Pre-Draft Workout #4 Insider Recap - RaptorsHQ Talks to Alabi, Whiteside and Stephenson

Could Alabi be the player the Raptors are targetting if they grab a second draft pick?

RaptorsHQ talks to Hassan Whiteside, Solomon Alabi and Lance Stephenson while recapping yesterday's workout and media session.

First off, apologies for the extremely late post this morning.  We had some technical difficulties with the site so I've only now been able to post the recap for yesterday's workout session.

Second, woah...tomorrow represents exactly a week to go before the NBA Draft!

Guess I should probably look into booking a hotel and flight to NYC eh?

Yes, late last night the HQ got confirmation from the NBA's head office that we will for the second consecutive year, be credentialed for the draft.  Exciting news for sure, I just wish we could have been given a little more of a heads up as a trip to New York is never cheap as is, forget trying to book seven days before hand.

On the flip side, the draft this year is right in the middle of G20 madness so perhaps any cost associated with NYC will seem cheap in comparison to living downtown and having to fight traffic, barricades and the odd protester or two!  G20 could put a serious hurt on draft preparations so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Raptors try and wrap up all workouts by the end of this week.  Yesterday represented another piece to the puzzle, and tomorrow it sounds like the team will try to bring in the last of their remaining options at 13.


From my perspective, Toronto is sitting in a situation where there are about five guys they'd love to see available at that 13th spot.  If a player like Aldrich, Henry, Bradley, Udoh or Patterson is there, they'll snatch them up.  However it's conceivable that all five are gone, and if that's the case, then options like Paul George, Damion James and Eric Bledsoe, all of whom could be in for tomorrow's workout, would be on the table.

Ideally, I think Colangelo and co will do backflips, as would I, if the following scenario occured:

The Raptors see one of their top five fall to them at 13, and they still manage to grab a second first-round pick or early second-rounder, to grab another prospect.

In this vein, I could see Toronto grabbing Aldrich at the 13, then going smaller with their second pick, either taking a player like Bledsoe or a wing like Ebanks.

Conversely, if Avery Bradley falls to them at 13, then filling another need by taking a player like Stanley Robinson, Larry Sanders or Solomon Alabi later on makes sense.

Alabi is a very interesting player in fact.

We haven't even considered him as an option over the course of last year but seeing him in person yesterday, you realize why he could truly make an impact at the next level.

The guy simply gets after it at both ends of the court, and is a lot more solid offensively than perhaps he was able to show at Florida State.  I asked him about this and he noted that while he was injured at points during the season, he made sure to work on parts of his game that didn't require jumping, such as face-up moves, bank-shots, etc.

He truly wants to be a dominant all-around big man.

Oh...and it doesn't hurt that he's about 7-1 with a ridiculous wingspan.

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Of the four players in for yesterday's session, Alabi was the most intriguing for sure and he and Hassan Whiteside put on a good show.  Both are about the same height however Whiteside is even longer than Alabi and not as strong or developed physically.  This was apparent on a few of the two-on-two possessions where Alabi was able to establish position easily and finish with authority.

That's not to say you can't see why Whiteside is one of the most tantalizing prospects in the draft.  At one point Alabi tried to cram it on him and Whiteside quickly recovered, meeting the former Seminole at the rim.  While it ended up being a foul, it's this shot-blocking potential that have many GM's taking a long, hard look at Hassan.

In fact, Hassan to me was the most surprising player on the court yesterday.  His face-up game was solid, he shot the ball quite well, something that I didn't see much of at Marshall, and personality-wise, he was the complete opposite of the way folks like Chad Ford and Draftexpress.com had described him!

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Up until this point he had been painted as a bit of a problem-child, a player who was irrationally cocky and indifferent in interviews, and someone who probably didn't love the game.

Instead, he was extremely jovial yesterday, even going so far as making faces at Solomon Alabi from behind the media, trying to make Alabi bust up laughing.

You can see from the clip at Raptors.com just how personable he was and the following is the full transcript of the media scrum:

RaptorsHQ:  Good workout today?

Hassan Whiteside:  Yeah. (Looking around as the rest of the media moves in on him.)  Oh wow, I feel special, everyone wants to talk to me!

HW:  I think I did pretty good, just really showing them that I could shoot and handle the ball, and that I'm a better offensive player than they think.

