The NBA Draft Combine beginning tomorrow in Chicago will be missing the three biggest names among eligible draftees: Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke and Joel Embiid of Kansas. Representatives for each player informed the league that the potential 1-2-3 in the draft will be absent. In past years, the top players have skipped the workouts at the combine, but have made themselves available for interviews and physicals. Missing the combine is most concerning for Embiid, he suffered from a lower back stress fracture at the end of the college season and teams are anxious to evaluate his status.
At this point, the teams picking at the top of the NBA Draft is unclear. The NBA Draft Lottery will occur on May 20. Due to the talent at the top of the draft this year, the past NBA season featured several teams more intent on picking up more ping pong balls in the lottery than actually winning games. The tanking teams included the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz. The Magic played their younger players in the fourth quarter of several close games down the stretch in order to avoid the possibility of veterans pulling out a win. While helpful for development of the younger players on the roster, the team obviously did not put winning at the top of their “to do” list as the season wound down.
The reasons the big three will miss the NBA Draft Combine are unclear. Parker and Embiid are represented by Wasserman Media Group and Wiggins is represented by BDA Sports. The players and their representatives decided that the combine was not beneficial to their special status as the top players on everyone’s draft board. With the advent of slotted salaries for draft picks, the main function of agents for top draftees is to assure that the player is picked as high as possible. Embiid may want to spend more time rehabbing before subjecting himself to an NBA physical. As to the interviews, the strategy must be to limit team access to the players to times and places of the player’s choosing. The agents will also have more time to prep the players for answering team questions if avoiding the combine.
Sitting down with the players and getting some insights into how they think is important to league executives. A number of players have the physical skills and attributes to become NBA All Stars, but a select few have the physical skills and the mental makeup to fully reach their potential. Michael Jordan was not the best player ever solely due to his physical gifts, his relentless work ethic and hatred for losing drove him to be the best. Many with the physical tools to be called the “Next Jordan” fail to reach lofty status because they did not have the same relentlessness. Even Wiggins, projected at the start of the college season as the clear number one NBA draft choice, is criticized for “disappearing” during stretches of Kansas’ games. The teams need to figure out whether the disappearing act is a desire to go with the flow of the game or if it means something else.
Picking the wrong player at the top of the draft is a career killer. The general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Grant, lost his job in February after his team selected Anthony Bennett in a surprise move at the top of last year’s draft. Bennett gained notoriety at the beginning of the 2013 season because he failed to score his first field goal until the fifth game of the season and did not score in double figures until game 33. He appeared out of shape and frustrated at the start of the season. While physically gifted, he did not exhibit the mental wherewithal necessary for NBA stardom. The second player picked, Victor Olidipo, while not as physically gifted, played hard the whole season and will be a valuable contributor to the Magic for years to come even if shy of all-star levels.
The tanking teams will no doubt lament the fact that the big three among NBA hopefuls will miss the NBA Combine. They know the players each have a bucket load of talent. What they want to find out is if the each of the players has the never satisfied hunger to succeed at the highest level. Chris Grant no doubt wishes he had made a better determination of that last year with respect to Anthony Bennett. The executives pulling the trigger in this year’s NBA Draft want to avoid Davis’ fate next year.
Commentary by William Costolo