How the NBA Draft Combine turned Joshua Primo into a lottery pick

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NBA mock drafts — and the experts who provide them — have become a cottage industry. Fans can’t get enough. With that firehose of information (and some speculation), surprises have become rare on draft night. We know the top picks and their order. Farther down the board, a player may go a couple of spots higher or fall a few spots lower than expected, but the general range where a player will be selected is known.

Joshua Primo is the exception.

The San Antonio Spurs picking him No. 12 this year surprised even Primo.

“Going that high wasn’t something that I was… I don’t know if I was ready for that,”  Primo said from his draft party — he was not invited to the NBA’s on-site green room. “I didn’t realize it was going to be that high. But I’m glad it’s with the Spurs. I’ve always wanted to be a Spur.”

Primo’s agent, Todd Ramasar, knew. He added if it hadn’t been the Spurs at No. 12, other teams in that same range were ready to pull the trigger on Primo. Ramasar — who played in college at UCLA and is a long-time NBA agent with clients such as Pascal Siakam — recognized what he had early on.

“It took me a few days to see that he was a lottery talent, that he was a special talent, just overall,” Ramasar told NBC Sports. “The skill set was there. I saw that in the first two workouts.”

It was the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago where everyone else got to see what Ramasar already knew.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE COMBINE

Most lottery picks don’t attend and work out at the annual NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. They’ll have their measurements taken and maybe sit in for some interviews with teams, but they and their agents only see risk without the upside of reward. These are already lottery-bound players, they can’t climb much higher with a good showing, but an off performance in front of scouts and GMs would see their stock fall.

Primo was a different case. At the time of the combine, Primo wasn’t projected as a lottery pick, he was more likely headed to the second round. He was the youngest player in the draft at age 18 — with a baby face that makes him look even younger — and in his one season at Alabama he was playing more off the ball as a shooter, averaging 8.1 points a game and shooting 38.1% on 3s on a veteran-heavy team.

Primo rarely got to show off his ball-handling and playmaking skills. NBA teams pegged him as a sharpshooter.

“With the pandemic, there are certain factors we don’t see in any other draft, which is NBA teams’ ability to scout players numerous times in practices or in games in person,” Ramasar said. “Including decision makers. I knew from watching film on Josh at Alabama, seeing his role, and knowing teams hadn’t seen him live as much as they would have liked to.

“It was a perfect opportunity for him to use the platform of the combine to showcase his size, his ability, and his skills, different than what they had seen from him in practice games, or even on film.”

“I think what I was able to show at the combine was I’m not just a shooter,” Primo said on draft night. “I’m someone who can come in and affect the game in a lot more ways than just putting points on the board. I was able to show some leadership, be able to show my defensive effort, defensive ability, and just show an all-around game. I think that was what was intriguing coming out of the combine.”

Even before the combine, Ramasar had been in the ear of teams — including the Spurs — that there was more to Primo than just a young shooter. San Antonio was already thinking that way.

“It actually started for us a few months before [the draft combine], where you would get to see little flashes and you started to dig in. Obviously, you saw the talent,” Spurs general manager Brian Wright said in a Zoom with the media the night of the draft. “He was the youngest player in the draft at just 18 years old, and you start to think about he’s the equivalent of a high school senior starting in the SEC, so once we started to peel back the layers you start to see flashes of a little bit more.

“He played more of a spot-up shooter-type role within their offense with Herb [Jones, Alabama’s coach] and some of the guards that they had, and so when we got to the combine, we saw him in a completely different role. We saw him playing some point guard at times, playing off the ball and creating sometimes. You saw the flashes that you would see in-season, you just saw a little bit more of it. And, obviously, we got to have him in our gym and got him in a workout and continued to spend some time peeling back the layers. We were just extremely impressed with the young man.”

“In terms of [Primo] being a lottery pick, that started to pick up steam after the combine,” Ramasar said. “Because the teams that were very interested in him, they had picks in the second round… I told them, and they later acknowledged and understood as well, that he was not going to be there for their second-round picks. For example, San Antonio having pick 41, there was no chance coming out of the combine that Josh Primo would be there.”

The Spurs were not the only team interested, Ramasar said, and that kept pushing Primo up draft boards. Other teams in the same range as the Spurs were interested, and if San Antonio wanted him, they would have to take him in the lottery.

They did.

DEVELOPING A YOUNG PLAYER

In Summer League, you could see how the Spurs envision developing and using Primo — more than half of his offensive plays were as a pick-and-roll ball handler. The focus was on decision making, playmaking, and learning to use his speed and shooting skills at the next level.

The Spurs have a long history of success developing players, and Primo is the latest project. Ramasar will have a hand in that as well. He is an agent who has studied and fully buys into sports science, and he has experts in that field as part of the “pit crew” working with his players. Of course, there are traditional NBA coaches in there as well, but Ramasar — and, by extension, his clients — lean heavily into the latest technology and what can be done at places like P3 in Santa Barbara.

Already there were flashes of Primo as a creative ball handler and passer at the Las Vegas at Summer League — and there were a lot of turnovers. Primo averaged 14.5 points a game, shot 31.3% from 3 (shooting more off the bounce), and averaged 2.5 assists and 2 turnovers a game in Sin City. That showed improvement from his two games in the Salt Lake City Summer League, where he shot 23.1% from 3, averaging 2.5 assists and 4.5 turnovers a game.

