The NBA Draft Combine is a conglomerate of the best NBA prospects and scouts, generating intriguing results and producing baseless hot takes among analysts. One of the most compelling aspects of the combine is the athletic portion, where players test their speed, quickness and perhaps most noteworthy, their leaping ability. This year, the maximum vertical jump saw nine players with at least a 40-inch vertical, a list with no major surprises—except for one player.
Pat Connaughton, best known as the scrappy, dependable player from Notre Dame, had a 44-inch (!) vertical. This number stuck out like a sore thumb for a multitude reasons: It was the fifth-highest max vert in DraftExpress’ database dating back to 1987, he’s hardly well known among casual fans and he’s white.
Connaughton finished third in DX’s Athletic Testing composite rankings, which assigns players points depending on where they graded out compared to other prospects. His gaudy athletic numbers have created a shockwave among draft geeks, and he was even one of the highest scorers from one of the scrimmage games, but let’s keep this in perspective. It’s safe to say Connaughton isn’t “deceptively athletic” any longer, but he’s also not the third best athlete in this draft. Still, he’s underrated and deserves to end up on an NBA team.
He was about as a steady as a four year player comes, playing at least 24.1 minutes per game each year and improving every season. Connaughton averaged 12.5 points this past year, making 92 three-pointers shooting and shooting 42.3 percent, both career highs.
Per Hoop-Math, 62.2 percent of his shots came from behind the arc, of which 95.7 percent were assisted. This bodes well for Connaughton at the next level, where he’ll have to find an off-the-bench role as a 3-and-D type player who doesn’t demand the ball. He was on a team that played at a fast pace and plugged him in as a stretch 4, which helped shooting numbers. He’ll likely need to transition to shooting guard in the NBA.
At 6’5”, he led Notre Dame with 7.4 rebounds per game and was the team’s most physical, active wing defender, averaging almost a block per game.
According to Sports-Reference, he was the only player in the nation to average at least 12.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.0 three-pointers this season. He has a versatile skillset that doesn’t require the ball to be in his hands for him to make plays.
Alongside running mate Jerian Grant, Connaughton led the Fighting Irish to an ACC Tournament title and an Elite Eight. His best games in that stretch came against North Carolina (20 points and four threes) in the ACC title game and Wichita State (16 points and 10 rebounds) in the Sweet 16. He struggled against the length of Kentucky in the Elite 8, shooting 3-10 for eight points, but he fought tooth and nail to bring the game down to the wire.
Connaughton is 22 and turns 23 in January, so his upside is limited, but in the second round, teams can afford to draft based on need over potential. I don’t think his game is too far off Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, who’s a projected lottery pick. Connaughton projects as a smaller version of DeMarre Carroll or Khris Middleton, two rugged defenders with a shooting touch to boot.
Connaughton will make an instant impact on whatever team he ends up on, and even if he goes undrafted, he’ll find his way into the league one way or another.