News and notes from the 2013 NBA Combine.
by Dave Spahn / @davespahn
As many of you already know, this was the first year the NBA allowed complete access to the media inside the Draft Combine. I sat around with a few of my buddies after it was over to discuss what I saw in person, compared to what they saw on TV, and quickly came to a conclusion: The general fan either thinks the Combine is a waste of time or a fantastic tool to gauge prospects’ mental and physical nature.
NBA scouts and GMs hold strong opinions about the Combine as well. Most of the scouts I spoke with believe the interview portion of the Combine holds the most importance. One scout said, “95 percent of the on-court portion of the Combine is useless. How many of these kids can go from being a bad shooter to a great shooter in less than two months in between the season ending and now? The interviews are the only thing we truly need to be here for. I’d much rather spend this day with my wife.”
Another scout, however, gave a different opinion. “These past two days showed me what kids have gotten into better shape and worked on their game since the end of the season,” he said. “You can tell who’s put time into working on getting their body right, eating the right foods, getting their legs underneath them. I saw who came here ready to play and who’s been sitting on the couch too much.”
I came away from my time spent on Chicago’s west side with a somewhat mixed view. Were my two days watching the Combine a complete waste of time? Of course not. Was the Combine the most groundbreaking event for prospect scouting ever invented? Not even close. But I did see a few things that made the experience worthwhile.
To start, I feel bad for Shabazz Muhammad. I could tell the kid was giving his full effort and came ready to compete, but he simply could not hit a shot to save his life on the first day. He shot 36 percent during shooting drills and finished worse than every player at the Combine except Myck Kabongo (32 percent). As the highest-touted player actually competing, Shabazz did nothing to help his case among NBA scouts and may have slid down a few slots on many team lists.
Tony Snell and Tim Hardaway both shot the cover off the ball throughout the weekend. Ray McCallum and Erick Green pushed around the smaller point guards during one-on-ones and generated some positive buzz. The most impressive player during the drills portion, however, was definitely Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams.
The quick-witted Adams showed his gym-rat approach both days and stole the show on and off the court. He showed everyone in attendance his ability to step outside and rain jumpers from deep, a skill he rarely displayed at Pittsburgh. He explained that he refused to work outside of the system at Pittsburgh and always tried to do his job on the floor, but his game has many more facets than what Pittsburgh fans saw this past season. He lit up the interview room with his easy going and incredibly humorous personality, shocking almost every media member with how sincere and honest his answers were. If any kid showed more of a unique personality than Adams, I would love to meet him.
Isaiah Canaan, Shane Larkin, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and CJ Leslie all came away with fantastic results form the athletic testing portion of the Combine. Larkin set the second highest vertical in Combine history at 44 inches, while Zeller finished first in every single athletic test except for one among centers.
Another major observation I came away with was which kids embraced the vast media attention and which kids reacted poorly. Most people have heard at length about the fantastic personalities of guys such as C.J McCollum and Victor Oladipo, but I found many more kids with great characteristics throughout the weekend.
• Trey Burke handles the spotlight extremely well—being honest and open with all media members and showing great poise during tough questions. That kid can handle a pressure situation.
• Finding a nicer, more caring kid than Jackie Carmichael from Illinois State will take a long time.
• There’s a reason Louisville gutted out tough games at the end of the Tournament en route to a National Championship; Peyton Siva is a fantastic leader with a selfless personality.
• Ben McLemore is extremely easy going and almost nice to a fault. He may not bring that “eye of the tiger” attitude you look for in a top-five pick, but he definitely garners the respect of his peers.
• Myck Kabongo may one day run for President with the way he can work a room.
• Syracuse will definitely miss James Southerland’s friendly nature.
• Ricardo Ledo may not have done a complete 180 degree change, but he definitely matured during his season on the bench.
• Norvelle Pelle seemed apologetic about his past and eager to change his perception. Hopefully his actions in the next few months represent the words he spoke.
• Cody Zeller is as educated and polished of a kid as you will find entering the NBA Draft.
• Steven Adams was by far my favorite interview with a college or professional athlete in my years covering basketball. I cannot speak enough about his personality. Teams will regret passing on that kid, mark my words.
Seeing guys like Tom Thibodeau (I’m a huge Bulls homer) and Rick Carlisle in the gym gave a cool vibe to the building. The players definitely noticed the massive amount of NBA personnel in the building, and the media all seemed to enjoy themselves in their first ever NBA Combine experience. I even heard one player candidly tell another player, “Hey man, Tom Thibodeau is here. We gotta step up our game. I heard he is crazy!”
I paused for a minute and laughed after I heard the player utter those words. His statement should serve as a reminder how these athletes are all still kids at heart. NBA teams invest millions of dollars in their Draft picks and do an inordinate amount of research on each kid, turning the process into strictly a business. Lost in the shuffle of endorsements, shoe deals, commercials, nagging media interviews, and the never ending small duties of each player is the fact that these players all have a normal side just like all of us. They still feel fear like we do and get nervous like we do. Seeing the true human nature of those we tend to immortalize, if nothing else, made the event worth it for me.