As the NBA’s postseason continues and the crowning of a champion in the Finals draws nearer, the rest of the league’s attention is set on June 20, the date of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Last Tuesday in Chicago, the results of the draft lottery determined the first-round order of the top selections in the field. Over the next three days, attention shifted to the annual NBA Draft Combine.
You didn’t see Zion Williamson’s or RJ Barrett risk injury or hurt their chances by participating. Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver, Coby White and Cam Reddish all spoke to the media and met with teams, but they didn’t actually do anything physical. You rarely see any of those premier prospects do so.
The purpose of the NBA Combine is to help boost the draft stock of professional hopefuls that aren’t pegged at the top of their class. It’s the place where some late first-rounders turn into mid-first-rounders. Where once-thought-of undrafted players move up into potential draftee status through athletic testing and live scrimmages in front of executives, agents and coaches.
Every year, there’s always a “winner” at the NBA Combine, and sometimes there are multiple that benefit come draft time. We’ll find that out in about a month.
Whoever that may be, though, will have to thank Brett Brungardt.
Boasting over 25 years of experience—notably as a former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Washington and with the Dallas Mavericks—Brungardt is responsible for the co-founding of Basic Athletic Measurement (BAM), a standardized athletic testing organization that has essentially been the straw that stirs the drink at the NBA Combine since the company’s inception in 2008.
Brungardt hatched the idea of BAM based on conversations with head coaches over his time as a strength and conditioning assistant. He’d field questions about 40-yard sprint times and vertical jump measurements, and then would refer to spreadsheets with recorded year-by-year results to answer them.
Unfortunately, almost all the time, Brungardt’s numbers didn’t match up with the staff’s findings—so he brainstormed.
“In the back of my mind I kept thinking there’s gotta be a way to have reliable and valid information in a linear component that’s looking at athletes through time that we can trust,” Brungardt told Basketball Insiders at Quest Multisport in Chicago. “We were the original fake news, to be quite honest.
“On the back of that, we decided to come up with a standardized way of assessing athletes and looking at what we call our performance parameters, and then put that in the equation of making sure we’re creating a well-balanced, healthy athlete through some…they really are quite simple tests, but what we’ve added to make it more reliable is the technology. So we’re looking at a lot of data points. Not necessarily the end results become important, but it’s all the significant data points between the start and finish.”
Brungardt put in the work to travel across the world, scouring through New Zealand and Australia to find the perfect technology that would best help drive his brainchild. Doing his due diligence, he agreed to partner with Fusion Sport, a global leader in human performance software.
And so, along with Martin Haase, his co-founder who had an extensive background in software and statistics to help on the organizing end of things, Brungardt launched BAM.
For the past 11 years, BAM has taken a combination of advanced technological equipment and data collection to record times and scores—labeled BAMScores—for standardized tests specific to certain drills.
“It’s like an SAT for younger people,” Brungardt said.
At the NBA Combine, BAM administers five different tests, all of which are incorporated into BAMScore:
– Pro Three-Quarter Court Sprint: Determines acceleration, maximum speed and speed endurance.
– Lane Agility: Tests movement patterns in all four directions around the lane and measures the ability to make quick changes of direction while moving at speed.
– Reaction Shuttle: Evaluates ability to show how quick and effective decisions are made and actions initiated. The brief interval of time it takes to react to an external stimulus.
– Vertical Jump: Demonstrates ability to exert a maximal force in as short a time as possible vertical displacement.
– Approach Jump: Athlete starts within 15 feet of the Vertec. It is a running start vertical jump. Measurement is similar to vertical jump, but also includes the athlete’s ability to coordinate and incorporate strength and power with reach.
The process of executing such tests is quite fascinating. According to an interview Brungardt did with Access Athletes, the participants register online ahead of the events and are given an identification tag with their Fusion ID technology. They are then re-registered with their tags verified through video. During the actual tests, an electronic wristband is worn to monitor player movement.
