OAKLAND, Calif. — Times have changed in the NBA. Draft prospects are flexing their collective might, and with it, sitting out the combine.
Kevin Durant, who 10 years ago failed to bench press 185 pounds even once and was ranked last in camp in drills, was still drafted No. 2 overall by the Seattle SuperSonics. And he isn’t discouraged by this recent trend.
In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, Durant says he wished it had started before he embarked on his professional career.
“Stay your ass home, work out and get better on your own time,” Durant suggested of potential top prospects.
Durant, speaking Wednesday in exclusive interview with ESPN at the Warriors’ practice facility, said the combine was an ordeal that is still raw to the eight-time All-Star and 2014 MVP-winner.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Durant said, as he readjusted his body to get comfortable in his seat. “All the strength coaches were laughing at me and s–t. They were giggling with each other that I couldn’t lift 185 pounds and I was like, ‘Alright, keep laughing. Keep laughing.’ It was a funny thing because I was the only ne that couldn’t lift it and I was struggling to lift it. I was embarrassed at that point but I’m like, ‘Give me a basketball, please. Give me a ball.’ “
Some 2017 NBA draft hopefuls who’ve gathered in Chicago for the combine this week will experience the mental anguish that comes with testing poorly. Results are published and the ridicule follows. A decade ago, Durant also registered low marks in the vertical leap, agility drill and three-quarter court sprint.
Even at 19, he didn’t understand the objective of having players engage in bench pressing. Putting the basketball through the hoop was his specialty; not raising up a bar with two 45-pound and two 25-pound weight plates.
“I knew nobody in that draft could guard me one-on-one,” he said with the utmost confidence. “I knew that for sure. I knew that. And I knew that you don’t need to [bench press] to lift a basketball up. And I knew that this wasn’t football where that stuff matters. I knew as a basketball player, I had a lot of skill, more skill than anybody in the draft. And I knew that if I worked as hard as hard as I could, then that s–t wouldn’t matter at the end of the day. It still doesn’t matter. I was ranked the last person in camp, drills-wise. I was the worst player, and the first player didn’t get drafted. That tells you a lot about the significance of that s–t.”
Durant was selected by the Seattle Supersonics with the second overall pick. The Portland Trail Blazers took big man Greg Oden with the first pick. The small forward doesn’t believe his lack of weightlifting cost him being the top pick.
“I figured they knew who they were going to draft already,” he said. “But that says a lot as well. I was the No. 2 pick and I couldn’t lift 185 pounds. That shows you that basketball isn’t really that type of sport.”
Durant dismissed the relevance of whether he could lift 185 pounds now.
“I haven’t tried. I know I can lift 185 though now, but I don’t bench press,” Durant answered. “I don’t try to do max on the bench press. There’s no point in that.”
When asked what advice would he give to a potential lottery pick, he responded without hesitation, “Don’t go [to the combine].”
“Now [players aren’t attending] but back then, every player was there,” Durant said. “The first to the last pick was there. It was just a part of the process. But now, you’re getting players to where they realize their power and they’re not doing it, and more power to them, sh-t. They want to just work out. They don’t want to deal with that B.S. and I understand that. But back then, I wish I would have known the power I had or I probably wouldn’t have done it either.
“…If you’re a top-10 pick, or a first-round pick or whatever and you know you might be guaranteed, stay your ass home, work out and get better on your own time,” he suggests.
“It’s good for guys who are trying to fight their way into the first round, fight their way into the draft … go to play. But if you’re like a top pick and you know you’re going to be a top pick, just work out. Just work on your game and then they’ll see you in the individual workouts and they’ve been watching you all year, so your whole body of work is more important than just going there for a couple of days.”
Durant admitted that the negative weight lifting publicity got to him, but he refused to allow the situation alter how he went about training at his craft.
“I just stuck with what I did, man. My body type is not the one to get yoked up and cut up,” he said. “I knew that. My mom told me that too. I was feeling down about it because everybody needed something to say about me. So, my mom was like, ‘That’s not who you are. You’re never going to be Alonzo Mourning, that type of built.’ I always wanted to be a basketball player. I didn’t want to be a weight lifter. I knew how important your body was. I’m getting that now as an older player and I realize that, but it’s about flexibility with me because I’m never going to be strong.”
There are only a few combine evaluations Durant considers as valid measurements for player projection. He mentioned the vertical jump, as well as leaping off one foot and two-foot testing.
But, he’s still skeptical about the value of those drills.
“You could look at [vertical], but how can you use that in a basketball set?” he asked with a puzzled look on his face. “You can be the highest jumper but if you don’t use it in a basketball game, you don’t show your athleticism, you stay grounded all game, then it’s not really doing you any good…Play one-one and five-on-five and that’s how you really see who the best basketball players are. A lot of sh–t that don’t have to do with the game, they try to put in there but I understand. It’s the combine.”
Despite his pumping iron shortcomings, Durant has carved out a very nice NBA career. He’s a future Hall-of-Famer and will go down as one of the greatest, versatile players to ever play this game.
At 7 foot with a thin, wiry frame, he’s always been the perfect size and prototype to be a dominating figure on the basketball court. He may not have tested well at the combine, but he believed he was fully equipped to passing one of the tests that mattered the most: scoring at will.
“But, hey, like I said, I knew I was the most skilled player there,” Durant said. “I knew I was the best player in the draft. I knew my skillset was a little different from everybody else and [they] couldn’t guard me. [They] still can’t.”