The 2014 NBA Draft Combine will take place in Chicago on Thursday, May 15 and Friday, May 16. Over 60 prospects will be interviewed, measured, and participating in drills for scouts to make direct comparisons of the best players. Television coverage will begin with the 2014 NBA Draft Combine Special on Wednesday, May 14 at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBA TV. Coverage of events on Thursday and Friday will begin at 10:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. The first 3 hours will be on ESPNU and the final 2 hours on ESPN2 each day. NBA TV will usually run several replays of each event.
The NBA Draft Combine is not nearly the media event of the NFL combine, but its value and exposure has grown in recent years. The positional drills allow teams to see players participate in the exact same exercises in order to compare their skills and abilities. It is a small sample size, but having multiple athletes in the same space helps to confirm or deny what scouts have seen on film or through live individual performances.
The wrong measurement can hurt a player's value. In 2013, Nerlens Noel was almost a consensus choice for top overall pick until a 206 pounds showed up as his weight at last year's combine. Other factors may have contributed to him falling to the sixth pick, but most negative perceptions began with a concern of him being too thin to play center in the NBA. While many credit his drop to his ACL injury, it was 4 months after the injury that he was no longer perceived as the best option. Personally, I found the weight concerns silly given that Joakim Noah plays at 230 pounds and is an inch taller. There was no reason for Noel to be taken behind any player than Victor Oladipo at the time of the draft. Noel's combine experience could have played a role in the top 3 prospects choosing not to go to Chicago.
For players outside the lottery, the NBA Draft Combine is an excellent opportunity to show the work they are putting in to eliminate misconceptions or weaknesses. Damian Lillard entered the 2012 combine as a borderline lottery pick. The former Weber State point guard left the combine as a consensus top-10 pick due to his athleticism and skills matching or exceeding players from larger schools (selected sixth in the 2012 NBA Draft). Last May, Pittsburgh's Steven Adams' revamped mid-range jumper and improved agility displayed at the event led scouts to view him as more than a project likely to be taken in the twenties. Oklahoma City eventually selected Adams him with the 12th pick with the expectation that he could grow into helping the team sooner rather than later. Few could have believed that prior to the combine based on what he had shown in college.
Unfortunately, not all of the prospects in attendance will participate in all of the events. All prospects will be physically measured, but some will choose not to do some or all of the drills. The higher they are regarded the less likely they are to participate. Dennis Schroeder was expected to be a full participant last season, but skipped the drills once his agent was confident that Dennis would go in the top 20. With Atlanta picking 15th, several of the players suspected to be taken in that range may choose not to participate in much of the live work. Despite that disappointment, here are 5 things NBA fans--and Atlanta Hawks fans specifically--should be paying attention to at the 2014 Draft Combine:
1. Will K.J. McDaniels participate in drills?
It is no secret what I think of K.J. McDaniels. He is an elite player and more likely to be a star than all but 5 or 6 players in the draft. My speculation all year has been that McDaniels will look very good at the combine and boost himself into the lottery. Awkwardly, I hope that I am wrong so that he will be available when Atlanta makes their selection. If his jumper looks as legitimate as the pre-draft workout he gave to DraftExpress, he could be this year's combine star. If McDaniels chooses not to participate in drills, I am going to assume Danny Ferry has already assured his agent that he will not slip past 15. A man has to dream.
2. Will Doug McDermott's lack of athleticism be exposed?
I love McDermott as a college player, but he has some physical limitations that are going to be a challenge in a league where they are exposed quickly. If I was his agent, I would be terrified of what Doug may look like compared directly to players put in position to highlight their physical gifts. His lack of foot speed and physicality is likely to be exposed--and against some players who are younger than him. Maybe McDermott can go to the combine and relieve people of the athletic concerns as Cody Zeller did last season. Based on film and statistics, I do not think that will happen. McDermott could very well be an outstanding NBA player, but the combine is not the place where his abilities can be highlighted. If I am wrong and "Dougie McBuckets" looks like he belongs athletically, it would dramatically change my view of him. With his undeniable shooting skills, he would become a big-time target for Hawks.
3. What position group will Kyle Anderson workout with during drills?
Anderson is one of the more unusual prospects to enter the NBA Draft. He is similar to Royce White without the fear of flying. Will he be evaluated with point guards, small forwards, or even power forwards? The position group he is placed in may indicate where most teams see him playing. Anderson is another player that could put himself solidly in the lottery with a successful combine workout. The UCLA sophomore could be a player who fits the Hawks system and meets needs as well as anyone in the draft. A uniquely skilled rebounder, passer, and shooter, Anderson could plug a lot of holes for the Hawks. His perimeter defense is his greatest liability in becoming a great NBA player.
4. Was the Mitch McGary era in college basketball real or a basketball movie?
McGary may have been a lottery pick last season based almost exclusively on the increased minutes he received in the 6 games leading to Michigan's NCAA runner-up performance. Billed as a young, underused player during that stretch, McGary was actually as old as many juniors. After missing time this season with a back injury and revealing a failed drug test, the Michigan center finds himself targeted between rounds and likely to slide if he cannot demonstrate in upcoming workouts what he did in March 2013. McGary will be one of the most examined prospect in the next 2 months as teams decide if he can build upon what he flashed a year ago. At least McGary can point to a bad back as a reason for his decline. Teammate Glenn Robinson III will have much more difficult questions to answer about his 2014 disappearing act. Neither player appears on the Peachtree Hoops Draft Board. McGary could change that if he can get on the floor. [Note for Michigan fans: I would have taken Burke third last season and am driving the Caris Lavert bandwagon. This is not hatred for the maize and blue.]
UPDATE (5/14 at 11:40 a.m.): The NBA Draft Combine reports that Mitch McGary and Adreian Payne will not participate in combine drills due to injuries.
5. Will Elfrid Payton measure up to prospects from larger schools?
Stephen Curry was able to show his abilities against some major competition while at Davidson, but Damian Lillard had to use the combine to demonstrate his talents exceeding other major prospects. Elfrid Payton is an extremely athletic point guard from Louisiana-Lafayette who is a lengthy 20-year-old with three years of college experience. He has a broken jumper and will need to display more proficiency from the perimeter than Tony Wroten did at the 2012 combine. Even with a poor jumper, Payton is likely a late first-round selection. If his athleticism stands out in drills or he shows anything from outside, he is another player who could rise quickly if he can show that he is beyond the project stage of development. An unlikely choice for Atlanta, all Hawks fans should cheer for any point guards to succeed at the combine. With it being the area least in need, every point guard that moves into the lottery makes another player available when Danny Ferry makes his selection.