And just in case of the rarity where the software doesn’t reflect the correct outcome, Brungardt utilizes three backups (a video, handheld PDA and a CPU backing up the system).
Once an athlete finishes a test –or is done with the full amount of testing—the timing system downloads the results into BAM’s database where all of the information is stored. From there, the times and BAMScore reports can be shared to whoever requests them.
“For basketball, it’s the biggest standardized database in the world because we’ve been doing it for such a long time and standardized this process with the technology,” Brungardt said. “There are databases out there with hand time, which is highly unreliable, and mixtures of such, but all of ours are an apple-to-apple comparison.”
Physically and athletically speaking, these tests tell us everything we need to know. As for measuring greatness at the professional level, that’s the tough part.
“To use this as a talent identification process, [no]. There’s a lot of things that go on in basketball,” Brungardt said. “Larry Bird probably would not have been a great combine tester. But if you’re looking at a specific role for a player, someone that’s gonna fill a spot, that’s gonna play a role because there’s only one basketball out there, then you may have certain metrics that you deem are meaningful.
“We acquire the data. The brains in the NBA then put their secret sauce together from this data to see what they want to utilize out of that component. There’s great athletes and they’re fun to watch. It’s fun to watch the movement patterns, see how they do. Because it’s becoming more ingrained in the culture of basketball, but it’s still not like other sports where these parameters are instilled in junior high age and kids are performing them. So some of this is new to these athletes.”
Testing well is just one piece of the puzzle. Although it’s not his area of expertise, Brungardt has a general idea of how prospective talent is evaluated by basketball scouts and front office executives.
“There’s a performance box. And if they’re outside that box, probably no matter what their skill set is, it may be very difficult for them to perform at this level because the guys are so athletic,” Brungardt said. “You could be the greatest shooter in the world, but if you can’t create the space or get your shot off fast enough, then they’re gonna get to you and they’re gonna change your world.
“So you have to be athletic enough to create space to move so then you also then can’t be a certain liability. So there’s an athletic box they look at, and then they start to move down to skill pattern. That’s still the priority.”
BAM isn’t just limited to basketball, by the way. The organization does testing in 17 sports in total, with BAMScores compiled for each so that the numbers can be compared across.
For example, Jordan Bone earned the highest BAMScore at the 2019 NBA Combine in Chicago with a total of 2401 points. Put that next to Troy Apke’s impressive showing at the 2018 NFL Combine (unofficial BAMScore of 2379—they can’t authenticate the measures) and you can infer that both are extremely athletic people.
Bone and Apke’s BAMScores fall into the “professional” range of the organization’s scale. Contrasting with the U.S. Men’s National Cricket Team tryouts in April 2018, their player’s top BAMScore was 1957, a figure that ranks in the “varsity” category, three levels below the range those two fell into.
“Some sports have certain parameters that they’re better at because of adaptations and skills that go on in that sport than others,” Brungardt said. “But it doesn’t mean that other sports can’t look at those and become better at those performance parameters.”
Brungardt’s past experiences in basketball coaching played a significant part in making his vision come to life. With Brett’s innovation and the assistance of Haase, BAM has become the standard bearer of accurate athletic assessment.
“We established: ‘These tests are helpful for this sport,’” Brungardt said “Stopwatches just are not the most reliable way in the world to do it. When you start looking at more transcription and every time you touch data humanly, things happen that make it inaccurate.
“For me, it’s about physical development. I wanted to test an athlete, then I trained them and then I wanted to re-test them in a reliable fashion to see if what I was doing in the weight room was improving him on those components. And those were the goals.”
And while Brungardt is proud of the presence BAM has, he understands that upgrading should always be on their mind.
“Anytime you have more data on a test, it becomes more valid. It’s testing when it purports to test and that’s what validity is,” Brungardt said. “The technology is better. It always gets better.
“It’s about right now, we feel it’s really good. We’re always looking to improve things, but there’s always the human component because you have proctors. There’s lots of things we try to make as consistent as possible, but here what we’re doing, everything that we touch, pretty good!”