RHQ:  Ok, what sort of things do you think you could bring to a team like the Raptors?

HW:  Just a defensive presence...they've got a lot of scorers, I could add some scoring and rebounding and defence (from my position.)  Just mostly I think they really need defence.

RHQ: Talk a little about your last season and your decision to jump into the league.  At what point did you say I'm ready to take the next step?

HW:  Probably when the coaches left, and I really wanted to help my Mom out by coming out so...

RHQ:  What sort of feedback have you heard from the coaches and GM's, people like that, so far?

HW:  People have been saying I've been pretty good, that I can be an impact player in the league if I work hard.

RHQ:  What sort of ways have they said you could come in and really make that impact?

HW:  Um, really with my length and once I get size on, the set of skills I've got, would just really improve any team I'd go to.

RHQ:  Have they talked to you about sort of bulking up?

HW:  Yeeeaaah...

RHQ:  ...that's something I heard quite a bit in regards to your stock.

HW:  (Flexing).  Yeeeeah...get my guns on camera, get them a little bigger (laughs.)

RHQ:  What have you been doing this off-season in terms of training?  Besides the work-outs of course.

HW:  I'm working out with Frank, and Bob Hill, out in San Francisco and really getting my footwork with Hakeem Olajuwon.

RHQ:  Oh you have been working with Hakeem?

HW:  Yeah.

RHQ:  Nice, how did that come about?

HW:  Really my agent grew up with him, so they grew up together.

Holly MacKenzie, The Score:  Was that kind of surreal, you're working with Hakeem on footwork?

HW:  Yeah, because that's always been one of my favourite players, him and KG, so it's crazy.  He IS as good as advertised (laughs) and at his age he still can't be guarded.

RHQ:  Talk about some of the workouts you guys do.

HW:  Just footwork, just basically footwork, he's showing me moves, different moves, that most players and coaches don't even know about.

Ryan Wolstat, Toronto Sun:  Do you have the "Dream Shake" down?

HW:  (Laughs)  Yeah, he's shown me how to set it up, establish both pivots...

RHQ:  Contrast that to playing at Marshall and the level of coaching you got there.  Obviously you had some great coaches but this is another level obviously working with Hakeem.  Did you get any specialized "big man time" when you were there?

HW:  Yeah, it was one-on-one for a week so I just basically got more of an offensive set down low, my back to the basket...I've always been more of a face-up guy.

RHQ:  One thing I've sort of heard in terms of the "draft talk," is that you haven't been the most enthusiastic person.  What do you have to say about those sort of rumours and stuff?

HW:  Man, that's crazy to me!!  I've been playing this game man since I've been five so I think, me reaching my dream?  It would be CRAZY not to be happy about it.

It was pretty hard to come away from the interview not having a much more positive take on Whiteside, even if he's not someone I want Toronto to draft come June 24th. The fact that he's been working so hard this off-season, his time with Hakeem, his surprising face-up game, perhaps his change in media persona since early in the draft process...all of these things bode well for his future.

On the flip side, we have Lance Stephenson.

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Lance was extremely aggressive in the workout and you can see why he gets Tyreke Evans comparisons.  He's not nearly as chiseled, but he's got similar size and passing instincts, and loves to attack the rim.

However he was a bit over the top defensively during the drills we saw.  He fouled quite a bit biting on Dominique Jones' pump fakes, and at times tried to go for the big steal or block instead of simply playing with his feet.

The media did a scrum with him as well as you can see on Raptors.com, however once again, I did most of the talking:

RaptorsHQ:  How'd it go out there today?

Lance Stephenson:  Aaah, I think it went pretty good.  I felt like this was for conditioning so I felt like I had fun doing it, and i just want to keep working hard.

RHQ:  Have you worked out against any of these guys before?

LS:  Yeah, I worked out with Hassan and Dominique Jones.  This is my first time with (Alabi.)

RHQ:  Ok.  And so far, how many workouts have you done?

LS:  This is my ninth one...

RHQ:  (Laughs) Wow...

LS:  I'm just trying to hold it in, there's a lot of up and down stuff so I'm just trying to get myself in great condition and keep going hard.

RHQ:  What have you been hearing about your stock and that sort of thing from coaches and GM's?

