Analyzing the NBA Combine Athletic Testing Results

Analyzing the NBA Combine Athletic Testing Results
May 27, 2011, 12:58 am
Though the conclusions that we can draw from the vast majority of the athletic testing data is extremely limited, we'll nonetheless try to take something away from the information we've been presented with.

Trying to pinpoint a player's athleticism based on their combine testing is akin to trying to get a feel for their basketball IQ by watching them play one-on-zero –it simply doesn't make all that much sense. It does help us get a very general idea of where a player is at in terms of physical conditioning and strength, which often speaks to their work ethic, but rarely sheds much light on what it really aims to portray.

Unlike the NFL combine, all parties involved realize that few people put much stock in these results. Players aren't trained in running 40-yard dashes from their days in high school like most gridiron stars and simply aren't well versed in many of the events. Raw athletic data can be useful in a football setting where certain properties manifest themselves more completely on the field, but for the NBA's purposes, a player's ¾ court sprint team is virtually meaningless on the top end.

In basketball, where anticipation and coordination play major roles in how players perform on the court, combine numbers will always take a back seat to how a player uses the tools it aims to measure in actual games. Scouts have done their homework, they know who the fastest players in the draft are, and know which athletes are the most explosive. The combine only provides them with a standardized metric that often fail to live up to the consistency of what they already know.

Despite our reservations about the data, it still exposes some players who land at the extremes of each test, and gives us the chance to draw some historical perspectives on certain stats. The combine does a decent job exposing which players are truly lacking in some aspects physically. At the end of the day though, the numbers these players posted at the combine are only as valuable as their ability to use them on the floor, and no matter how many times a player runs or jumps beyond his perceived means on test day, if he doesn't “play athletic” in games, he's not going to magically change his ways at the next level.

We have the complete results posted in our measurements database with all prospects in attendance.

Athletic Testing Composite Ranking

In the sake of public interest, we've compiled our own Athletic Testing composite rankings. These were made by assigning players points depending on where they graded out compared with the other prospects in each of the tests done in Chicago. In a perfect world, this composite ranking would tell us who the best and worst athletes are in this draft class. Unfortunately, it's far from perfect for the reasons we described above.

1Isaiah Thomas
2Iman Shumpert
3Andrew Goudelock
4Norris Cole
5Brandon Knight
6Marshon Brooks
7Travis Leslie
8Jimmy Butler
9Scotty Hopson
10Shelvin Mack
11Tobias Harris
12Jimmer Fredette
13Kemba Walker
14JaJuan Johnson
15Chris Singleton
16Malcolm Lee
17Derrick Williams
18David Lighty
19Jon Leuer
20Tristan Thompson
21Alec Burks
22Tyler Honeycutt
23Josh Selby
24Nolan Smith
25Cory Joseph
26Kenneth Faried
27Charles Jenkins
28Darius Morris
29E'Twaun Moore
30Keith Benson
31Malcolm Thomas
32Greg Smith
33Michael Dunigan
34Enes Kanter
35Jeremy Tyler
36Rick Jackson
37Jon Diebler
38Jereme Richmond
39Marcus Morris
40Kyle Singler
41Kawhi Leonard
42Chandler Parsons
43Klay Thompson
44Justin Harper
45Trey Thompkins
46LaceDarius Dunn
47Jordan Hamilton
48Demetri McCamey
49Markieff Morris
50Nikola Vucevic
51Jordan Williams
52Jamie Skeen
53DeAndre Liggins

Top Prospect Athletic Testing Analysis

Derrick Williams performed well in the bench press and was fairly average across the board apart from that. His 34.5' max vertical is respectable, and his speed was on par with the rest of the forwards in attendance. He isn't a freak physically—save for his tremendous highlight reel dunks off two feet-- but his athletic tools match what he does on the court effectively, and it's his much-improved skill-level that has gotten to him to where he is now.

Enes Kanter didn't stand out in any of the metrics covered in the combine, but didn't finish in the bottom-5 of any of them either. He measured taller than expected, which is a plus, even if he's only in the middle-of-the-pack athletically. Again, no surprises here.

Brandon Knight finished just outside of the top-10 in a number of different metrics and mustered an impressive 10 reps on the bench considering his extremely wiry frame. Knight is an interesting athlete, looking more explosive in settings like these than he does on the floor at times. It will be worth watching how his quickness translates to the next level and what it allows him to do off the dribble, as that will be a huge key in how efficient a scorer he can become in the NBA.

