Combine Still Has Value Even If Top NBA Prospects Skip It

By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — Creighton forward Justin Patton has been fielding all kinds of questions at the NBA draft combine.

For example, does he slow down or speed up at a yellow light? The Minnesota Timberwolves wanted to know.

“I said, ‘It depends on where I’m going,'” he said.

That’s a big unknown for a 7-footer who went from having one Division I scholarship offer to turning pro after his redshirt freshman season. He’s projected as a middle or late first-round pick, and the combine sure is a big deal for him as he tries to boost his draft stock.

It just doesn’t have quite the shine it did in the past, with the stars skipping it altogether, participating on a limited basis or showing up only to interview with teams.

Eight-time All-Star and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant even told ESPN on Wednesday that the top prospects should take a pass on the combine. He recalled a rough experience in 2007 when he was 19 and turning pro after one year at Texas.

Durant remembered strength coaches laughing when he couldn’t bench press 185 pounds. He didn’t do great in the vertical leap or sprint even though he was known for his superior athleticism. Durant told ESPN all he wanted to do was pick up a basketball and show his skills on the court.

If the combine hurt his stock, it didn’t drop too far. Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick after Portland took Greg Oden and went on to become one of his generation’s best players.

But the combine isn’t quite the star-studded showcase it used to be. Likely lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Malik Monk are not attending.
“The league has done everything it can to try promote all the players to be here, but the agents have control over the player,” said John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “As long as that’s the situation, they can dictate what the player does or doesn’t do in these settings.”

Top players need to weigh the risks and rewards, of course. And along those lines, Kentucky coach John Calipari believes Durant has a point.

“If you think there’s anything here that would hurt you, don’t come,” he said. “If you think there’s anything here that would help you, come. If you have to play to help yourself, come. If it doesn’t help you — playing— then don’t play. This is for these kids. My job is to protect my guys. The job of these NBA teams is to get as much information as they can to make a great pick. They would like to see every one of them play five-on-five, do all the (drills). It’s not the way it is for these kids.”

Calipari said he has never advised a player to skip the event. But he has told them not to play, for example, if they have nothing to gain.

Paxson said he can understand top prospects skipping certain aspects of the combine. But he doesn’t understand missing it entirely.

“To not go through medical and some of the athletic testing, you don’t have that in football,” he said.

Even so, there still is value in the combine even if the top prospects are skipping it. Teams get to see players in an intense setting that can’t necessarily be replicated in workouts at their practice facilities. They’re getting face time with prospects. And players looking to move up in the draft or into it are getting a showcase.

“I know that the league does a good job of evaluating (the combine),” Paxson said. “Every time we have a combine, they look at ways to improve it. They want it to be a valuable tool for us as well.”

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson isn’t playing. But he’s getting a chance to convey just who he is, to make connections and show just how important basketball is to him. He ranks it right behind his faith and family.

“I’m able to show myself, show who I really am and kind of start building relationships around the league,” he said. “You walk into the lobby and you have no idea who might be in there.”

UCLA’s TJ Leaf felt he had some things to prove through the tests. And some teams had a big question for him — a $495 question. Would he buy Ball’s basketball shoes?

“I’m not going to be buying one,” he said. “If Lonzo would send me one, I’d definitely try it on and I’d wear it a little bit. But I’m not gonna be buying one.”

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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