Draft Combine: Just a Piece of Bigger Puzzle

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Tests are never fun -- unless they’re the finite variety that measure various aspects of athleticism.

Vertical leap, sprints, agility drills. Fans can’t get enough of that stuff. The same can be said of reporters.

It’s hard to blame them. Such data provides easily dissect-able means with which to measure, quantify and label prospects.

Player A showed off a 38-inch max vertical leap and recorded a 3.14-second three-quarter court sprint, both tops at his position.

Player B -- who plays the same position -- sported the fifth-worst vertical leap (31.5 inches) and the fourth-slowest sprint time (3.40 seconds).

Both players’ results were logged at the 2011 NBA Draft Combine. Player A is JaJuan Johnson, who hasn’t played an NBA game since 2012. That’s right. He didn’t last beyond his rookie season.

Player B is Markieff Morris, who put up the most total points from any bench player this season (1,115) and averaged 13.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in just 26.6 minutes per contest in 2013-14.

In short, don’t get caught up in the combine numbers.

Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough sure doesn’t.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than what the guys do in the actual games,” he said. “That’s the best barometer for how the guys will do in the NBA, is how they do against competition in college, especially when they’re playing high-level opponents or playing against elite players at their position.”

It’s a stark contrast to what is usually read and seen in the weeks leading up to the draft. The games McDonough references are in large part ignored until March Madness sets in. By then the couch draft experts only get to see the top prospects in a handful of games -- if that.

That’s a single sheet of paper compared to the books’ worth of reports, analysis and conclusions accumulated by McDonough and his staff. When he was hired by the Suns last summer, his tablet already contained hundreds – if not thousands – of scouting reports.

Duplicate that by at least four times (he has a team of scouts, remember?), and it’s hard to picture them rewriting an entire player evaluation based on one vertical jump test.

“We have a very broad list,” McDonough said. “It’s that way intentionally...As the year goes on, it’s important to evaluate the top guys, but it’s also important to whittle down your list and try to figure out which guys aren’t for you, which guys aren’t for the Suns. Then you become a little more targeted and focused. Then you start ranking guys and breaking ties among guys who are close at certain positions.”

That’s a far cry from the rush to conclusions over combine results or – worse – assumptions and mock drafts based on other onlookers’ assumptions and mock drafts (hold your horses on those mocks, too, by the way. Around this time in 2011, SportingNews.com got every single first-round pick wrong. It’s too early and too presumptious to assume what each team’s general manager will do).

The true value the Combine brings is the personal interaction with the players. Finally freed from NCAA restrictions, teams can meet with any and all players to better gauge their personalities. That’s a far bigger deal than any vertical leap test, especially considering it was personality/chemistry that led to the Suns’ success this season.

As of Friday morning, Ohio State’s Markel Brown had logged the top vertical leep (43.5 inches) and second-fastest three-quarter court sprint.

If you want an accurate assessment of his talent, though, watch every one of his games and dissect everything he does on and off the ball.

Multiply that by a couple hundred more players, and you’ll be that much closer to what McDonough’s staff is really thinking.