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NBA Draft Combine: Athletic Testing Winners and Losers

The on-court portion of the 2015 NBA Draft Combine began Thursday, which included live scrimmages and athletic testing of all prospects in attendance. The athletic portion measures lane agility, shuttle run, three-quarter court sprint, standing vertical leap and max vertical leap. These measurements help scouts get an idea of how prospects will manage when going up against some of the best athletes they’ll see on a regular basis in the NBA. Which prospects benefited the most, and least, from their results?

Winners

3. Marcus Thornton
6-3 180 PG/SG William & Mary Senior

Thornton is undersized for a scoring guard, and the thought was he’d have to improve his playmaking skills in order to make it in the league as a point guard. Well, his athleticism testing might prove otherwise.

Thornton had the fastest three-quarter court sprint at 3.02 seconds, and was tied for 12th in lane agility at 10.96 seconds. Thornton tied for third in the standing vertical jump at 34.5 inches, and tied for second in max vertical jump at 43.0 inches.

These numbers show that the separation he was so easily able to get at William & Mary was no joke, and he should be able to get his own shot at the NBA level as well. At nearly 6-3 with a 6-7.75 wingspan, Thornton has enough length to guard either backcourt position defensively, and the athleticism to keep up as well. These numbers will help Thornton, even if he doesn’t get drafted on draft night.

2. Larry Nance
6-9 225 PF/SF Wyoming Senior

Another mid-major who outperformed his expectations athletically, Nance is a smart, energetic power forward who surprised me with his results and might have pushed himself into a second-round pick.

Nance tied for the highest max vertical among all frontcourt players participating in testing at 37.5 inches. Nance was also the second-quickest three-quarter court sprinter out of all power forwards at 3.25 seconds, only five-tenths of a second behind Branden Dawson.

On top of that, he was the quickest frontcourt player, finishing the lane agility drill in 10.89 seconds. These numbers bode well for Nance, who still needs time to fill out his frame to compete at the NBA level, as he’s only 225 pounds at this stage. He shows the versatility and awareness of an NBA player, but must continue to work on his game to make an impact in the league.

1. Pat Connaughton
6-5 215 SG Notre Dame Senior

Perhaps most shouldn’t be quite as surprised as I was when Pat Connaughton registered the second-highest max vertical in NBA Combine history at 44.0 inches. A two-sport athlete at Notre Dame, during interviews, Connaughton acknowledged that he would be an even better player had he focused solely on basketball.

With a 44-inch vertical, it’s easy to see how he might translate seamlessly in the space-oriented NBA, as he shot 42.3 percent from three as a senior at Notre Dame. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds, showing the toughness needed to play power forward in college.

It’ll be important for Connaughton to show he can defend NBA-level guards while being able to handle the ball as a secondary ball handler, as he’ll be playing on the perimeter purely in the NBA. Connaughton was off my radar as a second-round pick before this, but he has himself squarely in the mix after an impressive athletic showing at the combine.

Losers

3. Terran Petteway
6-6 210 SG Nebraska Junior

As a Michigan State graduate, I’ll forever remember watching Terran Petteway single-handedly destroy my Michigan State Spartans on ridiculous three-point shots. Well, how will Petteway get the same type of separation at the NBA level with his lack of athletic ability?

Petteway was easily the least athletic wing participating in the athletic portion of the combine, with only a 25-inch no-step vertical and 31-inch max vertical. He also was tied with swingmen Kelly Oubre and Michael Frazier for the worst three-quarter court sprint at 3.32 seconds. His 6-11 wingspan will help getting shots off, but these are legitimate concerns for the Cornhusker in regards to his prospects at the next level.

Coming out of Nebraska, Petteway already had concerns in terms of shot selection and efficiency. Petteway will need to prove he can get his shot off against more athletic wings to give him a chance at the next level. I had him as a potential late first-round pick, but it’s easy to see him slide into the early or mid-second after today’s results.

2. Quinn Cook
6-2 180 PG Duke Senior

Quinn Cook had a mediocre showing athletically, which makes it hard to ever see him as more than a third-string point guard in the NBA. Cook was never a great athlete, but left a lot to be desired with his quickness and speed.

Cook finished bottom three in the lane agility testing with a time of 11.28 seconds, and the third-slowest point guard in three-quarter court sprint testing at 3.38 seconds. On top of those, Cook was also tied for second-worst in both no-step vertical jump (24.5 inches) and the max vertical jump. (31.0 inches)

The numbers don’t bode well for his chance to stick in the league and decreases the potential a team uses their second-round pick on him. Undersized point guards need to stick out athletically to make it in the league, and Cook’s numbers weren’t quite good enough.

1. Branden Dawson
6-7 230 PF/SF Michigan State Senior

In previewing prospects who might win the athletic portion of the combine, I said Dawson was the most athletic specimen on the list. Well, Dawson disappointed greatly with his athletic testing numbers at the combine, with a non-step vertical of only 28.5 inches and max vertical of 34.5 inches. Dawson also had the slowest agility time at 12.37 seconds.

These numbers were incredibly surprising after seeing Dawson routinely stick the best athletes in college the past four years. Maybe he just had a bad day, but Dawson’s chance at being drafted took a major hit. He was supposed to sell himself as an uber-athletic defensive and rebounding beast, but instead left a lot to be desired.

You just don’t see many power forwards with his lack of perimeter ability and touch make it in the NBA, and his athletic results won’t keep NBA teams interested in his potential at the next level. Dawson’s draft stock took a major hit, as he most likely goes undrafted after a disappointing performance on Thursday.

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