Friday, May 17, 2013

Takeaways from the NBA Combine

The NBA Combine generates a ton of buzz every year in Chicago and the results of the combine are often overanalysed and discussed ad nauseum. NBA teams can get up in the numbers too, but the good teams understand that each number should be taken with a grain of salt. Some numbers are more relevant than others and some players' numbers are also more important.

The combine does present an opportunity to see all the draft prospects in a gym together and see who passes the eye test. Generally, its good to at least note the outliers in both directions. Rudy Gobert had measured with a 7-9 wingspan in Eurocamp previously, but seeing him against other NBA prospects in the flesh makes more of an impact. Gobert generated the most hype out of anyone these past 3 days in Chicago.

Other things to note is who consistently goes hard in drills, who looks out of shape, and shooting mechanics. Getting caught up in the number of shots a guy makes isn't a good idea, but seeing how quick and consistent a prospects stroke is worth watching. For the most part - you know that bad and the good shooters. But having them all in one gym, you can get a better idea on who has the quickest releases. If you are among the best shooters AND have a quick release, that is something noteworthy.

The athletic testing is where you have to be most careful. There are players who train specifically to do well on these tests during the few weeks prior to the event. When you look at data from previous years, there really is no pattern in terms of who succeeds and who fails. Plenty of guys have flopped in athletic testing and went on to have great NBA careers, while there have also been countless workout warriors. If you take a look at the trainers players are training with, you do notice that certain trainers produce better results than others.

For example, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo both killed the athletic testing and have been working with the same trainer who constantly produces results. Kenny Kadji, Shane Larkin, and Adonis Thomas all worked out with the same trainer as well and performed better than many thought they would.

This doesn't mean that their leaping ability is better than they showed in college, it just shows that they have practiced these drills. Its important to understand the different approaches prospects have coming into the combine and how it affects their testing. Nothing beats watching game film to measure a guy's athleticism.

Another thing to note is the difference between standing vertical and the maximum vertical. For a big man, more times than not, they will be jumping from a standstill position off of two feet in games. Thats why it was impressive to see Cody Zeller measure with the top standing vertical in the entire draft.

At the same time, the most important thing for big men is getting off the floor quickly - the combine doesn't measure that. While Zeller can just high (which is needed to make up for his short standing reach), he doesn't get off the ground super quick.

Rudy Gobert only produced a standing vertical of 25 inches, but with a record high standing reach, there is no reason for him to have to be able to jump 12 feet in the air. The game in the NBA is played above the rim, but not that high. As long as Gobert gets off the ground fairly quickly - and he does - his vertical is not a big deal at all. He won't need to jump higher than 25 inches to ever block a shot in the NBA.

Meanwhile, guards need to do better in the maximum vertical leap. There are two foot jumping perimeter players and then there are the guys that can fly to the rim on the run by jumping off of one foot. Victor Oladipo does that as well as anyone. Ben McLemore is another guy who excels throwing down dunks on the run.

You also have guys that test well athletically, but don't ever show that kind of athleticism in games. Their numbers are more irrelevant. Kenny Kadji comes to mind.

A guy like CJ Leslie killed the lane agility and ran the court as fast as anyone, but he doesn't know what to do with that speed in the games. Its great to run the court fast, but it is even better to run the court every possession. Leslie is a guy who takes a lot of plays off and doesn't always go at full speed - which is why you shrug off his sprint times.

Leslie's agility times should also be taken with a grain of salt. His feet more faster than his brain. While he has quick feet, all that does a lot of times is take him out of position quicker. Instincts and IQ and more important when playing defense inside - not agility. All this says about Leslie is he can run around on defense like a chicken with its head cut off - without any idea where he is suppose to be.

Shane Larkin posted a billboard day during the athletic testing and that is something that will help him out. During the measurements, he measured with a wingspan less than 6 feet. In the history of the draft, very few guys with that kind of length have ever gone in the first round. To counter that measurement, Larkin went out and dominated the drills today. So when his size is questioned, scouts can turn to his "freakish athleticism" to justify why Larkin will be different from the gang of T-Rex armed guards that have failed before him.

Anyway, the top 5 seems to be as wide open as ever after today. Noel only weighed in at 206 pounds, which is obviously extremely light for a big man. Noel said his injury has caused him to drop weight, but even at 220 pounds he still needs to add a considerable amount of weight.

Porter, Burke, and McLemore remain my next three best prospects. They all did fairly well in Chicago. At this point, I tcould make an argument for any of the four to be the first overall pick. My board is extremely fluid at the top 4 spots and Noel is no sure bet to go #1. He's the biggest risk for sure and its hard to turn down sure things like Burke and Porter.

After them, Rudy Gobert has begun to creep up in the picture. As mainly a college basketball guy, I hadn't watched Gobert near enough this year but as I watch more of him, the more I become convinced he could make a push towards the top 5. One of his biggest concerns is his weight, but he weighed more than guys like Dieng, Olynyk, Mbakwe, Withey, Zeller, and Muscala. Thats almost as big for him as his massive length. Oh yea, and Gobert is nowhere near as raw as Ajinca was. Thats not a fair comparison.

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