D.J. Stephens is a freak of nature

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
4:50
PM ET
The NBA draft combine and its various subsequent workouts don't mean a whole lot to the average college basketball fan, at least not at first glance. After all, now that players are forced to enter the draft in April and can't decide to come back to college after testing the draft waters, the things we might learn from, say, vertical leap measurements have no potential application to next season. Our time with these guys is over. Sad, I know.

Still, I love the combine measurements. Even when everything goes as expected -- Victor Oladipo is a pretty athletic guy, in case you were wondering -- it's cool to tack definitive, official numbers next to some of those abilities, numbers we have no real access to while the players are in college. Every now and then, combine and workout measurements can put a player's career in a whole new light.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Stephens
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe athleticism of former Memphis star D.J. Stephens has certainly caught the eye of NBA scouts.
For example: At the NBA draft combine in Chicago last week, the man with the highest no-step vertical jump in the entire player pool was ... Cody Zeller? True story, and that's not all: Zeller recorded the highest standing vertical of any player taller than 6-foot-9 in combine history. And his regular max vertical measured out at 37.5 inches, 19th highest at the combine.

The same Zeller who struggled against long, athletic defenders during his career, most notably in Indiana's Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse -- and against Temple's Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson in the foreshadowy second round, for that matter -- is the best two-footed big-man leaper in recent NBA history? Beyond winning a national title, there's not much more that Zeller could have done as a collegian. He was fantastic. And yet those measurements make you wonder if he couldn't have been dunking on defenders' heads far more frequently. It's weird, right?

The good news, of course, is that Zeller's testing -- like that of Miami point guard Shane Larkin, who jumped out of the gym at the combine -- is sure to help alleviate NBA GMs' concerns about athleticism. In Larkin's case, as the third-best point guard in the draft behind Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams, those numbers could mean a difference of millions of dollars.

And then there's D.J. Stephens. Like the crack about Oladipo above, we already knew Stephens was an insane leaper; you could have watched just about any Memphis game this past season and learned this fact. What we did not know is that Stephens is in possession of the highest vertical jumping ability of any player to enter the draft in over a decade.

On Thursday, at the Nets' pre-draft workout in Brooklyn, Stephens registered a 46.0-inch vertical jump. That's the highest of any player in DraftExpress' extensive database; it broke Kenny Gregory's 45.5-inch leap that had stood since 2001. I don't know what that will mean for Stephens' draft stock -- he has a long way to go on the ball skills front, particularly since he measured shorter than 6-foot-5 without shoes on -- but it does bode well for his future in the dunk contest. Maybe he can even work a rim-kiss into his repertoire.

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