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Zeller, Larkin impress with athleticism

5/18/2013
Cody Zeller may have boosted his draft stock with his combine performance Friday. Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Although the height and weight measurements from the NBA combine are interesting and relevant, NBA GMs and scouts also spend a lot of time dissecting the results of the NBA athletic testing.

Everyone takes these with a grain of salt. Every year, the prospect labeled the "best athlete in the draft" does not turn into the best player in the draft. However, teams do take these reports seriously. This is the first objective testing we have on these guys, and sometimes our eyes do deceive us.

What are the drills?

Players are asked to bench-press 185 pounds as many times as they can, test their vertical jump two ways (no step and maximum), and run several drills to measure speed and lateral quickness.

A whopping 10 players recorded a maximum vertical jump of 40 inches or higher.

Miami's Shane Larkin had the highest maximum vertical jump of anyone in the draft. His 44-inch vertical was the second-highest ever recorded at the camp (Kansas' Kenny Gregory did a 45.5-inch vertical in 2001).

Kansas' Ben McLemore (42 inches), Indiana's Victor Oladipo (42), Louisville's Peyton Siva (41.5), Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams (41), Murray State's Isaiah Canaan (40.5), NC State's C.J. Leslie (40.5), the D-League's Glen Rice Jr. (40.5), Memphis' Adonis Thomas (40.5) and Detroit's Ray McCallum (40) all jumped out of the gym.

Kansas' Jeff Withey (29), France's Rudy Gobert (29.5), Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk (29.5) and Florida's Erik Murphy (29.5) were the only four players whose jumps came in under 30 inches.

We typically don't make a big deal out of the standing vertical jump, but in the case of Indiana's Cody Zeller, we'll make an exception. Zeller's score (35.5) was the highest ever recorded by a player taller than 6-foot-9. Standing vertical jumps matter for big men, who typically don't get a running start before jumping in the paint.

In the lane agility testing, Leslie had the best score, finishing the drill in a blazing 10.19 seconds. That's an incredible score for a 6-9 forward. Three other players -- New Mexico's Tony Snell (10.36), Marquette's Vander Blue (10.4) and Siva (10.59) -- also finished with notably fast scores.

Once again, an Ohio State player came in last place. Last year, it was Jared Sullinger with a pretty pathetic 12.77-second score. This year Deshaun Thomas was even worse, at 12.94 seconds.

In the three-quarter-court sprints, Larkin led the way again with a 3.08-second run. Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Missouri's Phil Pressey finished second and third, respectively, at 3.12 and 3.13 seconds. Gonzaga's Olynyk finished last at 3.59 seconds.

You can check out every player's scores in this chart:

The top-ranked player in the draft, Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, did not participate in drills because of injuries. Neither did Maryland's Alex Len, UNLV's Anthony Bennett or San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin. But virtually every other top candidate in the draft did.

Of the players projected in the lottery, Zeller was the most impressive. He got a reputation this season as someone who struggled to play against long, athletic players. However, he excelled in every category Friday. He was explosive, quick and fast. He clearly showed some of that at Indiana with the way he ran the floor and at times showed explosion around the basket, but this result could only help him.

"It was a big day for Cody, I thought," one GM said. "I think we soured on him just a little too much. I still have questions and want to see him shooting the ball more. But this really helped us get intrigued again."

Oladipo and McLemore lived up to their reputations as great leapers. They also showed great speed in the sprints. However, Oladipo looked considerably quicker laterally -- which is really part of what separates him from McLemore as a defender (his motor is the other big factor).

Carter-Williams also had a very strong showing, with explosive leaping ability to go along with strong scores in the sprint and lane agility tests.

The rest of the players in the lottery tested better than we thought they would. C.J. McCollum had a great 38.5-inch max vertical, but he wasn't particularly quick on the lane agility drill, which happens to be a key indicator for guards. Trey Burke's 36.5-inch max vert wasn't too shabby either for a guard many deemed as just a so-so athlete. But his lane agility drill was a bit below par for guards, as well.

"Both Burke and McCollum are better athletes than they've been given credit for," one GM said. "Those lateral numbers concern me a little, but neither guy gets by people with speed or power. They're both clever guards who really understand angles. I think they'll be OK."

UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad (37-inch max vert) and Georgetown's Otto Porter (36-inch max vert) also tested better than expected.

For the lottery bigs, Duke's Mason Plumlee put up strong numbers (36.5-inch max vertical), as well.

The only two potential lottery picks who didn't test well were Olynyk and France's Rudy Gobert. Olynyk was a little bit of a surprise because he moves so well for a big man. Gobert is so long and tall that his lack of elite athleticism shouldn't really hurt him.

The three players outside of the lottery who really shined were Larkin, Leslie and Canaan.

Larkin was, arguably, the best athlete in the camp. He's been projected as a mid-first-round pick by us. Will this propel him into the late lottery? Can his athleticism make up for his lack of size?

"I was really intrigued," one GM said. "He really is a complete guard. He's one and a half inches shorter than Trey Burke, but other than that, I think he brings a lot of similar traits to the table. We love him."

Canaan is another smallish guard who might have made up for his lack of size with a great athleticism. Teams raved about him in the drills and the testing today.

Leslie will be the most interesting test case. He's clearly an elite athlete. He was a tweener all three seasons at NC State, and he's trying to transition to the 3 right now. Although he doesn't have the perimeter game to justify it on offense, he might have the quickness and size to guard NBA 3s in a Tayshaun Prince sort of way. If he can prove he's a willing defender, a team might take a flier on him somewhere in the first round.