Developing Primo into a key part of the Spurs’ future is a process — and a multi-year one.

The ultimate goal is to have a tall guard — 6’5″ — who can play on-ball or off-ball, and mesh with an already solid backcourt of the future with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Bryn Forbes, and Tre Jones. In a positionless NBA where a team needs multiple ball handlers and shot creators, Primo could fit right in a few years down the line.

And that chance comes courtesy the NBA Draft Combine.

Watch Dennis Schroder hit the most casual half-court buzzer beater ever

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Act like you’ve done it before.

The Lakers’ Dennis Schroder drained a half-court buzzer-beater against the Knicks — turning his back on the shot and being completely non-pulsed when it happened.

The Lakers had been 2-of-16 from 3 before that shot, and they ended up needing those points. Despite a historic triple-double from LeBron James, the Lakers had to go into overtime to beat the Knicks, 129-123.

Three things to Know: Is Nikola Jokić going to win third straight MVP?

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Is Nikola Jokić going to win third straight MVP?

That’s a weird headline to write just days after Joel Embiid outplayed Nikola Jokić head-to-head. Embiid absolutely is in the MVP mix again this season — 33.6 points and 10 rebounds per game with strong defense will do that — and that 47-point game is the kind of thing that sticks in voters’ minds. Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in there, too (not sure Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry will play enough games to win the award).

But Jokić is averaging a triple-double this season — 25.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10 assists — and his team is in first place in the West. It’s a season worthy of a third straight MVP. If someone is going to dethrone him, well, you come at the king, you best not miss.

Jokić had 28 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists on 10-of-14 shooting in the Nuggets’ win over the Pelicans on Tuesday night — Denver is now 16-0 this season when Jokić has a triple-double.

Heading into the season there was a sense MVP voters would be hesitant to make it a historic three straight MVPs for Jokić — putting him in Larry Bird and Bill Russell territory — when the Nuggets haven’t been to the Finals yet. However, Denver sits atop the West and looks like a contender with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. healthy.

Plus, Jokić’s numbers are undeniable — the Nuggets are 20.2 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court this season. They win because of him, Denver gets outscored by 8.5 points per 100 when he is off the court. And we’re not going to dive into EPM, VORP and the rest of the advanced stats, just know they love Jokić like no other, too.

Jokić may not win his third MVP, there are other deserving guys in the mix and we have 30+ games to go this season. Just don’t be shocked if he does, he has been that good.

2) LeBron has historic night as he chases big his historic night

LeBron James is now just 89 points short of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He probably passes KAJ next week, Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387 career points, LeBron is now at 38,299.

First he made some history on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, making him the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

More impressively, with those 11 assists he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. Think about that for a second, the league’s all-time leading scorer is fourth in assists, too.

The Lakers couldn’t hold on to a late lead in regulation — LeBron missed a couple of long jumpers that could have sealed the win — and Los Angeles needed overtime to get the 129-123 victory. They needed it after dropping two games to start this road trip. Anthony Davis moved back into the starting lineup and the Lakers need to string together a few weeks of wins to climb back into the play-off — or even the play-in mix — or all this history by LeBron will be squandered by the franchise.

3) Banchero, Henderson lead group that will make Rising Stars worth watching

The Rising Stars challenge is often the forgotten child of All-Star weekend. It takes place on Friday night and isn’t all that interesting.

This year may be different — a deep cast of talent will play in the new format that was a hit last season. The 28 players will be divided into four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score of 40 — something that last season led to the young stars defending and playing hard. It was entertaining.

Here’s the list of who will be playing:

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons), AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks), Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons), Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz), Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers), Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings), Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers), Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets), Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs), Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans), Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors), Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jalen Green (Houston Rockets), Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks), Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets), Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans), Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets), Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), Mojave King (G League Ignite), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle), Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats), Leonard Miller (G League Ignite), Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

It’s a group worth watching on Friday night (Feb. 17) of All-Star weekend.

Watch LeBron’s big night: Moves into fourth in assists, triple-double, win over Knicks

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LeBron James always saves something special for Madison Square Garden.

LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — he became the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

That wasn’t the only bit of history, with those 11 dimes he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. And if that wasn’t enough, the 28 points moved him within 89 points of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record: Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387, LeBron is now at 38,299.

For LeBron, however, what mattered most was the win — 129-123 in overtime, giving a Lakers team starved for wins its first on this road trip out East.

“I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking about records or how many points I have, whatever the case might be,” LeBron said, via the Associated Press. “I just play the game the right way. I approach the game every night only trying to be a triple threat by scoring, rebounding, assisting, defending, and may the chips fall where they may.”

LeBron had help, with Anthony Davis adding 27 points and nine rebounds. The Knicks got 37 from Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle had 23 points and 12 rebounds.

LeBron needed that help as he wasn’t the sharpest he had been this season, starting 2-of-8 from the floor, then missing a couple of long jumpers in the game’s final minutes when the Lakers had the chance to seal the win. But he was good enough and put on a show for the sold-out crowd in New York.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
89

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,299

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although that would be by one point, so Feb. 9 against Milwaukee is certainly a possibility.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”