LOS ANGELES -- DeAndre' Bembry has been underrated for his entire life. That's just the fact of the matter.
From growing up and playing for an under-the-radar AAU team in Charlotte until he was 16 to playing power forward and center for a large portion of his prep career, Bembry has never been the highly coveted player that major teams have gone out of their way to add to their roster.
Until now, that is.
Bembry, currently the No. 20 player on the CBS Sports NBA Draft Big Board, is one of the most sought-after players in NBA Draft for interviews and workouts, with teams in the early to mid teens like Phoenix and Boston looking to work him out, as well as teams as late as Philadelphia in the late 20s. It's not a particularly surprising rise to prominence if you only knew who Bembry was over the course of the last season. After all, he broke onto the scene for NBA scouts as a sophomore then performed exceedingly well last year at the Nike Skills Academy in front of plenty of front office folk. But it certainly took a while for him to get that kind of respect nationally.
Heck, even the first time his coach saw him play, he was there to see someone else.
"I went to a game to see a teammate of his," St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "And I came back from that high school game telling our coaches he was the guy. He was the one with versatility. I think that he had skills that transcended the high school game. That was in January or February of his junior year. Then in the spring/summer, his AAU team had a load of players that we had varying degrees of interest in, and I spent a lot of time watching them win. He was never the high scorer, but he was always the leader defensively, he was always extraordinarily competitive, and as the summer ended he was a guy I really wanted to coach."
That's a pretty good descriptor of Bembry's game. He's just different in terms of the way he plays the game for a 21 year old. Instead of relentlessly attacking, Bembry relies on his understanding of pace and his overall smoothness to succeed. He's a good athlete who can score, but he's more of a feel guy who gets the situation of what's happening around him better than most. He has tremendous basketball IQ.
"It helps the team all around if you can do different things," Bembry told me about how he tries to approach the game. "It helps to do more things. As opposed to just being a shooter or just being a slasher or just being an offensive rebounder. So I think I can do different things depending on how the game is going and what I need to do on the teams that I'm on. My versatility always can help someone."
Sure, the 6-6 wing who finished high school at the well-known Patrick School in New Jersey averaged 17.4 points per game in his junior season at St. Joe's before declaring for the draft, but it was never a 17 where you felt like he was trying to do too much. It's always within the offense instead of free-wheeling and doing his own thing. He can play with or without the ball, and he can affect the game with or without scoring.
In fact, when I spoke to him, he told me something that you rarely hear elite scorers say.
"With my unselfishness, I just like to play that way," Bembry said. "I like making great reads, getting my teammates involved. Some guys like scoring more than passing, and I'm one of the guys that like to pass more than score."
Basically, teams see Bembry as the potentially perfect role player in the league who has a bit of upside to do more if he can continue to shoot. He already can slash, pass, create plays, and defend. Plus, he's a team-oriented player who will do whatever you ask of him. You can't ask for much more than that once you get outside of the lottery. Beyond the shooting, there has been one criticism though that Bembry and those close to him believe is a bit unfair.
Some scouts say that he'll occasionally look like he's coasting.
"I've heard that," Bembry said. "Actually, (going through this process) is the first time I've ever heard that in my life. I've pretty much always been the person who played hardest on every team I've ever played on. I feel like my coaches will vouch for me on that. Maybe that is something though, that my smoothness can...I don't know. If you ask my coaches though, I'm known for my motor. So honestly I have no idea."
Martelli did indeed vouch for him when I asked about that.
"I've been asked that question by some scouts and some general managers almost like it's critical," Martelli said. "But on the flip side, we had scouts come in this preseason who said 'you know what separates him? He practices harder than almost all the first round picks or any other player in his position would.' There's not one day in three years where I would have said to someone that he coasted. Playing hard, that ain't an issue man. If you're deciding on whether or not to pick him based on how hard he plays and winning and competing? Check that box. Forget that. You'll be sadly mistaken if that's the reason you don't take him."
While he does play hard on the floor, it's worth noting that the smoothness of his game does transcend to his style off the floor. He's not a guy that you're going to see doing crazy stuff. He described to me how he's mostly just a Netflix kind of guy, and that he recently has spent his time catching up on How to Get Away With Murder and Game of Thrones. Currently, he's been listening to Views by Drake and typically sticks to R-&-B and hip-hop in terms of music.
Mostly, he's just a quiet kid who eats and breaths basketball. It's easy to see Bembry playing for a long time in the NBA, and that makes him valuable in the first round.
