Earlier this month, Hamidou Diallo recorded the second-highest vertical leap ever measured at an NBA Combine: 44.5 inches. What did that mean? Two former pro basketball figures suggested we should not jump to any grandiose conclusions.
“I’ve seen a lot of players come through and test really well,” said Bobby Marks, a former assistant general manager of the Nets. “Then you put them on the court, and it doesn’t correlate.”
That’s not to say Diallo, who only practiced in his so-far one semester “career” at Kentucky, will not be a standout NBA player someday. It’s just that a vertical leap can be incidental to assessing a player’s potential.
The initial excitement about Diallo’s leap brought to mind a facetious thought: Dick Fosbury, who invented the backward style of high jumping known as the “Fosbury flop,” won the 1968 Olympic gold medal with a leap of 7-foot, 4¼ inches. That’s a vertical leap of 88¼ inches!!! Yet no one thought of him as a basketball phenomenon.
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Del Harris, a longtime NBA coach, offered more serious perspective on the vertical leap.
“Guys like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wouldn’t show up very big on some of those particular factors,” he said. “There are so many other things to take into consideration.”
The vertical leap, shuttle run and other examples of what the NBA calls its “anthropometric testing” serves a purpose, Harris and Marks said. It gives the pros a sense of a player’s quickness and whether he has “quick-twitch muscles.” The quicker the twitch, the better lateral movement, the greater possibility of a better defender.
Earlier this spring, perennial all-star Kevin Durant scoffed at the strength testing at the NBA Combine. He recalled Combine strength coaches laughing at him because he could not bench press 185 pounds.
“I was embarrassed at that point,” he said, “But I’m like, ‘Give me a basketball, please. Give me a ball.’”
The evaluation of a player can be more art than science, more reliant on an experienced eye than a stopwatch and tape measure.
“Some players, not many, scouts, GMs and coaches will say, quote, ‘He really knows how to play,’” Harris said. “That’s a subjective measurement. When you’ve seen a lot of players play, you know that. On any given NBA team, there are going to be a few players who really know how to play. … They are much more instinctive. They still need to be coached, but it’s an immeasurable. It’s subjective.”
The more experienced the evaluator, the more reliable this immeasurable.
“There’s no stat for that because it’s strictly the opinion of the evaluator,” Harris said. “Those kind of things, in the end, are more important than whether a guy can jump up and take a dollar off the top of the backboard and give you change.”
Less is more?
Longtime NBA coach Del Harris went so far as to suggest that less of a vertical leap is better than an ability to put a forehead above the rim.
Why? Gravity. The higher the jump, the more stressful the return landing.
“When you have one of these elite jumpers, they tend to get injured a lot … ,” Harris said. “The hardwood is not very forgiving.”
Therefore, players must be selective on when to jump their highest, he said.
“Ultimately, you have to learn to play closer to the floor,” Harris said. “That’s what Michael (Jordan) did. Early on, his first two or three years, he’d make that extreme leap a lot. But once you become a marked player, you just can’t take that kind of chance. You have to choose your spots to use the maximum jump.”
Of the nine other players who recorded the 10 highest vertical leaps measured in NBA Combine history, none became lottery picks. Two were first-round picks. Four were taken in the second round and three went undrafted.
Keeping in mind that many top prospects do not participate in a Combine, here’s the list of top 10 vertical leaps:
1. Kenny Gregory, Kansas, 45.5 inches in 2001. He was not drafted. He played in the D-League, Great Britain, Italy, France, Turkey and Greece.
2. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky, 44.5 inches in 2017. He faces a Wednesday deadline for deciding whether to stay in this year’s draft or play for UK next season. In its mock draft last week, NBADraft.net projected him being taken with the 20th pick of the first round. NBA.com had him drafted with the final pick of the first round.
3. Shane Larkin, Miami, 44 inches in 2013. He was taken with the 18th pick of the first round. He played in Spain last season.
4. Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame, 44 inches in 2015. He was a second-round pick. His career averages in the NBA are 6.3 minutes and 4.0 points.
