Ramping Up

Draft process shifts to next phase with Chicago draft combine on tap

Many of the hands David Stern will shake six weeks from Thursday, when NBA teams will parcel out the next wave of incoming talent at the draft, will belong to players teams have been tracking for three, four and five years. Even one-and-done prospects like Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Anthony Bennett were identified as NBA prospects long before they got to college campuses.

That said, these next six weeks will account for a huge chunk of the evaluation process. There are no more games to evaluate, of course, but individual workouts, formal interviews, more casual conversations over lunch, background probes, videotape review, medical evaluations and even psychological profiles will be conducted to gauge NBA readiness and potential, roster and cultural fit.

That process shifts into a higher gear starting Wednesday, when approximately 60 players – mostly college products with a few international prospects sprinkled in – gather in Chicago to be poked and prodded by representatives from all 30 NBA teams.

Pistons assistant general manager George David, who spearheads the team’s draft organizational efforts, says the evaluation process is roughly at the 50 percent mark once the college season ends, despite the hundreds of games Joe Dumars’ staff has collectively attended and the thousands of hours of additional prep work they’ve logged.

A wrinkle this year is the timing of the Chicago draft combine, which runs from Wednesday through Sunday – starting with interviews Wednesday and throughout the week, on-court drills and testing Thursday and Friday, plus medical examinations. Unlike years past, the combine this year comes a week ahead of the lottery. That will alter the equation for the NBA in allotting interviews and agents in granting them.

Teams get 18 interview slots in Chicago and can submit a three-tiered request list. Their priority requests go on their first list and, while they aren’t guaranteed those requests, their chances are strong. Their odds decrease as the priority drops from list to list. A typical strategy is to prioritize interviews with players uncertain to grant a personal workout. That was a little easier to decipher when teams went to Chicago with their lottery position known.

“It changes the strategy from the player’s perspective as well as the team perspective,” David said. “In years past, for right or wrong, the player would know exactly where a team was selecting and then make his decision based upon whether they were going to interview and work out. What it will probably do is expand the number of teams that the likely lottery picks will interview for just to make sure they cover themselves.”

The change in timing also has delayed not only the process of conducting individual team workouts, but even getting them scheduled.

David recently returned from a week in Europe, where he saw a number of games and practices involving five players he identified as 2013 draft prospects and another handful of players who are candidates to be signed as free agents, as the Pistons did last summer with Slava Kravtsov.

He went armed with the knowledge that the Pistons hold the No. 56 pick late in the second round, a pick they weren’t sure would be theirs until two days after the regular season concluded when the Los Angeles Clippers won a tiebreaker with Memphis to win the right to pick ahead of them in the first round. That meant Memphis would choose before the Clippers in the second round, and that triggered the flipping of the pick to the Pistons, who held rights to the pick only if it fell between 56 and 60.

That makes the 56th pick a prime possibility to be spent on an international prospect who might not be ready or able to play in the NBA for at least another season.

“I think the kids coming from overseas are going to impact all areas of this draft,” David said. “I think they’re going to impact the lottery. I think they’re going to impact the mid- to late first and I think, as normally, the entire second.”

I’ll be in Chicago for Thursday and Friday’s media availability sessions and will have updates both days, as well as in-depth draft preview coverage from then until the June 27 draft.

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