The NBA Draft is less than a month away (June 26), and between now and then, teams will invite prospects to their facilities for individual workouts, a process the Celtics will begin in the coming week.
But Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Joel Embiid won’t be visiting Waltham to run through drills, and be weighed, measured, and medically examined by the Celtics in what’s considered to be a final step in the evaluation process before the draft.
“They have no use for a team drafting sixth,” said Danny Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations.
Parker, from Duke, and Wiggins and Embiid, both from Kansas, are the draft’s top three prospects, all but guaranteed to be selected 1-2-3 in some order.
As such, league sources say those players are expected to work out only for Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, the teams that are drafting first, second, and third.
Australian guard Dante Exum, a strong candidate to be selected fourth overall, appears to have a similar strategy, as he, too, won’t be working out for the Celtics.
It’s not new for top prospects, often acting on the advice of their agents, to decline an individual workout request from a team that isn’t in position to draft them.
‘They have no use for a team drafting sixth.’
“It’s just getting to be more and more,” Ainge said. “It used to be the top guy, or two, or three. It’s just evolved into more.”
And it has made the evaluation process more difficult, he added.
“There’s just a lot of players that don’t want to work out and don’t need to work out,” Ainge said. “That’s why it’s so important to watch them before the workout process starts, because you never know when someone is going to quit working out for anybody, because they have a home.”
Overall, Ainge said, he doesn’t believe he’s able to learn much from individual workouts.
“You get a little bit, not much,” he said. “But every little bit is helpful.”
It’s still an important time to examine prospects, because so much can change between the end of the college season and early July.
“Sometimes their bodies can change and they can just work on certain things that you might not have seen in college,” Ainge said.
“So I think the workouts are important — not crucial, but I do think it’s harder to get everyone in for workouts, much harder than it used to be.”
Altering the process?
This growing trend can be frustrating for teams on the fringe of drafting elite prospects, as it robs them of a chance to take a closer look at a player they might be able to select if, say, the player somehow falls in the draft or the team trades up to take him.
“Right, but from their perspective, if they work out for a team drafting sixth, then they have to work out for a team drafting fifth and the team drafting fourth, and the team drafting seventh,” Ainge said. “So it’s a juggling act for them, too.
“There’s a lot of politics going on. It’s not an easy formula. It’s tough on players, tough on agents, and tough on teams to get the proper evaluation.”
Because of all that, Ainge would like to see change.
“I think that we need to reevaluate it, which I think [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver and the people under Adam Silver will do,” Ainge said. “We’re always trying to figure out a way as a league to make the workout process better for all the teams and all the players, too. Let’s make it better for everybody.”
There have been discussions before, Ainge said, about the potential for regional workouts.
“Maybe by divisions, you have workouts, so players only have to go to six sort of group workouts,” he said. “All the teams are invited to all six, I guess, but you would just sort of have six different group workouts.”
Such an idea may be considered in the immediate future, especially with a new commissioner in charge of the league.
But for now, many teams are at the mercy of agents, who dictate when and where their clients will work out.
In some instances, agents may not want their clients to attend certain workouts not only because of the team’s draft position, but because other players attending that same workout might present a bad matchup if the two go head-to-head in on-court drills. There’s always the chance that it could hurt their draft stock.
An NBA agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, explained in general why potential draftees might decline workout requests.
“There’s strategy involved,” the agent said. “I think sometimes agents get a bad rap for it, because every team wants to see every player as much as possible — and why wouldn’t they?
“But again, there’s a small window of time. Players can’t work out every single day for everybody. So there is really a protect-the-player element to it.
“And it’s not that agents are just trying to hide players or duck from competition. A lot of it is trying to minimize the physical and mental stress for guys, too.”
With regards to top prospects working out for only a select number of teams, the agent said, “It makes perfect sense. ‘Hey, they’re not going to go there, so why waste their time?’
“I think that’s what every agent is trying to ascertain: ‘Hey, this is where my guy is going, so why go work out elsewhere?’ ’’
Constantly in motion
Ainge said it has become more important to evaluate prospects in person early on, as that opportunity might not exist later — because prospects will skip the Chicago draft combine or turn down teams’ workout requests, or both.
“In-season evaluation is critical,” he said.
Which is why Ainge and his personnel staff constantly travel to scout prospects when those prospects are in season.
The Celtics still expect to host several players for individual workouts, including lottery-caliber prospects such as Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, Kentucky forward Julius Randle, Indiana forward Noah Vonleh, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, Michigan State guard Gary Harris, Michigan guard Nik Stauskas, and Creighton forward Doug McDermott.
All of those players are potential options at the No. 6 pick, and the Celtics will invite many more that could be options at the No. 17 pick, which the Celtics hold after their deal with Brooklyn last summer.
The players the Celtics plan to work out who could be available at No. 17 include North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren, UCLA guard/forward Kyle Anderson, NBA Development League guard P.J. Hairston, Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels, and Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early.
“We have some workouts scheduled,” said Ainge, “but we need to remain flexible throughout the month of June to try to coordinate with agents and players because they change all the time, unfortunately.”
One reason Ainge likes to bring in players is simply to take measurements, just to make sure there aren’t any discrepancies with measurements taken elsewhere.
Another reason: More players are finished with school by this point than there were when the Chicago combine was held earlier this month.
“Sometimes players are in Chicago and they just finished graduation or they finished their finals, and sometimes other guys are coming into Chicago after leaving school early and working out for four weeks and they’re in the best shape of their life,” Ainge said.
“Chicago is no tell-all formula, either. Even guys that we interviewed [there], some of them were still in school and trying to finish up their degree, some of them are trying to finish up a semester. Some of them are doing classes online and working out every day. There’s a big difference.”
And as he said, every difference matters, every little bit helps.