Another day, another round of pre-draft workouts for the Toronto Raptors. The HQ breaks down yesterday's workout and talks to Gani Lawal, and one of their faves, Devin Ebanks.
Gani Lawal, Samardo Samuels, Latavious Williams, Ben Uzoh and Michael Roll joined Devin Ebanks in the gym, hoping to not only catch the Raptors collective eye, but also cement themselves as NBA players if not now, then perhaps down the road.
This applies most possibly to Williams, a very interesting prospect who is a pioneer of sorts in this draft process. Williams turned down a lucrative offer to play in China because it was too far from his Mom, and instead, went straight from High School to the NBA's D-League. At an athletic 6-8, 190 pounds, he's far from a polished product but did show that he could be a player to be reckoned with down the road. Talking to him after the workouts it's obvious he's still a kid, but that the D League grind (hardly a luxurious league) has perhaps prepared him better for the NBA in some ways than most college or Euro stars. After all, Latavious was playing experienced pros and hungry rookies on a nightly basis last year.
For me however, there were really only two players from this group that I had interest in; Lawal and Ebanks.
As soon as the workout concluded, which unfortunately we got to see very little of again, I made a b-line for them.
Here was my talk with Lawal:
RHQ: How’d the workout go today?
Gani Lawal: Cool, I thought it went well.
RHQ: You were here last year right, they brought you in...
GL: ...no, I didn’t, I was supposed to come in...
RHQ: ....ok, that’s what it was. I thought I remembered seeing that you were coming in, I couldn’t remember if you actually did or not.
RHQ: So, talk about the process so far, how many teams have you worked out with?
GL: This is my fourth one, Chicago, Indiana, Minnesota, here...just trying to show who am I and have fun with it!
RHQ: Talk about your final season at Georgia Tech this past year, I think there were some expectations because of the roster and talent you guys had, did you feel that the team under-achieved?
GL: Naah, I don’t feel we under achieved, we had a good year, we did some great things...would I have liked to go further? - Of course. Individually, I was proud of my effort, I tried to play hard and just be a leader for the guys.
RHQ: What sort of skills would you say you bring to the table for an NBA team?
GL: Aaah, my athleticism, my energy, the way I run the floor, rebounding, those type of things you know, if they put me in a game right now, that’s what I’d do.
RHQ: So would you say you’re more ready than many prospects in terms of being able to step in right away, because of those attributes you mentioned, rebounding etc...
GL: Yeah. I think I’d be a great addition to any team. One, I think I could work with anybody and not be a problem to the team. Second, I’d be an energy guy in whatever role they wanted. I’d be a professional guy, I’d work hard all the time, and just do those type of things.
RHQ: Cool. What are people saying about your stock right now?
GL: (Laughs.) Well...
RHQ: ...that’s always the million dollar question right?
GL: (Still laughing.) ...I don’t know. To be honest with you I don’t know, my agent doesn’t know, nobody really knows this early on. You just try to work out and do as good as you can, and on the 24th we’ll know everything. Up to now, all those mock drafts, all those "experts," no one really knows anything.
RHQ: Do you follow any of them, any particular sites you look at?
GL: Aaah, I’ve glanced at them, but I don’t follow them. Because only the GM’s know what they’re thinking, and they’re not going to tell anyone obviously.
RHQ: What’s been the feedback from coaches and GM’s you’ve worked with so far?
GL: Really good. Everywhere I’ve gone, they’ve liked me. Obviously they know what I’ve done over the course of three years (at Georgia Tech), but when they bring me in, in person to talk, I’ve gotten really good feedback.
RHQ: What kind of things have they talked to you about working on?
GL: Just my skill-set overall. I know that’s a weakness of mine, I get the "raw" label a lot. So my shot, my passing, my ball-handling, just understanding the game. Those are things I definitely need to get better at.
RHQ: What about any particular players you’ve modeled your game after?
GL: No, I try to bring my own style to the game. You know, I do see players in the league who I can take parts of their game from, and try and do what they do...
RHQ: ...who are some of those guys?
GL: I think I can bring the type of impact of an Amar’e Stoudemire, I think I can rebound the ball like a Joakim Noah, run the floor, be athletic like Josh Smith...so you know, put all those parts in the game and I’ll be a pretty good player! (Laughs.)
RHQ: (Laughing as well.) Absolutely man! Well thanks for taking the time to talk with us today!
I’m not sure about the Amar’e-Noah-Smith compare, but Lawal is certainly going to come in and give a team 100%. I compared him in an earlier article to Amir Johnson as both had similar statistical seasons, but watching him in person, I’m not sure if he’s closer to a Pops Mensah-Bonsu type. He’s not as tall as Amir and doesn’t quite seem to be as long but looks to have a bit more of a well-rounded offensive game than Johnson, especially when Amir first entered the league.
Is he a first-round pick? I'm not sure.
But you could do worse than grabbing him late in the first or in the second round.
After speaking with Lawal, I then grabbed the player I had specifically come to chat with, Devin Ebanks.
If "looks" decided on where players were selected, Ebanks would be a top 5 pick. He simply looks like your prototypical NBA wing, and as you can see in the photo above, he's actually comparitive in size to Louisville center, Samardo Samuels.
