It’s an exciting time for those of us who are both Carolina fans and like following the NBA and/or its draft process, because for the first time since 2012, multiple Tar Heels are being looked at as first-round picks, and for the first time this decade, the Tar Heels in the draft are actually having positive pre-draft processes. Justin Jackson was perceived as unreliable due to just one season of good shooting, Tony Bradley was both a surprise first-round selection and had unfavorable measurements, and back in 2013, Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall, and John Henson were all perceived as very good college players who had offensive and/or physical limitations that would hurt them in the big leagues, a perception that was only strengthened with the pre-draft process. This year, though, Coby White, Nassir Little, and Cameron Johnson have so far only helped themselves following the NBA Combine thanks to great testing, drills, and interviews. Here’s a recap of how it went for each of them.
It’s been an incredible year for White, from breaking the North Carolina high school scoring record to winning a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas Championship to becoming a star point guard for UNC, eventually going from a projected two-year player with a shot at the 2020 lottery to what looks now like an almost certain top-7 selection in 2019 thanks to an incredible freshman season. The good things didn’t stop in Chicago, as he first measured even better than expected in most aspects, putting to relative rest questions about his wingspan and the NBA-readiness of his body: He came in at 6’3 1⁄2 without shoes, 191.4 pounds, with a solid 6’5 wingspan and a great body fat measurement of 4.3%. White was able to treat the Combine like somebody who knew he had much more to lose than gain from it, which is pretty incredible. After the measurement, White forewent athletic testing and the scrimmages, conducting some interviews and ultimately leaving early, usually a sign that a player’s gotten what they came for, very possibly a draft promise. The rumor mill suggests as much, check this out:
After meeting the media and interviewing with select teams, White left the combine with widespread speculation that he, too, has received a draft promise. Two league executives who spoke with the Tribune believe White’s promise is from a team that picks before the Bulls.
It’s worth noting that Darius Garland, White’s companion in the sweepstakes for 2nd point guard taken in the draft, also left early among rumors of a top-6 promise. It’s a solid bet that one was promised by the Los Angeles Lakers, picking 4th, and the other by the Phoenix Suns, picking 6th. If I had to guess I’d say Garland’s promise was from LA and White’s from Phoenix. I wrote briefly about the possibility of a White-Devin Booker backcourt a few weeks ago, so you know how I feel about that. After it looked like a certainty that White would go to the Chicago Bulls at 7, it now looks like he may well not be there for them.
After an inconsistent season filled with promise that was only sometimes realized, we all knew that Nas Little both had to and would be able to help himself tremendously at the NBA Combine. He’d have to remind professional front offices why he was so highly touted as a high schooler. Starting with the physical stuff, he didn’t disappoint: He came in a little shorter than expected at 6’4 1⁄2 (he’s 6’6 in shoes), but at an NBA-ready 224 pounds, 5.9% body fat, and a stunning 7’1 1⁄4 wingspan, one of the longest at the entire Combine and certainly one of the absolute longest compared to height. He impressed in athletic testing as well: he didn’t have a good lane agility time, but had an average shuttle run, a top-15 3⁄4 court sprint, a top-9 standing vertical leap at 31 inches, and a top-5 max vertical, a jaw-dropping 38.5 inches (remember, a few guys who could have bested this mark didn’t test, including Zion Williamson). Then came the shooting drills, where he was even better than expected. He didn’t shoot from college 3-point range, and whether he was standing or on the move, shot worse than 40% from just two out of his 14 spots, a mixture of 15-footers and NBA three-pointers. And then came the interviews. They’ve been talked about and occasionally sensationalized, and as Brandon said at the time, the early reporting from a certain... we’ll say Observational local paper lacked some context. Consider the following: Little retweeted several media personalities who rebutted the original interpretation and said he sounded mature, reflective, and took responsibility for his season not going as well as he’d wanted. Sam Vecenie of the Athletic was one of those:
(2/2) Little said he had some hesitancy on the court and didn’t play like himself. Honestly I took away more that he was taking responsibility for it than passing the buck. Went on to say that he thought his time at UNC was valuable because he developed and became more mature.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) May 18, 2019
Little quoted this and added, “Don’t always fall for the clickbait y’all.” Additionally, Jonathan Givony of ESPN/DraftExpress tweeted that numerous NBA executives considered Little among the best interviews at the Combine. They’re not likely to say that about a guy who they thought threw his coaches under the bus, particularly one as well-respected as Roy Williams. Basically, if you read any animosity from the reporting of Little’s media session, all indications are that you read it wrong.
Nas helped himself tremendously in Chicago, by all accounts. His stock had been slipping down to near and sometimes past pick 20, but after the Combine, numerous teams reportedly consider him a borderline top-10 player in this draft, according to The Athletic’s Jabari Young. Little did not play in the Combine scrimmages.
As one of the oldest players in this draft and probably the oldest in first-round consideration, Cam Johnson had less to prove than Little; there’s plenty of evidence of what he can and can’t do and it feels like the two things he’ll get drafted for, his size and shooting ability, didn’t need much more confirmation. Johnson’s thus had a quieter process so far than his freshman teammates, but his measurements were similarly affirming: he came in at 6’7 without shoes and 6’8 1⁄2 with them, weighing 205 pounds and carrying a more-than-respectable 6’10 wingspan. His body fat was unremarkable for the Combine at 5.8% (it’s a welcome break after UNC’s last two draft processes have featured notable and unflattering BFP measurements. Also, remember, the NBA BFP measurement consistently runs very low). He went through athletic testing as well, and did a lot better than he might have been expected to given his reputation as mostly a shooter. He posted the event’s fifth-best lane agility time, nearly matched Little’s standing vertical at 30.5 inches, and went for the ninth-best max vertical at 36.5 inches.
Johnson didn’t shoot or have the same media buzz around him at the event, but he has talked about the interview process, specifically handling questions about his age and what he uniquely brings so that teams might ignore it or see it as a potential plus, given that he’s 23 and ready to live alone rather than a 19-year old kid who might not have that life experience yet. He’s still expected to be a mid-late 1st round pick, with the San Antonio Spurs at 19 and Philadelphia 76ers at 24 looking like particularly good fits.