The NBA's annual draft combine has flown under the radar in these parts in recent years. The league's biggest pre-draft soiree has typically been overshadowed by the Boston Celtics' postseason forays and the fact that the Green have often been picking at the back end of the first round because of that on-court success.
A 57-loss transition season leaves Boston with a 10.3 percent chance of landing the top overall selection in June's draft, and there's a lot more interest in this year's event, which tips off Wednesday (with ESPN devoting a total of 10 hours of TV coverage when media access is open Thursday and Friday).
Alas, those in the know downplay the overall significance of the Chicago combine. As Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is quick to point out, it's simply the next step in evaluating prospects whom his staff have been tracking through months -- or years -- of college and overseas scouting.
The biggest buzz from the combine typically comes when results from the athletic testing are revealed. Armchair general managers will rhapsodize about hand size and no-step vertical leap, while others will counter by recalling Kevin Durant's inability to complete a single bench press rep of 185 pounds at the 2007 combine as proof that little should be gauged from the anthropometric portion of the event.
Ainge doesn't put much stock in those numbers. The Celtics run their own sets of athletic testing when they bring prospects in for workouts, and they find those much more reliable. As Ainge stresses, "We really trust our numbers."
If you're wondering how much stock the Celtics put in the public numbers from events like the combine, you need only look at last year's event. The team's two selections -- Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson -- graded out as two of the most unathletic players in the field. Olynyk, who Boston traded up three spots to snag at No. 13, was among the slowest players in timed drills and finished in the bottom five of nearly all of those events (save for lane agility).
The draft gurus at DraftExpress created a composite ranking of all the players tested at last year's event and, out of a field of 52 ranked players, Olynyk finished 48th, and Iverson owned the spot in front of him.
Ainge subscribes to the notion of "utilized athleticism," or the way a player uses his given abilities in the context of his game.
"If a guy jumps 44 inches, but only averages 2 rebounds per game -- well, I think you see what I'm getting at," Ainge said.
At last year's combine, Phil Pressey tested off the charts -- as guards often do -- and Boston was quick to phone after the speedy, pint-sized point guard went undrafted. But it's fair to assume that Boston put a lot more stock in Pressey's pre-draft visit (when he was competing with other guard prospects) and having watched his basketball development up close (Pressey's father, Paul, had been an assistant on Doc Rivers' coaching staff).
This simply isn't the NFL draft combine, which receives wall-to-wall coverage because players' times in events such as the 40-yard dash can often make or break their draft status. For the NBA combine, it's what you won't see on ESPN's broadcasts that will be of primary importance for talent evaluators.
Each team is allowed a maximum of 18 player interviews, each lasting up to a half-hour, at the combine. It's the first chance for teams to really get inside the head of a prospect. Clubs have reportedly peppered potential draftees with all sorts of exams, from IQ tests to film breakdown to personality checks.
It's what teams learn in those sessions, along with the medical evaluations, that will stick with personnel staffs longer than max vertical reach or body fat measurements.
Dial it back to 2012, and Jared Sullinger not only got red-flagged for his back issues in medical exams, but he posted the slowest ¾-court sprint time among first-round picks since 2000 at 3.81 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Info. None of that was enough to deter the Celtics, who swooped in to grab Sullinger when he fell into their laps at No. 21.
Has a draft player ever drastically swayed Ainge's opinion -- positively or negatively -- during a combine interview?
"Yes, but nobody I drafted," Ainge said, suggesting it's gone both ways, but mostly with guys who were out of Boston's reach.
Ainge acknowledged a desire to chat with as many players as possible, even guys whom Boston might not be in position to select, because the Chicago combine might be the only time they get to chat with them, particularly if the team can't line up a visit to its facility in Waltham.
And that's a big part of what Ainge and his staff will use the combine to accomplish. With players and their agents all gathered together under one roof, the Celtics will attempt to line up the individual and group workouts that will help make the final determinations on who gets selected in June.
Will the absence of this year's Draft Big Three matter to Boston? We'll know better on May 20 when the pingpong balls determine the team's top draft position. If the Celtics vault to a top 3 spot, then maybe they'll lament not getting the chance to get that up-close glimpse in Chicago.
Which makes you wonder if it's actually Boston's other first-round pick (No. 17 overall via the Brooklyn Nets) that will benefit most from this Chicago excursion. The middle of the first round is when things get a little more murky, and what Boston learns at the combine might help separate the pack of players it's eyeing with that pick.
Just remember that no player's draft stock changes all that much in a day or two. The combine is just a tiny piece of the evaluation puzzle.