Back in January, the NCAA approved a proposal that would allow all of the NBA Draft’s early-entry candidates to wait 10 days after the conclusion of the draft combine before having to make a decision on whether to return to school or stay in the draft. The proposal allows the early-entry candidates to participate in the draft combine, if invited, as well as allowing them to work out for every NBA team once. This gives prospects the opportunity to get as much feedback as possible to make a more informed decision about their basketball future.
This year’s deadline was May 25, and the decisions have been made. Fifty-seven early-entry candidates have decided to return to school for another season including some high-profile names like Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Villanova’s Josh Hart and Oregon’s duo of Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey.
Let’s take a look at five prospects who benefited from this new rule, but first, let me throw in a few qualifiers. One, this is not a list of guys who helped themselves the most during the combine; that’s an entirely different list. These are guys who were testing the draft waters and based on the feedback they received from NBA teams, decided to stay in the draft. These guys did not initially sign with agents, and most of them waited until after the combine to decide on their future.
So with that in mind, here are five prospects who benefited from the new early-entry rules:
1. Ben Bentil
The Providence sophomore entered his name in the 2016 NBA Draft as an early entry whom many felt was just simply testing the waters. But after strong measurements at the combine (6-8, 230 pounds in shoes with a 7-1.5 wingspan) and some really solid workouts, Bentil has decided to stay in the draft, and he might just work himself into the late first round.
Bentil burst onto the scene this season at Providence, averaging 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, and proving to be a versatile scorer from all over the floor. Bentil’s bread-and-butter are duck-ins from the short corner where he has a knack for finding holes in the defense that result in easy buckets. He showed some ability as a jump-shooter both spotting up and operating out of pick-and-pop sets.
Bentil only shot 32.9 percent from three this past season, but he did shoot 78.2 percent on his free throws which often suggests he will have little problem developing a reliable jump-shot in the future. While no one would consider Bentil a great athlete or an above the rim player, he was able to be an adequate rim protector when rotating from the backside at Providence, but I don’t think you’ll see him giving too many Mutombo finger wags at the next level.
There are some concerns about his rebounding and playmaking ability at the next level, since today’s power forwards are often asked to be playmakers, but Bentil’s positives far outweigh his negatives. He projects as versatile forward in the NBA who could develop into a pick-and-pop, stretch-four down the road. The new early-entry rules allowed Bentil to capitalize on a great sophomore season by having a strong showing at the combine and in workouts, and it should be enough to earn him a guaranteed NBA contract regardless of where he’s drafted.
2. Malachi Richardson
There might not be another prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft who has seen his stock soar quite like Malachi Richardson. The buzz began during the NCAA Tournament when Richardson helped lead his tenth-seeded Syracuse Orange to the Final Four.
Shortly after the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament, Richardson announced his intentions to declare for the 2016 NBA Draft, taking advantage of the new rules and hoping to continue to ride his current wave of momentum. And he did just that. When he declared for the draft, Richardson was almost unanimously considered a second-round pick, at best, but after the combine and workouts, he decided to stay in the draft with some projecting he’ll go as high as the late-lottery (though, I’m not much of a fan of his).
Scouts reportedly are drawn to the fact that Richardson can create his own shot and get to the rim at will. He’s a capable but inconsistent shooter. His combine measurements were terrific (6-6 with a 7-0 wingspan), and many feel like he has a decent amount of defensive upside.
Richardson has a knack for making incredibly difficult plays look pedestrian, but this gets him in trouble sometimes with poor shot selection, particularly in the mid-range area. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be the team that rolls the dice on him in the late-lottery or even in the teens, but nonetheless, Richardson has undeniably benefited greatly from the new rules.
3. Chinanu Onuaku
The two days of five-on-five action at the NBA Combine were where Chinanu Onuaku solidified his draft stock as a late-first to early-second round prospect. Like every prospect on this list, Onuaku was just considered someone who was testing the draft waters but would likely end up returning to school for at least one more season. Then the combine happened, and that’s where Onuaku showed off his elite defensive and rebounding potential.
In 42 combined minutes played over two games at the combine, Onuaku posted 21 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. He showed off his abilities to be a very good rim protector at the next level and his measurements (6-10, 245 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan) suggest that he’ll have no problem playing the five in the NBA.
The former Louisville Cardinal is extremely raw on offense, but his defense and rebounding are so advanced that he shouldn’t have any trouble making a roster next season. One concern about Onuaku’s game beyond his offense is his lateral quickness and ability to defend on the wing. There’s no questioning his ability to guard the paint, but will he be able to competently defend pick and rolls? That will be one of the keys in determining just how high Onuaku’s ceiling is.
4. Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam is a long, freakish athlete. His combine measurements came in at 6-9.5, 230 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan, an 8-11.5 standing reach and a 36.5-inch vertical leap. Siakam had an incredibly productive season at New Mexico State, averaging 20.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
When Siakam declared for the draft, many viewed him as a prospect who could solidify himself as a second-round prospect by having a really good combine, and he had a great combine, by all accounts. He tested very well athletically, and he was constantly talked about as one of the standouts in the five-on-five drills.
Scouts love his nonstop motor and rim-running ability. Siakam excels in transition situations where he can get out and run the floor, constantly beating his man to the rim. He’s one of the few big-man prospects who can legitimately switch on to wings with ease and stay in front of them, which will come in handy when guarding pick-and-rolls.
He’s a far from polished prospect on the offensive end, and many of his buckets early in his career will likely be a result of hustle plays or garbage buckets. But given time to develop, Siakam could turn into a rotation big that can defend against small-ball lineups.
5. Isaiah Whitehead
Isaiah Whitehead was a very highly-touted prospect coming out of high school (isaiahwhitehead dot com exists and it calls itself “the home of future NBA star Isaiah Whitehead”). He was selected to the McDonald’s All-American team and ended up at Seton Hall where put up gaudy scoring numbers, albeit inefficiently. Whitehead shot just 39 percent from two-point range and 36.5 percent from three.
He’s on the smaller end of two-guard prospects, measuring 6-4.5 in shoes, but his nearly 6-9 wingspan will help him on the defensive end. Whitehead does have a solid 210-pound frame that helps him create space in the paint.
Overall, Whitehead’s play was very inconsistent at Seton Hall, and that significantly hurt his draft stock. At the combine, however, reports were that Whitehead played under control and looked like the player that many hoped he would turn into coming out of high school. He’s always been a scoring machine who attacked the paint relentlessly, and his three-point percentage went up from his freshman to his sophomore year despite taking more than double the amount of threes as a sophomore.
He’s a flashy and very capable passer, and a good rebounder for his size. The questions about his stock as an NBA player are rooted in whether he can become a more efficient player and learn to accept a reduced role. At times, he could be a very selfish player in college, but based on the reports from the combine, it appears he’s working on that. Whitehead will almost certainly get drafted in the second round, and that position could continue to rise, especially if he continues to have strong workouts.
Honorable Mention: Cat Barber