A few notes from the NBA draft combine

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The NBA draft combine doesn’t get nearly as much coverage as the NFL draft combine, mostly because it’s a much worse predictor of future success in the pros. While plenty of football players can be effective without ever needing to actually touch the football, thus making their physical abilities more important, NBA players need skills a combine cannot cover to be good pros. How fast is a player with the ball? Can he pass? Does he understand defensive rotations? Can he change speeds effectively? Can he shoot? You get the idea. 

The difference between “combine” ability and basketball abilities is often pronounced. It doesn’t matter how fast a player can sprint; it’s how fast he can sprint while dribbling. (There is the semi-famous story of Marquis Daniels outracing Leandrinho Barbosa to corroborate this.) It’s not how high a player can jump that makes a good rebounder; often, it’s how quickly he can jump that matters. It’s not about strength at the basket; it’s the ability to concentrate after taking contact. (Kevin Durant couldn’t lift the bar at the combine; he made around 70% of his shots at the rim last year.)
All that said, this year’s combine measurements are in, and there is some interesting stuff in there; while combine measurements aren’t great indicators of future success, it can be interesting to look at the physical abilities of the incoming rookie class. Here are some notes. (All measurements courtesy of ESPN’s Chad Ford and Draft Express.)
-As expected, John Wall’s measurements show him to be a freak athlete. He recorded a 39′ vertical leap, tied a combine best with a 3.1 second 3/4 court sprint, and had the best lane agility drill in the combine with a time of 10.8 seconds. 
However, the most intriguing thing about Wall might be his 6′ 9.25″ wingspan — not only should he be a monster patrolling the passing lanes, but he should be able to cross-match and guard shooting guards in the pros. That could be good news for Wizards fans hoping a Wall/Arenas pairing could work.
-Evan Turner’s combine numbers were average. His 6′ 8″ wingspan is relatively stubby, and his vert, straight-line speed, and bench press scores were all average. (His lane agility time of 11.0 was quite good.) Turner is the kind of player the draft combine will underrate every year –scouts and executives alike know that Turner’s value far exceeds his combine numbers.
-DeMarcus Cousins may appear undersized for a big man, but his 7′ 5.75″ wingspan allowed him to tie for the longest standing reach in the draft at 9′ 5″. As anyone who watched Kentucky last year knows, Cousins plays a lot bigger than his listed height. That said, his max vert of 27.5 inches could be a concern — only two players at the combine had a lower max vert. 
-The only player with a recorded 40-inch vert in this draft class: Terrico White.
-The slowest player at the combine: Solomon Alabi, with a 3/4 court sprint time of 3.7 seconds. Alabi also finished dead last in the lane agility drill; in fact, the next-slowest player at the combine did the drill a full .9 seconds faster than Alabi’s time of 13.2 seconds. Solomon Alabi: not fast.
-Combine strongman: Luke Harangody, who lifted the 185-pound bench press bar 23 times. Harangody also had a higher max vert than Cousins did. 
Well, those are some combine notes. Put them in your notebooks and adjust your draft boards accordingly. 

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.

 

As expected, Timberwolves waive Jordan Hill

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Last summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves took a $4 million flier on veteran big man Jordan Hill, hoping he could give them some backup minutes behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Didn’t work out that way, he appeared in just 47 minutes across seven games. Cole Aldrich was better (though not great), and so in the draft the Timberwolves took Justin Patton hoping he can give them some minutes next season.

Which means Hill’s time in Minnesota has come to an end.

Hill will be 30 years old next season, but I’m not sure that there’s another NBA contract in his future. If so he may have to earn it through a training camp invite.

Report: Nets, Sixers to try and land J.J. Redick as free agent

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Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get all the headlines as the big Clippers’ big free agents, but there is another Clipper going to get paid this summer:

J.J. Redick.

One of the best snipers in the NBA, he shot 42.9 percent from three last year. However, he’s become much more than just a shooter. No player works harder off the ball to get open than Redick, he’s got enough game to put the ball on the floor and create if he gets closed out on, and he’s a solid team defender. He has remade his body and his game since his days at Duke, and now he’s going to get paid.

Maybe by Brooklyn or Philadephia, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Multiple league sources I’ve spoken to expect the Sixers and Nets to make a hard push at Redick. Were he to go to either of those teams, Redick could receive an opportunity unlike anything he’s had before. He is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in league history, and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high six 3-point attempts per game. That’s a lot of triples, but it’s not enough. Even Sixers swingman Robert Covington averaged more last season, at 6.1 per game, and he shot only 33.3 percent. A gunslinger of Redick’s caliber should be averaging about 8.5 treys, in the same range as Klay Thompson or Eric Gordon. Had Redick taken 8.5 3s last season and posted the same 42.9 percent clip, he would’ve averaged 18.2 points per game. Redick could receive those chances with the Sixers or Nets, all while living within close proximity to his home in Brooklyn.

Redick will have options, the question is what does he want? Does he want to be close to home in Brooklyn? Does he want to both help on the court and mentor off it the up-and-coming Sixers? Would he take a little less money, and a couple fewer shots, to chase a ring? Does he want to stay a Clipper?

Redick has earned the right to have options, his skill set could help any team. He may be flying under fans’ radar, but not front office executives. They see Redick’s value. Which is why he will have options come July 1.

Report: Nuggets plan to make free agent run at Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap

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Denver likes its young core. As it should. Nikola Jokic looks like a franchise cornerstone piece at center. Young guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are clearly part of the future. Emmanuel Mudiay and Juan Hernangomez may be as well.

What Denver needs most is an upgrade at the four — someone who can defend, rebound, and space the floor. It’s a top off-season priority (and why they came up as a third team in the Kevin Love/Paul George trade talks, but that appears dead now).

Instead, expect the Nuggets to be aggressive on the free agent market. Via Marc Stein and Chris Haynes at ESPN.

Denver, according to sources, hopes to crash the list of suitors for Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and Atlanta Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap.‎

Denver’s interest in Millsap is no secret and they will likely come in with a big offer, and it’s known he’s likely to leave Atlanta this summer. He’d be the perfect fit with his ability to defend other fours (he almost made the NBA All-Defensive Team), he is strong on the glass, and he shot 31.3 percent from three last season (you have to respect him out there). Griffin is more athletic and a better passer than Millsap, but he’s not the same level of defender, and he comes with more injury concerns. He also could stay with the Clippers.

Denver has positioned itself to be a player, a team going after one more big star to position itself not just in the playoffs in the West but as a team fast on the rise. Whether the Nuggets can out-recruit teams for elite players, remains to be seen. Millsap, Griffin and players of that level have options and a lot of teams chasing them.

However, Denver is one confident organization right now.