Okay, so the first day of the NBA Draft combine always feels like the first day of school. Your parents drop you off super early, and it's awkward until you start to see your friends and then things go okay. That's what happened on Day 1. I left my downtown condo at 6:45 and still got there before 7:00 am. (There being the Quest Multisport facility, formerly Attack Athletics) The reason why it is so important to get there early is to get parking within their walled and security gated facility. I was the third car in, ESPN Michael Wilbon parked next to me later on in the day when he showed up around 9. The second reason why it's so important to get there early is to get GOOD parking in the VIP area before they put up the VIP ONLY signs. Again, there's no reason why I should be parking in the same section as ESPN on screen talent.
Anyway, it was a cold and grey Chicago and the doors were locked, so I took a few pictures:
I don't know how to take a selfie (and yes, I have a pimple near my eyebrow which is the first pimple I've had since I was 17). But the whole show wasn't just the exterior or the locked doors. When the NBA head office PR people finally showed up I got inside -- it was like being home again:
Anyway. This event isn't about the facility, or meeting up with familiar faces. It's about the players . . . well . . . if you are a good player it's about you. For us Utah Jazz fans it was about creeping on the Utah Jazz brass.
These were the first two people to show up:
Dennis and Kevin, who came in the same car together apparently.
Who was there (confirmed by visual observation and talking to people):
- Jerry Sloan -- Hall of Fame coach, and has some sort of job with the front office now
- Kevin O'Connor -- Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations
- Dennis Lindsey -- General Manager
- Scott Layden -- Assistant Coach of the Spurs, lead instructor of the combine drills
- Brad Jones -- Assistant Coach of the Jazz, assistant instructor of the combine drills
- Richard Smith -- Director of Basketball Operations
- Walt Perrin -- Vice President of Player Personnel
- David Fredman -- Scout, Super Mario cosplayer
- Bart Taylor --Co-ordinator of Scouting
- Keith (?) -- Younger man, did not want to talk about anything, wearing Jazz basketball t-shirt while everyone else was wearing civilian clothes
That doesn't include the other scouts who were on the 'scouts only' side of the floor. It was confirmed to me that none of the international scouts where there -- so I'm expecting that Bobby Castagna, Dave Hobbs, Ryan Lindsey, and Dereck Whittenburg where there (the Utah Jazz NCAA scouts). So that's 12 people with the Official Jazz party, and 2 more who were with the team in some capacity. Scott Layden isn't with the Jazz anymore, but he spends a lot more time during breaks with Sloan and company than he does with the Spurs group.
And that's the other thing, there are so many groups all around, at one point I was standing in-between Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchak. I could almost FEEL DA RINGZ!
There were fewer former players this time around (got a fist bump from Scottie Pippen, now I want to burn my hand), but if you waited long enough like a wildlife photographer you eventually got an okay shot.
Tim Hardaway and Allan Houston. No doubt both not talking about any desire to coach the New York Knicks
Well, day one was pathetic in terms of the actual play. Guys were not hustling across the board, including the staff -- Brad Jones turned the ball over in a drill. Instead of five workout sessions there were only four, as they lumped all the PFs and Cs together. They also switched around players one night after sending an updated list of players. Zach LaVine is a PG, was listed in the SG group two nights ago, and then the next morning was put in the PG group again. This is frustrating only for the people who actually read every e-mail the NBA sends them.
- The higher ranked guys who played (not all of them did) sleepwalked
- Jahii Carson (42.50), Xavier Thames (58.00), and Aaron Craft (68.75) did more with their time on the court than most 1st rounders
- Zach LaVine (19.26) showed his versatility and we all can't wait to see his athletic scores
- Deonte Burton tries on defense (39.08), but I don't think that's enough to make him a first round pick (bubble right now).
- None of the Jazz people were impressed with the PGs
- Dante Exum (4.45) was slotted into the SG workout, but did not participate, I do have 30 mins of him talking though, so I am uploading that.
- P.J. Hairston (23.94) and Jabari Brown (46.40) did the best when I watched, but I did more watching of the Jazz group to see any signs of life
- During the SG workout DL was networking and at times had his back to the group
- Other times he was studying playing intently, but more on that later
- The main problem with this group were some players didn't participate -- like Nik Stauskas (14.95) (potential lotto guy), and Sean Kilpatrick (75.67) (actual injury).
- The big issue is that no one stepped up. Last year guys like Tony Snell really did and got everyone's attention, this year people were playing at half speed, or taking bad shots.
- Perhaps the point was to display the ability to make different kinds of shots (finish with off hand, floaters, one foot runners), but in drills specifically set up to test catch-and-shoot it's silly to deviate and try to put on your own highlight video
- I was most disappointed in this group on Day 1.
- Cleanthony Early (26.41) and Rodney Hood (16.84) were the only guys ready to play at times.
- An unnamed player let a ball go out of bounds without trying to save it, and it went into the hands of a front office exec who just made eye contact and shook his head
- Doug McDermott (11.95) didn't play, so this year hardly any of the useful players played.
- During my period of observation, the only guy out there really paying attention was Jerry Sloan. He wasn't going to fly to Chicago to take a day off or network. Unfortunately he seemed more distracted by some of the drill coaches on the floor -- it seemed like he kept forgetting that he knew who Greg Foster (the tallest drill instructor) was. He spent more time looking at the 2nd round SFs, almost coaxing them into showing him something.
Power Forwards / Centers:
- This was the one group that showed some life. Perhaps that was in comparison to the other three workouts, or perhaps this is because you KNOW what a bigman is supposed to do, it's a more limited position, and as a result it is a little easier to focus on that
- None of them had great footwork
- A few of them had heard of defense before
- None of them were physical freaks (like Rudy Gobert, or other bigs who had previously played in the combine, no one was as strong as Enes Kanter for example), but they played hard and tried to finish above the rim
- Sadly, and this is the universal case as we didn't see people like Adreian Payne (17.30) or better play; or the ones who did sadly did not blow me away (Julius Randle (4.75)).
- ALL THAT SAID, this group of mostly undersized (not talking about you Jordan Bachynski (63.60), keep moving) guys competed, and showed some grit.
- I guess it was a bunch of rookie Paul Millsap type players, without the floor burns, hustle, or boxing out ability
Wait, this was the good workout group? How sad.
Over all Day 1 was a downer like the weather.
In closing, here's a picture of Greg Foster, Richard Smith, Scott Layden, Jerry Sloan, Dennis Lindsey, and David Fredman. (and I guess, Zach LaVine)
For me the big benefit was talking with Jazz people on and off the record, and networking with other writers trying to share rumors. I did meet Aaron Falk and Bill Oram. One of them was really cool and fun, the other was too cool for school. I did spend more time with the national guys, and the other people who are lowly "bloggers", like the SB Nation people, and people from other groups like HP etc.
As for the players, I am going to try to get a better read on guys like Zach Lavine (whom I was predisposed to be a hater of), Joe Harris, Gary Harris, and Isaiah Austin.