Bobby Marks, Yahoo Sports (http://sports.yahoo.com/news/front-office-insider–2016-draft-combine-132907377.html)
Although the five-on-five scrimmage, measurements, agility testing and who’s participating in what will garner attention at the 2016 NBA draft combine, the real work is done behind the scenes.
Teams have scouted players in game settings for quite some time, and two days of court work will not tilt the scales.
Terry Rozier and Larry Nance Jr. were the only players who played five-on-five at the combine last year who were drafted in the first round. In fact, only 16 of the 36 players who played five-on-five were actually drafted.
With the combine beginning Wednesday, featuring such college stars as Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine, here’s The Vertical’s look at how teams handle the event and what goes on behind the scenes.
Selecting the prospects
The NBA relies on information from all 30 teams when picking prospects for the combine.
Rookie Heat guard Josh Richardson was not invited to last year’s draft combine. (AP)
Once the April 24 early entry deadline passes, each team is sent an email with a list of prospects that includes early entries, seniors and international players. Teams then vote for up to 70 players, with the league office compiling the voting lists and making the invites. Sixty-three players were selected this year, and an additional player was added Tuesday.
Teams did face a new wrinkle this year during the voting process.
With a record 162 entries – including 115 college prospects – declaring for the draft because of a change in NCAA rules, teams were forced to prioritize the selection process.
Teams focused on underclassmen testing the draft waters first, then international players, underclassmen who had hired agents and, lastly, college seniors.
Teams did not want to risk losing a free look at a prospect who could withdraw on May 25. The same strategy applied to international players because it’s a big advantage to evaluate a prospect on U.S. soil instead of traveling overseas.
College seniors paid the price with the new eligibility rules. Teams had plenty of info on four-year players and gravitated more to unknown prospects. College seniors also will remain in the draft past May 25, giving teams a full month to work them out.
This year 23 out of the 64 players are seniors.
Being a senior and not participating in the combine isn’t necessarily the end for a prospect. Josh Richardson was not selected for the combine, was picked in the second round and flourished with the Miami Heat.
Prioritizing the interview list
Once the NBA finalizes the participant list, teams then vote for the prospects they would like to interview.
Teams can only select 30 players and must place an A, B or C grade based on preference. Out of the 30, 18 players will be selected.
Teams often pick prospects to interview that fall outside of their draft range.
A team like the Clippers, who have picks Nos. 25 and 33, should focus on players whose range is in the top 15. With the challenge of getting lottery prospects to commit to a draft visit, the combine interview will be the only time for a one-on-one visit.
Even if the player is off the board when the Clippers select, the information gathered would be filed into the team’s scouting database and used in future trade discussions or free agency.
Having a baseline of information is critical.
The interview is the most important process during the combine.
There is a three-day window to interview 18 prospects for 30 minutes each.
Interviews start on Wednesday afternoon (2 p.m.-8 p.m. ET) with a shorter time frame on Thursday and Friday morning (8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. ET)
The process is intimidating for prospects, beginning with the room.
The hotel furniture is removed and replaced with a circular table with a note pad and hotel pens. The space looks more like an interrogation room than a hotel room.
The people in the room vary from the general managers to head coaches to scouts. A team often has a psychologist asking questions and taking notes.
Although agents will coach players on the interview process, nothing can really get a player totally prepared.
Each player goes through a different interview based on the background teams have gathered. No interview is the same.
The background obtained is not from the player’s former head coach, but from sources such as academic advisers, trainers and strength coaches. The people behind the scenes often have a more intimate knowledge of the player.
Derrick Favors was 18 and fresh off his first year at Georgia Tech when he entered a hotel room with the New Jersey Nets for his first interview with team executives.
“I was a little nervous. That was the first time ever being in a setting like that,” the Utah Jazz forward told The Vertical. “It was a wakeup call that the NBA was a business.”
Favors might have been nervous, but the background the Nets had on him going into the interview was spotless. A month later the Nets selected Favors with the third overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Teams already know the answers before interviewing the player. The interview is just the confirmation.
The medical aspect
The team medical staff plays a crucial role in the draft process.
The last day of the combine focuses on players going through a comprehensive physical. Each player will receive a grade and any current or past injuries will be thoroughly researched.
Each team will be represented by its orthopedic surgeon and internist and will join forces with the other 29 teams, including physicians representing the NBA.
The combine physical will be the last time teams can evaluate players medically. The team can request additional testing when a player makes a predraft visit, but the agent must sign off on it.
Ben Simmons, Dejounte Murray and Damontis Sabonis declined an invite and must get physicals on their own. Dragan Bender, projected to go in the top five, is still playing in Europe.
The likely scenario is for Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, to arrange a physical for Simmons and share the information with the teams with the top two draft selections. Paul can play hardball though and refuse to release the medical information based on which teams are picking in the top two.
Bender will go through his medicals when he arrives in the States for his draft visits in June, with his agent handling the details. The information will then be conveyed to teams on a need-to-know basis.
Sabonis and Murray are different than Simmons. Sabonis is projected to go in the late teens, and Murray is a borderline first-round pick. The best scenario for them would be to have one team conduct a physical and then share the info with the other 29 teams. All 30 teams would then split the cost of the physical.
However if either Sabonis or Murray has a guarantee, look for the medical information to remain secret.