A Running Diary of the Motors and Misery at the NBA Draft Combine
Before this week the only thing I knew about the NBA draft combine was that Kevin Durant couldn’t bench 185 pounds at the event in 2007. Then, during Game 6 of the Spurs-Warriors series, Jeff Van Gundy mentioned that “you have to be a basketball junkie” to watch NBA TV’s coverage of the combine. I took Van Gundy’s remark as a personal challenge and decided to hang out in my basement all weekend to soak in all six hours of televised combine action. Spoiler alert: This proved to be a terrible decision.
I’m guessing you didn’t subject yourselves to the same torture, so I took it upon myself to provide a running diary. Here’s what you missed:
Noon ET Ryen Russillo, our host for the day, introduces us to the rest of the crew. Chad Ford is the insider, Fran Fraschilla is the coach and international guy, Tom Penn will provide front office insight, and Jay Williams is offering analysis as a former player. Noticeably absent: Doug Gottlieb giving his white man’s perspective.
12:01 A “by the numbers” graphic is shown outlining details of the combine. The first bullet point explains that it’s a two-day event. The last bit mentions that today’s proceedings include shooting and ballhandling drills. I now realize that the draft is 40 days away and I’ve signed up to watch six tape-delayed hours of what I assume will be games of knockout and dribble tag. I immediately open a new e-mail to the Grantland editors and start thinking of excuses to get myself out of this.
12:03 Russillo informs us that the small forwards are up first. Some noticeable names include Shabazz Muhammad, Deshaun Thomas, and Solomon Hill, who were three of my favorite players in college basketball this past season. I decide to hold off on sending the e-mail.
12:05 Russillo asks Ford what he’s been hearing about Muhammad this week. Ford replies, “Disappointment” before discussing all the drama that surrounded Muhammad this season. Among the drama is something I completely forgot about — Muhammad is college basketball’s Danny Almonte. Jay Williams then says he’s willing to give Muhammad a pass because college players typically don’t worry about nutrition, which is a not-so-subtle way of saying he thinks Muhammad has Raymond Felton potential. Throw in the fact that his college coach was Ben Howland (who had no idea how to use him) and I think we’ve determined who will be the biggest wild card in this year’s draft.
12:06-12:21 Nothing of any importance happens. The guys spend way too much time talking about Glen Rice Jr., who was kicked off Georgia Tech two seasons ago, then played in the D-League last year, and who will almost certainly go in the second round. Meanwhile, the players throw up brick after brick in their transition shooting drills. The only thing keeping me awake at this point is trying to spot NBA coaches and GMs in the stands and then laughing at their perfectly tucked-in polos.
12:22 Andy Katz, the sideline reporter for the day, interviews Craig Neal, who was assistant coach at New Mexico when Tony Snell was a Lobo last season (and is now the program’s head coach). Katz asks Neal why Snell should be a first-round pick. While answering, Neal mentions that Snell needs to “not disappear in games” and that “he has to get over the hump on how hard he plays.” That’ll surely get the NBA scouts excited.
12:25 After Neal’s interview, Russillo mentions that Snell is one of his favorite players in the draft. Ford backs up this claim by pointing out that Snell caught fire during the end of the season. Right as Ford continues by cautioning that Snell is a streaky shooter, Snell air-balls a 3. This is my favorite moment of the day so far.
12:26 Fraschilla says Snell has “a low impact on the game on the defensive end” and that he “has one noticeable NBA skill.” Williams and Penn compare Snell to Kawhi Leonard, probably because they’re the only two basketball players in the world who still have cornrows. Penn continues by questioning Snell’s intensity and his ability to impose his will on games. So to recap: His coach thinks he disappears in games and doesn’t play hard, he air-balled a 3 as Ford called him streaky, Fraschilla essentially called him one-dimensional, and Penn questioned his intensity. Not exactly a great few minutes for Tony Snell. Well, except for Russillo tabbing him as a personal fave.
12:27 It’s Deshaun Thomas’s turn to get talked about! Deshaun is one of my favorite college basketball players of all time and someone I know pretty well, which is why I’m excited for the guys to talk about how he went to two straight Elite Eights at Ohio State, led the country’s best conference in scoring last season, is a pretty solid rebounder, and looks like he’s in fantastic shape. He’ll be the biggest steal of this draft, right, guys?
12:28 Russillo knows that Thomas’s defense is going to be a talking point, so he gets right to it and asks the guys what they look for on the defensive end. Ford says, “Some of them try, Ryen. Deshaun doesn’t even try.” How dare you, Chad? HOW DARE YOU?! My rebuttal to this comes in the form of a question: How many points can you score on defense?
12:31 Williams mentions that Draymond Green “has a motor,” making that the 17th time someone has mentioned a player’s motor on the day. “Motor” is definitely the early favorite to become overused word of the day, but don’t sleep on “length,” “compete,” or “toughness.”
12:34 There aren’t any foreign players in this first group, but Fraschilla can’t hold back any longer — he finally provides some vintage Fraschilla analysis by mentioning how a guy you’ve never heard of (in this instance, Carrick Felix from Arizona State) could end up being a solid NBA role player.
