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NBA Draft Combine starts Wednesday in Chicago… but what does that mean?

May 14, 2014, 9:17 AM EDT

2013 NBA Draft Combine, Day 2 2013 NBA Draft Combine, Day 2

When the NFL Draft Combine takes place each year in Indianapolis, it is an event. Players’ 40 times are dissected, their performances analyzed, and guys move up or down in the draft based on the results. It’s a big deal.

The NBA holds its own Draft Combine — starting Wednesday in Chicago — where 60 guys hoping to get drafted run sprints, are timed through drills, and…

It’s not that big a deal.

Parts of it matter, but not the parts broadcast on television, not the drills that the players run through. Let’s say, hypothetically, that Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis goes out on Wednesday and surprises people with his vertical leap. It’s not going to impact his draft status much at all — teams have already scouted him in person and on tape, they already know his game.

“It can help, though like a lot of the other information, it’s just another piece of the puzzle,” PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld tells us. “It can also work the other way. Results that can be construed negatively will be gathered and used as well when fully evaluating.But the bump or drop will never be significant.”

Look at it this way: It’s a famous story that Kevin Durant could not bench press 185 pounds even once at the combine. That really has held back his ability to play the game, I mean, what team would want him on their roster? (Yes, that was sarcastic.)

Just like at the NFL combine, the biggest names skip the NBA event — Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, very possibly the top three in the draft this year, are all skipping the combine. Is that a smart move?

“I hate to say it, but yes,” Isaacson said. “Ideally, the top 60 guys would take part and go through the same process. But there really is no incentive for agents to allow players who are certain to be Top 5 guys to take part. One of the agent’s primary jobs is to control the flow of information about their client. Taking part in the combine takes it out of their hands, and they know they are unlikely to be penalized by any team for not taking part. The only way this could change is if it starts to backfire on players, but I don’t see that happening.”

There are two things that can dramatically impact draft status at the combine: The medical evaluation and the interviews with teams.

With the medical, this is the time NBA doctors give a thorough physical to every player, running every conceivable test. Pick up a red flag here and you will fall.

For a recent example, there is Jared Sullinger. The Ohio State power forward had a back issue that raised a red flag and he fell from a potential Top 5 pick in 2012 all the way down to Boston at No. 21. Those doctors were right — Sullinger required back surgery that forced him to miss much of his rookie year. Nobody quite knew if he would bounce all the way back from that, because backs can be tricky. So far, so good, he played in 74 games last season (starting 44) and put up 13.1 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. But there were legitimate questions. Same with DeJuan Blair and the fact he doesn’t have ACLs, which was found out at the Combine.

The other thing that matters is the interviews. This is the first chance teams really get to talk to players and they do that, plus they can throw IQ or personality tests at the players. Plus some odd questions.

“The interviews are probably the most important thing that will happen at the combine,” Isaacson told PBT. “It will be the player’s first chance to make an impression on decision makers away from the court. I know many long-time NBA personnel who have said they know in the first few minutes whether a guy would be right for their organization. The type of interview, as well as the level of impression, will vary from team to team, but making a strong impression can really fast-track the process for guys with certain clubs.”

The interview is where a GM leaves the room and says, “I’m in love with Player X. We have to get him.”

That said, what matters more to teams is the individual workouts — teams invite players they are interested in to come work out at the team’s facilities.

“I’d say the team workouts are more important in the decision process, mainly because the teams can tailor it to see specific things they are looking for from guys,” Isaacson said. “Also, the team workouts at least allow some level of actual playing, even if it is just 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, and team can form the invitee groups in such a way that the player(s) they are interested in have a certain kind of player to work out against. “

NBA TV will be all over the combine, broadcasting live. It’s entertaining. For us basketball junkies it is good theater.

Just understand what you’re seeing on the screen is not going to move a guy up or down the draft board all that much.

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