The busiest man of the month
Zach Auguste is an interesting 6-foot-10 big man from Notre Dame -- currently ranked No. 82 on this Big Board -- and he might be the busiest player before the NBA Draft. Auguste just barely missed out on scooping up an NBA Draft Combine invite, where teams would have gotten a chance to see and meet with him. With him not in attendance there, he's now forced to fly around the country to get the face time with teams that he needs in order to try to secure a selection in the draft. Auguste has gone through 10 workouts already, currently has 18 workouts scheduled throughout the entire pre-draft process, and is likely to crack the 20 mark before things are all said and done.
That's not particularly easy on a person's body and mind. Heck, at his workout with the Clippers on Wednesday, Auguste couldn't even remember what city he had just traveled in from. How does he go about trying to deal with getting some rest during this crazy time?
"I'm sleeping as much as I can," Auguste said with a smile. "I'm using every organization's recovery room to ice, heat, whatever it takes. So I'm just trying to keep my body as fresh as I can and get as much rest as I can."
The most surprising player in the top 100
It's Isaiah Miles, also from Bembry's St. Joe's. Miles went from a sub 3 points-per-game player in his sophomore year to averaging 10.7 as a junior on 39 percent shooting. Then, in his senior season, he exploded onto the scene to average 18 points and eight rebounds as something of a stretch-four in the Atlantic 10 as a near 180-shooter with lines of 52.3/38.5/88.8 percent. That won Miles a place at the Portsmouth Invitational, where he was so successful that he won one of the five spots guaranteed in the NBA Draft Combine to the players who play in Portsmouth. Now, he's fully on the radar of NBA scouts and touring the country looking to impress them enough to win a job in October.
When talking to Martelli about Bembry, I asked him about Miles' improvement over the last year as well. Martelli was as taken aback as anyone, and discussed with me how incredible it is that Miles is here at this point.
"If one year ago on June the 2nd, you and I were having a conversation and you were to say to me 'Isaiah Miles is going to be traveling the country for NBA tryouts,' I would have thought, 'come on man, what's going on?" Martelli said with a chuckle over the phone. "He's one of the most improved players in the country on all levels. Psychologically he didn't get down on missed shots. He played with heart and joy. You're playing a game. You're going to college for free. You're getting all of these accolades and attention. The way he plays is heart-warming. The improvement is, to be honest with you, it's a legacy. He's left a legacy here with our younger players. He's showed them there's a pot of gold here at the end of the rainbow, but you've gotta work. No one is giving it to you. And how this plays out is going to be intriguing. Drafted, not drafted. How does it play out? Worst case, he's going to be on a summer league roster, you and I both know that. Does he go D-League? Does he go Europe? He is so ecstatic to be given this opportunity to call himself a pro. He's not going to get despondent if he doesn't get drafted. He's not going to be despondent if someone says start in the D-League. That won't deter him. The fact that he's a college graduate, too. He's got a lot to celebrate, that guy."
The workout process isn't necessarily about a player's skill
The NBA Draft's workout season is a grind not only physically, but also mentally. At an earlier Clippers' workout, Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon -- one of the smarter, more mature players in the draft that at 23 years old already has a master's degree -- gave one of the best answers I've heard from a player about approaching these things and what teams are looking for.
"The biggest thing when you get into these workouts is the (general managers), the coaches, everybody here, they want to see you compete. It's not even about making shots. They want to see you push through the fatigue. They want to see you get a stop on defense. That's really what it's about."
Indeed, that's one thing that gets lost on the general public about these workouts. Executives and scouts around the NBA have a generally high level of competency, and have a great idea of what they're going to see skill-wise when a player walks into a gym. They've seen enough film, watched enough tape, and generated enough high-level scouting reports from their departments to know what's there. Now, that isn't to say a guy can't come in and surprise with a skill that he's worked on since the season ended, but generally it's going to be a circumstance where there are few surprises and few players who truly rise and fall with the process.
What teams want to come away with from workouts is a better understanding of the player as a person. How driven is he? How hard is he playing? How does he process information given to him by a coaching staff? Is he staying in good shape through the process? Will this type of person fit into our locker room? You garner a lot of information about that through simply sitting down and talking to the player in interviews, but you also learn some of that by running them through a workout of your design. It's all about trust at the next level. Teams need to be able to trust you enough to want to get into business with you. Oftentimes, that's not about making shots. It's about proving that you care about your future.