12:39 The players are shooting free throws. I have nothing else to add to this. I just want you to know that I spent my Saturday afternoon watching 20-year-olds shoot free throws on tape delay.
12:41 Katz interviews C.J. Leslie, who isn’t working out due to a wrist injury. Katz asks Leslie what he thinks he is missing by not being able to participate. Leslie answers, “I’m missing the chance to get loose.” I pause the TV and spend the next five minutes trying to figure out what exactly he means by this. Is he saying his legs are tight? If so, couldn’t he just ride a stationary bike? Is he using loose as a synonym for drunk? Because in that case, not working out would actually provide him a better opportunity to get loose. Does he mean it in the NASCAR context, which would mean he’s missing the chance to have his rear tires lose traction so that his car momentarily fishtails? Maybe these Bubba Sparxxx wannabes on YouTube can clear things up for me.
Or maybe not.
12:43 The guys pivot from the Leslie interview into a discussion of all the talent coming out of NC State. Fraschilla mentions that GMs are high on Richard Howell before he and Williams talk about how good they think Lorenzo Brown can be. This seems like a good time to mention that NC State was ranked sixth in the country in the preseason but finished fourth in the ACC and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Get excited for another season of Mark Gottfried basketball, Raleigh!
12:48 Coming back from commercial, we now consider whether Nerlens Noel is a lock to be the no. 1 pick, during which Chad Ford mentions that Noel “has a motor.” With that, it’s time to update the motor board. Guys with motors: Shabazz Muhammad, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and Nerlens Noel. Guys without motors: Tony Snell. Guys whose motor status remains unknown: Glen Rice Jr., Deshaun Thomas, Carrick Felix, Adonis Thomas, and C.J. Leslie.
12:54 It’s been 15 minutes since the cameras last showed actual basketball being played at the combine, and even then the “actual basketball” was just guys shooting free throws. I now understand what Van Gundy meant when he said you have to be a basketball junkie to enjoy this.
1:05 Whoa! They’re talking about Kelly Olynyk. What happened to the small forwards? I must’ve dozed off for a while. Let me rewind the DVR and see what I missed.
1:02 Wind sprints. Mother. F’ing. Wind sprints. I fall asleep because the only live action I’ve seen in the past 20 minutes is free throws, so the NBA decides to turn up the excitement by having the guys run sprints. I hate the combine so much. Although, the sprints did provide one important piece of information: Carrick Felix won every sprint he ran. It’s probably sacrilege to do this, but I’m gonna go ahead and give Felix the “has a motor” label because I assume the guys meant to but just forgot.
1:06 Back to Olynyk. Penn gets to talk about him first. I have to think that Fraschilla isn’t happy about this. Olynyk is Canadian, which is another way of saying he’s not American, which is another way of saying that there’s no excuse for anyone other than Fran Fraschilla to ever talk about him. So please, Tom, just stop talking and let the international expert do his thing.
1:07 It’s Fraschilla time! Olynyk played college basketball in America, so this isn’t exactly a classic Fraschilla moment, but it’s close enough for me to pause the TV and yell at everyone in my house to shut up so I can enjoy an inevitable Fraschilla anecdote.
1:08 … And he delivers! Fraschilla pulls out a story about how Olynyk played against BYU in Provo and sank a couple of big free throws toward the end of the game after BYU’s guys had been beating him up. Again, not quite “I saw this guy go for 19 and 7 at the Under-14 Caribbean Championships in Jamaica six years ago, so he’s definitely got NBA potential.” But I’ll take it.
1:09 DEVELOPING STORY: Russillo throws it to Katz, who is with Shabazz Muhammad. Katz’s first question is why Muhammad decided to work out when so many top picks didn’t. Muhammad says, “I’m out here to compete. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you’re lottery or second round … I’m out here to compete. I mean, I’m not running from anybody. I’m out here playing hard and, uh, it’s a great … competition.” It’s like someone told him we were having an overused word of the day contest. That’s the only way to explain him playing the meow game and saying a variation of “compete” three times in 10 seconds.
1:10 After the interview, the panel responds. Williams immediately says that his favorite part of the interview is how Muhammad says he’s here to compete. He then says “compete” four more times. Can “compete” come back and beat “motor”? Find out over the course of the next two hours!
(Wait, two more hours?!? NOOOOOOO.)
1:11 Ford chimes in with his Muhammad analysis by saying “motor” once and “compete” twice. This race is the only reason I’m even watching at this point.
1:13 Fraschilla gets back to talking about Olynyk (obviously) and he sums up his analysis with three bullet points: Olynyk — a likely lottery pick, by the way — is young, he can give you six fouls, and he’s a big guy. So the take-home points about one of the best players in this draft is that he’s a bigger Brian Scalabrine. Yeesh.
1:16 A Jeff Withey discussion breaks out and all the main points are covered: He’s a great shot-blocker, he’s a former volleyball player, he’s kind of old, and his last name almost spells “Whitey.”
