hear back from, as well – and he’s the Kentucky player who probably needs the Combine the most despite having an abundance of college film.

Depending on how you look at things, this could be good or bad. Bad, because these kids aren’t going to have the same opportunity to fulfill their dreams like the drafts before them. Or good because it might compel a few of them to return for another year at Kentucky (which opens up a whole new box of “good” problems to have with so many highly-touted recruits coming in). So it’s a mixed bag.

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA and UK Hoops. Follow me on Twitter: @ZGeogheganKSR