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NBA Draft: When Workouts Matter and When They Don't

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Private prospect workouts in non-competitive settings are undoubtedly amusing to watch, but how much do they really matter? That depends.

Workouts will not decide whether KAT goes 1 or 2, but should factor into where Devin Booker is selected.
Workouts will not decide whether KAT goes 1 or 2, but should factor into where Devin Booker is selected.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The current UK-related NBA Draft hysteria is primarily based on the ever-dubious non-competitive pre-Draft workout.

Yes, the workouts in which every prospect seems to have at least a .800 FG%.  We have been informed that Karl-Anthony Towns has solidified himself as the best prospect and that their respective workout performances have Willie Trill Cauley-Stein and Devin Booker "rocketing up teams' draft boards."

Really, KAT and WTC-S have determinedly occupied top 2 and top ~8 status since the college season concluded.  In reality, the boards being adjusted as a result of these workouts are those of Jonathan Givony (DraftExpress), Chad Ford, me (!), etc. and not of NBA teams.  I, myself, am a workout video junkie and I read all the workout-related stories, but I know that when it comes to how much their workouts matter, not every prospect is equal.  And for most, especially those at the top of the Draft, they don't matter much.

In firm top 10 NBA prospect context, workouts are simply not a setting in which a prospect stands to make a noteworthy jump or plunge on a team's board unless an injury occurs (poor former Razorback Michael Qualls) or is exposed.  So while we should all be exhilarated that KAT and WTC-S are destroying the workout circuit, don't believe the hype (and there we have the first Chuck D reference ever on ASoB).  Devin Booker, widely considered as an enigmatic fringe top 10 prospect, is a different story.  Bear with me.

First of all, NBA Combine and private workouts are analogous to NFL Combine and private workouts.  "Football in shorts" = "basketball without defense."  Roughly, there are just as many "workout warriors" who bomb when the whistle is actually blown as there are prospects with underwhelming, or simply unremarkable, workouts who go on to prosperous and protracted professional careers.

Secondly -- and this is where the NBA and NFL diverge -- if private workouts catalyze a blow up of a NBA franchise's top 10 Board, then that organization desperately needs to replace its current talent evaluation department. NBA teams spend just as much money, if not more, as NFL teams in scouting prospects.  The most glaring variance between the two is the size of the prospect pool -- NFL teams are scouting 500+ prospects, while NBA teams look at 100 or so, at most.

Also, whereas a NFL team's video library on a prospect might be comprised of maybe 300 plays from a season, a NBA team has 1,188 minutes worth of game tape from this past season on a surefire top 5 prospect like D'Angelo Russell, the former Ohio State combo guard.  For underclassmen, NBA scouts also have a prospect's high school tape available to them.

Finally, the breadth and depth of advanced stats and analytics that NBA teams have at their disposal, that will never breach the perimeters of team offices, are apparently staggering.  In other words, NBA teams' questions regarding an elite prospect are answered before workouts even begin, whereas NFL teams still have work to do when workout season commences.

Ultimately, the purpose of workouts with respect to most prospects, especially top 10 NBA prospects, is to firm up for a team what they already know.  Prospects with less complete all-around games or glaring deficiencies are those who feel the pressure to perform exceedingly well in workouts.

With respect to KAT, teams have most likely known for months that he is a league-ready two-way monster while Jahlil Okafor's defensive ceiling is limited.  Somewhat off-topic, and at the risk of being reductive, Okafor's only advantages over KAT are a thicker body, refined and already-NBA-level low-post offensive game and a more ostensibly instinctive ability to pass the ball out of the post.

Regarding the workout hype, though it's exciting to see KAT draining triples in workouts, he's not going to be drafted to roam the perimeter looking for a shot.  That would be a waste of his elite interior and mid-range offensive skills.  Hitting uncontested 3s in a workout is undoubtedly a saccharine testament to KAT's offensive versatility, but it's more like a "cherry on top" than a decision maker.

The disparity between their respective defensive prowesses is what makes me, and most others, prefer KAT over Okafor.  And we've known of that inequality since the early winter.  No workout should change that - if a team does prefer Okafor over KAT, it's a result of scouting game tape, not a workout.

Out of the three aforementioned prospects, the one whose pre-draft hype and workout coverage baffles me most is Willie Trill Cauley-Stein.  All of the sudden, he's an elite, top 10 prospect?  Most of the regional Draft guys with team sources have been touting WTC-S as a top-10 pick since the conclusion of UK's non-conference schedule, especially owing to the fact that he excelled at defending the opponent's best perimeter player.  Very rarely does the NBA Draft's best perimeter defender stand taller than 7', but the 2015 version does.  You can call me a homer, but WTC-S is the best defensive prospect since Nerlens Noel...who was the best defensive prospect since Anthony Davis.

From Shamus Clancy over at Liberty Ballers: "Cauley-Stein is everything a modern NBA big man should be on the defensive side of the ball. He possesses the ability to be a great rim protector who can hold down the paint and contest drives, while also doubling as possibly the best perimeter defender in the draft even at 7'1". The latter skill allows him to break up and lock down opponents on pick and roll sets, as integral a part of today's game as the three-point shot and the dunk."

Exactly.  Lost in all of the NCAA Tournament-related Calipari hand-wringing, especially with respect to the Wisconsin loss, was WTC-S' extraordinary defensive performance in the Tournament.  Sam Dekker, arguably the hottest offensive commodity in the Tournament, scored at will on other ‘Cats, but not WTC-S.  Also, with the recent success of "offensive liability" prospects like DeAndre Jordan (set to get a max deal), Hassan Whiteside, and Nerlens Noel, we know that a supposedly "defense-only" prospect can be premier asset in the league.

Devin Booker, a fringe top 10 prospect as previously mentioned, on the other hand, has used his private workouts to address, with a resounding, "are you not entertained?," the glaring questions that teams previously puzzled over about him - speed and athleticism.  Perhaps you, like me, have watched Booker's windmill from the Nuggets workout approximately 1,147 times.

Due to Booker's basic college role as a sharpshooter, his ability to display and maximize his talents in those two areas were reduced and they are two measurables that can certainly be observed adequately in a non-competitive workout setting. Most importantly, speed and athleticism will be required of Booker to succeed in the NBA, whereas a long-range shot is not vital to the aforementioned former ‘Cat big men's NBA success.

Also, teams most likely allocated less scouting resources to Booker during the season than top-shelf talents like KAT, Okafor, D'Angelo Russell, among others. A workout for a prospect like Booker helps to complete the outlook for a more mysterious prospect like him.

So as we close in on just a week until the Draft, enjoy the workout videos that will keep coming (check this, this, and this out) and continue to read into the drama and ensuing speculation that surrounds cancelled workouts, but keep the above in mind when deciding how much workouts actually matter.