Apparently, the NBA has had a draft combine for at least a few years and I hadn’t even noticed. I tried to look up its history, when it started, some of the most legendary performances. There’s not much, folks. It’s like it just magically appeared out of thin air. Naturally the questions started to form.
My first question, as any NFL draft nut such as myself would ask, was if there were 40 yard dashes, bench presses and shuttle drills at the NBA combine. The answer: kind of. The main athletic drills are the three-quarter time (which is a spring across, you guessed it, three quarters of the court), a lane agility time (which is some sort of shuffle or running drill involving the paint) and then standing and max vertical jump. There’s also something called a modified time, and forgive me, but I have no idea what it is. Then there are all of the actual basketball skills assessments, with shooting, ball-handling, etc.
Who were some of the top performers at this year’s combine? Indiana center Cody Zeller had a really good standing vertical of 35.5, while pint-sized Miami guard Shane Larkin had an insane max vert of 44 and ran a blistering 3.08 three-quarter. Did their performances impact their draft spots all that much? Not that I can tell. Zeller was already pretty much a lock to go in the top 10 and Larkin was a solid mid-to-late first rounder.
In fact, if you take a look at the results from the last decade of the testing at the combine, you can see there are some pretty forgettable names on there (Cookie Belcher is an example, but not because his name itself isn’t awesome). Some like Iman Shumpert, Matt Barnes and Nate Robinson have turned into decent NBA players. Harrison Barnes, Derrick Williams and John Wall could have very good, long NBA careers. Blake Griffin is the only one with superstar potential.
My point? I think the reason that the NBA combine has flown under my radar for so long is that it’s pretty inconsequential. This is because most of the guys with the best stats are often irrelevant come June and the tops of most NBA mock drafts stay the same for months since it’s often more obvious who the slam dunk (hehe) prospects are.
Also, since there are fewer positions to fill in basketball, it’s easy to look at a team’s roster and say “Yep, they need a shooting guard.” In the NFL, a team might need an offensive linemen but also desperately need a linebacker, creating multiple scenarios of how the pick will actually play out. In the MLB, you have signing bonuses, college options and U.S. citizenship factoring into whether a team takes a player.
And that doesn’t even touch on the fact that NBA teams aren’t as constrained positionally as other sports, which allows them to take the best player available. Sure, there is the traditional 1-2-3-4-5 positions, but as we’ve discussed in recent days, those line-ups are adjustable depending on the make-up of each team.
Bottom line is that the NBA combine is lagging far behind the NFL’s in awareness and actual impact. Do I hope that changes someday? Eh. What I do know is that the NBA will have to come up with some sexier drill title names for them to actually stick. 40 and bench sound much cooler then lane agility drill.