Part two of the HQ's chat with Raps' Assistant Coach, Eric Hughes...
8. RHQ: Another player we touched on last time we talked, was a player who at that time, seemed to be following a similar trajectory as DeMar, and that's Sonny Weems. Now DeMar had one type of season and Sonny had another, give us your take on Sonny's year.
CH: Well, we're talking about DeMar's growth, and unfortunately it happens this way at times in sports, but DeMar's growth probably happened a little bit because of Sonny's injury. I mean they split minutes a lot early in the season and basically DeMar started and Sonny was the back-up to him. And when Sonny got hurt, DeMar's minutes increased, and Sonny's injury helped DeMar's maturation. But at the same time, you know, I don't think Sonny ever really recovered from that back injury. I think it took a lot out of him, he had a lot of confidence early, and I think that back injury hurt him. But you know, same thing with Sonny as DeMar, he's got to have the ability to knock down 3-point shots, but in addition, his free-throw attempts need to be increased, he's gotta stop settling for jump shots and being a jump shooter, he's gotta get himself to the basket, and he's gotta do the same as DeMar and change his body a little bit to get a little physically stronger and not just rely on his athleticism. This would allow him to get in there and create contact and get to the foul line.
CH: Well I think Jerryd Bayless showed what kind of scorer he can be. Now, I think again, the question again is, "is he a point guard or an off-guard," because he definitely was a very effective scorer for us but at times struggled running the team. I think he's got to develop the ability to be a bit more of a play-maker but I think it's obvious Jerryd can score the ball any time he wants. He had some huge games for us and was a great asset to our team when Jose was out and got some great confidence towards the end of the season. And Jerryd is a tremendous worker, I think that was a great pick-up for us. He struggled a bit at the beginning, coming in in the middle, trying to learn the system, new teammates and trying to learn on the fly, but as the season went on, I think you saw what he could do. He's a very good defender, and again, his ability to score and get going, he can score in bunches. Jerryd's a hard worker, I don't worry about him with no Summer League and trying to get him motivated. He's a self-motivator and he'll have a great off-season.
The other guy we got, James Johnson, again, it's tough when you come in that late, and we got him basically at the trade deadline, so he probably only played 25-30 games with us. But he showed signs of why we got him. He's a true 3 man, he's big, he's strong, we think he has the ability to be a lock-down defender because of his athleticism and size, he gave us the option of posting him up a bunch of times and Jay did that. We ran a bunch of isos for him because of his ability to get by guys with his athleticism but again, it's a another case where he's got to develop a more consistent jump shot, not even a 3-point shot, but the ability to knock down that 15 to 17 footer, that gives you a kind of bread-and-butter shot like DeMar has now. DeMar's developed that shot and James has to too. And once you do that, I think it opens up so many other options.
So James, again, was a pleasant surprise for us and what Bryan said all along, James is a true 3-man for us. Sonny's not a 3-man, Sonny's a 2-man although we played him a bunch at 3 but James gives us the ability to post up and have that small forward that most teams want to have so I think he's a great piece for us.
10. RHQ: Looking at the other 3-man that was there for the bulk of the season, Julian Wright, contrast those two, because a lot of the skill-sets they bring are similar, especially when you talk about length and athleticism and jump shot issues. Do you see a place for Wright with Johnson going forward?
CH: Julian's contract is expiring so it's always first about whether guys like that will be back with the team next season. His jump shot probably needs the most development. I think Julian falls into that category of always being so much bigger, stronger and more athletic than everyone else going through high school and college and he never felt the need to develop that part of his game. But he's got a long ways to go. Until he's able to knock down that jump shot consistently, he's going to have to find other ways to help the team. And we tried to do that at times, he's a great defender, a great passer, I think he's got a great feel for the game, but I think at times we struggled putting him on the floor because we had to find a way to have that position score and he struggled in that manner.
Julian though did a lot of great things for us. He's a great practice player, he always kept everyone on their toes in practice because he's only got one speed, that's 100 miles per hour. But Julian's a great piece. Jay threw him in at times when we were struggling and he had some pretty good games for us.
