Raptors Pre-Draft Workouts - Russ Smith, Nick Johnson and Jordan Clarkson Headline Guard Battle

Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors continue their pre-draft workout series today with a heavily guard-centered session.

Apologies for the lack of posts of late, just not much to discuss in Raptorland and not maybe changes to the various mock drafts around the interweb.

But have no fear, we're back in effect as the Toronto Raptors are back in the swing of things workout-wise with a sextet currently going through the pre-draft workout paces at the Air Canada Centre.

Here's the breakdown of the reported attendees:

Russ Smith - 6-1, G - Louisville: Smith is coming off a terrific NCAA career where he won a National Championship in 2013, and came close again last season, his Louisville squad making the Elite 8.  Smith averaged nearly 19 points a game over his last two seasons as well as about 3.5 assists.  He's not exactly a pass-first point guard, but he's a terrific leader, very solid defender, and of course, can flat out score the ball.

Verdict: Smith might be one of the most overlooked players in this draft.  He's been labeled a chucker, and too small to play the position he's best suited for in the NBA, the shooting guard spot.  But he made huge strides last season in terms of running his team's offence, and his on-the-ball defensive abilities (he's Louisville's all-time steals leader), scoring instincts, and style of play make him an intriguing late first, or early second-round prospect.  He might not have the upside of some of his peers, but I could see Smith being one of those great value second-round picks down the road, ones who can come into the NBA and make an immediate impact for the club that selected them.

Nick Johnson - 6-3, G - Arizona: While not the "name" perhaps that Russ Smith is, Johnson is another player who enjoyed a terrific 2013-14 college season.  The Arizona guard helped lead his team within inches of the Final Four and was a consensus First Team All-American selection.  He averaged about 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists for the Wildcats last year, and carried a good chunk of 'Zona's scoring load.

Verdict: Unfortunately I couldn't make today's session (hoping to escape from work tomorrow though) but the battle between Johnson and Smith would likely be very entertaining.  Both get after it defensively (Johnson was a member of last year's All Pac-12 Defense First Team), and while Smith is the better scorer, Johnson has the size and length advantage.  Johnson has drawn some comparisons to Avery Bradley due to their physical and defensive attributes, and the fact both have a ways to go on the offensive end.  While there are other options I'd prefer at Toronto's 37th spot, nabbing him at 59 could be a coup.

Jordan Clarkson - 6-5, G - Missouri: Clarkson averaged 17.5 points, 3.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds for the Tigers last season.  His club started strong but faded down the stretch, leading to an NIT birth and second-round exit.  A solid two-way player, Clarkson is an intriguing prospect mainly based on his size as a point guard, and athletic abilities.  He tested as one of the top overall athletes at the recent combine so if he can prove to teams that he indeed can run the show as a 1 at the next level, he may hear his name called in the first round of the draft.

Verdict: Clarkson is probably my favourite player in this group.  He's slotted to be a second-round pick by most mock draft sites but like Elfrid Payton, Clarkson I believe will hear his name called late in the first round.  He had a rough second-half to his season, but a lot of this could be explained by his Father's cancer diagnosis back in February, something he admitted was a major distraction for him.  Of late, it sounds like he's regained his shooting touch, and is back to his old self.  From a recent Chad Ford workout post featuring the likes of Clarkson, Noah Vonleh and Tyler Ennis:

Clarkson provides a bit more sizzle (than Ennis.) He measured 6-5 with a 6-8 wingspan at the draft combine and produced some of the best athletic testing numbers of anyone there (38.5-inch max vertical, a 10.79 lane agility score, a 2.98 shuttle run and a 3.28 three-quarter court sprint). As far as size and athletic abilities go, Clarkson is one of the best point guard prospects in the draft.

The questions scouts have had surround his jump shot and his position. Clarkson started the season shooting the ball well, but his shooting plummeted in the second half of the season. Is he the shooter from the first half or the second half of the year?

At both the combine and at the drills I saw on Tuesday, he looked like the shooter from the first half. Clarkson was one of the top shooters at the combine and it carried over to Tuesday where he really couldn't miss from anywhere on the floor. He has a nice shooting motion and great range on his shot.

If Clackson's J is falling again, it's hard not to think about him as an option for the 37th overall pick, or perhaps even the 20th, depending on how things shake out.  It's not every day you find point guards who can shoot the ball, attack the rim (one of his specialties at Missouri), and who have the size and athleticism to lock down their positions.  Obviously Clarkson would be a bit of a work in progress in terms of running a team (he's no Ennis), but it should be very interesting to see how he fares today against the likes of Smith, Johnson and...

Jahii Carson - 5-10, G - Arizona State: Carson averaged 18.6 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds last season for the Sun Devils.  State's go-to offensive option, Carson makes up for his small stature by possessing blinding speed and elite athleticism, helping him get by, around, and even over, other defenders.  Not a pass-first point guard by nature and only a decent shooter, Carson's going to need to thrive in open court situations at the next level in all likelihood.

Verdict: Having watched Carson a fair amount last season, not sure I see a place for him in the NBA.  For starters obviously he's not exactly a giant, and yet his game is much more like that of an NBA combo or shooting guard than a point guard, something that usually requires adequate size.  He's a very good athlete, but he's not at the Nate Robinson level, something that also allows for a smaller stature at the next level.

In many ways actually, he reminded me a smaller Austin Rivers (Duke version) last season, trying to take on too much of his club's offensive load, and often failing to make the most basic facilitation plays.  He doesn't have much of a mid-range game, and he's not a dead-eye shooter either so in total, I'm not sure how this works out.

For a full breadown of Carson, here's Draftexpress' exclusive look at him as a prospect:


Javon McCrea - 6-7, F - Buffalo: The MAC Player of the Year, McCrea punished opponents on the low block for years at Buffalo, averaging nearly a double-double to go with 2.3 blocks per game in his senior season.  While he's undersized as a Power Forward at the next level, his strength and explosiveness make up for some of his physical shortcomings, and he's a solid defender as well.

Verdict: I don't know much about McCrea in all honesty but there are some obvious red flags when you read the scouting reports on him.  The big one is what position he plays in the NBA as he's got small forward size, but power-forward/center skills.  If he shows he can guard on the perimeter and hit from long-range, maybe there's a role for him in the league but at present, I think he'll need to take the Summer League/overseas route to get his shot.

Sam Dower - 6-9, F - Gonzaga: Dower averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds for his Bulldogs last season.

Verdict: Like McCrea, not sure we need to spend much time on Dower as a potential option for the Raptors at this point. He's skilled, and has better size for the 4 position at the next level, but isn't the scorer or defender that McCrea is, and never really stood out to me during his time with the Zags.  While it's true the club focused offensively on their backcourt for the most part, Dower never really stood out in the games I watched, and like McCrea, will likely need to peddle his wares via Summer League.

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