Raptors Pre-Draft Workouts - Ejim and Birch Continue the Canadian Content

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors have their third pre-draft workout session scheduled for this morning, with a couple of top-notch Canadian prospects headlining the bill.

The Los Angeles Lakers have two draft workouts scheduled for today.

In the first, apparently Doug McDermott, Aaron Gordon, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Rodney Hood and Elfrid Payton will be squaring off

In the other, Marcus Smart, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas, Noah Vonleh and James Young will be trying to show each other up.

Not too shabby.

There have been various workouts like these with other teams around the NBA so far, so it's not surprising that many Toronto Raptors fans may be feeling a little underwhelmed about the players their club has brought in so far for a look. To date, other than Tyler Ennis, the bulk of prospects have been of the second-round variety and that continues this morning with the Raptors third pre-draft workout.  Many of the names again are slightly obscure and to the casual NCAA fan, perhaps completely unknown.

But I like what Toronto has done so far.

The club has done a nice job bringing in niche, and less heralded players who could be options later in the draft. This makes sense considering Toronto has two picks there, and regarding their 20th overall pick, with the parity between that selection and the seven or so selections right before it, this year it may be more crucial to get the second half of the draft correct.  The Raptors likely have their eye on a few options already at 20 and it may just be a case of "who falls to them."

Now, some of the prospects brought in for workouts have obviously been invites due to their citizenship, and others are likely favors to various agents (two of today's participants are repped by Amir Johnson's agent, Bill Duffy), but some of the others, including members of today's group, possess unique skill sets that can provide huge value as second-round selections.

So let's get to today's potential attendees.

Melvin Ejim - 6-7, F - Iowa State: Ejim had a breakout campaign last season with Iowa State.  He averaged about 18 points and 8 rebounds in his senior campaign and hit 51 per cent from the field and 35 per cent from long range respectively.  While not an elite athlete, Ejim is a tireless worker and his grit and hustle on the court makes up for many of his shortcomings.

Verdict: Don't get it twisted.  Whereas some of the Raptors' earlier workout prospects were indeed brought in mostly because they were Canadians, Ejim (and Birch) are both very solid draft candidates.  Ejim is a bit of a tweener at 6-7 as despite adequate Small Forward size, he often played more of a Power Forward role with Iowa State last season. The question then regarding his NBA outlook is mostly focused on his ability to transition to more of a true "3."  Ejim's ability to spread the floor should help in that regard, but he'll need to prove he can consistently hit long-range shots from the longer three-point line.

He doesn't possess the quickest first step or elite athleticism, but if you watched him play last season, you saw a player who simply out-worked bigger, and faster opponents on a nightly basis.  Ejim was one of my favourite players on one of my favourite teams in college last season and here's hoping he finds a nice home in the NBA next season.

Khem Birch - 6-9, F - UNLV: Birch's name has been on the lips of scouts for some time thanks to being the 11th ranked college recruit going into the 2011 NCAA season.  However after a so-so stop at PITT, Birch transferred to UNLV where he regained some of the luster that had been lost, and namely on the defensive end of the court as he was named Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year for two straight seasons.

Verdict: Birch looked like a surefire lottery pick coming out of high school thanks to his physical tools and shot-blocking abilities, but his NCAA career will likely be viewed as a disappointment in the eyes of NBA personnel.  His offense is a major work in progress, he needs to get a lot stronger still, and you can see a major need for refinement of what are some very raw fundamentals.

That being said, Birch is the most intriguing name in this workout session in my eyes.  I got to see him up close in Vegas last season in a game versus Portland State and while his squad lost, Birch was a major difference maker on defense, every time he was on the floor.  He crashes the boards, blocks and alters shots, and could in time be a very nice piece for an NBA team to bring off their bench.  At worst he's a Jarvis Varnado clone, a player who's still kicking around the fringes of the NBA, but at best, he could be a steal as a second round pick.  In fact, ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton has Birch ranked as a near lottery-pick based on his Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) score.

Niels Giffey - 6-7, F - UCONN: The proverbial "glue guy," Giffey was just that for UCONN's two recent championship runs.  He averaged only about 8 points and 4 rebounds a game for the Huskies last season, but could be a nice role player at the next level thanks to his solid physical tools and basketball fundamentals.  Giffey hit 54 per cent from the field and nearly 50 per cent from long range so is more than capable of spreading the floor for his teammates, and his jump shot will likely be his forte at the next level.

Verdict: Giffey is the type of player I was referring to at the start of this piece in terms of finding second-round value. He's never going to be a star in the league, or even a starter in all probability, but he's just a very solid basketball player who comes in and gets the job done.  He surprised folks at the recent Portsmouth pre-draft camp with his all-around play and the Raptors could do a lot worse with their 59th overall pick.

Alec Brown - 7-1, C - Wisconsin-Green Bay: Brown was one of the top players in the Horizon League the past two seasons and averaged about 16 points and 5 rebounds a game for the Phoenix.  He was named Conference Defensive Player of the Year last season, and hit 45 per cent of his long-range attempts.

Verdict: Here's another player, like Giffey who could be a nice late second-round pick for the Raptors.  Brown is a true "stretch big-man" in that he's an excellent perimeter shooter, and he put on a show at the recent pre-draft combine hitting 18 of his 25 three-point attempts.

The problem is, he's a bit Patrick O'Bryant-esque in his lack of girth and strength and as a result, he's fairly one-dimensional. He had one of the worst rebounding rates in the country for a big man his size, and if he's going to make it at the next level, he'll need to round out his game.

But, again, we're talking about the 59th pick here so if the Raptors can nab someone with an NBA skill-set (in this case, three-point shooting), then it could pay dividends down the road.

Deonte Burton - 6-1, G - Nevada: Burton averaged about 20 points, four rebounds and four assists last season for the Wolf Pack.  He was decent from the field (47 per cent shooter) but struggled from long-range hitting only 31 per cent of his shots.

Verdict: Frankly, I don't know a lot about Burton despite his extended college career.  The one time I caught him in action though was versus UNLV back in January and he completely dominated the affair.  He's got an excellent first step and great body control enabling him to bully his way to the basket against nearly any college defender and on that night, he simply destroyed the Running Rebels, dropping 29 points.

However, let's turn this one over to DraftExpress to get the full story on a prospect who, like some of the others on this list, could be a very interesting option for the Dinos later in the draft:


Chaz Williams - 5-9, G - UMASS: The Brooklyn-bred Williams averaged about 16 points and 7 assists for the Minutemen last season capping off a nice campaign for his club.  The Hofstra transfer was a First Team All-Atlantic 10 selection, and was his club's offensive catalyst.

Verdict: Williams is the player I know the very least about in this group having not seen much UMASS action the past few seasons.  He's more of a pass-first option than Burton so that should provide a nice contrast in styles to today's workout, but the 5-9 guard is likely going to have his hands full keeping Burton in front of him.

In any event, I don't see Williams being part of Toronto's future but again, it's good to see Masai Ujiri and co. doing their due diligence.

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