LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This is the week when NBA gurus pretend how many times a guy can bench press 185 pounds is as important as how many times he can make a contested jump shot.
This is a week when the top NBA prospects are timed, measured, weighed and questioned about their ability to take a joke or criticism.
This is the week of the NBA Draft Scouting Combine at the Quest Multisport complex west of downtown Chicago.
This is an event Kevin Durant once famously called a "waste of time."
For Durant, and the Trailblazers, it was a waste of time. Durant, not Greg Oden of Ohio State, should have been taken first in 2007. Instead the best player in the game went second to Seattle.
But for Jordan Nwora, PJ Washington, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Romeo Langford, the event will not be a waste of time.
It will help determine how early they will be selected next month -- or if they will be called.
"The best thing any player can do is be honest," one NBA scout said. "Teams don't want to hear excuses about how they didn't get enough touches or they weren't used the right way.
"They want to hear what they're doing to improve their weaknesses and what values they can bring to an organization."
I made a note of that. Then I made a note of which local players have the most on the line in Chicago. My rankings follow.
1. Romeo Langford, Indiana
If there were any doubts that Langford heard the chatter that surrounded the end of his only season at IU, they disappeared Tuesday.
In an interview with HoopsHype, Langford addressed the criticisms of his performance that piled up as the Hoosiers missed the NCAA Tournament and Langford sat out IU's three NIT games with a back injury.
He discussed his shooting issues, the lack of emotion he displays on the court, his aggressiveness, his personality and even his musical tastes.
Romeo Langford (@yeahyeah22) is the 10th-best prospect in HoopsHype's aggregate mock draft. Romeo talked to me about his thumb surgery, studying @KobeBryant, what he'll bring to an NBA team, his off-court interests, questions about his motor and more. Q&A: https://t.co/BBTm5mr8lV— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 14, 2019
You could translate it as a sales pitch to any teams that started the season considering Langford a Top 8 pick, but now wonder if they should invest a Top 16 pick in him.
Langford is not expected to participate in scrimmages in Chicago but he needs to score points in the individual team interviews.
2. Jordan Nwora, Louisville
You can see whatever you want to see when you research Nwora's prospects for this draft.
One scouting service has him ranked -- optimistically -- the No. 26 guy, which would put him in the first round. Another placed Nwora at No. 76, which would leave him undrafted.
This is a player many believe will return to Louisville for his junior season and turn himself into a first round pick in 2020.
I asked two former U of L NBA players about Nwora's NBA outlook. Both said they believed he would be taken in the second round.
"He's a shooter and everybody wants shooters today," one former Card said. "He needs to get stronger for sure but when you can shoot the way he shoots, you'll get a long, long look."
"To me the biggest thing he has to improve is his ball-handling," another former Cardinal said. "He's too loose with the ball. When he brings it up high the way he does, he'll get it taken from him."
3. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky
Four major mock drafts that I checked Wednesday have Johnson taken from 19-to-22. That is outside the lottery but a nice place to be because two of those selections (20, 22) belong to Boston, while the Spurs pick 19th and the Thunder 21st. Always more fun to start with a winner when you're playing an 82-game season.
Johnson must get stronger. All freshmen do.
Shot-making is his biggest issue. Johnson failed to make 40 percent of his attempts in seven of Kentucky's final 12 games, throwing in a 1-for-7 night against Alabama in the SEC Tournament and a 3 for 12 against Houston in the Sweet Sixteen. He also went back-to-back NCAA Tournament games (Wofford, Houston) without getting to the line.
Johnson will be a fine NBA player because of his versatility but he needs to sell himself in Chicago.
4. Tyler Herro, Kentucky
If Langford and Johnson watched their projections slide this season, Herro has been one of the biggest gainers.
Before the season he was a longshot as a first-round selection. Now he's a consensus Top 20 pick who could play his way into the lottery.
Herro helped himself by making tough shots in March as well as by the unrelenting defense he played against Wofford. NBA scouts never ask questions about his willingness to compete or blend into the team concept. I would not be shocked if the Pacers drafted him at No. 18.
5. PJ Washington, Kentucky
Now is the time for Washington to earn his rewards for doing things the right way.
He took himself out of the 2018 draft. He improved his strength and conditioning. He became as difficult to guard on the block as any player in the Southeastern Conference.
After making 5 of 21 shots from distance as a freshman, he made 33 of 78 as a sophomore, while also upgrading his free throw percentage from 60.6 to 66.3. Hard work = results = payday.
He played through injuries, especially when he counted. He took ownership of huddles and the locker room.
NBA scouts noticed all that. They liked what they saw. Washington will be selected from 12 to 15.
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