By Elijah Silas-Tafelsky
For many NBA Draft hopefuls, five days in Chicago is their chance at showing they belong in the NBA.
With the NBA playoffs in full swing, NBA teams who are out of the playoffs and entering the first part of the offseason are looking towards the NBA Draft. Prospects have been declaring for the draft, hiring agents and getting input on if they have a legit chance to be drafted come June 22nd when the NBA Draft is scheduled to take place.
One of the first steps draft prospects will face is the NBA Draft Combine which takes place May 9th through May 14th in Chicago.
For those who are not as familiar with the NBA Draft combine think of it as your first in person interview at a job you want but they are other candidates who are just as qualified if not better than you. This is your first chance to impress on the big stage prove you belong.
The NBA Draft Combine is not as big of deal as the NFL Draft Combine, but it’s the one the first steps prospects have at showing they belong in the NBA. If you are not hardcore NBA draft fan it’s easy to overlook the combine as just another wrinkle in the draft process. A lot of the big-name players will skip the NBA Draft Combine because they know they are going to be drafted somewhere in the first 15 picks. Anthony Davis was the last number one overall pick to attend and workout at the draft combine but that was back in 2012. It not uncommon for projected top picks to not attended the draft because they isn’t a need, or they had an injury.
Last year was the first NBA Draft where prospects have until 10 days after the combine to remove their name from draft consideration and maintain their eligibility in college. In prior years’ prospects, would need to declare for the draft before the combine and would be stuck in the NBA draft with no chance of going back to college. Many players last year used this rule to their advantage and it seems like the NBA made a good decision in implementing the rule change because players are truly getting a chance to show NBA teams if they are ready for the league or they need more time in college barring they have not hired an agent. The rule brings more quality to the NBA draft combine as more prospects are involved in the process.
This year over 60 players were invited to the combine including the top projected picks such as Markelle Fultz (will attend but only for interviews), Lonzo Ball (Will not attend) and Jayson Tatum (will not attended) but as mentioned a lot of the top players will decline invites because they will already be locked in as top draft picks and have important individual workouts to be scheduled later in the draft process.
This year reportedly 7 out of the top ten projected picks are expected not to attended the NBA Combine. So Why does the NBA draft combine matter then?
At the combine players go through plenty of drills through the five days that they are in Chicago. From testing prospects agility and strength tests, 5-on-5 games, interviews and even medical testing. Prospects are given a good chance to show their talents to multiple NBA teams. These drills can give NBA teams an opportunity to see where players exceed and where they need improvement. Players though will strategically sit out the drills or 5-on-5 if they feel like they can’t improve their stock or if they might hurt it their stock. From a player’s standpoint, this is beneficial because it gives them a feel of where they might be drafted and if they should make the decision to go back to college
The NBA draft combine gives players who are not projected highly in most mock drafts a chance show NBA teams that they deserve to be picked. There are many different types of draft prospects who attend the combine. You have the 4-year college guys who were never ready for the NBA early in their college career but now is this is there last chance to prove it. Then you the underclassmen prospect who are not likely top picks but there is significant buzz about their potential and the player wants to know more on if he should stay or go back to college. Finally, you the International players who nobody has much of idea on outside of scouts who have watched film or seen them play a little in person but this is the first legitimate chance to see what they can do.
Having a bad combine for players who are not guaranteed of being drafted can make or break them. Maybe a prospect performs well on a few drills and the 5-on-5 portion and suddenly he is on the draft board for multiple NBA teams because of his performance at the combine. Would that player have been targeted by that team without his performance at the combine? Who knows? Most players who have not hired an agent will go back to college if they perform bad at the combine because it becomes clear they have parts of their game to work on. Even prospects who are battling to be a first-round pick will go back to college because they won’t be getting big time money if they think they might be picked in the second round. For prospects who played 4 years of college basketball though the NBA combine is a huge deal because there is no going back to school.
Look at last year with Malcom Brogdon who was the 36th pick in the NBA draft and how critical he was to the Milwaukee Bucks success during the regular season and making the playoffs. Brogdon played four years in college at Virginia and was never considered an elite prospect by any means but Brogdon may win the rookie of the year after averaging 10.2 points, 4.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds while playing 75 games and starting 28 those for Milwaukee. That’s a second-round pick! How many first rounder’s or even lottery picks averaged that? Without going to the draft combine who knows where Brogdon would have been selected or if he would have been selected.
There have been other players is the past as well that attended the combine and were second around picks but now play huge roles for their respective teams. Draymond Green, Isaiah Thomas and Hassan Whiteside to name a few. All these players attended the draft combine and had something about their game that needed to be addressed in front of NBA teams to show that they could at the next level despite those issues. That’s not to say the top prospects do not have their flaws either but they are less of an issue for most teams because the upside and potential is too much not to draft those elite prospects.
For many of these prospects who attend the NBA draft combine they will never make an NBA roster. It’s unfortunate for many but for the prospects that do make it the NBA and go on to have careers in the association, the draft combine is a critical point on their journey to being an NBA player.