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

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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.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.