Draft Combine Notebook Day One
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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With the first day of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago complete HOOPSWORLD’s senior NCAA and draft analyst Yannis Koutroupis and Luke Byrnes take a look at some intriguing storylines and things that stood out:
Liggins Develops Under Coach Cal: One of the more interesting stories here in Chicago is former Kentucky Wildcat DeAndre Liggins. Three years ago, he arrived at Kentucky as a recruit of former Coach Billy Gillespie and, following his freshman year, Gillespie was replaced by one of college basketball’s best recruiters, John Calipari.
Liggins, one of the top high school players in the class of 2008 and a target of Calipari’s at Memphis, was one of the few players from the Gillispie regime that stuck around under Calipari. The versatile wing player came in as a point guard but with Coach Cal bringing in the likes of John Wall and Brandon Knight, had to carve out a new niche within the program.
The Chicago native credits Calipari for helping him get to where he is today: on the cusp of realizing his dream of getting to the NBA.
“He helped me out a lot,” Liggins said of Calipari. “He defined my game. He told me who I was and, ‘This is how you’re going to get noticed.’”
When HOOPSWORLD asked Liggins if he’d be where he is today without Coach Cal, the defensive stopper said, flatly, “No. I wouldn’t.”
“When he first came, he looked at me eye-to-eye, and he told me, ‘If you don’t (defend, rebound and make easy plays), you aren’t going to play. You might as well leave.’
“It was another challenge. I challenged myself and I did it.”
The 6-6 Liggins, who starred at Finlay Prep (Henderson, NV), has the ability to defend ones, twos and threes and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Defensive team last season, but can handle the ball and has improving range, knocking down a career-best .391 from behind the three-point line as a junior.
While he is projected to be a late second round pick, Liggins has come a long way from where he was two years ago, when his future at Kentucky, let alone as a pro prospect, was in question. He is unlikely to find the kind of success that former Calipari point guards Derrick Rose and John Wall have found early in their pro careers but, once again, Coach Cal has helped mold another NBA guard.
Thompson Has Room To Grow: Each year in the NBA Draft, a handful of players exceed the expectations placed on them and outperform their draft position. Washington State swingman Klay Thompson has the look of perhaps one of the biggest sleepers in the 2011 NBA Draft.
“I haven’t even tapped into my full potential yet,” Thompson said. “I was a late-bloomer in high school, so I still feel like I have some room to grow physically and I still think I have a lot of skills I can work on. People know I am a great shooter but I just have continue working on my ball-handling and my counter moves because, if I can do that, I think I can be at an All-Star level one day with my ability to score.”
The son of Mychal Thompson, the first overall selection in the 1978 NBA Draft, Klay grew up around the game of basketball, playing the point guard position, showing a high basketball I.Q. and solid court vision. But none of that is the strength of his game.
The 6-7 Thompson is a sharp-shooting scorer compares his game to NBA stars Ray Allen and Kevin Martin and has averaged more than two three-point field goals per game over his three years with the Cougars. His ability to hit shots from the perimeter puts pressure on defenses even when he doesn’t have the ball.
“I don’t have to have the ball in my hands to be effective,” the younger Thompson explained in a HOOPSWORLD exclusive interview. “You have to guard me on the perimeter because I can shoot the ball. I’ll just be ready for whatever role. I can be a defensive stopper if they need me to. I can feed the break. I can run the point for a finish, so I am just down to do whatever as long as I can help the team win.”
Thompson has seen his stock rise over the last couple of months and his size, length, natural scoring ability and outstanding range on his jumper will make him a valuable addition to any team in the NBA.
Tobias Harris Mature Beyond His Years: This year’s draft doesn’t contain a lot of freshmen. Most of the top first year players opted to stay with their respective programs for reason varying from competing for a national championship to fear of a lockout. However, Tennessee freshman Tobias Harris felt that he was ready and from a maturity standpoint he definitely seemed that way in Chicago.
Harris was in a very tough situation at Tennessee. He was playing inside more than he preferred with Bruce Pearl, the coach that he came to play for, on and off of the sideline due to suspension. Throughout that time Harris managed to still produce at a high rate, averaging 15 points and seven assists as a sophomore.
“(It shows) that I’m able to face adversity in life and whatever happens is a growing lesson for me,” Harris said to HOOPSWORLD. “I take everything, move on from it and really learn from it.”
“He’s a great teammate,” added fellow Volunteer Scotty Hopson. “I enjoyed every bit of being on his team. He’s a freshman but at the same time he’s a mature player. A lot of the things he showed me this year he impressed me with. I think his game translates well to the NBA. I think he’s ready. He’s done a lot of things over the season. He works hard, he’s definitely a great weapon.”
With his hectic time as a Volunteer fully behind him he’s now working on showing NBA scouts and general managers that his desire to play small forward full-time is realistic based on what he can do.
“People are getting cleared up after I played power forward in college that I can hold my own at small forward,” Harris said. “They see a lot of my skill set now and they’re impressed by that.
“I feel like (my game) translates in the right way. I’m a three man that can put the ball on the floor, shoot it well and create plays for other guys. I do a fine job of working hard to get better.”
Even if he ends up out on the perimeter exclusively, Harris doesn’t plan on completely abandoning his low post arsenal.
“It’s another option for me, being able to back someone down and making shots over them,” Harris said. “I have a pretty good post up game. That’s another weapon for me.”
General Observations: Day one at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago was quite informative overall. Throughout the next several days we’re going to roll out video with every single prospect, but to help make you feel like you were there here are some general observations that you won’t gather from the interviews.
-It was very clear that Andrew Goudelock, Nolan Smith, Charles Jenkins, Kyrie Irving, Jon Diebler, Tristan Thompson, Chandler Parsons and Jon Leuer had no trouble being in front of a camera and answering the questions. They came off as very personable and were great interviews.
-On the other hand Michael Dunigan, Kenneth Faried and Keith Benson did not seem overly comfortable with the spotlight on them. This is a new experience for them, though. Faried came right out and said that he would rather just play than deal with all the media frenzy that he never had to deal with at Morehead State.
-Honesty was the policy of Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, who unlike other draft prospects with a checkered past completely owned up to his mistakes and had no trouble at all with the fact that NBA teams were coming at him with hard questions about his character. He felt they were completely warranted. The strides he’s made since his rough times have him very willing to talk about them.
-All of the guys undergoing this process with a fellow teammate(s) were extremely supportive of one another and had nothing but positives to say about each other. While teammate bashing almost never happens at this event, questions have been dodged or sidestepped but there was none of that today.
-Nobody spoke with more confidence than Derrick Williams; as Jason Fleming detailed this morning he feels like he’s the most NBA-ready player and the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year.
-There was a fair amount of interest in Jeremy Tyler, but he had to cut his time short for an unknown commitment. Draft prospects are required to answer questions for 15 minutes, but Tyler came well short of that.
-Several players stayed longer than the required 15 minutes, but nobody was more gracious with their time than former Ohio State sharpshooter Jon Diebler. Despite being a late replacement here in Chicago he’s making sure to make the most of this opportunity.
-Nobody caught more heat for a single statement than Travis Leslie, the high-flying shooting guard from Georgia. He started things off by saying he’s the best athlete in the draft, which is probably a very accurate statement. Afterwards, though, he claimed to be better than Tony Allen. That started a twitter frenzy that even prompted a response from Allen, who understandably did not take too kindly to the prospect’s words.
HOOPSWORLD’s coverage of the 2011 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago features video interviews from every player participating. You can find them all in the coming days at the draft headquarters page!