Throughout the NBA Draft process this season, I've been fairly steadfast in noting just how wide open things are once you get past the mid-point of the first round.
Basically, in the area from No. 25 to No. 65, there is less separation between prospects than normal. That means that the pre-draft process this season is going to be even more important than normal, as it will provide an opportunity for these athletes to separate themselves from the pack in a way that their tape did not.
The NBA Draft Combine isn't necessarily the start of that process, given that the Portsmouth Invitational has already occurred and teams have already begun having workouts, but it is a vital event in the pre-draft festivities. Over the next 50 or so days, teams will use the information gathered at the combine -- via interviews, medical checks, measurements and athletic testing -- to decide what players they want to learn more about, and who they're no longer all that interested in.
Because of that room for movement, this is an important week for about 50 of the 60-plus players who have been invited to play in front of NBA scouts and executives. Here is a group of five players that I think could really have a breakout week in terms of their draft stock. All five of these players are currently outside of the top-40 of my board, and all of them could have potential to really move up if they can reach their potential here.
Lawson is a really interesting prospect whose draft status has gone fairly under-the-radar since declaring. Instead, most have just assumed that he would return to Memphis after it was announced that his father Keelon would stay on the Tigers' staff in some capacity. However, Lawson could really bolt up draft boards if he can have an impressive week in Chicago.
The 18-year-old is one of the youngest prospects in attendance -- he doesn't turn 19 until October -- and is coming off of a freshman season where he averaged 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Sure, those numbers are definitely a bit inflated by being the focal point of Memphis' offense, as he had an inefficient 49.0 true shooting percentage due to his inability to finish around the rim, but there's clearly a lot to work with here.
Lawson is an active player who crashes the glass, can pass well for a player his size, and has the potential to shoot it from deep. He converted 35 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, including an effective-field goal percentage of 54.4 on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Plus, at 6-foot-8 with a 7-1-plus wingspan (per DraftExpress), he should perform well in the measurement portion of the event. If Lawson can perform well in athletic testing as well as convince teams that he's willing to take the time to make the full-time transition to the 3 (he'd need to work on his ball-handling and perimeter skill to get there), I think he can rise up into the first round conversation and possibly be convinced to stay in the draft. His choice will be one of the most focused-on over the next two weeks.
Felder had a chance to return to college for his senior season and break Bobby Hurley's all-time NCAA assist record, but instead decided to declare for the draft and take his chances on proving yet again that his size will not be a hindrance to his game. After all, that's what he's done throughout his entire collegiate career thus far.
Felder was possibly the most statistically dominant player in college basketball last season, finishing third nationally in scoring at 24.4 points per game and first nationally in assists per game at 9.3. Remarkably, he did this despite a usage rate that was outside of the top 20 nationally, speaking to an efficiency within his game that is exemplified by his 57.2 true shooting percentage and his low 13.9 turnover rate.
The 5-foot-9 point guard will have a big chance to prove himself this week at the combine. It's unconfirmed at this point, but it's likely that he'll play in games and get a chance to show off against superior competition that he always succeeded against in minimal sample size at Oakland. Also, look for Felder to perform exceedingly well in athletic testing, as he's a little man that can really get up and throw down if he gets the chance. Here's an example of that a few years ago back when he was in high school.
As long as Felder gets solid length measurements and performs well in interviews, he could see himself be a riser coming out of the combine.
Layman is a guy that's been on draft boards for a while due to the package of skills he possesses. However, outside of a stretch late in his junior season, he never put everything together on the court for Maryland. This season, he was largely forced out of position for the Terps, and responded with a highly efficient, yet slightly disappointing season.
Instead of taking a step forward following an excellent finish to his junior season, Layman seemed to often step back into being the fourth option on Maryland, averaging 11.6 points and 5.3 rebounds while hitting nearly 40 percent of his 3s and throwing up a 64.0 true shooting percentage. On one hand, it showed teams the exact role that they'll hope to play him in. On the other, it was a bit weird to see a player as talented as Layman be comfortable stepping back as often as he did.
At the combine, he'll have a chance to prove his mettle again. I'd expect Layman to test exceedingly well athletically for his 6-9 size, which could help his stock. As long as he interviews well and doesn't play poorly in the scrimmages, Layman could win over some teams who might be on the fence about where his future lies in the NBA. His stock is truly anywhere from late first round to undrafted, and this week could really help.
Blossomgame had a massive, breakout season at Clemson. He'd been the Tigers most talented player the year before, but in 2016 he took the leap from "good player on a bad team" to first team All-ACC. In the process, he earned himself the ability to test the waters and get one of the last NBA Combine invites.
The 6-7. 220-pound forward played as something of a combo this season, averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while scoring efficiently at all three levels. Indeed, that was the biggest development in Blossomgame's play this season, and it's what makes him a viable NBA player. His shooting took a massive leap, as he went from having an inconsistent shot to being a knockdown 44 percent 3-point shooter and a solid 78 percent foul shooter. That's an impressive leap, and it's one that he'll look to show off as real at the combine this week and in workouts over the next two weeks before deciding whether or not to stay or return to Clemson.
The combine is a big moment for him. He's a terrific leaper, and could perform very well in the vertical jump test to raise some eyebrows. Blossomgame will also be a player that is closely scrutinized within the medical testing portion of the combine, as he suffered an ugly compound leg fracture in high school that ended up recurring in both his redshirt season and his freshman season at Clemson. He has bone marrow from his hip and a titanium rod in the leg now, so teams will want to get a close look at that. However, if he passes through that part, and ends up having as strong a combine as he did in his junior season, it wouldn't be out of the realm for a team to select him late in the first round.
Let's call this one a speculative add. I don't know that Cook can necessarily work his way into the first round, but there is a lot to like about the Oregon 23-year-old.
Cook was one of the team leaders on an Oregon team this season that went to the Elite Eight before being ousted by Oklahoma. He averaged 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for the Ducks, but more importantly was their key perimeter defender as well. That's the role that will suit him best at the next level: a good defender at the wing positions who can hopefully develop further as a shooter as his career progresses.
Where I would expect Cook to perform well at the combine is in athletic testing, measurements and in interviews. The 6-6 wing is an explosive leaper who is also strong and laterally quick with a 6-10-plus wingspan. He's also a tough, hard-nosed kid that would likely have the right mentality for becoming a role player at the next level if his offensive game will allow. Again, I don't think he's the kind of player who will work his way into the first round. But given that he worked his way into a combine invite the hard way -- earning it through a terrific performance at Portsmouth -- even getting into the second round conversation with a strong performance this week would be an excellent result for Cook.