The top scorers in the opening scrimmage of Friday’s NBA draft combine got their long-awaited embrace at halfcourt. Drew Timme whispered something into Andrew Nembhard’s ear and the Gonzaga teammates-turned-scrimmage-rivals engaged in a long hug as they went through the handshake line at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
In a setting that’s all about impressions, Timme and Nembhard made meaningful ones this week at the draft combine, capping the three-day event by leading their respective teams in scoring and combining for 47 points on Friday afternoon.
Playing for a team coached by former Houston Rockers assistant Will Weaver, Nembhard scored a game-high 26 points – more than he scored at any point in four college seasons at Florida and Gonzaga – while dishing out a game-high 11 assists. Hungry for a good showing after missing Thursday’s scrimmage with a quad injury, Nembhard made 10 of 18 shots from the field, went 2 for 9 from the 3-point line and made all four of his free throws.
“I just always feel like I’ve got something to prove, I feel like a lot of guys underestimate me,” Nembhard told ESPN after the scrimmage. “I want to get on the court and prove in front of all these guys I belong and I’m here to stay for a while.”
Timme, who’s still considering a return to Gonzaga next season, may have solidified why he’s ready for a career at the next level by scoring a team-high 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Timme also had four rebounds and four turnovers. The All-American forward was his team’s top scorer Thursday, finishing with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting while adding five rebounds and three assists.
Two other Gonzaga players, Chet Holmgren and Julian Strawther, received invitations to the draft combine. As is customary with projected lottery picks, Holmgren, who may go No. 1 overall to the Orlando Magic, elected not to participate in the combine. Strawther went through physical tests on Wednesday but didn’t partake in scrimmage action, wearing street clothes on the bench both days. His reasons for not participating were unclear.
The Gonzaga takeover began early and finished late on Friday afternoon when Nembhard and Timme knocked down 3-pointers on consecutive possessions with less than a minute remaining on the game clock.
One of Nembhard’s rare miscues – a turnover near halfcourt – led to a fast-break basket on the other end. The Gonzaga point guard wasted little time pushing the ball back up the floor, dribbling around Kofi Cockburn’s screen and swishing a 3 off the dribble to close the deficit to 106-100.
Nembhard’s basket was negated by his Gonzaga teammate on the ensuing possession, though, as Timme fired an elbow 3-pointer over Kansas’ Christian Braun toward the end of the shot clock, effectively sealing the win for “Team Johnson” with 31 seconds left.
“Not many people get to say they can do something like this and be in this moment and be with such a talented group of guys,” Timme told ESPN’s broadcast team on Thursday. “I think that’s something that especially when I get older and look back at this moment, it’ll be something pretty cool to say to people.”
In three years at Gonzaga, 582 of Timme’s 597 made field goals came from inside the arc, but the Texas native has spent the last 11/2 months refining his 3-point shot. After making 8 of 28 from the 3-point line as a junior at Gonzaga, Timme went 5 of 8 at the draft combine, demonstrating his perimeter shooting potential to a live audience of NBA scouts, coaches and general managers.
“I obviously needed to work on my defense and my 3-point shot and I think I did a good job today of showing that,” Timme said Thursday. “I think I was really vocal on defense and mostly in the right positions. Sometimes I wasn’t, but I thought I did well rebounding and I hit a 3 and I made the right plays off the perimeter, whether it was driving or passing and all that. So I think I’ve grown a lot in that area.”
Timme will hope NBA suitors find his scrimmage production more informative than his physical tests, where the Gonzaga standout didn’t fare as well, ranking no higher than No. 41 (of 49 to 51 participants) while performing a standing vertical jump, max vertical jump, lane agility test, shuttle run and three-quarter court sprint. Timme also registered a body fat percentage of 15.7% – the highest at this year’s combine.
Once the scrimmages started, however, much of the discussion around Timme surrounded his array of low-post moves, on-court intelligence and leadership rather than his raw physical ability.
In a midscrimmage interview Thursday, San Antonio Spurs assistant Mitch Johnson said of Timme, “He’s very cerebral, very cerebral and knows how to make plays to help his team. It’s a cliche saying, but obviously winning players do a lot of great things and he had a great career at Gonzaga.”
At one point in Thursday’s scrimmage, the extroverted Timme responded to a traveling call against him by telling an official, “They didn’t want the sauce,” according to a tweet from The Athletic’s John Hollinger.
During a timeout with 2 seconds left in Thursday’s scrimmage, Timme initiated a comical exchange inside the huddle when he told his teammates, “We have a timeout if we need it.” Coach Mitch Johnson, a San Antonio Spurs assistant, answered Timme, “No, no timeouts,” to which the Gonzaga player said, “Don’t want to pull a Chris Webber, you know,” referencing Webber’s famous mistake in the 1993 national championship.
Strawther and Nembhard, respectively, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the lane agility drill, clocking times of 10.30 and 10.46 seconds. Nembhard had a top-10 time in the shuttle run, finishing No. 6 with a time of 3.02 seconds. In an on-court drill that tested players’ shooting efficiency off the dribble, Strawther unofficially recorded the highest clip, making 22 of 30 shots (73.3%).
Strawther and Timme, along with guard Rasir Bolton, entered the draft while retaining their college eligibility, leaving Gonzaga’s 2022-23 roster in flux until at least June 1 – the deadline for players to remove their names from the draft.
“I feel like there’s a lot of moving pieces right now, a lot of pieces on the board still,” Strawther told Andy Katz of NBATV. “The possibility of Drew returning, the possibility of me returning and also the transfer market being as open as it is. It’s really hard to pinpoint what the team will look like next year, but I’m sure no matter what happens, it’ll be a great team.”
In an interview with Black Sports Online (BSO), Timme discussed his mindset during the predraft process.
“It’s eat or be eaten, it’s hit or get hit,” he said. “I’d rather do the hitting than get hit.”
Nembhard said the draft combine experience was beneficial for a multitude of reasons.
“I think the biggest thing was I learned some more new terminology,” he said. “A lot of similar concepts we used at Gonzaga, similar actions, but the terminology is different. I’ve just got to get used to that type of stuff. I think also I learned how to talk to my teammates, motivate guys. With a new group, that’s something I’m trying to work on.”
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