Timberwolves prospects at the Draft Combine

Some thoughts about the combine as we look forward to the draft

Pro sports combines are one of the most polarizing events in athletics. The NBA and NFL combines in particular drown you in measurement...a lot of them seemingly silly. Height with shoes, height without shoes, standing vertical, max vertical, 20 yard shuttle, lane agility, three cone drill, bench press...

Criminal profiling. Algebraic astrophysics. Square dancing. Blah blah blah.

General managers tend to place way too much weight on combine results. And that's not to say they aren't important, or they aren't impressive. Andrew Wiggins' agent says he has a 44 inch vertical. There's a picture of him training that sure looks like a 44 inch vertical.

I cannot jump 44 inches. Vince Carter did not jump 44 inches at his combine. I wouldn't touch Wiggins with the #1 pick. Maybe not even the #2 or #3. But that doesn't mean a 44 inch vertical doesn't impress me.

What I won't do is let a 44 inch vertical mean more to me than a 33 game average of low motor, questionable ballhandling, and mediocre shooting percentages. NBA general managers will. That's the difference, and why a lot of statnik fans (like Eric) hate the combine with the fury of 10,000 suns.

I'm not that extreme. While I don't place huge emphasis on combine results....and certainly don't let them outweigh actual game performances....I do think the numbers can tell a story, particularly in context. I also think that....because of Love's underdog workman status (which is really overblown btw. He tested out perfectly fine at his combine) the whole debate about Love versus Gladiator Griffin, and the spectacular failures of guys like Flynn and Wes Johnson, we Hoopusters have become prone to thinking of athletic and smart as a contest, to the point we think of athleticism as the enemy. That could not be more false.

Athletic players have a massive built in advantage for a sport where the goal is 10 feet in the air. A skilled athletic player will beat a comparably skilled non-athlete 99 times out of 100. And only two teams in the past 20 years have won a championship without a couple guys that have prototypical physical dominance for their positions: Detroit and Dallas. The rest is a long list of Jordans, Hakeems, Duncans, Garnetts and Ray Allens, Shaqs and Kobes and Wades and LeBrons.

But superstars are superstars, and unless you're San Antonio you don't find those guys at #13. Eric would just as soon trade the pick, for a few reasons. One, you don't find immediate help late in the lottery. Two, the Wolves, historically, are terrible at drafting. And three, the draft in general gives him a headache. I understand the latter two, but disagree with the former.

First, you CAN find immediate help in the 10-15 range. You just have to know where to look. Take the 2011 draft, for example. The Morris twins went 13 and 14. Kawhi Leonard was 15th. Kenneth Faried was 22nd. Reggie Jackson was 24th. Chandler Parsons was 38th. Isaiah Thomas was 60th.

Second, and more importantly I think, the Wolves don't necessarily need a guy who will move the needle forward a lot. They just need a guy who won't move it back. The problem isn't a lack of talent. You can't look at Love + Rubio + Martin + Pek and think 'well clearly, this team isn't talented enough'. The problem is a lack of fit. Rubio and Martin do not go together. Through no fault of either of them, they just don't. Subtract Martin and replace him with a guy who's just perfectly bland, and the needle will move itself simply by virtue of Rubio being unbound.

So in a broad sense, there are only three numbers from the combine I place real emphasis on: wingspan, standing reach, and vertical reach. Basically the three that have to do with how long your arms are. As a general rule, wingspan matters more than height, and...physically speaking...is probably the best indicator of whether a player can hold his own on an NBA court. This obviously applies to big men in particular, but usually still serves as a major advantage for guards who are on the right side of the measuring tape (see Rondo, Rajon)

As Josh Levin points out is his brilliant piece on wingspan, the average person has a height-to-wingspan ratio close to 1-to-1. By contrast, NBA players have a ratio closer to 1.06-to-1, which exceeds even what is considered diagnostic syndromes for elongated limbs. And there's only one player in the league currently that made it with a less than 1-to-1 ratio: JJ Redick.

