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. 

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.