Why AJ Hammons Withdrew from the NBA Draft Combine

Why AJ Hammons Withdrew from the NBA Draft Combine

The great Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com reported today that our own AJ Hammons is foregoing the NBA combine, and instead participating in targeted individual workouts for select coaching staffs.

There are a couple of ways to read this. The cynical reaction is that AJ knows he doesn’t stack up well next to more athletic NBA prospects, and is scared to face competition and doesn’t have the mental fortitude to last in the NBA an--*frying pan to the head*.

Sorry, wandered down Hot Take Avenue there for a second.

The most likely explanation is that AJ has been picked apart by most good NBA scouts for the better part of five years (since his senior year at Oak Hill). The combine is a poking-and-prodding fest hosted by team personnel who get paid to scrutinize everything about a prospect, from his hand size and wingspan to vertical leap and the weird stuff measured during the medical tests.

Access to medical information, as outlined by Givony, is one of the few points of leverage players and their agents have over teams. It’s fairly common for either the highest-scrutinized top prospects (like Ben Simmons this year) to skip this process and leave the decision making process purely based on the on-court abilities displayed during high school, college, and international competition. For Hammons, though, there are a couple other factors.

Everyone under the sun who scouts college basketball has wondered about AJ Hammons’ dedication to basketball, drive towards improvement, and general love of the game. For those paying attention, most of those doubts have been dispelled by his play since January 2015, and he’s a much more promising prospect now than he was after his sophomore year.

Any slip up during the combine, though, would bring back distant doubts of AJ’s standing as a borderline first round/early second round prospect. The bottom line: why give teams more ammunition to pick your game apart?

They have an endless amount of film highlighting Hammons’ undeniable abilities as a defensive anchor, low post threat, and floor-spacing big. He’s thrived in pick-and-roll situations (see the Michigan State regular season game), and could be a perfect immediate-impact center for the modern game. After AJ’s senior year, it wouldn’t make sense to reverse those strides in a single weekend. (This is also a criticism of how some NBA teams think, where a poor combine performance could overpower years of data on a prospect.)

But, to me, the most important (and, on AJ’s part, the smartest) part of this decision is the ability to control information.

The biggest component for a prospect’s success in the NBA is organization fit. For someone like Hammons, who undoubtedly has professional-level talent but isn’t a “transcendent” talent, getting into a favorable developmental system where the coaching staff empowers young players is crucial.

Think about JaJuan Johnson’s short NBA career – he got drafted by the Celtics, who were in the midst of their contending Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce years. JJ going to KG…perfect! Well…until you consider that head coach Doc Rivers is notorious for not trusting rookies, doesn’t have an interest in developing talent, and will never sacrifice veterans getting minutes for a clueless rookie. They were in win-now mode, and JJ needed a strong developmental staff to help his transition.

By targeting specific teams, AJ and his advisors recognize that landing in a wrong situation could torpedo any chances at a long NBA career.

I’ll have a more in-depth look at AJ in the NBA closer to the draft. But, for those of you who don’t insanely obsess over stuff like this, I’ll just give some quick thoughts on potential landing spots. I’ve seen him go anywhere between the 26th and 49th picks in Mock Drafts, so let’s sort those landing spots into Great Fit, Meh Fit, Rather Not, and Please No categories (and their picks in that range).

Great Fit: Phoenix (28, 34), Golden State (30), Boston (31, 35, 45), Milwaukee (36, 38), Orlando (41, 47), Utah (42), Atlanta (44), Detroit (49).

Meh Fit: Toronto (27), San Antonio (29), LA Lakers (32).

Rather Not: Houston (37, 43), New Orleans (39, 40), Dallas (46), Chicago (48).

Please No: Philadelphia (26), LA Clippers (33).

I’ll go further into detail later, but this is a starting point for some conversations. Feel free to call me an idiot in the comments, xoxox.

Withdrawing from the combine isn’t necessarily a sign that AJ has a “guarantee” from a team – first round or otherwise. It just means Hammons and his camp understand that getting drafted by the right team is the easiest way to maximize AJ’s chances for success. It’s a great move by Hammons, and another indication that he’s getting great advice through this insane process.

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