LS:  I'm really not worried about that.  I'm just trying to work hard, trying to show everybody that I'm a competitive player.

RHQ:  What about your decision to leave Cincinnati?  Just talk to us a little bit about that and the thought process behind heading to the NBA as opposed to returning for another year.

LS:  Oh Cincinnati was a great place.  I loved the coaching staff, I loved the players that were there and I felt like it was a family there.  I enjoyed Cincinnati and had a good time there.


RHQ:  But why did you say to yourself, "ok I'm ready to make the jump?"

LS:  I felt that i was physically and mentally ready and I just tried to get myself in great condition so I could show everybody I was working hard.

RHQ:  Who's a player you'd say you model your game after or look to in the NBA?

LS:  Aaaah, I love Dwyane Wade.  He's a great defensive player and he's got hops, and he's shown that he's a leader on the court and I look up to that.  I want to be a leader on the court and show everybody that I'm very competitive.

RHQ:  What about this Raptor team?  You look at the team, do you say, you know, you've got some qualities that this team obviously needs; especially in terms of being able to attack the basket, things like that that you've always done well, I think you're still the highest scoring player in New York State high school history...

LS:  Oh yeah, Toronto is a great team, I know a lot of players on the team...

RHQ:  ...which guys do you know?

LS:  I know DeRozan, I played with him in AAU, so...I know a lot other guys on the team, I know who Sonny is, and grew up playing with them so, if I come here, I just want to be a leader on the court and fit in great.

RHQ:  Thanks man, good luck.

 

It's extremely hard to get a read on Stephenson's stock.  He's had some major issues in the past off-the-court, and is not the most thought-provoking prospect I've ever spoken to, but you have to wonder if he's in fact a bit underrated now.  After all, ever since he challenged OJ Mayo to a game of one-on-one at an ABCD camp, he was viewed as the saviour of New York basketball so he's been dealing with constant pressure.  "Born Ready's" game has been put through the meat-grinder since middle school and he was hardly a great fit in Cincinnati's offence last year.  However considering his one-on-one abilities, I wonder if with the right team he couldn't be a steal.

I asked Raptors Assistant GM Masai Ujiri about him and the comparisons to Tyreke Evans:

We've heard that comparison - I think he takes it to the rack in that kind of way, so yes, that's a very interesting compare.  Tyreke is pretty good now, (laughs) that's a pretty good player, but yeah he (Lance) has those physical abilities where he takes it to the basket and finishes strong.  His shooting from outside is still so-so but he's getting better.

The final player of the foursome yesterday was Dominique Jones.

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He was the only workout participant I didn't get a chance to speak with but he was certainly the most polished of the group.  The kid just knows how to score and did so in a variety of ways against both Stephenson and the two big men.  He's in that tweener Rodney Stuckey-Marcus Thornton mould for sure as he's a physical presence despite below-average shooting guard height.  He too could be a steal for a club as an offensive sparkplug off the bench.

Outside of the workouts themselves, we got a chance to see some currentish Raptors in action.

Sonny Weems, Demar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Joey Dorsey began their workouts after the draft session was complete, and it was good to see the now "four amigos" hamming it up a bit.

All looked good in terms of conditioning however DeMar DeRozan has taken the most obvious steps forward in terms of his physical form.  He's apparently up to 215 pounds now and has obviously been working quite hard to get bigger and stronger, both very encouraging things for Raptors' fans.

And leading them in some of the drills?

None other than Jarrett Jack who flew up to Toronto to get some work in of his own.

We got to chat with him before the draft session and he made it clear that he's had no trade demand talks with Bryan Colangelo.  To that point he noted:

"I'm up here on my own merit, coming up here to work out (with) Sonny and DeMar and Amir and Joey Dorsey.  If I wanted a trade, I doubt I'd be flying up here to work out!"

He's talked to Bryan too about the trade rumours too and I now find it hard to believe that Jack will be the one shipped off anywhere unless the team really can not find any takers for Jose when all is said and done.

Finally, Jack's comments to us made me think that Chris Bosh perhaps isn't so far gone either.

He's been talking quite a bit with Jarrett this off-season apparently and I got the feeling that if BC can pull off a few miracles in the next few weeks, then perhaps we might still see the return of CB4.

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