CHICAGO -- After a wacky start to the week in the Windy City in which the New Orleans Pelicans as a longshot, the players took hold of everyone's attention at the NBA Draft Combine on Thursday. Dozens of draft-hopefuls from near and far took the court (and the podiums) at Quest Multisport to participate in drills, to have their agility tested, to run 5-on-5 and to be poked and prodded as part of the process plays out.
While the top three prospects -- Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett -- did not go through drills or scrimmages, there was still plenty to learn and observe. Between, scrimmages and interviews, we've put a bow on the first day with major takeaways on what we gleaned.
1. Keep an eye on Luka Samanic
International players will be few and far between in the first round. But it may have expanded by one after Thursday following a complete showing from Croatian sensation Luka Samanic.
Samanic balled out in the scrimmage portion of Thursday's combine, scoring 13 points in a stellar outing in fewer than 20 minutes played. The 6-foot-9 1/2 forward tested well, too, with a shuttle run, max vertical leap and three-quarter court sprint that all rated inside the top five of draft-eligible players at his position.
Samanic showed off a pure, smooth shooting stroke that netted him a 5-for-7 outing in his scrimmage. And better yet, Samanic showed the type of agility and versatility that NBA scouts were thrilled to see. Samanic is the No. 37 prospect on the CBS Sports Big Board, but may be a big riser upon the imminent update next week.
2. Jalen Lecque has some juice
Jalen Lecque, the Brewster Academy product who is only 18 years old, did not look out of place one bit. Against seasoned veterans on the floor, Lecque, in fact, popped as a prospect as he put to use his uber-athletic gifts to flourish on the court.
Lecque was prone to some bad decision-making on the court when he had the ball in his hands -- and he had the ball in his hands often. But the good far outweighed the bad, as his athleticism and explosiveness stood out. When he had an open court dunk in transition during one scrimmage, I was fearful he may hit his head on the rim. (He didn't, but it was closer than you think.)
Validating this, Lecque had the best max vertical leap of the day among guards at 43 inches and finished second in the standing vertical leap at 35 inches. He's a young prospect who could still go to college and tell the NBA to wait a year, but for teams late in the first or early second round, his long-term potential as a primary playmaker and point guard is enticing, especially considering the value of the position and his flashes of brilliance.
3. Brandon Clarke, the enigma
Hello and welcome to the Brandon Clarke Fan Club. I'm your President, Kyle Boone. The first item on the agenda is good news:
- Clarke had a max vertical leap of 40.5 inches, tops among players at his position. He also finished No. 1 in lane agility and No. 2 in standing vertical leap, evidence that explains why and how he led the NCAA in blocks last season.
Second item on the agenda, the bad news:
- Clarke's wingspan was a tick over 6-8, which certainly puts him in the same category as long and rangy ... if he were evaluated as a guard. The upshot: Clarke's production and strengths speak for themselves. Clarke said Thursday that teams know he can jump, that he can block shots and that he can dunk. The big question is whether his jump shot can translate and whether he can be as physically imposing as he was at Gonzaga. The results Thursday were a mix of good and bad for members of the Brandon Clarke Fan Club.
4. Nicolas Claxton, rising
Georgia sophomore big man Nicolas Claxton -- wow. He ran the floor really well, showed off some nice post moves, and was generally a havoc-wreaking menace when he was scrimmaging.
Claxton ate Moses Brown's lunch on multiple occasions when they were matched up, including a swat that surprised Brown himself. His potential as a floor-spacer and rim-running big man has opened up folks' eyes in Chicago, and it's possible he benefitted more than any other big man from Thursday's scrimmage portion of the combine.
5. Tacko Fall still drawing buzz
After official measurements listed UCF big man Tacko Fall at 7-7 (with shoes), interest was piqued. And scrimmages did nothing to quell that buzz.
Fall warps the game in a way that is both mesmerizing and awesome to watch. With a wingspan that surpasses 8-foot with ease, he covers so much ground even if he doesn't actually cover much ground with mobility. He's just -- and a hot take for you here -- he's just massive.
On one particular occasion, Tennessee's Grant Williams went up in an effort to posterize Fall, and Fall responded by meeting him at the rim, palming the ball and taking it away in midair. If eyes weren't opened by his sheer size and length, his ability on the court and tangible skills certainly turned heads.