Big Board movement
The most significant move here is Kris Dunn jumping Dragan Bender from No. 4 to No. 3. They're both Tier 1 level talents, and this isn't a statement on Dunn's stock "rising" around the league or anything. I'm just a believer in Dunn's talent, and I believe he has potential to be an all-star sooner rather than later. Bender has that same type of potential, but is a bit further away from making an impact. I think teams will get better value out of Dunn on his rookie deal for largely the same ceiling in terms of value.
Marquese Chriss is a player that NBA teams are quite fond of at the moment. Particularly teams at the top of the draft. His draft range is basically anywhere from No. 3 to No. 10 now, which is relatively shocking for a player that fouled out of 15 games this season, including 10 of the 18 Pac-12 regular season games he played. He's up to No. 14 here on this board though, and it's unlikely I'll ever come around to the point where I have him in the range that he'll be drafted. Simply put, he's a bit too much of a lottery ticket/home run swing for me with too great a downside when selected that high. If you want to read more, I've written an extensive scouting report here on Chriss, and a more recent but briefer one here discussing his stock.
|2016 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings|
|10||Denzel Valentine||Michigan State||Sr.||SG||6-5||220|
|12||Deyonta Davis||Michigan State||Fr.||PF||6-10||240|
|17||Wade Baldwin IV||Vanderbilt||Soph.||SG||6-3||194|
|18||Demetrius Jackson||Notre Dame||Jr.||PG||6-1||201|
|20||DeAndre' Bembry||Saint Joseph's||Jr.||SF||6-6||210|
|23||Brice Johnson||North Carolina||Sr.||PF||6-10||230|
|25||Malik Beasley||Florida State||Fr.||SG||6-5||196|
|31||Stephen Zimmerman Jr.||UNLV||Fr.||C||7-0||240|
|40||Isaiah Whitehead||Seton Hall||Soph.||SG||6-4||210|
|48||Pascal Siakam||New Mexico State||Soph.||PF||6-9||230|
|50||Gary Payton II||Oregon State||Sr.||PG||6-3||190|
|52||Wayne Selden Jr.||Kansas||Jr.||SF||6-5||230|
|59||Marcus Paige||North Carolina||Sr.||PG||6-2||175|
|60||Fred VanVleet||Wichita State||Sr.||PG||6-0||186|
|61||Joel Bolomboy||Weber State||Sr.||PF||6-9||235|
|63||Anthony Barber||NC State||Jr.||PG||6-2||190|
|64||Danuel House||Texas A&M||Sr.||SG||6-7||212|
|68||Shawn Long||UL Lafayette||Sr.||PF||6-11||246|
|69||Georges Niang||Iowa State||Sr.||SF||6-8||230|
|70||Ron Baker||Wichita State||Sr.||PG||6-4||210|
|73||James Webb III||Boise State||Jr.||SF||6-9||202|
|75||Jameel Warney||Stony Brook||Sr.||PF||6-8||260|
|79||Julian Jacobs||Southern California||Jr.||PG||6-4||180|
|82||Zach Auguste||Notre Dame||Sr.||PF||6-10||245|
|85||Alex Caruso||Texas A&M||Sr.||PG||6-5||186|
|89||Isaiah Miles||Saint Joseph's||Sr.||SF||6-7||216|
|90||Derrick Jones Jr.||UNLV||Fr.||SF||6-7||190|
|94||Tonye Jekiri||Miami (Fla.)||Sr.||C||7-0||248|
|101||Shevon Thompson||George Mason||Sr.||C||6-11||243|
|104||Bryn Forbes||Michigan State||Sr.||SG||6-3||190|
|110||Thomas Walkup||Stephen F. Austin||Sr.||PG||6-4||195|
|118||Kyle Collinsworth||Brigham Young||Sr.||G||6-6||215|
|122||Nikola Jovanovic||Southern California||Jr.||PF||6-11||235|
|123||Mamadou Ndiaye||UC Irvine||Jr.||C||7-6||300|
|124||Wes Washpun||Northern Iowa||Sr.||PG||6-1||175|
|127||Marvelle Harris||Fresno State||Sr.||SG||6-4||210|
|128||Marcus Georges-Hunt||Georgia Tech||Sr.||SG||6-5||216|
|134||Devin Williams||West Virginia||Jr.||PF||6-9||255|
|138||Jameel McKay||Iowa State||Sr.||F-C||6-9||225|
|139||Alex Hamilton||Louisiana Tech||Sr.||PG||6-4||195|
|140||Kevin Punter Jr.||Tennessee||Sr.||PG||6-2||190|
|141||John Brown||High Point||Sr.||SF||6-8||210|
|143||Winston Shepard||San Diego State||Sr.||SF||6-8||210|