NBA Draft Combine: 10 players who helped their draft stock

CHICAGO — This NBA Draft Combine was different from other years with every player having to go through testing on the first day, and every player that elected to play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages having to play both days. Typically agents pull players if they've done enough the first day and players sit out the second day, but everyone played both days and it made for better competition and evaluation with NBA scouts and executives in the arena watching.

Jamal Shead and KJ Simpson were the best floor generals. A pair of young players, AJ Johnson and Trentyn Flowers, who elected to play overseas in Australia's NBL, really helped themselves during scrimmage play. And a few college players testing the waters have tough decisions to make after playing well during the combine.

Here's a look at 10 players who helped their draft stock the most during the NBA Draft Combine 5-on-5 scrimmages, plus a few projected first-round players who impressed on Day 1 of testing and shooting drills.

Jamal Shead, left, drives against Boogie Ellis during the 2024 NBA basketball Draft Combine in Chicago, Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Houston's Jamal Shead was impressive during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

It was heartbreaking to watch Shead go down with an ankle injury during Houston's Sweet 16 loss to Duke, but as Shead took the court Tuesday to start 5-on-5 action, he made it very clear that he's one of the best point guards at the combine. Even not fully back at 100%, Shead was tough defensively, keeping players in front of him and fighting over screens. Offensively, he was the floor general we've seen for the last four years with Kelvin Sampson and Houston, finishing with 13 points and 6 assists in the final scrimmage. In a draft with a ton of small guards, Shead is going to dominate group workouts with teams and could hear his name called on draft night from a team that needs him to lead its second unit.

Simpson was one of the best guards on the court. During Tuesday's scrimmage, he was arguably the best player on the court with the way he controlled the game and made consistent, smart decisions offensively. At 6-1, he has great body control around the rim and can create enough separation off the dribble to shoot 3s. On the first day of scrimmages, Simpson, a junior at Colorado, finished with 16 points and three steals. He followed that up the next day with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists while doing a little bit of everything for Team Forehan-Kelly.

Johnson might have been the biggest surprise of the combine, particularly as a 6-foot-6 point guard. The 19-year-old elected to play overseas in Australia's NBL for the Illawarra Hawks and didn't see much playing time this past season. Any scout who went over to see him saw a completely different player at the combine. He was quick off the dribble and had the best dunk of the combine as he finished through contact over Nique Clifford. Johnson had 13 points and 4 assists in his first scrimmage and showed more promise as a facilitator in the second game, dishing out 6 assists and adding 4 points. Johnson is definitely one of the biggest risers after the week in Chicago, and don't be surprised if he sneaks into the first round on upside and potential.

Flowers also elected to play in Australia's NBL for one season with the Adelaide 36ers. He has great length, measuring at nearly 6-7 without shoes, and a lot of room to grow into in his frame. He also measured a 42-inch max vertical (the highest of the combine) and put that on full display during drills and 5-on-5. If there were nerves during the first day of scrimmage play, Flowers hid them well. He was impressive, particularly off the ball, and was patient with what the defense gave him. Where he shined the most was in transition and getting downhill, finishing at the rim with a few impressive dunks. The first day he finished with 12 points in 17 minutes.

Freeman went from playing well at the Portsmouth Invitational last month to getting a G League Camp invite, and then was called up to the combine. The senior forward out of Akron has really been impressive through every step of the draft process. He can play a hybrid wing role and has great hands while catching passes in traffic, and he has a smooth jumper from behind 3-point range. His defense is what will get him early playing time. He led both teams in the final scrimmage with three steals and is also a smart passer while getting out in transition.

The 6-8 junior out of Washington State was one of five players who got called up from the G League Camp and looked comfortable playing alongside a couple of other players that were performing well, with Simpson and Nikola Đurišić also on Team Forehan-Kelly. Wells averaged 12.6 points and shot 41.7% from 3 during his junior season and knocked down a few 3s in both games of the combine. He still has the option to go back to school for another year, but he was one of the most intriguing players at the combine and is a player who could surprise a lot of people on draft night if he elects to stay in this class.

Đurišić was a hot name coming into the combine with how well he's been playing in the Serbian league. Prior to the combine, he averaged 22.3 points in his last four games and also had seven assists in a win over KK Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana on April 15. Đurišić went through the draft process last year and looks visibly stronger, particularly when the ball is in his hands. He measured 6-7 without shoes and shot well during drills on Day 1. Đurišić was one of the most consistent players on the floor during scrimmage play, scoring 16 points and committing only one turnover in 20 minutes.

Edwards struggled during his one year at Kentucky after entering his freshman year as a top-five high-school recruit. He looked way more comfortable with NBA spacing and has the ability to move along the perimeter and cut off the ball. NBA scouts were happy to see Edwards not ducking any competition and electing to play, despite being a fringe first-round pick. He scored 14 points and added 5 rebounds and 2 assists in the first scrimmage and followed that up with 5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the second game.

Karaban was one of the best shooters on Day 1, when he won the 3-point star drill, finishing 21-of-25. He followed that up with a 12-point performance (4-for-5 from the field in 20 minutes) in the final scrimmage, and scouts left knowing he's a reliable shooter with good size who doesn't force things. Karaban has until May 29 to decide if he wants to stay in this draft or go back to UConn for another year.

"I don't know what my decision will be just yet," Karaban told reporters Tuesday. "I'm just going to wait to get feedback from teams and go through a couple workouts. I want to really go through the process and weigh all my options before I decide."

Toppin is still a raw prospect and gave a good first impression to scouts and executives who hadn't had a chance to see him in 5-on-5 action. He has good size and runs the floor very well. Toppin's inside-out game will clearly translate to the NBA, but he still has some work to do defensively in guarding the switch and not getting beat. Toppin scored 10 points in both games, knocking down a couple of 3s and showing promising upside. He could be a potential first-round pick next year if he goes back to New Mexico for one more year to develop.

Despite what his 3/4 court sprint looked like, 7-4 Purdue center Zach Edey helped himself in the agility testing and 3-point shooting drills. He was constantly hitting shots and showed scouts and executives a promising pick-and-pop option for the future.

NBA personnel knew a lot about Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard, but I don't think anyone in the building knew he had a 42-inch max vertical. That metric alone raised some eyebrows in a good way as he also showed more of a motor and a consistent stroke in shooting drills.

No player shot better across the board than Duke guard Jared McCain. From spot-up shooting, where he shot 19-for-25, and the sideline-to-sideline drill, McCain backed his reputation of being one of the best shooters in this draft class.

Stephon Castle was known all year for his on-ball defense and there was criticism around his shot at UConn, but it's obvious that's been an area of development during the pre-draft process. He finished third in the 3-point star drill, connecting on 18-of-25 shots.