What’s In A Draft Workout

Taliek Brown, from the National Champion UConn Huskies, has his vertical leap tested.

High School phenom J.R. Smith gets ready for an agility test.

Draft time in the NBA can be quite an anxious time, players wondering where they're going to be selected, teams wondering if their guy will still be on the board when they pick. But what goes into determining where a player will be selected?

There are many things, such as the player's performance the previous season, how they perform at the pre-draft camp in Chicago, the dreaded word "upside", as well as the individual workouts when players visit different teams.

You often hear that a player increased his stock or is dropping down the draft board because of these individual workouts, that aren't usually individual. Most likely a team will have as many as four players in for one workout. But what do the workouts entail, and what are teams looking for in workouts?

"One thing with the workouts, a lot of times it's the first impression for coaches to see players live," said new Celtics assistant coach Dave Wohl, a 30-year NBA veteran. "What we're really looking to find out about players is their athleticism, their basketball IQ, how they react to certain situations on the court, and certainly any specific skill sets they have."

To find answers to those questions players are generally put through a battery of tests before actually touching a basketball. They'll have their vertical leap tested, go through a series of timed agility drills and usually get some kind of stretching from the trainer. The worst thing for a prospective draftee is to get injured in a pre-draft workout.

Once the initial testing is done the players and coaches take the court to see how that athleticism translates into actual play on the hardwood, or parquet to be specific in the Celtics case.

To start, coaches will usually put players through a series of shooting and ball handling drills, looking for mechanics, ability to shoot off the dribble and off screens from both the left and right, as well as what kind of range the player has.

"You try to find out different things in the shooting drills," commented Wohl. "You can at least see how a player's form is, what kind of stroke he has, where his range is. He's certainly not covered by anybody, but you can get an idea whether his mechanics are pretty good as a shooter."

This is where it becomes difficult for the coaches. Someone like Danny Ainge has been scouting these guys for a year or two, but for coaches, like Wohl said, it's their first time seeing them.

"It can be misleading," said Wohl. "You can have a kid that's a pretty good shooter, but he's gone to four other teams that week and he's just tired and can have a really bad shooting night and you're going 'Gee, I thought he was a good shooter'. That's why you really have to take the workout as part of the whole equation because the guys like Danny (Ainge), Chris (Wallace) and Leo (Papile) have a much better feel for who that player really is and weather that workout was normal for that player.

After spending a good amount of time on shooting, it's time to go live and see what these guys bring to the table in one-on-one and two-on-two situations (NBA rules stipulate that there be no more than four players on the court at a time). But as Coach Wohl mentioned, they're not just looking for scoring, they're looking for basketball IQ and how players react to different situations.

"When you start to get into live drills where they're playing one-on-one or two-on-two, you get to find out whether the shooting drills correlate with a defender on them or whether he's even able to get his shot off with a defender on him," said Wohl following a workout at the Sports Authority Training Center in Waltham. "You're trying to equate a lot of different things to come away with an impression that he's a player that has NBA skills, NBA attitude, he works hard, he hustles.

As for the workouts as a whole, they're a very inexact science. Some player's skills are more designed to look good in individual workouts, but their game may not translate into the team concept of basketball.

You can also have the opposite, where a player brings a lot to a team, but his skills don't necessarily stand out in a workout. But over his 30-year NBA career, Coach Wohl has seen it all.

"I've seen so many players in pre-draft workouts," said Wohl. "Michael Finley had a terrific workout when I was with Miami. Going back even further, Glenn Rice had a terrific workout. But Carlos Boozer is an example of a guy who had a good workout, but nothing made you think he would be able to step up and be as productive as he's been. He's turned into a terrific pro, so it's not an exact science."

The key according to Wohl is using the workouts to reinforce what the people in field have already seen from these players. That's why you have GM's and scouts around the world and in the video room all year long.

"You can be fooled in workouts, that's why it's great to have Danny, Chris and Leo," said Wohl. "Coaches can fall in love with a player in 45 minutes, so it's great to have the people who've seen them all year and say 'look that is not really who he is.'"

Bottom line is that these individual workouts you're always hearing about give the teams a chance to get a little more personal with the athletes and see what they can do up close. But beware one workout does not make a player.