HELPING THEIR CAUSE

The 2018 NFL Combine is here for your viewing pleasure

Will Baker Mayfield help or hurt his stock? The scouting combine interviews may be the key. Brett Deering/Getty Images

It’s time again for the annual gathering of prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. I’m as excited as anyone to watch the best young athletes at the NFL’s equivalent to field day. I wonder who will take home the participation ribbon. Maybe if they run faster and jump higher than everyone else they will automatically be an All-Pro at the next level. And then again, maybe not.

For the scouts, coaches, and executives in attendance, the more important aspect of the week will be the interviews and medical evaluations. It’s what the event is about anyway; the other stuff is just measurables to see if the player is on par with his peers. I know the lead up to the draft used to be filled with a player’s 40 time and bench press reps as if it would determine his success at the next level, but I’m glad to see that notion starting to tail off in recent years. Players are still going out there to impress, but as long as they stay near the top range of their position it will be their game film and pre-draft interviews that sets their draft order.

Hopefully 2018 will see less and less of the draft gurus making predictions based on 40 times and vertical jumps. It’s something I’ve never liked. Track skills and football skills are very different things. One is about how well the players perform with no pads after practicing for a month and the other one is about his instinct and reaction time when the play is live. It’s the draft day wizards who put too much stock in combine measurables that sometimes over predict where a player should go in the pecking order.

Not to say that there isn’t some relevance to it though. The reality is that it is much easier for these prospects to hurt their draft stock than it is for them to help it. If their results are on the low end of their group without a noticeable reason, some questions might be raised. If they give a terrible interview or fail the medical portion they can really see a precipitous drop in draft rounds. But being faster by a tenth of a second or stronger by one more rep on the bench press doesn’t weigh too much into the overall evaluation like the players want it to.

Quarterbacks are especially susceptible to combine hype. The phrase “he can make all the throws” gets bandied about like it’s what will be on the back of his jersey. It’s the hardest position to project at the professional level and yet the most important. Now quarterbacks are starting to really assert themselves because of it. Recent years have seen some of the top prospects at the position decide not to throw the ball in Indianapolis, opting only for the medical and team interview portions. Good for them. If they want to showcase their skills then it should be on their terms. Most choose to do so at their school’s pro day where they throw to players they are familiar with and get coaching tips from the ones who got them where they are.

The combine isn’t going away and it is still important in the grand scheme of things. Teams and players can find out if there is a concerning medical issue that might hinder them as a pro. Teams also have the chance to see how a player fares in an interview under the pressure of the week. Most of these guys will leave town in the same draft order they were in when they arrived. Front offices don’t put a ton of stock in combine performances like they might have 15 or 20 years ago. They’ve learned lessons from previous years when a player’s combine performance may have stood out but he was still a bust on Sunday.

If you’re interested in watching your favorite college players give it their best then you can watch the NFL Network starting Tuesday, Feb  27 through Monday, March  5.  You might see something special that makes you excited for a player. There might be someone you want your team to draft and you want to scout him for yourself. Maybe you’re just into watching everything football and this is no exception. I will just acknowledge that the combine is going on and watch for any highlights that the internet thinks I should watch. Then I will wait for the draft and try to enjoy the pick my team makes.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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