11. RHQ: It's funny because I talked to Julian at the end of the season and he mentioned to me that he was going to break his shot down and start from scratch because he had been using essentially the same shot since junior high and felt that that was what was holding him back in the NBA...
CH: ...yeah, I think a lot of those kids who are so athletic, and so much bigger and stronger than everyone coming up through high school and college, you know you don't develop the ability to shoot a jump shot consistently because you don't need to. That's not what you do, you run past everybody, you jump over everybody, DeMar fell into that same category. If you watch highlights of DeMar in college you almost never saw him making jump shots. It was post-ups, it was free-throws, it was dunks and lay-ups, it was breakaways and you saw the explosiveness. But kids like that, they never develop a jump shot because they just never need to. And so for Julian to go back and just, you know, break things down like you were talking about, like Tiger Woods did with his golf swing, I think it's a great idea because he's got a great body, a great motor and a great feel for the game. But until he develops that jump shot consistently, in my opinion he's never going to take his career to another level. And he knows that. Julian knows that he's gotta knock that jump shot down consistently to contribute in this league for sure.
12. RHQ: The last youngster that I wanted to touch on was Solomon Alabi. Obviously he played a lot less than the other young guys but talk about how you thought his year went?
CH: I think originally when we drafted Solo, we drafted him as a quote-unquote, project, or someone, just like in college in the US when they "red-shirt" guys, and I think Solo was looked at as kind of an NBA red-shirt. We sent him down to the D League, we called him back up, there weren't a lot of opportunities to play him, he basically got his playing time in practice and in workouts before and after practice. Solo has an opportunity to be a good player in this league because of his size, his ability to block shots, and the one thing he can do is make free throws, and he can knock down a 15, 17 foot jump shot when he's facing up, I think he showed that last year in Summer League.
Obviously Solo, physically has to change his body, his reaction time needs to be better, he's gotta be able to change his mobility a little bit, and our strength and conditioning staff, I mean Johnny Lee has done a great job with him, working on his balance, working on his flexibility, working on his lateral movement. So Solo's a great kid, he might be a year or two away, and maybe, needs more bouts in the D League, but again, he needs practice and he needs the opportunity to play. No Summer League REALLY hurts a guy like Solo because he needs to play in games. D League was good for him but the D League is more of a guard-oriented league and he didn't maybe play as many minutes as he would have liked, as we would have liked, but you can't control that. He goes down there and the team he's with decides how many minutes he plays, or doesn't play, but Solo has a great feel, we just have to change his body and give him more opportunities to play.
RHQ: I think that's such a huge point that you touch on, you see so often in the NBA how big a factor confidence is and just getting those reps and that experience...
CH: ...yeah, you can practice as much as you want but it's not the same as a game. I mean in practice, other than when we scrimmage from time to time, the majority of it is half court stuff. We might go up and down in the half-court down and back, or something like that but it's not the same as game scenarios where you go up and down five times in a row before the whistle blows. Plus you don't know who's going to practice that day, guys are banged up later in the season and we don't practice as long, so it's hard for a guy like Solo to get great reps. He needs game time and again, while the D League is designed for that, I'm not sure it's designed for 7 foot guys to develop those habits. It's more of a guard-oriented league and if you look at the players who get called up, the majority of them if you look at them from a percentage standpoint would be guards.
13. RHQ: To wrap up then, the upcoming draft; the Raptors have a pretty good shot at a top overall pick, without getting too much into it, can you talk about where you think the strength of the draft is and team needs in terms of approaching it?
CH: You know that's not really my area. I know the team has their draft board and they're looking at certain guys but that's not really my strength or area. It could be a situation though based on which pick we get and the way the ping pong fall, we're going to have the opportunity to get a great player and I think once we find out what pick that is, and kind of decide, there's really all kinds of areas that could be addressed. Do you want to go with a big man, do you want to go with a point guard, and ultimately that's Bryan and Jay's and management's call on that kind of stuff and whoever they pick, I'm looking forward to working with that guy in the off-season to get them ready to play for the Raptors next year. You don't want to have a bad season but one of the silver linings of having a bad season is you know you've got a chance to get a great player in the draft and the top part of this draft looks like it will provide a great piece.