Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Second day of combine proves more valuable to teams, players


The NBA Combine came and went, and teams undoubtedly learned more from the information they were able to compile off the court than they did on it.

This week represented an excellent opportunity for general managers and executives to sit down with front-office members from across the NBA and learn how they may able to help each other out on the trade front, as well as gossip about what may be going on with other teams. Plenty of teams also took advantage of the time spent with their own staff to conduct numerous meetings and really get down to the nitty-gritty of how each talent evaluator feels about the players that may be on the board where they are drafting.

Getting accurate medical info, measurements and athletic testing results on most of the draft prospects also gives teams a good starting point to build off of as they sit down in their war rooms and begin the long process of ranking and eliminating players off their draft board.

While the first day of the combine allowed us to see the prospects stacked up against each other from a positional stand point, the second day saw them integrated into groups and asked to show more in terms of their ability to operate within a group setting.

We saw three-on-zero and four-on-zero transition drills, three-on-zero pick-and-roll sets, and a great deal of work in the half-court. The trainers put in simple offensive plays, basic ball-screen action, pass-cut-replace, cross-screens, pick-the-picker and so forth allowing us to see which players can take instructions and internalize new things on the fly.

This was somewhat of a showcase for the point guards to show their leadership skills, basketball IQ and basic passing skills. The big men were able to finally play where they are often most comfortable (the post) and remind us of their athleticism along the way.

As is often the case when you put every NBA general manager, head coach, director of player personnel and scout together in a small gym, the conversations in the bleachers are often far more interesting than on-court action.

Many grizzled, veteran scouts -- fresh off a long year of being on the road for weeks at a time seeing every prospect in this draft dozens of times -- expressed their concerns about this pre-draft camp influencing their front office more than it should.

"The general managers and coaches see certain things here that might not match up with everything we saw during the college season," one regional scout grumbled. "But these are just drills. This doesn't tell us anything about how these guys will perform once the lights come on."

Almost on cue, Ohio State freshman 7-footer B.J. Mullens soars from a foot inside the free throw line to tomahawk jam home an uncontested offensive rebound. An NBA head coach sitting nearby shakes his head in disbelief and scribbles notes down furiously, clearly astonished by the amazing display of athleticism.

The regional scout rolls his eyes, clearly annoyed. "Where was that during the season?"

Regardless, there are players here helping themselves just by being out on the court. Syracuse's Jonny Flynn is like a sponge, absorbing coaches' instructions and then showing his teammates exactly where they need to be on the floor. His swagger is unmistakable.

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is clearly a man on a mission. Every time he touches the ball, the entire gym knows, as he takes out all of his frustrations on the rim. He's in great shape, jumping better than many of his counterparts, and also measuring out taller than most people expect him to. He has almost identical figures to that of Blake Griffin. Executives in the gym are starting to warm up to him more and more.

Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair has about as much buzz as any player in the draft right now, and he obviously is enjoying showing off his new chiseled physique. "I lost 38 pounds," he tells us afterwards with a huge grin on his face. He's relishing the chance to make his presence felt in this setting, no longer asked to lead fast breaks or shoot NBA 3-pointers like he was in the first day.

"I felt much more comfortable out there today," he explains. "I wanted to dunk the ball hard. Give them something to remember me by."

Blair particularly shines in the interviews with teams and the media day sessions, showing off his gregarious personality that some go as far as to compare to Shaquille O'Neal. "That's just me," Blair tells us with a smile. "I love being around people."

In addition to the on-court drills, the players also conduct a series of NFL combine-style tests, intended to measure their strength, on-court floor speed, lateral quickness and leaping. The results should be released in the next few days, although it's debatable how much stock NBA teams actually put into them.

Players will be on the road constantly from this point on, conducting a slew of individual workouts in teams' facilities. Three group workouts, in Golden State on June 1-3, New Jersey June 12-14, and Minnesota June 2-3, will help shape the landscape many of participating prospects. They are open to all NBA teams, and will feature far more of the competitive action that was missing here in Chicago.

Stay tuned for our next entry later this week, coming from Treviso, Italy, where we'll be joining representatives of all 30 NBA teams at the Reebok Eurocamp, starting on Thursday.

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