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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Takeaways from combine

05.20.14 at 4:50 pm ET
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The NFL draft combine represents some of the biggest days in a college football star’€™s life. Prospects are held under a microscope and are heavily graded on their performance. The findings have the ability to swing a player’€™s draft stock significantly one direction or the other. The NBA draft combine, which was held in Chicago last Wednesday through Sunday, holds a very different kind of meaning.

Much less stock is invested in the drills at the NBA combine, but they still have it, so I’€™m going to write about it. For starters, the three big names who make winning a top-three pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery so crucial were no-shows. Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid felt they had nothing to gain by showing up, which probably was the right call. The last thing any of them need is a fluke injury while showing scouts they can dribble around cones. Their absence made it much less entertaining for those of us who watched all 15 hours of coverage (which might be just me).

As ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla kept repeating, the whole process is really just a job interview. This is spot on. There’€™s not that much you can learn by watching basketball players run and jump that you haven’€™t already seen in game action. Scouts are always enamored with a prospect’€™s measurements, though. If you’€™re an NBA general manager who doesn’€™t know that Aaron Gordon is going to test well on the vertical jump, or that Dante Exum is going to test well in the agility drills, then you haven’€™t been doing your job.

This is why the personal interview process is so important at the combine. But we don’€™t have access to that (the in-depth interviews behind closed doors, at least), so here are some takeaways worth noting.

– The highest max vertical leaps belonged to Jahii Carson and Markel Brown at 43 1/2 inches. No one cared, however, as Wiggins’€™ agent conveniently released an image of his client displaying his 44-inch vertical in his own training session. Looks like it was the right call to not show up, seeing that everyone was talking about Wiggins anyway.

– Everyone, literally everyone, wanted to see Exum. This was the first chance many GMs got to watch Exum in person. Of course, they didn’€™t even get to see him play, just participate in athletic testing. Exum is a high-character kid, as expected he did a fantastic job in his interviews. I would be very nervous using a top-five pick on him hardly seeing him actually play basketball, though. During the draft process he will only be working out alone. Most of the top prospects operate this way, but we have seen all of them compete on the floor in college. People who have seen Exum play the most — Chad Ford and Franschilla — believe he will develop into a star. But have they even seen enough of him?

Marcus Smart is a guy considered a lesser talent than Exum, but I’€™m not convinced that’€™s true. Not to say Exum won’€™t be better, my eyes just haven’€™t seen anything to convince me of that yet. By many accounts, Exum has a similar body at 18 years old to Michael Jordan. So did Lenny Cook — how’€™d that work out? Smart is a passionate player. Danny Ainge says he loves Smart’€™s ‘€œfire,’€ which some look at as an attitude problem. I tend to agree with Ainge here. Smart is a big, physical guard who always plays aggressive. He needs to improve his jump shot, but so does Exum. Let’€™s just say Smart has more of a chance to be Russell Westbrook than Exum has to be Jordan. Exum vs. Smart is almost turning into a Wiggins vs. Parker argument in my mind. Do you want the elite prospect with the athletic gifts? Or do you want the better player right now? Who says Smart and Parker won’€™t still grow in the NBA?

Noah Vonleh and Zach LaVine helped their draft stock more than anyone at the combine. Specifically Vonleh, and it was all because of measurements. He stood at 6-foot-9 ½ with sneakers on, yet had a freakish 7-foot-4 ½ wingspan thanks to his enormous hands that had scouts drooling. Vonleh didn’€™t participate in drills, but measurements were enough for Ford to bump him up to his top power forward in the draft (followed by Julius Randle and Gordon). I would rank them in the exact opposite order. I liked Gordon’€™s interview the most among the three, and I love his versatility on both ends of the floor as his selling point to be the top power forward in the class. Although Vonleh’€™s wingspan is intriguing, he was a distant third in terms of performance last year. You know, like how he actually played on the basketball court. Just another reason not to take too much away from the combine. LaVine helped himself by just showing up as a point guard. He’€™s 6-foot-6 in shoes, and showed us a 41 1/2-inch max vertical leap. Clearly he brings size and athleticism at the position. But he played off the ball at UCLA, so is he really a point guard? Or is he just being advertised as one? LaVine has much more to prove to me before I would consider him over smaller, more proven guards like Tyler Ennis and Shabazz Napier. Westbrook played off the ball at UCLA, though. He seems to be doing just fine for himself at point guard right now, so I’€™m not completely writing off LaVine.

Jerami Grant and Gary Harris probably hurt themselves the most at the combine, but it’€™s tough to do too much damage to your stock. Harris was smaller than expected for a shooting guard ‘€“ 6-foot-2 ½ without shoes. He did, however, measure 6-foot-4 ½ in shoes, so who knows what’€™s going on there? Grant just did not look good in drills. He didn’€™t shoot the ball well, and looked more like a power forward. Problem is, he is advertising himself as a small forward due to his size (6-foot-6 1/2 without shoes). Grant has been slipping out of the lottery, and should continue to do so. Harris should be a safe bet to remain a lottery pick.

So in the end, these were my takeaways from the entirety on the NBA draft combine. Was it worth 15 hours of coverage? Nope. Fortunately for you, you just got caught up in five minutes.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.

Read More: Dante Exum, Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Marcus Smart
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