Aaaah, the sweet sound of sneakers squeaking on the Air Canada Centre practice court.
Yesterday Darren Bondy, the HQ's fearless videographer, and I hit our first pre-draft workout of the year, sneaking away from our 9 to 5 gigs for a couple of hours in hopes of talking to the likes of Adreian Payne, Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Adams. We got a chance to speak to all three, two of them albeit via scrums, but the Raptors PR staff was awesome enough to accomodate a one-on-one chat with UCLA's Adams, which resulted in a fairly good discussion, as you can see below:
I'm really hoping at this point that Adams is around at 37. You just get the feeling that he's going to be a contributor at the next level and Raptors director of scouting Dan Tolzman agreed after the workouts, noting that Adams' isn't the most athletic or big guy, but he's got great intangibles and is a very crafty player, able to get anywhere he wants on the court.
Tolzman also noted that the team is pretty happy with where they are in the draft process at present. They've got three groups of guys in mind for each of the three picks, and obviously what transpires ahead of them, particularly in terms of clubs with multiple picks who could be open to trades, will go a long ways in determining if they get their man.
I asked Tolzman if even with one more workout session slated for tomorrow, the team would still be missing out on seeing anyone from their "wish list," and yes, it sounds like there about five guys that for various reasons, won't be coming to Toronto pre-draft.
If I had to guess, I'd say those five were:
1) Rodney Hood: We haven't heard anything about him participating in workouts tomorrow and I'm thinking we won't. Hood isn't a lock for the lottery but I think his agent is positioning things as such.
2) Elfrid Payton: Would have loved to see Payton up close but the way his stock seems to be soaring (he's number 8 now on Chad Ford's latest mock draft) I doubt he makes it to TO.
3) TJ Warren: Warren was supposed to participate in the workout that featured a glut of wings including KJ McDaniels but didn't make the trip for some reason. Like Hood, I'm guessing this one's coming down to agent posturing.
4) Nik Stauskas: Put Stauskas in the Payton camp. It's very hard to imagine him falling out of the lottery so while Toronto probably would have liked to see him up close ala Tyler Ennis, I'm guessing his agent didn't see the point.
5) James Young: And finally, I'm putting Young in the same group as Stauskas and Payton. Some mocks have him falling past Toronto even, but I'm thinking he and his agent feel he's squarely in lottery range.
Of course, if one of the players Toronto hasn't seen in workouts falls to them, that doesn't mean said player won't be selected. This happened a few years ago with Ed Davis, who was Toronto's pick despite a lack of a workout at the ACC. (Davis was projected to be a top five pick but surprisingly slid to TO.)
But Tolzman noted that it is much harder to take a player under that situation as the entire Raptors' braintrust hasn't had the luxury of seeing him up close and personal.
Think about it this way. All year Toronto's scouts prepare their top list of draft options. They've already seen these players a ton, and have an idea in their heads of who they like most come June. Then, at the NBA combine, that list gets further solidified as Masai Ujiri and a small group of Raptors' brass gets to see and talk to these players that the scouts have been talking about all season.
But it's not until the individual workouts that the full group of coaches and trainors gets an opportunity to spend some time with these prospects and that's a very important piece of the puzzle, more important than the physical paces each prospect is put through.
Tolzman reminded me of this process, something that I never felt was treated the same way under the Bryan Colangelo regime. Under BC, you often got the feeling that some players' pre-draft workouts were actually the deciding factors in their selections, something that should never be the case. As humans are prone to recency bias, an entire collective of work should be used to make crucial decisions such as these.
That's why yesterday was very refreshing in many ways, as Tolzman stressed the importance of the "meet-and-greet" piece much more than the workout itself. Not that the workout is a waste of time, players still have the opportunity to show some new things and match-ups against other top prospects can be informative for NBA personnel. But one bad workout from a player like Adreian Payne, does not a bad prospect make. (Payne actually told us after his session that he didn't think it was one of his better pre-draft performances, although Tolzman disputed that.)
In terms of the actual player performances, unfortunately we didn't get to see any three-on-three or one-one-one action, but we did get to see Payne show his long-range shooting ability, and surprisingly, Stokes' proficiency from three-point land as well. I asked Stokes about this after his session.
RaptorsHQ: You talked about your extended shooting range, something that's really changed since your first year at Tennessee, is that something the coaching staff constantly worked on with you, or is that something you knew that you wanted to improve upon as well before the NBA?
Stokes: I was a top 10 recruit in High School, and it wasn't because of my inside game. Coming into college, I was more of a perimeter player, I wanted to be Carmelo Anthony believe it or not! But, these are things I could do and once I got to college, I got put in a, not a bad situation, I wouldn't say that, but I was kinda forced to use my body and, at one point, I wasn't even on draft boards so that's when I started the rebounding. I've basically made a name for myself off rebounding and, I could always shoot and do all the perimeter things I'm showing in these workouts, but the key for me is using my body and rebound.
RHQ: Yeah, I guess the departure of Chism and Tyler Smith and those guys, you sort of filled that void right?
Stokes: Yeah, when I got to Tennessee, with the whole Bruch Pearl situation, Tennessee basketball was dead. I was recruited by the Kentucky's and the Florida's and the UCLA's, UCONN, but, when I got there, Tennessee basketball was dead and I wanted to be part of something new, I wanted to rebuild something in my home state. And well, Sweet 16 last year, I think I did that.
Watching Stokes moving through workouts and shooting the ball yesterday, I'm not sure there's actually a huge difference between him and Julius Randle. I forgot how highly recruited he was and how he had to change his game based on Tennessee's personnel issues so Stokes could end up being one of those players that three years from now people look back on as an absolute draft steal. (Think Paul Millsap.) I'd love him at 37, but wouldn't be too upset if he was chosen by Toronto at 20, something Stokes seemed to feel was a legit option. It's important to remember the type of impact you're probably getting from someone drafted 20th overall, something Tolzman mentioned as well in his post-workout chat, so if you can get someone who's a productive player that late, you should be pretty happy.
Anything else from this session?
We didn't get to chat with C.J. Wilcox or Roy Devyn Marble, but by all accounts, this was one of the most fierce pre-draft workouts yet in terms of competitiveness, something that bodes well for all involved.