2024 NBA Draft: 3 players to watch at the draft combine

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Recent examples of players using the combine to boost their draft stocks include Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams, Golden State’s Brandin Podziemski, and Indiana’s Ben Sheppard.

The NBA Draft Combine is underway in Chicago, with prospects having measured in and participated in drills before two days of live action scrimmages. 

This draft combine is of particular note because the NBA required invited prospects to participate in athletic tests, but also because it can perhaps serve as a launching pad for players even more so than in previous seasons thanks to the wide open nature of the 2024 NBA Draft. 

Recent examples of players using the combine to boost their draft stocks include Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams, Golden State’s Brandin Podziemski and Indiana’s Ben Sheppard.

Keep in mind — it is also not uncommon to see players who scrimmage well on the first day shut things down after impressing NBA scouts and decision makers. This is what then-Marquette forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper did last season, and he was later drafted at no. 24.

As of Monday night, 42 prospects are listed as participating in this year’s 5-on-5 scrimmages taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Here are three players with west coast links to watch.

AJ Johnson played in Australia this season for the Illawarra Hawks but struggled to make much of a dent down under, averaging less than 3 points and 8 minutes per game. Johnson, who played high school basketball in Southern California with stops at Donda Academy and later Southern California Academy, has been known to NBA teams for a while. He was a previous five-star prospect committed to the Texas Longhorns before opting to go pro.

In theory, Johnson is an explosive, long guard who can also pull up off the dribble. He can throw down some athletic dunks in a workout setting, and he’s also kept growing over the last couple of years. A guard similar to Anfernee Simons is a best case outcome here. 

However, Johnson really lacks functional strength. The Illawarra prospect finds it a constant battle to get to his spots on the floor and, for the most part, cannot use his bounciness or his handle. 

The skill level is there with Johnson, but his body is nowhere close to ready for NBA action. More than anything with the ball on the court, that physical impediment is the biggest thing holding him back. In an uncertain draft, it’s not hard to envision a team believing they can develop Johnson’s body, while stashing him in the G League to get reps in a low pressure situation. However, there will also be organizations who are intrigued but might feel uneasy about drafting and developing Johnson for years only for a separate team to reap those rewards.

Johnson is set to scrimmage with Team St. Andrews in the combine’s 5-on-5 games.

Bronny James is typically holding the headlines as he enters day two of the NBA Draft Combine, but it was a solid display for him to start the week. James measured about as expected in height — he was not the 6-foot-4 being listed in college, but hovering a little under 6-foot-3 in shoes is logical — and pleasantly in length, with a wingspan slightly above 6-foot-7. The USC guard also put up an impressive vertical leap and shot the ball very well in three-point drills.

The pitch on Bronny remains largely the same as it was in high school. He is an NBA-level vertical athlete with plus positional length and strength. James is also a smart ball mover and decision maker against shifting defenses. He can play in transition, attacking closeouts, or quickly reversing the ball. The former five-star recruit also possesses genuinely projectable defensive instincts with a motor that has gone underrated. James’ seriousness and approach to the game shouldn’t be overlooked.

James’ biggest improvement point is his creation, both for himself and others. As a passer, Bronny can tie up loose ends on the court, but he still needs to improve his manipulation of set defenses and prove that he can playmake in the pick-and-roll more often. In terms of scoring, James can be timid and lack assertiveness. His physicality in the paint somewhat grew, but he doesn’t get there enough for his athleticism. Bronny’s handle also lacks shake if he has to break down his man or create his own jumper. His shot mechanics and versatility from three look good, but the numbers did not accompany him from downtown like they did in high school. James finished his freshman season of college converting 26.7% of his threes.

Teams who like Bronny will see a complementary, off-ball guard who can play next to a bigger primary initiator without needing many touches because of his athleticism and potential shooting. Davion Mitchell is a name that comes to mind in terms of NBA outlook. Those with more questions will wonder how he overcomes a lack of self-creation, more reactive handle, height, and current production.

James is set to scrimmage with Team St. Andrews in the combine’s 5-on-5 games.

Trentyn Flowers is another playmaking prospect looking to go from the Australian NBL to the NBA, having left Louisville during the college pre-season to join the Adelaide 36ers. He presumably signed on as his team’s point guard, only to be quickly shifted into an off-ball role that led to very inconsistent minutes and production. In 21 games, Flowers averaged 5.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 0.6 assists, per RealGM. His best game was a 20-point outburst in October.

Truthfully, Flowers was not ready to be that primary initiator or organize his team to any significant extent in a highly competitive grown men’s league. Still, the 19-year-old offers an interesting blend of athleticism and positional size with some very green ballhandling, passing, and three-point shooting. In shoes, he’ll measure in at a little under 6-foot-8 with a wingspan slightly above that height.

All of these glimpses remain scarce, though, since the Adelaide prospect has not been in a stable developmental situation since bursting on the scene really. In high school alone, Flowers had stops in Georgia, West Virginia, California at Sierra Canyon, and finally North Carolina. Flowers’ talent level pops but he is also yet to find his role. It seems like he prefers to play as an on-ball creator but his short-term options likely go through being an off-ball connector who is more of a wing than a guard. Viewing Flowers in the mold of a Deni Avdija style do-it-all playmaker down the line would help his draft stock, as he’s likely a late second rounder currently.

Flowers is set to scrimmage with Team Herscu in the combine’s 5-on-5 games.