A trio of Tar Heels participated in the 2019 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this week, making strong impressions in front of scouts and executives.
Although the conclusion of the college basketball season typically means it’s officially time for players to go on vacation and enjoy their offseason, a trio of former Tar Heel standouts — Coby White, Nassir Little, and Cameron Johnson — aren’t ready to rest just yet.
With the 2019 NBA Draft just over a month away, the upcoming days and weeks are incredibly vital for prospects hoping to improve their draft stock and perception throughout NBA circles. The annual Draft Combine, held in Chicago, gives NBA executives a chance to see prospects up close, with athletic testing, shooting drills, anthro measurements, scrimmages and interviews providing teams with additional material to determine who’s worthy of one of the 60 draft selections on June 20.
Fail to impress, and your stock — and chance of getting picked in general — can go tumbling. If you manage to measure or perform well, then your stock can rise rapidly. It’s a dangerous game for some, hence why there are some prospects every year that skip the program entirely and opt for the private workout route.
Yet, for the Tar Heel trio in attendance, all three left strong impressions with NBA teams for a myriad of reasons.
White, seen by many as a top-10 pick for his dynamic, long-range scoring ability and burgeoning point guard skills, had a productive couple of days, despite not participating in any drills or scrimmages. Measuring in at 6-foot-4.5 in shoes with a 6-foot-5-inch wingspan, he effectively hushed concerns over what his real wingspan is.
Heading into the event, some scouts and executives were concerned that the narrow-framed guard potentially had a negative wingspan, which would’ve given some teams pause over whether or not he’d hold up well defensively. Although a 6-foot-5 wingspan isn’t ideal for a player of essentially equal height, it was better than expected, which is all you can ask for.
He also did well in his interview with ESPN’s Mike Schmitz and Jay Bilas, answering skill-specific questions positively and letting his personality shine through, even leading to laughs and smiles from the ESPN panelists during their coverage of the event.
Little shined brightly in his interview as well, displaying why his “Philosopher Nas” nickname came to be by handling questions about his shortcomings and progression as a player with professionalism and a clear understanding of where he currently is as a player. He noted that the entire season was an experience that demanded him to learn constantly, trying to keep up with the difficult task of learning Roy Williams’ offensive system while also learning how to play two different positions.
He measured well, coming in at 6-foot-6 in shoes with a monstrous 7-foot-1-inch wingspan, prototypical measurements for a big wing in today’s NBA. Unsurprisingly, the bouncy forward flew high in his vertical tests, impressing onlookers with both his 31-inch standing vertical (ninth) and 38.5-inch max vertical (tied-fifth). Little also displayed signs of a smoother shooting stroke, noting on ESPN that he tweaked his shooting pocket by altering the angle at which he brought the ball back toward his face.
Improving his three-point shooting (26.9 3P%) will be crucial both for his draft stock and for his place in the NBA — without a legitimate jumper, it’s hard to play effectively on the perimeter. He showed signs of shooting potential before coming to UNC, so it’s possible that, coupled with these improvements, he’s rediscovering his stroke, a positive development for NBA teams who are interested in the potential lottery selection.
Johnson, the eldest of the trio, performed just as well as the former two. The 23-year-old sported a strong 6-foot-8.5 height with shoes and a 6-foot-10-inch wingspan, helping the perception that he could stick on the defensive end at the next level. A 10.52-second lane agility time helped that perception as well, as he ranked fifth out of all participants. He was just ‘okay’ in other agility tests, but simply showing that his athleticism isn’t a true hindrance was important for convincing teams that he’s more than just a marksman.
All three players declined to participate in the four scrimmages, and the several shooting drills, an understandable decision considering their current status as near-locks to go in the first round of the draft. For someone like Little who’s hoping to climb up into the lottery, privately working out with specific teams is a wise move, since it gives him the chance to cultivate his image without any outside interference.
The combine only grants prospects a short window to make lasting impressions on NBA teams up close and personal in a joint setting, so its weight can’t be understated. So far, the UNC trio did well, but there is still more work to be done. If White, Little, and Johnson continue to perform well at interviews and workouts over the next few weeks, their stock will only continue to rise.
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