-Kemba Walker didn't blow the competition in the quickness drills as he was expected to, but some of the movements cater to players who have prepared their footwork more so than those with raw speed. Walker's 39.5' standing vertical was impressive, but apart from that, he had a fairly average outing.

Kawhi Leonard didn't stand out in any particular measurement, mustering a 32.5 inch vertical leap and 3 reps on the bench. His numbers were pretty average across the board, which seems to be the trend amongst the top players in this class of prospects. As Chad Ford wisely speculated on twitter earlier today, this could very well have to do with the fact that the top prospects did not have the benefit of going through an extensive warm-up prior.

-Alec Burks and Tobias Harris did not stand out in any particular drill, actually matching each other in a number of measurements. Neither player is a combine-type athlete, but neither appears in the bottom-5 of any rankings either.

-Tristan Thompson impressed in the modified lane agility drill, but didn't stand out elsewhere. He managed 9 reps on the bench, and turned in a solid 35 inch vertical leap.

-The Marcus Morris-Markieff Morris combine showdown went pretty much as expected. Both players tossed up 11 reps on the bench and Marcus was slightly faster and more explosive. Neither factored significantly into the top-10 or bottom-5 rankings.

Individual Testing Results and Analysis

Standing Vertical Jump

Ten Best
Iman Shumpert 36.5
Marshon Brooks 34
JaJuan Johnson 33.5
Travis Leslie 33
Andrew Goudelock 32.5
Scotty Hopson 32.5
Jimmy Butler 32
Shelvin Mack 32
E'Twaun Moore 32
Malcolm Thomas 32
Kemba Walker 32

Five Worst
Kyle Singler 23
Nikola Vucevic 23.5
Darius Morris 24.5
Jordan Williams 25
Jordan Hamilton 25

Iman Shumpert stole the show at the combine, looking like clearly the most physically gifted player in this entire draft class. To start things off, his 36.5' standing vertical leap was the highest since Nick Young posted the top mark in our entire historical database (39.5') back in 2007.

It isn't surprising to see Travis Leslie fairly high on this list, but Andrew Goudelock and Jimmy Butler were both pleasant surprises among the top-10. Neither player was lauded for their athleticism in the college game, but both managed to place fairly well in the athletic testing, which should help ease some concerns.

JaJuan Johnson is one of the only big men on our list, and while he still needs to continue adding weight to his frame, he's explosive from a standstill for a player his height. His physical tools look very impressive on paper, but don't necessarily translate to certain parts of the game, such as his rebounding.

Kyle Singler and Darius Morris were both highly productive last season, but neither spent too much time above the rim. Their ranks here are unsurprising.

Jordan Hamilton may be an explosive scorer, but that isn't because of his ability to rise above defenders. He's more of a perimeter shooter and a mid-range off the dribble type—hence his sub-50% 2-point percentage.

Nikola Vucevic was the big winner in the anthropometric measurements, ranking as the tallest and heaviest player at the combine. As we discussed on multiple occasions over the last few years, though, he's a below the rim player, something that was very evident in all the athletic testing results conducted in Chicago.

Max Vert

Ten Best
Iman Shumpert 42
Josh Selby 42
Travis Leslie 40.5
Isaiah Thomas 40
Kemba Walker 39.5
Jimmy Butler 39
Shelvin Mack 39
Marshon Brooks 38.5
Norris Cole 38.5
JaJuan Johnson 38

Five Worst
Nikola Vucevic 25
Kyle Singler 30
Jordan Williams 30.5
Jamie Skeen 30.5
Trey Thompkins 30.5

Iman Shumpert's 42' max vertical leap ranks just as high in our historical database as his no-step vertical—tied for the best result in the last seven years. He's an inch behind Vince Carter's mark from 1998 and just an inch and a half behind Nate Robinson's 2004 leap. That's not too shabby for a 6'6-225 pound point guard—and one reason why NBA teams are beginning (or rather continuing) to think long and hard about just how high his long-term ceiling might be.

We saw Josh Selby throw down an absurd between the legs-360 dunk in Las Vegas, so it comes as no surprise that his max vertical was more than a foot higher than his standing vertical and ranks prominently in our database. He's a highlight waiting to happen and is almost shockingly explosive when he has a head of steam.

Isaiah Thomas may only be 5-10 in shoes, but his 40-inch vertical is awfully impressive.

Kemba Walker is not only a jet, but he also has huge springs as evidenced by his 39.5 inch vertical. Combine that with his better than expected measurements, and typically outstanding interviews, and Walker had a great weekend for himself in Chicago.

