NBA AM: Inside an NBA Pre-Draft Workout

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As an NBA prospect, life can get pretty hectic this time of year. Players are traveling from city to city to showcase their game to executives and coaches in an attempt to prove they are worthy of being drafted.

For some of the top prospects in any given draft, they may only workout for a handful of teams. Since these players are a virtual lock to be drafted within the first few picks, working out for teams further down the draft board isn’t very common.

But for the rest of the prospects in the draft, the objective is to impress as many teams as possible in order to improve their draft stock. We’ve seen in recent years many players perform exceptionally well in private workouts and ultimately boost their draft position.

So, how many workouts do some prospects participate in? Some players that are off of the radar will take as many as they can get. While there are only 60 chairs to be filled on draft night, teams are still looking to fill out Summer League rosters. An easy way for a player to get his foot in the door with a team is to earn a Summer League invitation if they don’t get drafted.

During the actual workout, players are put to the test. They are often matched up in a 3-on-3 setting against players at similar positions. Most of the workouts have the same concepts, but the drills may vary depending on the team. Players are often asked to put up 100 shots at the end of the workout as well.

Utah has been mentioned most often as a team that has the most difficult workout due to the high altitude. Teams can get a real good idea how a player’s conditioning is based on how well they perform in high-altitude cities. One player recounted one specific drill in a workout:

“You start off on offense, coming down full-court,” the player said. “You get a bucket, sprint down and then get a stop on defense and repeat it a few times.”

The traveling portion of a workout can be perhaps the worst part of the entire process for guys. While the on-court workout is obviously the most physically draining aspect of the day, a player becomes very familiar with airports and hotels. Flying from city to city is nearly identical to what players experience during a season.

“Most of the time, I’m getting in the city at midnight and having to wake up at 7:30 or so,” former Louisiana Tech forward Erik McCree told Basketball Insiders. “I try to get rest on the plane and eat well. That’s the biggest thing, too. Your conditioning definitely gets tested in these workouts. You have to remember that it’s still a workout; you’re going to workout. After all of that traveling, I think the key is drinking a lot of water and getting a lot of rest.”

For a player like McCree, working out in front of as many teams as possible is his biggest goal and he knows all too much about how grueling the process can be. Once he finishes working out for teams, he’ll have completed 14 total workouts since beginning the process.

Working out on consecutive days isn’t uncommon, either. In fact, it becomes the norm for some players. A few weeks ago, McCree traveled from his training facility at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas to New York for a workout with the Knicks. Following his workout with the Knicks, he jumped on a plane and flew across the country again to meet with the Kings in Sacramento the next day. At one point, McCree had five straight workouts on consecutive days.

While all players are thankful to be involved in the process, the weeks leading up the draft can be quite taxing. Most prospects are living out of a suitcase and are spending a majority of their time on the road. For the most part, they’re basically just sleeping and resting in the hotels.

It requires a lot of discipline from a player to be a part of this process. As players travel from workout to workout, teams want to know how they handle themselves during sometimes stressful situations. 

“This whole process is more mental than physical,” former Iowa guard Peter Jok told Basketball Insiders. “All of the traveling and all that is stressful, but if you have the right mindset, you’ll be straight. Some people get injured; it’s a long process. They might get a little tweak here and there. But at the end of the day, it’s all mental. I just try to stay positive all the time.

“A lot of teams put you in positions where they want to see how you react in uncomfortable positions. They want to see how you react to back-to-back workouts. If you’re tired, will you push yourself? They know you’ve been through a lot of workouts and everybody is tired. They just want to see how your mental is.”

Players that begin the draft process projected to be selected late in the first round or in the second round have perhaps the most to gain in these workouts. It’s often said that teams don’t get too high or too low off of one workout, but it’s still an opportunity for a prospect to impress a team.

Following the workout, players will meet with teams and have a chance to talk to them. While most teams have a good idea who a player is when they meet them for an interview, they still want a chance to talk to them and get a better understanding of how they act in certain situations. As some general managers will say, the meeting is similar to any basic job interview.

For some players, it can be tough to gauge how a team really feels about them. The days leading up to the draft can be full of rumors and misinformation that is leaked to potentially show how a specific team is thinking or isn’t thinking.

“They are just trying to get to know me and how I am off of the court,” former Illinois guard Malcolm Hill told Basketball Insiders. “I always appreciate a compliment. I’m sure there are a lot of guys that do well in a workout, I know I’m not the only one. I’ll take the compliment how it is and don’t think too much of it and move on.”

Over the next few days, many prospects will begin to wrap up their team workouts with the draft approaching next week. By this point, teams have a good idea which players they’ll be targeting as they’ll begin to finalize their draft boards.

It may seem like a long and grueling process, but most prospects love the challenge and wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, they are traveling the country on someone else’s dime and it’ll be something they likely remember for a long time to come.

Most of them just hope that it’s the beginning of a long and successful career in the NBA.

Basketball Insiders will also be catching up with several prospects on Wednesday to see what draft day will be like and how they’ll be spending the day.