He’s extremely long and lean, and is somewhat of a dead ringer facially for Trevor Ariza.
Interestingly when I spoke with him, that’s the player he compared himself to...
RHQ: RaptorsHQ here with Devin Ebanks, how are things?
Devin Ebanks: Good man, good.
RHQ: Was really looking forward to talking to you today, you were one of my favourite college players the past two seasons because of the traits you brought to your team every night. Can you talk to us a bit about some of your strengths to start off?
DE: I’d say my defense, my athleticism, energy...I think I can score the ball too.
RHQ: How about the draft process and your thoughts about coming out this season, that kind of thing.
DE: I think made a good decision coming out. You know, we had a great year making the Final Four, winning the Big East Championship, so, I felt my chances were pretty good.
RHQ: Now will you cut this interview off if I tell you that I’m a Duke fan?
RHQ: That’s not a problem is it?
DE: (Still laughing.) Naaah, but I’m definitely not a Duke fan! It’s all good though.
RHQ: You guys did have an amazing season, and as much as obviously I was cheering for Duke, it was crushing to see Butler go down like that...
DE: ...whew, yeah, that was rough...
RHQ: ...talk about though the impact Bob Huggins has had on you and your career so far.
DE: He just got me better, he’s just like a father-figure to me. I listen to him and talk to him often during the season, he’s just made me a better person.
RHQ: Have you touched base with him much during this process?
DE: No, not really actually. The last time I talked to him was at the reception for the end of the season, the basketball season. But, you know, when I saw him there he just wished me luck and told me to do the things that I do well and I’ll be fine.
RHQ: Ok - so why come out this year as opposed to last?
DE: Last year I don’t think I was mentally ready, physically ready either, to handle an NBA season so I thought one more year of college would be good. And it turns out it worked out for me.
RHQ: So do you think this has helped your draft stock? I remember last year some people had you in that late lottery range and now more late first-round, what do you think of that?
DE: Ah that’s ok, I’ll just let the GM’s and coaches make the decision about what I do on the court and we’ll see how it goes.
RHQ: I think more and more we’re seeing players come into the draft and realize instead of "what position you’re picked in," it’s all about fit;
RHQ: ...you know, trying to get playing time and eventually that second contract. So when you come into a team like Toronto, do you see that possible fit? I mean, this is a team that could really use length and athleticism and a lot of the intangibles you mentioned you bring to the table, do you think about that when you come to work out?
DE: Definitely. You know, I have a couple of teams circled on my workout schedule that I wanted to do well for, just by what you said, it’s a good fit.
RHQ: So was Toronto one of those ones you had circled?
DE: Yes, definitely.
RHQ: What about workouts you’ve already done so far, how many and for whom?
DE: Aaah, I’ve done four, five counting Minnesota, the group workout. Minnesota, a group workout, Detroit, San Antonio, and here.
RHQ: Ok, how did today’s work-out go?
DE: I thought it went well. I showed how I could shoot the ball, that I could put it on the floor, and I showed them what I could do defensively as well.
RHQ: The one thing I think that you haven’t gotten enough credit for is your offensive game. I think people view you as a great defender, and obviously the athleticism and stuff, but I think in these workouts, are you able to show more of the offensive package that maybe folks didn’t get to see in West Virginia’s offence last year?
DE: Oh yeah, for sure. I just feel that they haven’t seen enough of that part of my game so in these situations I can put the ball on the floor a bit and show them I’m comfortable doing that.
RHQ: Any players in particular you model your game after?
DE: Aaah, I wouldn’t say model, but similar I’d say Trevor Ariza.
RHQ: That’s what I was going to say. Actually, on our site, RaptorsHQ, we did a compare statistically of your years in college, and you guys were pretty much on par with you, actully being a better offensive player and a little more well-rounded as well, but it’s an interesting compare. So when you’re watching the NBA and you see guys like that, do you tend to gravitate towards their games?
DE: Yeah, I would say so, especially with Ariza. He’s long, athletic, can shoot the ball from the perimeter, and just do a lot of things so I feel my game is more towards that.
RHQ: And for this Raptors’ team then, should they draft you, do you see yourself coming off the bench, starting...
DE: ...that would be for the coaches to decide but I know I could come in and make an impact right away with the things I do.
RHQ: Great stuff man, thanks for taking the time to do this and good luck the rest of the way.
So is Ebanks an option at 13 for Toronto?
After talking with Jim Kelly, the Raptors Senior Director of Scouting, I don't think so, although I do think if the team grabs a second draft pick, something they team is quite open to, he'd be one of their top choices.
It's unfortunate because I think Ebanks is the type of player many a GM is going to regret passing on when they look back at this draft. Players with his type of skill-set are at a premium and I believe he'd be a great fit for this club, possibly better than DeMar DeRozan in fact.
To this point, I tried to sell Kelly on the selection of Ebanks as we left the practice facility and he made an interesting comment. He asked myself and Ray Bala if we were around during the Isiah years because Ebanks was a player Thomas would have described as a "Raptor." He loved long, athletic players like that who could defend 3 positions on the court.
No surprise then that when Ebanks' doppelganger, Trevor Ariza, was drafted, he was selected by the New York Knicks, who at the time, were under the leadership of one Isiah Thomas...