Valentine, Davis, LeVert out to solidify draft status

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Denzel Valentine won All-American honors at Michigan State last season and is projected by some experts to be a late lottery pick.

It doesn’t matter how they get there.

It only matters that they do.

For three of the state’s top prospects — Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Deyonta Davis, and Michigan’s Caris LeVert — the roads all converge in Chicago for the NBA combine, which begins Wednesday.

Valentine and LeVert, both guards, were four-year standouts, while Davis was a freshman phenom projected to be selected in the top 15 of the draft on June 23. It’s a similar outlook for Valentine, the Associated Press national player of the year.

Things are a little murkier for LeVert, who flirted with leaving early for the draft after his sophomore and junior years, but has been beset by foot injuries and played out his career with the Wolverines. While he was considered a possible first-round pick the last two years, the outlook isn’t as clear now, with some teams wanting to learn more about the status of his foot.

That’s why the combine could help all three players.

While LSU’s Ben Simmons, the presumptive No. 1 or No. 2 pick, is skipping the combine — as some of the top prospects do every year — there are more opportunities for teams to conduct one-on-one interviews and get to know the players.

They’ll also have plenty of measurements, drills and scrimmages to try to gauge the prospects’ physical traits, as well as how they perform in game situations.

For LeVert, it’s a task of getting teams to believe in him, after he had surgery on his left foot in March. He might choose to pass on any of the physical drills, instead looking to conduct interviews and convince teams he is healthy.

That’ll be a tough task after he played in 33 games his final two seasons at Michigan, averaging 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 15 games before his senior season ended.

Davis, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound forward from Muskegon, needed one season at Michigan State to make an impression. He was named Mr. Basketball his senior season and the Gatorade player of the year in Michigan, along with a selection to the Parade All-America first team.

He wasn’t a great low-post presence for the Spartans, but averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 60 percent. Davis is the first one-and-done player to declare for the NBA draft for the Spartans since Zach Randolph in 2001.

Valentine distinguished himself as one of the top players in the country. At 6-foot-6, he has ideal height for a point guard and shot 44 percent on 3-pointers his senior season. That projects to make him a coveted combo guard in the first round.

And at 22 years old, he’s more mature — and less of a gamble — than other guards in the draft such as Kentucky sophomore Tyler Ulis, Vanderbilt sophomore Wade Baldwin or Florida State freshman Malik Beasley.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

NBA combine

Wednesday-Saturday, Chicago

Format: Interviews, drills and scrimmages

Local connections:Michigan — Caris LeVert. Michigan State — Deyonta Davis, Denzel Valentine. Oakland — Kay Felder

Local projections

Draft: June 23, Barclays Center, Brooklyn N.Y. (ESPN)

Denzel Valentine: ESPN (13), Draft Express (16), CBS (9), Bleacher Report (18)

Deyonta Davis: ESPN (14), Draft Express (13), CBS (13), Bleacher Report (11)

Caris LeVert: ESPN (32), Draft Express (31), CBS (30), Bleacher Report (17)