The NBA's Chicago predraft combine kicks off on Wednesday, but unfortunately it just became far less interesting:
Yahoo Sources: Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker will not attend the NBA's Pre-Draft combine this week in Chicago. http://t.co/85bI9Nfj4B— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 11, 2014
Andrew Wiggins has informed the NBA that he has withdrawn from the draft combine in Chicago this week, league source tells Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 12, 2014
Once it was learned that Embiid and Parker wouldn't go to draft combine, it was probably inevitable Wiggins' reps would pull him too.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 12, 2014
Though it's become standard for lottery picks to skip the drills portion of the combine, even top prospects have typically taken part in the combine's measurements and athletic testing--assuming they're healthy.
For that reason Embiid's absence was perhaps predictable. Wojnarowski reports that Embiid has only recently begun shooting and has yet to be cleared for contact after suffering a much-discussed stress fracture in his back in March, meaning his presence in Chicago would have been something of a gamble. Instead, agents Arn Tellem and B.J. Armstrong will skip Chicago and allow only the teams they like to put Embiid's back under the microscope, setting up some potentially tricky scenarios on draft night. What if only two or three teams are allowed to bring Embiid in for a physical...and they pass on him? Will teams whose doctors haven't been allowed to see Embiid be afraid to pick him? Barring a major red flag it's unlikely he would slip outside the top four, but no GM wants to be pressed into what amounts to a high-stakes game of chicken with less than perfect information.
Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker had much less to lose by heading to Chicago this week, but Tellem's decision to pull Parker along with Embiid seemed to have scared off Wiggins' agent Billy Duffy as well. Parker certainly could have benefited from measuring out well (what if he came in at 6'9" instead of 6'8"?) and putting up good athletic testing numbers, but Tellem was perhaps too spooked by the possibility of an underwhelming performance hurting his client's chances of nipping Wiggins for the top spot on June 26. Not that Parker will be able to hide forever--he'll presumably have to do all the same testing with the teams he visits for private workouts, but that data is far less likely to go public or become available to any other teams.
On the flip side, the testing in Chicago was seemingly designed to make an athlete like Wiggins look good, but that's also presumably part of the reason why he won't be showing up. No one is questioning Wiggins' ability to run and jump, and putting up a monster vertical leap in Chicago won't do anything to allay more pressing concerns over Wiggins' ball-handling or shot-creating abilities. So whether you want to call Duffy and Tellem afraid or simply prudent, the bottom line is that they don't seem keen on exposing their clients to any more scrutiny than absolutely necessary.
The absence of the presumed top three has obvious downside for teams hoping to nab a top-three pick; more information about the top prospects is always good, especially when it comes to injuries such as Embiid's. Instead, the Bucks and everyone else will have to settle for seeing guys like Dante Exum and Julius Randle up close this week, while hoping that the May 20 lottery leaves them in a desirable enough position to bring Wiggins, Parker and Embiid in for private workouts later. All of which reiterates why it's important to get lucky on lottery night. While it's difficult to imagine any prospect turning down a chance to work out for the team with the first overall pick, the politics and posturing of the predraft process may leave the teams picking fourth or even third out in the cold. That's particularly problematic for a prospect with perceived injury risks such as Embiid, and it's hardly helpful for evaluating Parker and Wiggins either.
And while it's too early to be getting paranoid quite yet, you can already imagine a worst-case scenario for Milwaukee: what if the Bucks finish third or fourth in the lottery, Wiggins and Parker go first and second, and the Bucks haven't been able to work out Embiid and/or Exum? It's not unreasonable to think that their agents might try to steer them clear of potential positional overlaps with Larry Sanders and Brandon Knight, and Exum has already spoken of his preference for playing with Kobe in L.A. or his buddy Victor Oladipo as well. I don't think any of those factors should influence whether the Bucks actually pick either guy, but that doesn't mean agents will view things the same way.
So while no one would suggest that the Bucks pass on a great player just because his agent prefers a bigger market, the reality is that players and their agents aren't completely powerless to influence where they land. That's especially true for guys who might be long-term injury concerns like Embiid, and private workouts will be similarly important for a relatively unknown quantity such as Exum. Consider it just one more wrinkle in one what will likely be a fascinating next six weeks--and more reason to hope the ping-pong balls bounce favorably for the Bucks on May 20.