2021 NBA Draft Combine: Five storylines to watch as prospects showcase their skills in Chicago


The sprint to the finish line of the NBA Draft process begins next week as the combine gets underway on Monday, June 21 in Chicago. It will, for the first time in two years, provide an NBA-sanctioned forum where many of the top prospects from this year’s draft-eligible class can measure up against one another.

A total of 69 players are expected at the combine, comprised largely of college players but also featuring a handful of international spice. Before it concludes June 27, the combine should give front offices a week-long safe space to evaluate players ahead of next month’s draft. And with the lottery set for June 22, the lens through which teams view the event should come into focus, too.

There will inevitably be shifts in how teams view this class up until draft night on July 29, but next week is the event that will shape big boards more so than any other. Here’s a look at the key storylines entering the big week.

1. G League Elite Camp breakthroughs

Before the NBA Draft Combine gets started, 40 players are expected to attend the G League Elite Camp, which will take place June 19-21. The three-day event is effectively a play-in to the combine, where the top performers can earn invites to the event. When the camp was last held in 2019, 11 players were invited to the Combine. Of the 11, five players were drafted. So while the G League Elite Camp is not the main event in Chicago, it is indeed important.

You can find the full list of G League attendees here. Names to watch include Mac McClung, Marcus Carr, DJ Carton, Marcus Garrett, M.J. Walker, MaCio Teague and Jalen Wilson. There’s bound to be a handful that break through to the big show from the 40 participants and I’d wager several come from that group.

2. Current G League players join the fun 

The newly-formed G League Ignite team, now entering its second year, will for the first time be represented at the combine. And it will be represented with its best talents, too, as top-five prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga are expected in attendance. Potential first-rounders Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd, ranked 36th and 47th on the CBS Sports Big Board, respectively, will also be on hand. All four bypassed college to represent the Ignite’s first-ever team as part of an upstart NBA program that will serve as a developmental system for top talents. This will be the first opportunity to see how these players fare, not just against future pros but players who they could have faced at the college level.

Jalen Green bypassed college for the G League. Now he’s a lock to go in the top five. Eye on College Basketball (subscribe here) has more. 

3. International twists

Without Josh Giddey, Usman Garuba or Alperen Sengun in attendance next week in Chicago, it’s unlikely any lottery picks from the international pool will be at the combine this year. Nonetheless, international players like Roko Prkacin and Ariel Hukporti are in the mix and among those worth closely monitoring.

Prkacin is a 6-foot-9 forward who has emerged in recent months as a potential first-rounder playing for Cibona Zagreb in the Adriatic League; Hukporti is a 19-year-old 7-footer playing for Kedainiai Nevezis in Lithuania. Both have been productive early on in their professional careers. Matching them up against other prospective NBA players will be important to proving their future value in the league and strong showings could thrust their stock on an upward trajectory, similarly to how Luka Samanic did in 2019.

4. Late-season risers

The NCAA Tournament bump is real. The nation’s leading scorer, Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas, jumped from off the radar to a potential first-rounder thanks to his performance during March Madness. Baylor star Davion Mitchell worked his way into the top-10 discussion with his strong defense and passing while pacing the Bears to the national championship. And Johnny Juzang was sensational as a shot-maker for UCLA, developing in March from an interesting long-term prospect to the fringes of the first-round discussion.

All three will be in attendance at the combine, and all three have various things to prove. On the whole, Mitchell’s body of work this season likely solidified him as a lottery pick, but Abmas and Juzang are true wild cards who could build upon their strong finishes and establish themselves as top-30 guys if they look the part in Chicago.

5. The X-factors

Of the 69 participants in the combine, only a sliver of them are truly weighing the decision to stay or go. But those decisions may tip the scales for the draft and the college basketball landscape next season, depending on which direction they go.

Alabama freshman Josh Primo is one to watch who slips into that category. He played sparse rotation minutes for the Tide last season, but his 6-6 frame and 38.1% 3-point shooting has talent evaluators curious about his long-term potential. Should he return to school, he’s a huge piece for a top-10 Tide team. If he stays in the draft, he’s got the physical goods to crash the first round.

West Virginia guard Miles McBride is another to keep an eye on, and while McBride was more productive last season than Primo, he is an under-the-radar talent teams are interested in who is capable of rising into first round territory. Arizona State’s Marcus Bagley is another.

There’s also a handful of other X-factors in attendance who fit into a separate category as true unknowns who could rise or fall on boards in big ways because teams want to see more. Those include Isaiah Mobley, Trey Murphy III, Matthew Mayer and JT Thor. Most in those bunch are second round/undrafted territory, but all in all, this bunch have enough physical gifts and intrigue to wow in Chicago and build upon their cases as NBA-ready talents.





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