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. 

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.