NBA

Best Soundbites From The 2024 NBA Combine Media Availability

SportPicksWin
Source
forbes.com
Every year, the NBA designates a segment of the NBA Draft Combine to media availability. This gives journalists (such as myself) an opportunity to get into the minds of the prospects that will be participating in the event (and the upcoming draft). This year, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the festivities, and I used that opportunity to speak to a handful of the members from the 2024 Draft Class (Stephon Castle, Rob Dillingham, Kyle Filipowski, Johnny Furphy, and Kevin McCullar Jr.). Here are some of the best quotes from those conversations. Many outlets see Stephon Castle — a member of the defending champion Connecticut Huskies — as a potential top 5 pick in this draft. The big appeal with him is his potential to be a legitimate two-way point guard. Some people have even likened him to the last guard to win the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award, Marcus Smart. Here is what he had to say about that comparison: “It feels great knowing that people think that highly of me,” Castle told us at the combine. “Marcus Smart is a great player, and more importantly, a great two-way player. So, just knowing that people think that way of me, it feels really good.” The key phrase with Castle here is point guard. That’s because he is dead set on playing the point guard position at the next level. So much so that he alluded to not wanting to play next to another point guard like Ja Morant: “They have a star point guard in Ja Morant. I feel like I can fit into any kind of team. I feel like my game is pretty flexible,” Castle explained. “I feel like I can play with any kind of players in any kind of way. But I also feel like I made that sacrifice in college. Now, we’re talking about my career, and that’s something I take pride in. Now, I really want to play the one. So, that’s just something to think about.” Castle is confident he can be a team’s lead guard. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. But speaking of confidence, Castle is also sure that the jump shooting woes he incurred this past season (26.7% from three) were more of a fluke than a sign of weakness in his mechanics. “I feel like it was more of a confidence problem than a mechanical one. I think my jumper is fine mechanically,” Castle said. “I’ve been shooting this way my entire life. It was just that this season, my jumper was off.” Speaking of projected top 5 picks, Rob Dillingham (Kentucky) is currently fourth on The Ringer’s 2024 Draft Guide. However, despite the massive role he plays in this cycle, from the parts of his availability period that I was present for, the most compelling portions of his dialogue had little to do with Dillingham’s draft candidacy. Dillingham’s college coach, the legendary John Calipari, said goodbye to his home of the last 15 years shortly after Dillingham’s team was upset in the first round by the inconspicuous Oakland Grizzlies (my younger sister’s alma mater). And it seems like Dillingham was just as surprised to hear about Calipari leaving Kentucky for Arkansas as the rest of us. “I found out on social media,” Dillingham said when asked how he found out the news. “It was so surprising because Coach Calipari has been there for so long.” Regardless, Dillingham has nothing but praise for his now-former head coach. “It was a great experience. Coach Cal puts you through real-life situations. He makes you a real person. It’s about basketball. But at the same time, it’s about people. Coach Cal is a great guy, and he’s helped out my family and me a ton. And it’s not just my family. He’s helped so many families. For him, it’s about building your character and building it for the long run. I appreciate Coach Cal and what he did for basketball.” Dillingham also cites Calipari’s ability to simplify the offense as a big reason why he was able to transition into a lead guard role so seamlessly this past season. One thing I asked all the prospects I spoke with is which NBA players they watch the most film on and look to emulate with their own games. For Kyle Filipowski, that list includes only the best of the best. “I watch Lauri Markkanen. I watch Nikola Jokic. I even like watching Anthony Davis. I take bits and pieces from all of them,” Filipowski told me at the combine. “I like the way they play. They aren’t the fastest players, but their mind is ahead of everyone else's.” Filipowski, who is listed at 7’0, hopes to use his rare combination of size and skill to create mismatch problems for opposing teams (much like the three gentlemen he’s been watching diligently). Filipowski seems excited for the next level, even saying that his game is better suited