Warning: This post might be controversial.
NBA players are weak. There I said it. Although, NBA players are often considered the best athletes on the planet I have come to the conclusion that NBA players lack full body relative strength. I came to this conclusion after I watched the NBA Pre-Draft Combine on TV.
You are probably wondering how I determined this. I’m going to give you a hint: I am not basing this upon their lackluster numbers in the max rep 185lb bench press test which every NBA player drafted into the league must complete (although their numbers are pretty embarrassing). Before the 2007 draft Kevin Durant, the future rookie of the year, completed a measly three reps.
This might surprise you, but the strength-based metric that I am using to determine the relative strength of the future NBA players in the 2010 NBA Pre-Draft Combine was the standing vertical leap. The standing vertical leap, in my opinion, is one of the best tests of absolute relative strength and force production (along with the clean, backsquat and deadlift). The standing vertical leap is an excellent determinant of absolute strength because it measures how much force an athlete can produce against the floor in order to eventually explode off the ground as high as possible.
In the 2010 NBA Pre-draft combine the average standing vertical was about 28 inches. To put this in perspective, the last time I measured my standing vertical it was 28 inches (that was about 6 weeks ago and I am confident that I have gained an inch or two since then). So basically, I have a better standing vertical than the average participant in the 2010 NBA Pre-draft combine and my vertical is not very impressive. If I were to say this out of context, I would sound like a crazy person, but in reality it is true.
Many of the linemen in the NFL combine, all of whom weigh more than 300 pounds jumped higher in the standing vertical, than did the average NBA prospect. For example John Wall (6’4” 195lbs), who will be the first pick in the NBA Draft later this summer jumped 28 inches in his standing vertical test and Bruce Campbell (6’6’’ 315lbs), on offensive tackle, now a member of the Oakland Raiders, jumped 32 inches high in his standing vertical test a few months ago in the NFL combine.
How is it possible that a gargantuan 315lb offensive lineman could out jump a wiry NBA combo guard, who happened to be the best player in college basketball last year? What does all of this mean?
It means that Bruce Campbell is strong and John Wall is not. It means that NFL players lift weights regularly (with a plan and a goal in mind) and NBA players do not. It means that NFL players are strong and NBA players are weak!
To me the standing vertical leap test determines how much intelligent training an athlete has done. All variations of the deadlift, squat, clean, and snatch, include a closing and opening of the hip. It is no mystery why these lifts translate so well into the standing vertical (hint: jumping = a closing and opening of the hip).
All of this being said I do not want to downplay the immense athleticism that the average NBA player possesses. The average NBA player is 6’7’’, runs the floor like a gazelle and can change directions extremely quickly. And many NBA players can jump, but normally they can only truly elevate from a running start. When a player has a running start it minimizes the strength element of the jump and turns it into a more technical movement and since basketball players jump around all day they are constantly reinforcing good jumping technique from a running start (this is only true for the basketball players who jump the right way naturally—these athletes are often called natural leapers).
Although most NBA players are great athletes, and many of them can jump very high from a running start, they have shown year in and year out in the NBA Pre-Draft Combine that they lack absolute strength through their poor performance in the standing vertical jump.