NBA Draft 2016: Three players who need to impress scouts in workouts

Every year, there are players who declare for the NBA Draft who have a bit less of an impressive body of work to fall back on. Often, these are players that are referred to as “toolsy” or that they have “potential.” After all, producing in college is much different than producing in the NBA.

Some players succeeded both places, like
Kevin Durant
. Others, like Michael Beasley and Adam Morrison, never quite lived up to their billings after elite college careers. Then, there are players like
Paul George
or
Kyle Lowry
, who never fully showed off everything they were capable of in college but did show flashes of what the future could hold.

The 2016 NBA Draft is going to be no different in that regard. And in fact, given the talent in this draft, it might even have more of those project-type players than past ones. Typically, when players don’t have much in the way to go off of when it comes to tape, that makes workouts even more important to their draft stock. It also makes their overall stock a bit more volatile than other players, as good workouts for toolsy players can push them higher, but bad workouts plus bad tape can tank your stock.

There are plenty of players in this draft that will be heavily affected by workouts, but here are three who will need to really show out in order to reach their potential. Unsurprisingly, they all are a similar, specific archetype of player, too: the project big man.

Thon Maker | PF/C | Australia/Canada (No. 26 on CBS Sports Big Board)

This is the most obvious one, right? Maker is entering the NBA directly from high school. Last year at Hoop Summit, he got shoved around and outplayed by
Skal Labissiere
, who himself got shoved around and outplayed by all of college basketball this season. Maker has obviously improved since then, both in terms of his body and in terms of his game, but has he improved enough?

That’s going to the question, and NBA teams are going to have to find it out in workouts. I’d expect Maker to interview well with teams — he’s generally known as a smart kid who works exceptionally both on and off the floor — but there are going to be some questions for him to answer in athletic testing. Specifically, Maker can get rather mechanical with his movements, so what will his agility testing look like? Just how good of an athlete is he at his size? Will he play at the combine? Does it look like he can add sustainable weight when he gets examined by teams? These aren’t questions easily answered at this point, and it’s impossible to know until he gets in front of teams.

Undoubtedly, Maker has the most riding on the next month. He could be anywhere from a mid-first rounder to a late second rounder, depending on how he performs when he gets in front of teams.

Skal Labissiere | PF/C |
Kentucky Wildcats
(No. 14)

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Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere’s draft stock has slipped this season. (USATSI)

Speaking of Labissiere above, the near 7-foot Haitian didn’t exactly distinguish himself this season at Kentucky. Sure, his per-40 minute numbers of 16.7 points, eight rebounds and 4.2 blocks all actually look pretty solid for a freshman. But those simply don’t account for the fact that at times this season, Labissiere was unplayable due to how he got pushed around on the glass and defensively. Also, his 7.6 fouls per-40 weren’t exactly the beacon of a guy who looks like he can capably keep a team out of foul trouble.

Having said that though, this is still the player that plenty of people had as the No. 1 overall prospect going into the 2015-16 college basketball season (myself included). NBA scouts have seen him at his best before, even if they saw him at his worst this season. The 2015-16 season isn’t the only sample of play they’re going off of with a player like Labissiere, and it’s important to note that it’s not like plenty of upperclassmen or other freshmen upped their stock in a major way.

A good set of workouts for teams could help to distance that tape from his stock, and make scouts and NBA executives remember why they fell in love with Labissiere in the first place. He’s a mobile 7-footer who can step away and knock down shots as well as swat away shots at the rim. It’s a rare skill set to possess, even if it’s clear that Labissiere is a major project that needs to make strides in the way he sees the game unfolding and the way he reacts to the ball off of the glass.

Marquese Chriss | PF |
Washington Huskies
(No. 17)

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Marquese Chriss is about as boom or bust as it gets in the draft. (USATSI)

Chriss was one of the breakout freshmen of the 2015-16 season. Plenty of people thought he had the upside coming in to eventually become a first round pick, but the No. 60 overall prospect in the country quickly made good on that promise, flashing a similar skill set to the players above him on this list. However, Chriss does it in a package that differs from those two dramatically. The 6-9, 225-pound power forward is an explosive athlete more than a fluid one like the other two, possessing the ability to finish far above the rim and to emphatically block shots. Oh, and he combines that with the potential to really shoot it from distance. A very modern-day stretch-four prospect who can protect the weakside of the rim, basically.

So why will workouts be important for Chriss? Well, first and foremost, if he shows the kind of scores in the athletic testing portion of the combine that many think he’s capable of, his stock could go through the roof much in the same way that
Cody Zeller
‘s did in 2013. NBA coaching staffs will always think they can get the most out of athletes like Chriss. Also though, Chriss is going to have to show in workouts that he can take coaching instruction and apply it to his game. While the 18-year-old freshman has an incredibly high ceiling, he also has a low floor due to the fact that he’s pretty much unplayable defensively right now in an NBA game. Chriss led the nation in fouls this season, and really struggles with the way he moves on the perimeter (more with his technique than his lateral quickness) and with the way he bites on pump fakes. Part of this likely has to do with the fact that Chriss just began playing organized basketball in ninth grade, which means he needs to continue to round out his feel for the game and some of the more technical aspects of his defense.

But it’s worth noting this too: Chriss has improved over the last few years as rapidly as anyone in his age group. That’s the kind of development track you want to see when you’re taking on a project. Now he just needs to focus on the details. The floor for Chriss’ stock depending on how he takes to the pre-draft process is still in the second round, but it’s much more likely that he ends up in the first, and could even get into the top-10 if things go well.

That’s the kind of volatility that exists in this draft this year, and the project big men are going to play a major role in how this thing shakes out.

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