for the NBA than it was for college (which, if true, is a terrifying thought, considering how good of a collegiate athlete he was). “The college game is so much different from the NBA. Personally, I think the NBA game compliments my game so much more,” Filipowski explained. “With the extra spacing, the playstyle, and being able to space the floor and shoot the three, and not having to worry about double teams every single possession. I still had a good year this year, but I didn’t get to demonstrate my full abilities.” The other major talking point revolved around Filipowski’s teammate at Duke, Jared McCain. Recently, McCain — another prospect present at this year’s combine — has (unfairly) received a lot of criticism for the ways he liked to express himself (like painting his nails). Filipowski was very defensive of his teammate, saying that McCain has taught him a lot about strength and resiliency. “There are a lot of biases/misconceptions about [McCain] because of the way he lives his life, but you know what, there is nothing wrong with that,” Filipowski told the combine. “To be honest, he gets the most hate out of anyone I’ve ever seen, and when you look at him, it doesn’t even phase him.” “If this guy can do it, there’s no reason why I can’t. He’s definitely helped me grow in that sense. He’s taught me how to forget about the critics and enjoy my life to the fullest extent.” The period leading up to the combine and draft is one where prospects can fine tune their respective games and strengthen any of their on-court weaknesses. For Furphy, he’s using that time to improve in a literal sense — adding size to his frailer frame. “I think the first thing would be my body,” Furphy told me. “My smaller frame is something I’ve been dealing with my whole life. But if I improve on that, it’ll take my game to a whole new level.” As someone who likes to dabble in weight training myself, I felt compelled to inquire further on the subject matter. Here is how Furphy explained his strength-building process: “A lot of core. We never target any specific muscle group. It’s almost always full body. The weight gain has also been really strategic. I don’t want to put on a whole lot of weight too quickly because that might put some stress on my bones.” In terms of player comparisons, the 6’9 wing sees himself as similar to two fellows currently occupying roster spots on the Brooklyn Nets. “There’s a few players that I’ve been keeping a keen eye on. The two guys I think I have the most in common with are Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges.” As many of you may know, Johnson and Bridges share a lot of similarities on offense, but there is a huge gap between the two in terms of defense (for their careers, Bridges has been the superior defender). Furphy doesn’t know which one of these two he is more similar to on defense, but he does know he has the ability to have a significant impact on that end. “I think I have a lot of potential defensively. I think that my defense is a good way to generate offense. I'm not sure where I stand on the Johnson/Bridges spectrum, but I think I can be a really impactful defender.” In a recent YouTube video, The Ringer’s J Kyle Mann called Kevin McCullar Jr. a potential candidate to be this year’s “high feel” draft sleeper (think Jalen Williams, Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Brandin Podziemski). McCullar liked and agreed with this assessment. “I feel like Williams and Jaquez are guys that came into the NBA ready to play right away. They are Swiss Army knife guys. Guys that can do everything on both ends of the floor. That’s how I feel I am,” McCullar told me during a combine interview. “Those guys were both immediate impacts. I feel like I’m that right now. I’ve played in enough big games. I’m an older guy. I’m ready to come in and contribute right away.” And while Filipowski prefers to study All-Star bigs, McCullar spends his film sessions watching All-Star role players — in particular, Josh Hart. “I’ve been watching a ton of Josh Hart these playoffs,” McCullar proudly confessed. “He’s affecting the game in so many different ways. He’s the guy we’re talking about. A guy who is versatile and competes on both ends of the floor. He just makes winning plays. He holds their team together.” Since McCullar is one of those “high feel” guys, I figured I would run my theory about how feel on the basketball court correlates with feel for roads and directions while driving. McCullar chuckled at the bizarre nature of my line of thinking, but he also appreciated the idea. “You have got to know your surroundings for sure,” McCullar agreed. “I guess you could put that together. I’ve never thought about it like that, but it makes a ton of sense.”