When Lindsey Hunter showed up for the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago in 1993, he was a virtual unknown.
Hunter had played at Jackson State and a fair share of NBA officials were vaguely aware of him or his credentials.
When the camp was over, though, everyone knew about him.
A man on a mission, Hunter wowed NBA personnel in attendance with some eyebrow-raising workouts and performances.
For Hunter, the pre-draft camp was simply a godsend. He was afforded an opportunity to prove that he could play with the other more ballyhooed prospects.
Hunter’s dazzling audition transformed him from a projected late first-round pick into a lottery pick.
Hunter was the 10th overall selection, taken by the Detroit Pistons, and went on to have a gratifying and productive 17-year pro career.
So, what are the odds of a player at the recently completed pre-draft camp in Chicago mirroring Hunter’s meteoric rise in the draft? Probably about as good as Barack hosting Donald at the Oval Office.
It’s just not going to happen.
That’s because of the way the pre-draft is now set up. No longer are players like the Hunters of the world afforded an opportunity to exhibit their skills in 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 games.
And that means players who were regarded as first-round talents before the pre-draft camp are likely to remain first-round candidates after it.
“With the way the pre-draft camp is structured and with the way it is formatted, I’m not really sure a player’s stock will dramatically increase or decrease,’’ Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “When players are now being limited with the things they can actually do on the floor and having the chance to spend 30 minutes with an individual, between those two facets, a player isn’t going to help himself or hurt himself in any drastic measure.
“Before there was a more true evaluation period.’’
If that isn’t bad enough, several players at this year’s pre-draft camp shunned even the simple drills. Kyrie Irving, the gifted point guard from Duke who is the consensus best player in the draft, even passed on interviews with team officials.
Tom Penn, a former vice president of basketball operations for the Portland Trail Blazers who is now an insightful NBA analyst for ESPN, said the draft prospects who bypassed participating in the workouts only hurt themselves.
“It’s become a peer thing where they try to create the perception that the best players aren’t there (to participate in drills), so they’re not going to be there, either,’’ Penn said. “To me, that is a little counter-intuitive. To me, it’s a lost opportunity.
“They miss out on a chance to make an impression with all those decision-makers there, including the head coaches who are probably seeing them for the first time because they are focused on NBA games during the season.’’
Yet, while the pre-draft event may no longer be a venue to significantly impact a draft prospect’s stock one way or another, it can still be beneficial.
In Penn’s eyes, there were several players who made favorable impressions.
Heading Penn’s list is Enes Kanter, a 6-foot-11 power forward/center who didn’t play last season at Kentucky because of eligibility issues.
“He was such a question mark coming into the pre-draft camp, a man of mystery, having not played all of last season,’’ Penn said. “But he took advantage of the situation.
“He showed a lot of spirit and energy; he showed good mobility and was a good floor runner. He’s a robust player.’’
Penn said was also suitably impressed with the showings of three other players: Marshon Brooks, a 6-5 shooting guard from Providence; Jeremy Tyler, a 6-10½ center who left high school early to play overseas in Israel and Japan, and Kenneth Faried, a no-nonsense, unheralded 6-7½ forward from Morehead State.
“I thought Marshon Brooks was very interesting,’’ Penn said. “His physical measurements were that of a prototypical shooting guard.
“He was a prolific scorer in college and there (at the combine) you had a chance to see his length; he has a 7-1 wing span. He appears to be a real offensive talent.
“Faried caught everybody’s eyes on Day 1. He won every sprint, he banged into the practice coaches in the post and was physical with everybody. You could just see his energy and enthusiasm and zest for the game.’’
“Jeremy Tyler is interesting, too. He took this crooked path overseas but, physically, he statted out very well.
“And bigs always rise in the draft and the reason for that, of course, is there aren’t many of them. He also showed a little more maturity in the interviews and looked good on the court.’’
A veteran Western Conference scout concurred.
“I think a lot of people are starting to be enamored with Jeremy Tyler,’’ the scout said. “He measured out at 6-10 and he’s got a huge wing span of 7-5.
“He’s got some talent.’’
Some other players who earned high grades from NBA evaluators for their efforts at the camp included:
- 6-11½ center Nikola Vucevic of Southern California, whose standing reach of 9-4½ was the best at the camp. “He did a nice job; he might have helped himself more than anyone there,’’ the scout said. “It wouldn’t surprise if he got in to the first round now.’’
- Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert: ‘‘His size really stood out; he’s a 6-5 point guard,’’ the scout said. “And he made shots and competed hard.’’
- Marquette University swingman Jimmy Butler, who piqued the interest of NBA officials by being the MVP at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament: “The guy is just solid,’’ the scout said. “He doesn’t play out of his comfort zone and he’s a really good defender.’’