Nikola Vucevic posts easily the lowest max vertical, with Jamie Skeen and Trey Thompkins joining him in the bottom-5. Both power forwards weighed in right around 240, and neither are known for their ability to elevate on the block.

Klay Thompson had very underwhelming athletic testing scores across the board, and his 31.5 inch vertical won't do much to dispel the suspicions some teams already had that he's destined for a role as primarily a spot-up shooter in the NBA.

Bench Press

Ten Best
Derrick Williams 19
Justin Harper 19
Iman Shumpert 18
Shelvin Mack 18
Greg Smith 17
Malcolm Lee 17
Kenneth Faried 16
Charles Jenkins 16
JaJuan Johnson 15
Chris Singleton 15

Five Worst
Jereme Richmond 0
Tyler Honeycutt 0
E'Twaun Moore 0
Demetri McCamey 0 (injured)
Kawhi Leonard 3

No players stands out overwhelmingly in this category from a historical perspective, as the top mark this year would tie for being just the 53rd best result ever. Derrick Williams has clearly been putting work in at the gym nevertheless with his 19 reps of the 185 pound bar, as has Justin Harper. Perhaps the most notable surprise is Iman Shumpert, who shows that he's not just explosive, but extremely strong to boot.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jereme Richmond and Tyler Honeycutt are two of the longer, leaner prospects in this class, and neither was able to complete a rep.

Lane Agility

Ten Best
Norris Cole 10.07
Andrew Goudelock 10.33
Jimmer Fredette 10.42
Scotty Hopson 10.47
Isaiah Thomas 10.49
Brandon Knight 10.74
Marshon Brooks 10.74
Cory Joseph 10.75
David Lighty 10.81
Jon Leuer 10.82
Kemba Walker 10.87

Five Worst
Jordan Williams 12.74
Jamie Skeen 12.43
Greg Smith 12.43
Nikola Vucevic 12.02
Justin Harper 11.92

Some of the top scoring guards in the country lead the pack in lane agility, with Norris Cole a full step ahead of the field. Andrew Goudelock and Jimmer Fredette place prominently, with Scotty Hopson and Brandon Knight making an appearance near the top of the list.

As we always note, it is important to take these numbers with a grain of salt. Though Jon Leuer's marks were impressive, it is hard to see him beating Kemba Walker to a 50/50 ball.

Near the bottom of our list, we find Jordan Williams and Jamie Skeen, which makes a lot of sense considering how both players scored their points on the college level. Neither player was considered to be very athletic going into the Combine, and that ultimately proved to be true in most of the testing done. The same can be said for Greg Smith and Nikola Vucevic, who rounded out the bottom four.

Modified Lane Agility

Ten Best
Norris Cole 5.05
Jimmer Fredette 5.11
Andrew Goudelock 5.13
Brandon Knight 5.27
Cory Joseph 5.27
Jon Leuer 5.34
Scotty Hopson 5.34
David Lighty 5.35
Marshon Brooks 5.37
Tristan Thompson 5.40

Five Worst
Jordan Williams 6.51
Greg Smith 6.35
Nikola Vucevic 6.11
Jamie Skeen 6.1
LaceDarius Dunn 6.03

There aren't many changes near the top of this list from the lane agility test. Jon Leuer continues to surprise with his agility, while Tristan Thompson makes his first appearance in our rankings with his speed.

Jimmer Fredette and Andrew Goudelock continue to test out extremely well, showing that they might be more athletic than they were initially given credit for.

3/4 Court Sprint

Ten Best
Jereme Richmond 3.02
Tyler Honeycutt 3.07
Brandon Knight 3.07
Malcolm Lee 3.09
Chris Singleton 3.09
Marshon Brooks 3.09
Andrew Goudelock 3.1
Travis Leslie 3.13
JaJuan Johnson 3.14
Isaiah Thomas 3.14

Five Worst
Jamie Skeen 3.46
Jordan Williams 3.45
Trey Thompkins 3.41
Markieff Morris 3.4
Jon Diebler 3.37

Jereme Richmond and Tyler Honeycutt could not muster a rep in the bench press, but were the fastest straight-line runners at the 2011 combine. Richmond's mark is one of the better we've seen in some time, as he edged Derrick Rose by 0.03 seconds.

Malcolm Lee and Chris Singleton join the fray here, and both players have the potential to contribute in transition on top of their measureable speed.

The slowest players rank only slightly below average historically, so no player truly lagged behind expectations to any significant extent.

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