LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The latest greatest sign of normalcy in the basketball world arrived this week:
The NBA shared the names of the 69 players who earned invites to its Draft Combine in Chicago next week as well as the 40 players asked to compete in its G-League Elite Camp that will open Saturday in Chicago.
The local schools will be represented in both workouts but not at the record levels of previous seasons.
Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson and B.J. Boston earned invites to the Draft Combine. They will be joined by Louisville guard David Johnson and Western Kentucky frontcourt star Charles Bassey.
The only local player to earn a spot in the G-League workout was Louisville guard Carlik Jones, the Cards’ leading scorer last season.
(One surprising absence from the G League list was Kentucky center Olivier Sarr, who jumped from Wake Forest to UK last season to improve his draft profile.)
All five guys have work to do. My check of mock drafts at The Athletic, CBSSports and NBC Sports showed only Jackson trending as a first-round selection. Most projections have Jackson going in the final 10 picks of the opening round because of his ability to run the floor and defend.
The combine was canceled last season because of concerns about COVID-19. The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for July 29 with the lottery to determine the order of the first 14 picks next Tuesday. Here is a link to the list of players invited to the Combine.
Here's three takeaways from the combine lists:
1. What’s at stake for David Johnson?
The chance to play his way back into the first round, which is where Johnson was ranked by several analysts prior to last season.
You’ll find Johnson in the 40-50 range in many current mock drafts, including Sam Vecenie at The Athletic, who ranked him No. 43.
At 6 feet, 5 inches tall and a robust 210 pounds, Johnson has an NBA body, especially if he proves he can deliver in extended time as a ball-handler and distributor. He finished last season as the only player to rank in the top 25 in the ACC in rebounds and assists.
In a seven-game stretch from Nov. 29 through Jan. 6, Johnson averaged 17 points and made 15-29 shots from distance. Those were first-round credentials.
But Johnson failed to scored in double figures in half of his final 10 games, making 16-48 three-pointers. Johnson also had more turnovers (29) than assists (28) during that stretch. Those were not first-round credentials.
At his best, Johnson is a first-round guy who needs a big week in Chicago.
2. Can B.J. Boston reverse his slide?
Boston had more first-round sizzle than Johnson at the beginning of the season because of his size (6 feet 7 inches tall) and ability to play multiple positions.
But his lack of physical strength (at less than 190 pounds) and questionable shot selection pushed Boston into the second round. It’s a shooters’ world, and Boston made only 30% of his threes and less than 39% of his two-point shots.
He’s another guy who needs to change the narrative in Chicago.
3. Hat Tip to the SEC
The Southeastern Conference perennially fights a public relations war about the strength of its college basketball.
The Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference regularly wins the majority of the media love, but a look at the Draft Combine invitation numbers show that the NBA has major respect for the talent that performed in the SEC last season.
The SEC led all leagues with 15 invitations, four more than the runner-up ACC and triple the five invitations earned by the Big Ten.
Half of the SEC’s 14 programs will send players to Chicago. Three teams — Tennessee (Keon Johnson; Yves Pons; Jaden Spring) and Alabama (Herbert Jones; John Petty Jr.; Joshua Primo) — earned three invitations.
The ACC was led by Duke. The Blue Devils, who failed to make the NCAA Tournament, will be represented by Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson and D.J. Steward.
The Big Ten’s five representatives will be Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp of Iowa; Michigan’s Isaiah Livers; Aaron Henry of Michigan State and Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu.
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