Karaban [608x342]
Karaban [608x342] (Credit: Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Smooth-sailing Australia look to cement Super Eight berth

The beginning of the 2024 NBA pre-draft process officially kicks off Saturday when an expected 123 players, including Alex Sarr, Donovan Clingan, Zach Edey and Alex Karaban, will congregate in Chicago for the NBA draft combine, G League Elite Camp and agency pro days.

On Sunday, NBA teams and the players participating in this coming week's combine await the results of the draft lottery (3 p.m. ET, ABC), which will set up the final order of the draft's first round. The NBA draft is approaching soon, as the first two-day event will take place on June 26-27 (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN) in New York.

Hosted at Wintrust Arena on the South side of Chicago, the combine and Elite Camp will put players through drills, measurements, athletic testing, medical examinations, team interviews and competitive 5-on-5 scrimmaging. The combine offers a significant opportunity for players to improve their standing in front of hundreds of NBA team representatives. Derek Fisher, an 18-year NBA veteran and former New York Knicks and Los Angeles Sparks coach, will oversee the camp.

There's a lot to take in from this combine, including which players could improve their draft stock, which could withdraw their names from the draft and which prospects will participate in team interviews, medical testing, on-court shooting drills and more.

Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo detail what they're hearing, what to expect this week and highlight five prospects among the 123 to keep a close eye on.

Jump to a topic: Five players to watch G League Elite Camp prospects Biggest storyline to follow Pro days are important too

How the combine helps these NBA prospects

NBA players Jalen Williams, Brandin Podziemski, Josh Primo, Kevin Huerter, Donte DiVincenzo and Terry Rozier all boosted their draft stock into the top 20 as prospects with successful showings in the combine scrimmages, while others such as Derrick White (2017), Pascal Siakam (2016), Kyle Kuzma (2017) and Quentin Grimes (2021) proved they deserved to be first-round draft picks.

On the flip side, some prospects prefer to sit out the scrimmages and hope for the best on draft night.

For the first time, the NBA has mandated near-full participation after an April 2023 agreement reached with the National Basketball Players Association. However, the league is giving players the option to decline playing in the scrimmages. Last year, 37 players declined to participate in combine scrimmages, so expect a large number of players to opt out of competing again this week.

The combine provides an opportunity for prospects to gather important feedback regarding whether to keep their names in the draft or return to college by the May 29 NCAA withdrawal deadline.

The impact of these decisions will be felt throughout the 2024-25 college basketball season as players such as Kansas' Johnny Furphy, USC's Bronny James, Minnesota's Cam Christie, Washington State's Jaylen Wells, BYU's Jaxson Robinson, Alabama's Mark Sears, New Mexico's JT Toppin, Illinois' Coleman Hawkins, Florida State's Jamir Watkins and North Florida's Chaz Lanier are all still testing the waters.

Some of the players are also in the NCAA transfer portal and have significant financial offers in place should they elect to withdraw.

Players working out for the G League Elite Camp

The G League Elite Camp, starting Saturday, precedes the NBA draft combine at Wintrust Arena. There are 45 players scheduled to attend the two-day camp -- mostly underclassmen who are testing the draft waters and college seniors who are considered fringe second-round prospects.

With only four previous events, the Elite Camp has a strong alumni list representing in the NBA, including Max Strus (Cleveland Cavaliers), Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans), Terance Mann (LA Clippers) and twin brothers Cody (Charlotte Hornets) and Caleb Martin (Miami Heat). Twenty-one Elite Camp participants have been drafted, and eight players from last year's camp earned "call-ups" to the NBA draft combine because of their play. There's an expectation for at least that many call-ups this year, since the NBA is not mandating players to participate in the 5-on-5 scrimmaging at the draft combine.

Once the combine starts Monday, here's what's next

After learning the results of the NBA draft lottery, teams and their representatives will get a three-day evaluation of most of the top players in the class at the actual draft combine from Monday through Wednesday.

A major storyline for the week will be how willingly and fully top prospects participate in team interviews, medical testing, on-court shooting drills and more. If they do not participate in those required measures, they will be ineligible to be drafted.

As previously mentioned, players can opt out of 5-on-5 scrimmages as well as select live-action offense-versus-defense drills. These basketball situation-specific drills include transition and 4-on-4 half-court evaluation, intended to showcase players' ability to perform out of a variety of NBA-type actions on both ends of the floor.

A handful of exceptions to these mandates are in place for prospects who can't participate, such as players who are in-season with a club team (Zaccharie Risacher, Nikola Topic and Juan Nunez, for example), injured or dealing with a family tragedy. The NBA requires components missed by players at the combine due to those circumstances -- especially the NBA's rigorous medical examination -- to be completed at a later date for them to be eligible for draft selection in June.

End of the week is pro days for the players

Following the combine, teams will stay in Chicago on Thursday and Friday to attend agency-sponsored pro days. In the past, teams would fly around the country to attend these workouts, but rule changes have brought them under one roof in Chicago instead, as well as a separate session in Los Angeles at the Lakers' practice facility on May 21-22.

There are mixed feelings from NBA teams about these workouts. Some enjoy the opportunity to take an up-close look at the physical attributes, movement and technique of highly regarded prospects who typically opt out of scrimmages in favor of these more scripted, prospect-friendly drills put on by their own trainers.

Other teams consider the pro day workouts to be a waste of time, calling it an orchestrated show in which players inevitably make a barrage of wide-open shots in an empty gym and throw down dunks on the heads of hapless trainers.

