- Chad Ford, Senior Writer, NBA Insider
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CHICAGO -- The NBA draft combine officially got under way on Thursday at ATTACK Athletics, and the first day was, to put it politely, sort of a dud.
As expected, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, Arizona's Jordan Hill and Arizona State's James Harden skipped the first day of draft workouts. They were joined by Memphis guard Tyreke Evans.
The drills weren't particularly telling. However, there were a few highlights from the first day of workouts. We'll break it down by the four groups that participated, starting with the point guards.
• Nine point guards ranked in our Top 30 participated in the first workout of the day: Jrue Holiday, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Jeff Teague, Ty Lawson, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Patrick Mills and Toney Douglas. The workout was, by far, the highlight of the camp so far.
"I think it was really important to see all of the top point guard prospects on the floor at the same time," one NBA GM told me. "You could measure up guys, compare speed, jump shots and athleticism. It's a small piece of the puzzle, but it helped our staff get a little separation on these guys. That's going to make our job easier."
Four players really seemed to catch the attention of the GMs I spoke with after the event, with UCLA's Jrue Holiday garnering the most attention. He was the biggest point guard of the top group and seemed to tower over several of the smaller guys on the floor.
During one 3-on-2 full-court drill, Holiday looked like a power forward running on the wing. And while his size was impressive, so was his game. He was hitting his jump shot, finishing with both hands and showing versatility and an excellent handle.
"I was skeptical when I read the report out of IMG about Holiday," one NBA executive said. "Now I get it. That's the kid we fell in love with in high school. He was really impressive."
• Curry put on a shooting show -- no surprise there -- but many GMs commented that he really looked like he belonged when he participated in a number of ballhandling and full-court drills. If Curry can prove to teams that he can play point guard, he'll go somewhere between No. 5 and 13. If he can't, he could slip out of the lottery. The results of the first day of camp had to be encouraging.
• Flynn continues to generate buzz with his combination of speed and power -- even if he was the shortest guy on the floor. Every GM I spoke with now sees him as a lottery pick, with many projecting him in the Top 10.
• Maynor also generated some significant buzz with his decision-making and shooting.
"He looked like he was totally in control out there. There's a smoothness to his game that I really like," an NBA head coach said.
• Australia's Patrick Mills also turned some heads with his speed. It will be interesting to see who wins the three-quarter sprint drill on Friday. Mills, Collison and Lawson are the likeliest contenders for the fastest player in the draft -- all three guys are a blur.
• Not everyone impressed, however. Lawson continues to take a little bit of a beating. His small stature and so-so performance in the combine didn't help dispel a growing chorus of scouts who seem to feel that his game won't translate to the pros.
• The talent dropped off tremendously when the 2-guards stepped onto the floor. With Harden and Evans sitting it out, the best prospect on the floor was USC's DeMar DeRozan, who didn't disappoint.
DeRozan showed off his terrific athleticism. But more impressive was the solid shooting display he put on. While he still isn't a sharpshooter, he showed range out to the NBA 3-point line. For a guy who shot 18 percent from the college arc as a freshman, that has to come as a big relief.
"As far as upside goes, he's second only to Blake Griffin in this draft," one NBA GM noted. "He has all the physical tools to be a superstar. The question is -- is he Vince Carter or Gerald Green?"
There is evidence that points in both directions, but DeRozan's late-season flourish for USC combined with his improved stroke shows he is willing to work hard to get better at his game. The NBA teams I spoke with all had his range from No. 5 to 9. Looks like I'll be adjusting my next mock draft next week.
• There wasn't much else to report in this group. A number of teams noted that Terrence Williams looked smaller than they thought.
Several GMs made comparisons between Miami Hurricanes guard Jack McClinton and Boston Celtics guard Eddie House.
Everyone continued to talk about UNC's Danny Green as an underrated player, but no GM I spoke to seemed to be considering him as a first-round pick.
Duke's Gerald Henderson played well in the combine, but teams are sharply divided about his NBA future. A handful see him as a lottery pick. Many more feel like he could really slip on draft night.
• This was the second-most talented collection of prospects here. A number of players in this group are ranked in our Top 30, including James Johnson, Earl Clark, Austin Daye, Chase Budinger, Sam Young and DaJuan Summers.
Of the group, Gonzaga's Austin Daye helped himself the most. He was flawless in the drills, launching and hitting shots from everywhere on the floor and showing a very high basketball IQ.
"You see him in an environment like this and you want to fall in love," one NBA GM said. "This is the perfect scenario for him. Show off your skills and don't worry about having to face contact or play physical defense. It's when those tough defenders come that you start to see the other side of Daye."
That may have been true this season at Gonzaga, but one NBA team said it wasn't true in their workout. "He was amazing," one GM said. "We threw everything at him and he handled it all. I think he's tougher than people think."
How good was Daye's workout? Several lottery teams told me that they were ready to give him a second look.
• Louisville's Earl Clark also got some love. "He so fluid," one GM said. "He plays an effortless game."
And Georgetown's DaJuan Summers also impressed people with his play.
• A couple of players didn't fare as well. Israel's Omri Casspi had a shaky shooting day, throwing up a few air balls and bricks during the shooting drills. No worries, however -- he's much better in a real game with real defenders.
Wake Forest's James Johnson also took some flak for a number of reasons. Some teams didn't like his body language. Some teams thought he had bulked up too much. Others felt that he would've been better off working with the power forwards.
There definitely seems to be a concerted downgrading of Johnson. The question is: Are teams doing it deliberately to push his stock down to a place where they can draft him?
• The last group was the bigs. As everyone knows, this isn't a great strength of this draft. With Griffin, Hill and Thabeet sitting it out, the best player on the floor was Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair.
Blair wowed a lot of people with his new, more toned and chiseled physique. There seems to be a controversy about how much weight Blair has actually lost, but there there's no question that his body looks much better.
The most intriguing name out there was Ohio State's B.J. Mullens. Many NBA scouts had Mullens as a top-five pick at the start of the season, but downgraded his stock after he failed to get significant minutes as a freshman.
Thursday was a bit of a coming-out party for Mullens. He passed the smell test for big men with flying colors.
"You watch him in a workout setting like that and there's a lot to love," one GM said. "He keeps working out like that for teams, and he's moving up the draft."
• North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough was there, but he didn't seem to draw a high level of buzz one way or the other. "He looked like the same guy we saw for four years at North Carolina," one NBA GM said. "I wanted to see him try to score over longer, more athletic players. If he showed that, I'd be impressed."
• The big mystery was the no-show of Washington's Jon Brockman. The NBA just shrugged its shoulders when asked where Brockman was. His absence fueled a number of (unsubstantiated) rumors. I heard everything from a promise by a European team to a first-round promise from an NBA team to an injury. We're digging to find out the truth.
Play resumes on Friday with a slightly different skills workout format, plus athletic and agility testing. ESPNU will be televising the event live starting at 10 a.m. ET.
Coming on Monday: NBA draft combine wrap
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
Here's the lowdown from the first day of the NBA draft combine in Chicago.