Four days until the NBA Draft.
And that’s if you count Thursday as a day before, instead of the day of.
Yes, for us here at the HQ, we can feel the excitement start to build as Toronto takes its first off-season steps towards addressing some of the numerous holes in its line-up.
And believe us, after spending the past week or so talking to people at the Air Canada Center and taking in workouts, we realized just how far the Raptors still have to go.
So first off, is there any immediate help on the way from this year’s free agent camp? Or better yet, who could be the next Jamario Moon?
Unfortunately from what we saw and the people we spoke with, there are no Jamarios here this year.
However that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some standout performances. After talking with the Raptors’ Director of Player Personnel Jim Kelly and several others, and having seen a nice chunk of the action ourselves, here are our top 5 from the camp.
1. Rod Benson. Benson was the name that came up the most in discussions about "stand-outs." He’s a great rebounder, has a knack for the intangibles of the game, and as Jim Kelly mentioned in the post-workout scrum with us, his mid-range game was a lot better than advertised. So do the Raps have a Vegas spot saved for him? Unfortunately not as the Phoenix Suns have already scooped him up. Benson had a great interview with us after the camp and conveyed that if he didn’t crack an NBA roster this year, he already had some great opportunities lined up overseas. To hear the complete interview with Rod, click here.
2. Tamar Slay. Slay wasn’t the lights out shooter today that he was yesterday but still did some nice things on the court. Kelly informed us that he played more of a facilitator role today than that of a scorer but by all accounts he seemed to have a strong camp. It seems that Slay has some options next year as well so there’s no guarantee he’ll be in Vegas with Toronto either.
3. Hassan Adams. We were informed that Adams was the standout player in today’s action and it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t present for the entire camp. Adams of course was a second round pick by the New Jersey Nets just two years ago and at one point had taken Eddie House’s spot on their roster. However injuries put him on the shelf and he wasn’t able to stick in Jersey. He’s undersized, and not the gunner that House is, but like Eddie, he could be a nice sparkplug off the bench for a team. He’s an excellent slasher and athlete as well despite his size. Of all the players in camp, Adams is the player I most expect to see on another team’s training camp roster. We didn’t get a chance to chat with him but hopefully he’ll be on the Vegas roster for the Dinos.
4. John Lucas Jr./Pooh Jeter. We put these two together as neither really stood out more than the other and both possess traits that could be useful for Toronto.
Jeter as usual was the voice of the camp. He’s constantly encouraging the troops, calling out plays and urging his teammates to communicate on D. He’s not a lights out shooter, and is probably 5-8 without shoes, but is a legit pass-first point guard who can direct a team. He’s also quite quick, and a real asset in the locker room.
Lucas is a better shooter than Jeter, and also quite fast end to end, but not quite the floor general. He too is probably about 5-8 and did a solid job all camp orchestrating his squad’s offence.
With the TJ Ford trade talk heating up by the day, it’s obvious that the Raptors at some point will need some help behind Jose Calderon. Neither of these players are probably suited as number 2 options…but as third-stringers who can fill in when needed and give 110 per cent, Toronto could do much worse. I expect to see both in Vegas, hopefully with the Raptors’ squad.
5. Darryl Watkins. Watkins was a player we didn’t get to touch on much because like some of the others at this camp, he was a late show. However he impressed with his play in the paint when he did get on the court and is simply a beast of a presence down low. At 6-10 and about 240 pounds, he can create space and actually has some nice offensive moves for a player his size. The knock on Watkins at Syracuse was that he was an underachiever considering his considerable size and build. However in this camp he was attacking the rim with gusto and moving well without the ball. In many ways Watkins reminds me of the Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins. Both had the size to move players around in the paint but neither honed into that skill-set for a few years. However Watkins already has a better offensive game and it would be nice to see him get a Summer League invite from Toronto.
So based on what we saw the past few days, we don’t foresee the second-coming of Jamario Moon. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing as really, Toronto needs to fill out a few spots at the end of the bench, not find more quasi-starters.
One player who didn’t show up until today, and who I was hoping would impress, was former Duke and Rutgers guard Dahntay Jones. Jones is an athletic marvel and cut like a knife but seems to still be struggling to find a role in the league. This is something he conveyed to us in an interview after the camp concluded and he’s another player I hope Toronto gets a second look at in summer league. Summer league of course is right around the corner as well with the Vegas run expected to kick off July 11th. No word yet on who will be getting invites from the Raptors but at the least this camp gives Bryan Colangelo and his staff a number of players to consider.
Moving on from the Free Agent Camp, as we reported here yesterday, it sounds like the workouts aren’t over yet for Toronto. In fact, the Raptors are reportedly bringing back JJ Hickson tomorrow in an interesting decision, and are possibly even going to run a last-ditch workout now on Wednesday before the draft.
The Hickson recall has Howland and I more sure than ever that a big-man is going to be the choice at 17. Brandon Rush, a player who is on our wish list, seems more and more likely to be gone before the Raptors pick. In addition, after talking with Jonathan Givony of Draftexpress today (we’ll be posting our annual "15 Questions" with him on Tuesday), it sounds like another HQ fave Alexis Ajinca could be gone too. That leaves the likes of Speights, Lopez, Greene, Hibbert, CDR and Koufos in Toronto’s area.
I don’t think Toronto has Greene, Speights or CDR in their list of final options presently and I think Koufos, while talented, is too similar to Bargnani.
So that leaves Lopez and Hibbert.
That’s why another look at JJ Hickson, makes a good deal of sense. Hickson has more upside than either so right now Bryan Colangelo and co. may be essentially saying:
"well, we don’t love Lopez or Hibbert, but at 17, at least they could give us some heady contribution. But maybe we take another look at that Hickson kid…he could be really good down the road."
And so once again it comes down to "do you draft on talent or on need?"
Right now it looks like the Raptors are still trying to decide.
As a final note, we’ve had some technical issues with the file format of the interviews we’ve recently recorded for RaptorsDraftHQ.com. We’ll hopefully have these fixed later tonight however and at that point we’ll post the audio files of Sunday’s chats with Rod Benson, Dahntay Jones and Jim Kelly.