It stands to reason...at least to me anyway...that reach is more important than height because height only goes one direction. Reach goes in all directions. A shorter player with long arms can still contest a shot at the same peak as a taller player with shorter arms. But that taller player's height won't help him contest a low dribble or get into the passing lanes. Stuff like that.

So with that in mind, let's look at some of the prospects on the Wolves' radar:

This is a great example of reach being more important than height. Yes, 6'2" is rather small for a shooting guard. The average 2 guard in the NBA stands in the 6'5"-6'6" range (Kobe, Ray Allen, etc) Some go as tall as 6'8" or so (Joe Johnson). 6'2" is actually shorter than Rubio's reported measurements (the Kings say he measured 6'5" at their workout)

However, with a 6'6.75" reach, Harris is more than physically adequate for the shooting guard spot in the NBA. His height/reach measurements are basically identical to Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters and Eric Gordon (also Russell Westbrook) They're just a touch behind Bradley Beal, and actually exceed guys like Avery Bradley, CJ McCollum and Marcus Thornton, and far exceed Monta Ellis.

Harris didn't participate in the drills portion due to injury, but you only have to watch his highlight videos to see he's perfectly quick. The major question with Harris was his physical stature. His shooting grades out well, he's an able defender, and is reasonably athletic. So while a lot of scouts seemed down on his height, I...again, with the belief that reach is what really matters....thinks the combine actually puts the concern to rest. Gary Harris can play the shooting guard spot in the NBA. He's my top choice at #13.

This is where the hype for Young as a late lottery pick comes from. He is beyond ideal, physically, for an NBA wing. The 7' wingspan and 35.5" vert (11'9" max reach) basically puts him on par with DeMar DeRozan.

This, of course, must be tempered by the fact that Young was also beyond mediocre as an actual player. His shooting, assists, and steals metrics were all terrible, and his win shares came in at less than 1.0 (0.9) By comparison, Harris' win share was over 3.

So whereas Harris is an example of a guy who's combine results will probably unfairly hurt him, resulting in him being a nice surprise for the team that picks him, Young's looks like they're unfairly help him, resulting in someone being rather disappointed. Hopefully not us.

Stauskas came in pretty much vanilla across the board, which is...ok, I guess? I think there are major concerns over defensive potential here, but physically, the best thing Stauskas could do here was prove he wasn't below average. Which he did. He'll be judged based on ability alone from here on out.

McDermott showed a surprising amount of athleticism given his reputation and the general eye test. His vertical tested out even better than Specimen Young (although that max reach was less, thanks to almost 4 fewer inches in reach) Still, the max vertical reach is impressive given his average wingspan, and his agility and sprint times were some of the best of the small forward class this year.

McDermott's calling card is he can shoot the lights out, which doesn't require a great deal of athleticism. Just enough to shake defenders off screens and create space. There was some concern after he day 1, when he tested out with low height and reach for a small forward, that he'd be forced into an awkward stretch 4 role because of assumed slowness. But the drills portion on day 2 put that to bed and then some. McDermott will have no problem playing the 3 at the NBA level.

Ok. This is an example of an outlier being a red flag to me. Eric will disagree vehemently with this, but to me, a below-30" vertical for a guard is a cause for real concern, especially taken in context with his below-average agility and sprint times.

NBA wing players move really fast. They jump really high. 29.5" is not high. You have to go all the way into unathletic small forward/undersized power forward territory to hit verts in Adams' range....Craig Smith, Mike Dunleavy, Reggie Evans. Among those who tested with a higher vertical than Adams: Al Jefferson, 3-ACL surgeries Robbie Hummell and Eddy Curry (!!!!!!!!!!!)

