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“Unofficially, this is the start of free agency”

The real action at the draft combine--and Thorpe picks the Celtics

This is my first time at the NBA draft combine, and to be honest, the first question I am here to answer is: Why does this event exist? 

The scrimmages I understand. A lot of what you see on TV though—the lane agility drill, the three-quarter court sprint, the max-vertical jump—are (1) in any analysis, poorly correlated with on-court NBA success and (2) could be easily learned without putting players through this exhausting circus.

The NBA itself participates in—even sponsors and organizes—other events like the Tech Summit and the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference where many of the very same people in the stands here are a decade-plus into learning about high-tech tools that let you determine, with great accuracy, more useful performance data than this. The league itself has deals with vendors like Second Spectrum that can tell you which players run fastest in games, there are similar deals with the NCAA and its colleges. There are a lot of ways to know who can run fast and jump high without having to fly people to the Windy City to race them in person.

It’s not even clear those numbers matter anyway. Different players solve different basketball problems different ways, and a lot of all-stars in the actual NBA were not all-stars at the combine. You can see who has “won” the various events in the past. The 2016 NBA Draft is long enough ago now that you'd expect to see its prospects blossoming. That class included Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray. But the winners of key events at the 2016 NBA Draft Combine were not named Brown or Murray, but Michael Gbinije and Joel Bolomoby, who have been playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors and CSKA Moscow, respectively. 

The ultimate measuring tool of the draft combine can be befuddled with a simple trick. STACY REVERE/GETTY IMAGES

There are also ways to trick many of these tests. One example: the vertical jumping drills work like this: you jump as high as you can and slap that Vertec device you have probably wanted to try your whole life. And then, doing some quick math, they subtract your standing reach. Then that’s your vertical—one of basketball’s long-revered statistics.

While it may be hard to make your vertical taller, many here know it's somewhat simpler to reduce your standing reach.

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Henry Abbott