5. Kay Felder, Oakland, 44 inches in 2016. He was a second-round pick. He averaged 9.2 minutes and 4.0 points for the Cavs this season.
6. Tim Bowers, Mississippi State, 43.5 inches in 2004. He was not drafted. He played in the D-League, Israel and Greece.
7. Nate Robinson, Washington, 43.5 inches in 2004. He was taken with the 21st pick of the first round. He played for eight teams in a 10-year NBA career and had career averages of 22.5 minutes and 11 points.
8. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State, 43.5 inches in 2014. He was a second-round pick. He played in Russia last season.
9. Jahii Carson, Arizona State, 43.5 inches in 2014. He was not drafted. He has played in New South Wales, Serbia, Turkey and Canada.
10. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame, 43.5 inches in 2016. He was a second-round pick. He played five games with the Celtics, then spent the rest of this past season in the D League.
‘I can do it’
More than once during his 15-minute session with media attending the NBA Combine, De’Aaron Fox said he wanted to prove to scouts that he was a better shooter than he showed this past season at Kentucky. He made only 24.6 percent of his three-point shots (17 of 69), and that was from behind the college line.
His interview with the Philadelphia 76ers at the Combine prompted questions about Fox moving to shooting guard. This hypothetical would have former LSU star Ben Simmons serving as the Sixers’ primary ball-handler.
“I’m comfortable moving off the ball,” Fox said, “but I have to show people I can do it. No one really thinks I can do it because I struggled shooting in college.
“I started shooting it well at the end of the year, and I feel if I’m shooting, I’m very comfortable off the ball.”
In his last 10 games, Fox made nine of 19 three-point shots.
By the way, Fox’s mother, then known as Lorraine Harris, led Arkansas-Little Rock in field-goal percentage in 1985-86 (44.6 percent). She led the team with nine blocks in 1987-88.
De’Aaron Fox said his interview with the Los Angeles Lakers had a less-is-more feel. That’s probably because one of the Lakers’ reps was Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
“They probably had the least amount of people in the meeting,” Fox said.
What did the Lakers want to know?
“Just talked about my personality, but also about having a killer instinct,” Fox said. “That’s me. I’ve always been humble. But on the court, it’s an entirely different person.
“And Magic was saying that’s how he is.”
Yes, Magic’s mere presence made an impression.
“When he’s in a room, he lights up a room,” Fox said. “That’s someone I feel would be great to be a mentor.”
This year’s NBA Draft is widely expected to see a glut of point guards taken early. DraftExpress.com projects four point guards among the first eight picks: 1. Markelle Fultz, 2. Lonzo Ball, 5. De’Aaron Fox and 8. Dennis Smith.
When asked about the point guards, Fox said, “I feel like I’m the best.”
At the NBA Combine, TJ Leaf told reporters that he enjoyed a close friendship with fellow UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball.
This prompted a question about whether he has a pair of the Big Baller shoes promoted by Ball’s, uh, extroverted father, LaVar Ball.
“You know, I didn’t get a pair yet,” Leaf said. “Hopefully, Lonzo will send me a pair so I can try them out. The price is what it is. They’re going to do what they think is right.”
When asked if he’d paid $495 (the stated price for a pair of Big Ballers) for shoes, Leaf said, “I don’t have a comment on that.”
When asked about the strangest question asked of him by an NBA team representative at the Combine, Sindarius Thornwell said it involved traffic signals.
Someone with the Milwaukee Bucks asked: If you come to a light and the light is yellow, are you going to stop or keep going?
“I wasn’t sure,” Thornwell said.
He decided to straddle the fence in his response.
“I do both,” Thornwell said he told the Bucks. “I guess it depends on where I’m going.”
To referee John Higgins. He turned 42 on Thursday. … To Ron Mercer. He turned 41 on Thursday. … To Enes Kanter. He turned 25 on Saturday. … To Jamaal Magloire. He turns 39 on Sunday (today). … To Rob Lock. He turns 51 on Monday.