The NBA Combine is an annual tradition that involves getting the best
college basketball players to run and jump, submit to having their
limbs measured, play 5-on-5, and answer increasingly stupid questions
like “do you stop or go at a yellow light?”, a mindbender posed by the
Minnesota Timberwolves to Justin Patton. But far from being an
essential bit of business, the Combine is rapidly falling out of favor
with both top prospects and established pros.
The biggest criticism of the Combine, one made loudly by the Golden
State Warriors’ Kevin Durant recently, is that it forces players to
demonstrate an aptitude for skills they don’t have and don’t need. Just
as Patton doesn’t need to know how to drive a car to play center, and
stepping out onto the court doesn’t require specialist knowledge of a
manhole’s shape (a favorite question of the Maverick’s
psych coach Don Kalkstein) Durant wasn’t a bad prospect just
because he couldn’t bench 185lbs.
So, quite apart from being an opportunity for
players to show off their talents, the Combine seems more like a chance
for coaches to mercilessly weed them out – sometimes, in a literal
sense; Frank Mason III was
asked how he’d like to die.
There’s a rationale behind the questions (Kalkstein’s manhole question
reportedly shows an appreciation of round pegs not fitting in square
holes) but let’s be honest, there are better ways to assess a man’s
This year, a number of promising youngsters avoided the Combine
altogether, including Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, and Malik
Monk, a player that can perhaps afford his absence given that there are
plenty of teams he’ll slot right in at, including the 76ers, who
need a shooter. Markelle Fultz, another top prospect, did turn up
But that’s arguably the entire point of the Combine
– it’s not for players like Fultz and Tatum; it’s for rookies like
Florida's Devin Robinson trying to improve their Draft stock. So, while
it presented an unacceptable risk of humiliation for Durant, a man who
achieved many young players' dreams last year by joining the
Warriors, a team now -350 in the
NBA betting odds
to earn their second Finals win in three years, the Combine
offers the undercards a chance at a brighter future. It’s still the
only reason players like Zach LaVine of the Timberwolves and the
Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler are where they are today.
It’s also worth noting that the Combine also presents an opportunity
for clubs to scout beyond their usual limits (the premise behind the
original showcase event), talk to players they’re interested in, and
harvest medical information and performance data. With that in mind,
it’s hard to view the Combine as a pass-or-fail exam; after all, Durant
was still picked second in the first round of the 2007 Draft despite
his lack of strength, rendering his own Combine somewhat irrelevant.
So, is the Combine a waste of time? It depends on who you are – if
you’ve got “MVP” written on your forehead, it might be, but for late
bloomers, the Combine represents an essential springboard into the NBA.