Metrically, Adams is a monster. He shoots, gets in the passing lanes, and rebounds exceptionally well for his position. His win shares and RAPM are at an Anthony Davis level (taken with a grain of salt, obviously. Adams has virtually no chance of actually being a better player than Davis) But given his physical limitations, will he work in a league of ridiculously athletic people? He got a lot of points in a transition game that likely won't hold against the much faster NBA guys, and his steals were in large part a product of UCLA's zone, not necessarily good hands or instincts. So it needs to be assessed if what's left is enough to make him a successful pro still.

So I think what you're presented with in Adams is a lot of film work. Gather every one of his possessions and study them like a prep bar exam. How does he move coming off screens? Where does he go in transition? Does he have an instinct for creating space with something other than physical prowess?

Some guys compensate perfectly fine for physical slowness. Look at the career Michael Redd carved out before the injuries. But some get completely lost in translation...hey, what's Adam Morrison up to these days? If you're going to pick a wing with the idea he's going to be an important player....particularly if the idea of having Kevin Martin come off the bench holds true....then you can't throw a guy out there who's too slow to get his shot off or play solid defense at the NBA level.

He's the opposite end of the spectrum.

Lavine is a guy who physically wows. His height/reach measurements actually do matter quite a bit in this case because they're significantly greater than his measurements at the LeBron camp in 2012 (6'3", 6'6" wingspan) So the combine will change perception of him from a somewhat undersized combo guard to a guy with prototypical size for a straight shooting guard. That's important.

Also, the 41.5" vertical is a genuine wow. Russell Westbrooks was only 38". Which means Lavine is closer to Vince Carter (43") than he is to the guy he draws actual comparisons to.

Where is falls apart for Lavine is on the metrics side. His shooting numbers got artificially inflated by an early run against weak competition, and he wasn't exceptional at rebounding or assisting (his per/40 steals were good though) His handles are average, and he didn't show great instincts for setting up a halfcourt offense.

In truth, Lavine easily has the most potential of this list of guys. His shooting shows promise, he had reliable stretches of competent point guard duty, flashes of unteachable creativity, and his athleticism is unparalleled. If he maxes out his potential, he'll not only be a player none of these other guys can touch, but he'd arguably be the best guy in this draft and one of the best off guards in the league. But that is a MASSIVE if.

Of these guys, I'd be ok with Harris or McDermott at #13. I could be argued into Stauskas if someone can show me he won't be a total liability on defense. Adams you can get late in the first round, so spending a lottery pick on him is a reach, regardless of where you fall on his 'potential' line. Lavine is too much of a risk to take solo....I'd take him as a second pick along with Harris or Adams, but not as the only pick. Young...well, I'd rather reach for Adams.

Also, he's not a wing, and not someone likely to be there at #13, but I can't write this up without taking about Aaron Gordon:

First off, smacking your hand on something 12 feet in the air is impressive. Gordon is a Flynnin' athlete.

But more important I think is that, when taken in context with his quick agility and sprint times and the eye test of watching him this year (and I watched Arizona more than anyone) is that Gordon has the makings of a defensive monster. A freak combo of Rodman's strength, low center of gravity and lateral quickness, Paul George's tenacity and on-ball pressure, and Kirilenko's versatility (on both ends of the floor) and instinct for help defense. That alone is worth spending a mid-lottery pick on him.

Add in great rebounding and his potential as a pick-and-roll finisher (he figures to be positively Blake Griffin-esque in this department) and he's a high lottery pick. If you think he can fix his midrange shot and extend out to the three point line (he hit threes at 'Zona and several different places say his shooting mechanics are being fixed and look promising) and well....he could be an absolute steal anywhere below 2. Possibly the best guy in the whole draft in the end. Flies like Griffin, defends like George, blends like AK-47, shoots like Love. That's a pretty damn awesome ceiling to have.

All this is to say, if you're one of those who's convinced Love will walk, Gordon is one of the pieces...maybe THE piece...you should be looking to get in return for him. But that's a discussion for another day...

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