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 but still was drafted No. 2 overall by the Seattle SuperSonics, isn’t discouraged by this recent trend.
In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, Durant said 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 an exclusive interview with ESPN at the Golden State Warriors‘ practice facility, said the combine was an ordeal that is still raw to the eight-time All-Star and 2014 MVP.
“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—. They were giggling with each other that I couldn’t lift 185 pounds, and I was like, ‘All right, keep laughing. Keep laughing.’ It was a funny thing, because I was the only one 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 have gathered in Chicago for the combine this week will experience the mental anguish that comes with testing poorly. Results are published. 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 a 45-pound 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 I could, then that s— 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—.”
Durant was selected by the 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 said. “I don’t try to do max on the bench press. There’s no point in that.”
When asked what advice he would 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 … 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.”
“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,” Durant added. “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 weightlifting 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 build.’ I always wanted to be a basketball player. I didn’t want to be a weightlifter. 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 still is 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-on-one and 5-on-5 and that’s how you really see who the best basketball players are. A lot of s— that don’t have to do with the game they try to put in there, but I understand. It’s the combine.”
Despite his shortcomings in the weight room, Durant has carved out a very nice NBA career. He’s a future Basketball Hall of Famer, and he will go down as one of the greatest, most versatile players ever to play this game.
Six-foot-9 with a thin, wiry frame, he always has been the perfect size and prototype to be a dominating figure on the basketball court. He might not have tested well at the combine, but he believed he was fully equipped to pass 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 skill set was a little different from everybody else and [they] couldn’t guard me. [They] still can’t.”