CHICAGO — Victor Wembanyama cannot in any way improve his draft stock this week as the NBA Draft Combine unfolds here at Wintrust Arena starting Monday. That's no shot at him, either: , and so much of a runaway favorite -- regardless of on Tuesday -- that a $5 bet that the field would displace him as the top pick might be enough to send you into early retirement if it hit.
Spoiler alert: it will not hit.
Wembanyama is so much of a lock in fact he's not even in attendance this week even as NBA decision-makers flock to Chicago to dig in deeper into this 2023 class. He cannot rise higher than he already has, and so he stays in France as Mets 92's season continues to play out. Same goes for Brandon Miller, Scoot Henderson and some other stars in the class who are locks to go in the top 10 -- they may improve their standing marginally among NBA circles but are all but written in pen to be the top tier of talents in this year's class.
This week, though,for players outside the projected lottery or first round to make an impression on scouts and important figures in the hoops world. Four years ago Luka Samanic put on a show during draft combine week and played his way into a top-20 selection after entering the week with some question marks. This was also the same launching pad for then-Georgia big man Nic Claxton, who parlayed an excellent week in competition into becoming the first pick of Round 2.
There's always a littany of players who use the week to either establish momentum in the draft process or build momentum leading up to the draft, and this year should be no different. So with that at top of mind, here are 10 players I'm watching this week who have a chance to bolster their standing.
Once viewed as the best basketball prospect regardless of age or classification, Bates' stock has seen some significant slippage in recent years as he's fallen from the No. 1 recruit in his class to a one-and-done transfer from Memphis to a draft-hopeful from Eastern Michigan. A one-season stint at EMU seemed to in some way help build back Bates' mystique as a potential NBA contributor given his ridiculous shot-making and size combination, but he is no longer the surefire lottery pick we thought he could be. A good week at the combine, though, could solidify him back in the mix as a potential first-rounder. Teams love tools and upside and Bates, at only 19 years old, still checks those boxes.
2. Amari Bailey, UCLA
Among players in this class who could completely show out and do so well that it could warrant an early-week shutdown, Bailey is pretty high on my list. The former five-star recruit played an important role for a veteran UCLA team last season and emerged down the stretch run of the season as a bonafide inside-out scoring threat. Should he return to school he'd be one of my picks to be a potential All-American and in the lottery mix for 2024, and I think smart teams are thinking ahead here knowing he's hiding in plain sight entering the week.
3. GG Jackson, South Carolina
This season at South Carolina left a little (OK, quite a lot, if we're being honest) to be desired for Jackson, but he has fans in the scouting community still who believe in the pedigree and upside. Remember: Jackson was once ranked as the No. 1 player in his recruiting class before reclassifying and enrolling a year early. He won't turn 19 until December. The size/skill/scoring combination he brings will turn some eyes this week and potentially thrust him in the conversation as a lottery sleeper. I have him 30th on the Big Board entering the week but could see him playing his way up.
High points from his one-and-done season at Indiana were, well, quite high -- like his 35-point eruption inside Mackey Arena to take down then-ranked No. 5 Purdue -- but Hood-Schifino had a little more ups and downs than I think some teams may want to see from a potential lottery pick. He's one of the highest-rated players on the Big Board participating in competition this week, so expectations, rightfully, are high for him.
Nelson is one of the buzziest names this week at the combine because of his 6-foot-11 frame and do-it-all skill set as one of the best producers with North Dakota State. He could be a major transfer coup for some program should he return to school, but there's at least some believers in his game that think he could be worth a second-round flier. Bigs who have the agility and movement skills he has, fair or not, tend to bring up the [look away, kids] U word as a frequent talking point. (Unicorn. The word is unicorn.)
If one were to bet that the best player in the WCC last season was Drew Timme, one would technically be correct. But Podziemski was the co-best player if we're operating under technicalities. He won Co-WCC Player of the Year in his first, and likely only, season at Santa Clara, quelling questions that arose after he went one-and-done at Illinois the season prior. He's a competitive, left-handed guard who can score and facilitate and should be primed for a big week.
7. Judah Mintz, Syracuse
In what turned out to be the swan song season for Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim in his role running the program, Mintz managed to fly under the radar with the Orange as one of the more productive freshmen lead guards in college hoops. He ranked second among all freshmen in power conferences in assist rate with Syracuse and showed promising touch around the rim to boot.
8. Jazian Gortman, Overtime Elite
Gortman was one of the standouts of the G League Elite Camp over the weekend and earned an invite to the NBA Draft Combine after impressing evaluators and getting the call-up. He's not physically imposing from a frame perspective, but he plays big and has a long reach that he uses to his advantage. Can get into your space and swarm you defensively and plays with a lot of energy. Someone I'm excited to watch this week after a strong start at Elite camp.
9. Sir'Jabari Rice, Texas
Rice's team nearly came all the way back from a double-digit deficit in scrimmage action at the G League Elite Camp on Sunday and Rice was himself no small reason for that. He was one of the more vocal leaders on the court and on the bench, encouraging teammates as they withstood adversity during a slow start. When he was on the court he played a big role in the near-comeback, too, hitting four 3-pointers and showcasing his scoring ability that makes him such an intriguing prospect. His combine invite was well-deserved, and he has a chance to build on that momentum this week.
10. Keyonte George, Baylor
If you've followed the draft landscape closely in recent months and weeks, you might notice that George has fallen from a likely top-10 pick to a potential lottery or late-teens prospect. George can change the narrative there this week. He wasn't the most efficient scorer at Baylor and there's some polish needed for him to reach his potential as a two-way guard, but in this setting I think he can be one of the best players and matches up talent for talent with just about everyone competing this week.
Also: G League Elite Camp call-ups
Of the 44 draft prospects invited to compete at this year's-- which serves as the prelude and a potential play-in to the combine -- only eight were called up and invited to compete at the NBA Draft combine. Those eight were: