NBA Combine Bench Press: Predicts All-Stars?

Nate Boyle
nba combine bench press

Many non-statistical factors go into player evaluations and draft selection, and most of those take precedence over the NBA combine bench press numbers. On the other hand, there is a lot of statistical information available to teams that they tend to ignore because it’s “not what they saw on film.”

In any case, it seems as if there is some value in having players submit to an evaluation process like the NBA combine; if nothing else, teams learn something new about the players. And process-oriented teams gain some insight into a player’s athleticism and mindset.

And according to some recent studies, the NBA Draft Combine (a series of athletic and skills tests for draft-eligible players) is a useful tool for predicting who will be good at playing basketball. What is unique about the NBA from its NFL counterpart are the bench press (max reps at 185 pounds vs. 225 pounds) and basketball applicable speed drill times, and of course, shooting.

This research may help to provide a more detailed understanding of what goes into selecting future NBA players. They can also help to identify potential areas of improvement for the Combine, with possible modifications for future years potentially including (but not limited to) increased testing of quickness and agility, in addition to physical measurements.

NBA Combine bench press on players future performance

According to our first analysis, anthropometrics accounts for most of the variability in NBA players’ defensive performance. It’s a terrible predictor of offensive performance, though.

Longer arms are a predictor of future defensive performance. These findings are consistent with other data we’ve seen on the relative importance of wingspan vs. height and body mass to overall athleticism.

The bigger surprise was that while length-size is strongly associated with defensive performance in the NBA, upper body strength is related to elite defensive performance. Giving additional credibility to the NBA combine bench press numbers.

Unfortunately, the outlier record of 27 reps by Jason Keep does not ensure an all NBA defensive future. Keep may have shattered a backboard during his college career, but he went undrafted and bounced around the professional leagues.

Maybe not a draft prospects fault?

This study found that basketball skills may be more critical to playing time in mid-major males than athletic ability. An admittedly small sample set, but perhaps further empowering the “game film” arguments.

Or they are discouraging to the college basketball game as a draft rich environment if great athletes aren’t being taught basketball skills. And even more, confounding to the scouting process because a team would want to find the next Ja Morant at Murray State first.

Room for draft workout improvement

The authors of this paper assert that power-related attributes during basketball are a complicated process. There are many tests out there that have been proposed to assess power, but few have been validated in basketball players.

And they present a series of fitness tests that are more specific to basketball game movements: 5- and 10-m linear sprints, modified agility T-test, change-of-direction deficit (CODD), lateral bound, Sargent jump, one-step jump, and isometric mid-thigh pull test.

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