Finding Zach Edey’s NBA fit, front office moves and more: Draft Combine notes

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CHICAGO — Zach Edey showed off his jump shot at the draft combine this week. It was a nonexistent part of his game during his dominant college career at Purdue but life changes when a draft prospect gets to the NBA.

Edey was one of the most interesting players at the combine this year, a curiosity that will continue as the NBA Draft approaches. He is a physical force, a 7-foot-4, 299-pound center who won back-to-back player of the year awards. But the college game has diverged from how the NBA plays in recent years. College puts a premium on back-to-the-basket bigs as those players are growing irrelevant in the pros.

Edey is currently projected as a mid-first round pick, but in a draft with little consensus, he could slide up or down based on how teams feel about him.

They must figure out how to forecast him into the NBA game. Edey measured in at 7-foot-3.75 inches without shoes, two inches taller than Connecticut center and projected lottery pick Donovan Clingan. His 9-foot-7 standing reach tied him with Clingan. Finally, his 7-foot-10.75 wingspan was four inches longer than Clingan.

(Obscure testing observation: Edey measured a half-inch taller this year than at last year’s combine and his wingspan increased by a quarter of an inch, but his standing reach decreased by a half-inch.)

The league has put a premium on speed and movement across positions and centers have gotten lighter as a result. This season only five players who weighed 280-plus pounds banked 700-plus minutes. But those five are among the league’s best players, including Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić, showing it’s possible to still play well at that size. Only 30 players who weighed 250 pounds or more were on the court for at least 700 minutes; there were 45 players during the 2018-19 season and 61 in the 2013-14 season.

Edey believes his best way to the NBA is by focusing on what makes him unique.

He is a mountain to climb on a defense. Edey was in the 90th percentile among all draft prospects in block percentage, according to CBB Analytics, and in the 83rd percentile in blocks plus steals.

“I think it just comes with kind of realizing who I am,” he said. “I’m never going to be the wiry seven-foot guy who can — like Kevin Durant, that is never going to be me, guys like that. I’m a 7-foot-4, 300-pound guy. I’m built to be in the paint, to carve out space to protect my area. And that’s what I’m gonna keep doing. I think there’s a lot of people in the NBA that do stuff like that. (Jonas) Valančiūnas, (Ivica) Zubac, Steven Adams; guys who had a lot of success in the NBA being those paint presences. I’m going to stick to who I am and I kind of know who I am.”

Edey rarely played outside the post in college. He took just two 3s in four seasons at Purdue and took just 18 shots outside of the paint last season. Only three of those were jumpers from further than 15 feet, and he missed them all.

He tried to impress on NBA teams that he can shoot, even if he didn’t shoot at Purdue. He hit 60 percent of his shots off the dribble during a shooting drill, which was more than Kyle Filipowski and Ron Holland II. He finished the shuttle run with a faster time than Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard.

While he will try to conform to the NBA as best as he can, Edey knows that any team that takes him will do it because they value what he brings to the court.

“A team would be drafting me for who I am,” he said. “I think I can get there but right now they’re not drafting me for, like, pick-and-pop shoot 3s. Right now they’re drafting me to get in the paint, get rebounds, protect the paint. Obviously you saw in my shooting drills I can shoot. I can do stuff like that if you ask me to.

“But it all just comes down to what the team asks me to do at the end of the day.”

No testing drill gets more attention at the combine than the vertical leap. It’s also the one that might invite the most shenanigans.

Now, this isn’t an accusation about anyone at this year’s combine and no one is saying there was any tomfoolery this week. But among basketball officials, there’s a well-known way to try to hack the vert jump that seems interesting to note.

A player’s vertical is tested by first measuring their standing reach. That sets a baseline, and the height a player reaches on their vert is based off that reach.

But one way to try to grab a few more inches is to short arm the standing reach, which sets the baseline lower and would make the vert jump pop. It’s a commonly known tactic among both team officials and agents. Another way to try to add an inch or two, one scout pointed out, might be showing up lighter to the combine, which could help the player jump higher since he’s trying to carry less weight.

That doesn’t mean it always works and fools the NBA. Teams have a good feel for the standard standing reaches for a player based on their height, and if someone’s reach comes up a little short based on that then the vert might get a little fishy. Teams also do their own individual testing when they bring a prospect in for a visit to their own facility.

There is some downside to this, too. While the vertical might be the more eye-raising stat, a player’s standing reach could be more important. A player is more likely to have to reach as high as they can on a shot contest or rebound than they are to have the opportunity to jump as high as they can.

The Washington Wizards have made some changes to their front office this spring. They brought in Michael Hartman to run their strategy and analytics group, according to league sources, and there are more hires expected this offseason as the organization continues to shift under new team president Michael Winger and general manager Will Dawkins. Hartman had previously been the senior director of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans. … The Brooklyn Nets have added Justin Bokmeyer to their front office as their new director of basketball operations, according to league sources. Bokmeyer had been the general manager of the MLS NEXT, the league’s development program, and worked in international basketball ops for the NBA.

(Photo of Zach Edey: Kamil Krzaczynski / NBAE via Getty Images)

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