In 2022, the first year this format was put into place, these workouts were heavily attended by NBA decision-makers. Last year, however, attendance seemed to drop off as fewer high-profile prospects participated in the pro days.

It will be interesting to see how teams view the evolution of pro days this year, as some players have undoubtedly helped boost their draft stock just by demonstrating the sheer physical talent and ability they possess in front of a significant NBA audience.

-- Givony

Five players to watch at the combine

Cam Christie, Minnesota | SG Ranked No. 36 in ESPN's Top 100

Christie built up a good level of buzz behind the scenes following a solid freshman season at Minnesota. He has plenty of fans around the NBA, positioning himself as a surprise one-and-done candidate as the pre-draft process gets underway. Christie, the younger brother of Lakers guard Max Christie, has also entered the NCAA transfer portal. He has strong college options should he choose to return to school.

Christie's combination of positional size, shooting stroke and productivity as an 18-year-old freshman has put him in the first-round conversation for teams entering the week. He's not expected to scrimmage but a good showing in drills could be enough to help solidify interest and move him up boards. Considering the fluid and divisive nature of the 2024 draft class, Christie profiles as the type of young player teams might be interested in drafting a year early and allowing to develop in their system, hoping to invest in him before a potential college breakout in the fall.

Payton Sandfort, Iowa | SF Ranked No. 35 in ESPN's Top 100

In a draft class not exactly replete with high-level perimeter shooters, Sandfort enters the combine with a real opportunity to rise up boards and earn guaranteed money in the draft. While technically testing the waters and leaving the door open for a return to college, Sandfort profiles as the type of prospect who can benefit from the combine setting simply by showcasing his considerable long-range capacity and knocking down shots in scrimmages.

Several former prospects (think: Kevin Huerter) have gotten hot in 5-on-5 over the years and reaped the benefits. Sandfort, who shot a career-best 37% from 3 on seven attempts per game last season, stands 6-foot-7 with a quick, compact stroke, enabling him to get shots off over defenders and under duress. While not an adept defender or exceptional athlete, Sandfort profiles as a useful specialist at the next level and could be one of the week's big beneficiaries due to the relative scarcity of his skill set in the prospect pool.

Jamir Watkins, Florida State | SG/SF Ranked No. 73 in ESPN's Top 100

Watkins is another prospect who has the ability to return to college and transfer, but will have an opportunity to strengthen his case for a guaranteed contract at the combine. NBA teams have been intrigued by Watkins' versatility, as a 6-7 perimeter player who can handle, pass and create for teammates while also adding value on the defensive end with his athleticism and nose for the ball. He averaged nearly two steals and a block last season in 28 minutes per game at Florida State, while also leading the team in scoring and co-leading in assists. He presents intriguing two-way sleeper appeal for NBA scouts.

The central question surrounding Watkins is his shooting ability -- 32% from 3 and 76% from the line during his college career -- making it a critical swing skill in his pathway to an NBA role. The fact he's not a total nonshooter gives him a baseline to work from, and the combine creates an opportunity for Watkins to showcase it in a different context from Florida State, where he was probably overtasked as a scorer at times. If he can keep defenses honest as a catch-and-shoot threat, there's generally a place in the league for wings with his type of versatility. The combine setting is a great opportunity to help his standing with teams as he weighs a decision on whether to turn pro or return to college, where he should have strong options in the portal, as well.

Alex Karaban, UConn | SF/PF Ranked No. 42 in ESPN's Top 100

Karaban has the option to return to UConn, where he was instrumental in the Huskies' consecutive championship runs, making him one of the more consequential stay-or-go decisions. He'll also have an opportunity to take that momentum and build on it at the combine. Karaban has fans around the NBA due in large part to his considerable basketball IQ, toughness and winning acumen. He's a good shooter with enough positional size to play both forward spots, and a smart connective player who moves the ball and understands his role.

The primary knock on Karaban is his average athleticism and length, and how that translates defensively -- he won't be quick enough to defend every wing, nor is he the type of strong, disruptive player who will impact the game much as a rim-protector in help. He's also not going to create many shots for himself off the dribble, relying more on his passing and cutting ability to impact the game away from the ball. These factors aren't going to change, but the combine presents a stage for Karaban to showcase the many things he does well outside of UConn's complex, read-heavy offensive system. Whether he stays in the draft might hinge on whether a team rates him enough to guarantee him a deal, making this a big week for him -- and the Huskies.

Jaylen Wells, Washington State | SG/SF Ranked No. 54 in ESPN's Top 100

A late-blooming sleeper who was bumped up last week from the G League Elite Camp into the combine, Wells is a talented perimeter shooter with good positional size that teams are eager to learn more about this month. In keeping with the theme of prospects to watch, Wells is also in the transfer portal, and will have no shortage of opportunities to land at a bigger program should he return to college. He's young for a junior, having yet to turn 21, and transferred to Washington State from Division II Sonoma State entering last season -- a pleasant surprise in a successful season for the Cougars.

Wells did much of his growing in high school, helping to create some perception of untapped upside. And he hasn't played a ton of high-level basketball, making the combine an interesting platform for him to show he belongs. The constant demand for competent shooting wings leaves the door open for him to leave a strong impression -- he shot 41.7% from 3 last season, but just 45% on 2-pointers, which underscores his need to get stronger and improve attacking the paint. It might behoove him to play another year in college and work on rounding out his game, but teams will be curious to see how he fares in the spotlight of the scrimmage setting.

-- Woo

Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service used by NBA, NCAA and international teams.

Jeremy Woo is an NBA analyst specializing in prospect evaluation and the draft. He was previously a staff writer and draft insider at Sports Illustrated.