1:23 After Katz interviews Cody Zeller, who is following his agent’s advice to not participate in drills, the guys at the desk talk about Zeller. Apparently, Zeller’s agent thinks he’s going to be a stretch-4 in the NBA despite the fact that Ford says Zeller shot only 24 jump shots this season. Ford mentions how terrible of an idea it is for Zeller to not show off his apparently great shooting ability, and I have to agree. With this, look for Zeller to be the Geno Smith of the NBA draft. He’s a former threat to be the no. 1 overall pick whose stock is falling fast, and he’ll probably be the first draftee to fire his agent.
1:28 Pitt center Steven Adams, who is from New Zealand, is the topic of conversation. Williams smartly keeps his comments brief so Fraschilla can Fraschilla the shit out of this discussion. Then it happens: “Where he came from in New Zealand, he was actually playing pickup games versus girls.” BOOM. FRASCHILLA’D.
1:29 Andy Katz interviews Adams’s former coach, Jamie Dixon. The only reason I mention this is because Dixon’s hair deserves more attention. Even Gene Keady is impressed with his commitment to growing out what hair he can and combing it over his bald spot.
1:32 We shift attention to USC center Dewayne Dedmon. Nobody mentions that his nickname should be “The Undertaker” because his last name sounds like “dead man.” This upsets me more than it should.
1:36 After a commercial break, the combine returns with a graphic that shows how this year’s draft has the most foreign entrants of any draft ever. The crew uses this to segue to a discussion of Rudy Gobert, a 20-year-old center from France. Ford mentions Gobert’s 7-foot-9 wingspan (remember this when Jay Bilas goes nuts on draft night) and then passes the baton to Fraschilla. Here we go:
“If you’re looking for a young big guy with a chance to develop him, the athleticism to run the floor … He’s playing at a reasonably high level in French Pro A, where he’s playing against some good, physical, mature men. Wingspan, shot-blocker, rim protector … “
What is this? What the hell is happening here? Where is the anecdote? Where is the irrelevant-yet-interesting bit of trivia?
“By the way, little piece of trivia … ”
N’YOH MY GOD. HERE IT IS.
“His dad, Rudy Bourgarel, played at Marist College with Rik Smits.”
1:36-1:55 They talked about a few guys, showed hardly any on-court action, and went to a commercial probably. I don’t really know. More importantly, I don’t really care. All the best centers in this year’s draft aren’t working out, and even if they were, all I’d get to see them do is shoot free throws and run wind sprints. I’m hanging around for two reasons: Motor vs. Compete and Fran Fraschilla stories. That’s it. This last hour can’t go by fast enough.
1:56 The last group of the day is the point guards. I’m not sure what happened to the shooting guards and power forwards, and I don’t plan on sticking around to find out. Some recognizable names in this group include Shane Larkin, Peyton Siva, and Phil Pressey. It’s going to be weird to watch this and not have the cameras cut to Larkin’s dad and talk about his baseball career, cut to Siva’s dad and talk about his guns popping out of his airbrushed shirt, or cut to Frank Haith and talk about the dumbfounded look on his face.
1:57 In an interview with Katz, Olynyk uses the word “hoopsters.” Of course he did.
1:58 Williams says that Erick Green “has that motor element.” I’m starting to feel bad for Tony Snell, who is apparently the only guy in the draft without a motor.
2:08 Katz interviews Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, who far and away provides the most eloquent player interview of the day. In other words, be prepared to spend the next month and change before the draft hearing about how many teams were impressed with him during the interview process and how he’s a high-character guy.
2:26 The point guards have been working out for a half hour and I’ve seen a total of probably 90 seconds of on-court action. Reality has finally hit me — I’m a loser. While everyone else is out playing golf or drinking beer on a lake somewhere, I’m watching guys who might end up having an identical NBA career to mine shoot free throws and run wind sprints. I decide to drag my wife down with me. I ask her to come to the basement and provide moral support as I try to survive the final half hour.
2:29 After three minutes of showing guys standing around, shooting free throws, and drinking water, my wife asks, “What exactly am I watching here?” I tell her I’ve been asking myself that for the past two and a half hours. She gets up and leaves. I don’t try to stop her. I wouldn’t even blame her if she wanted a divorce. Three minutes of the NBA combine is three more minutes than anyone should ever have to endure.
2:38 Some other stuff happens. I don’t really know. My eyes are twitching. I’m hungry. I’m physically tired. I’m mentally dead. I don’t care about the stupid Motor vs. Compete contest. I don’t even care about Fraschilla’s trivia anymore. I only care about surviving so I can tell the world my story.
2:47 I quit. After a commercial, the power forwards begin their workout and Russillo greets me by saying that the shooting guards are up next. Bull. Shit. I’m done. I watched almost three hours of this nonsense. And all I learned in those three hours is that Tony Snell doesn’t have a motor, literally everyone else does, Cody Zeller’s agent is delusional, Steven Adams used to play against girls, and Rudy Gobert has a 7-foot-9 wingspan and his dad played with Rik Smits.
One more thing I learned: The NBA combine is the absolute worst.