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15 Questions with DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony

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The rising star of Alexis Ajinca...just one of the topics discussed by Draftexpress.com's Jonathan Givony...

The rising star of Alexis Ajinca...just one of the topics discussed by Draftexpress.com's Jonathan Givony...

1. RaptorsHQ: Tell us what's gone on with you over the past year. Last year at this point you were doing a donations campaign and mentioned coming up with a business plan, what has gone on since that time?

Givony: Well there have been a lot of new things with Draft Express (DX). I really think we have finally established ourselves in the niche of the NBA Draft as one of the most reliable voices, if not the most. We have done a lot of travelling, expanding our network and going around the US and Europe attending different events. Some new opportunities have opened up which have shown us that there could be a real future with what we’re doing on the site. People are looking at us differently these days, that’s pretty obvious. The partnership with Yahoo and other media outlets, plus a consulting relationship we signed with a specific NBA team, providing some scouting tools aimed at making their job easier, all these things have shown us that the future could be very bright if we keep it up.

2. RaptorsHQ: You guys have really started to be a mainstream media outlet now as evidenced by your appearances on NBATV. Can you talk about the transition from alternative to mainstream?

Givony: We entered onto the scene at a good time. It was late 2003 when this all got started and the word blog was almost unknown to people in the mainstream. The internet has expanded considerably now—Web 2.0 and all that jazz-- and there is a lot more money streaming in which has allowed people to take things more seriously and make producing content on the internet their job. For us there was certainly an element of being at the right place at the right time, and as we continued to improve our product and learn what works and what doesn’t, we had an opportunity to establish ourselves at the forefront of this very tiny niche. People gradually accepted the fact that we are here to stay, especially the NBA people seeing us at every event-- they eventually realized that we knew what we were talking about and not just throwing stuff out there. We are not just a bunch of kids in their mom’s basements like everyone likes to say. We will see where this will take us. The internet is not going away anytime soon. Hopefully we can get even better and continue to work on doing stuff that no one else is--video content, great reports on all the most interesting players in the world, an incredible statistical database and much more. We want to continue to dig deep and provide things that the mainstream media doesn’t provide. It’s exciting and at the same time a lot of fun. I’m not exactly sure where this is going exactly, but that’s not something we need to be overly concerned about at this point.

3. RaptorsHQ: Do you find that a lot of other people have started to jump on the bandwagon? Was there resistance when you first came on the scene? When you attended a workout were you getting some icey stares and questions like "What are you guys doing here?"

Givony: Absolutely. I remember the first Chicago pre-draft workout I attended. Kirk Snyder was there amongst going up against Marquinhos and the Brazilian construction worker Cleiton Sebastiao, and not everyone was not happy we were there taking pictures and stuff like that. The guys from the Nets and Jazz were cool, but no-one really knew what to make of us. There are still some people who resist, mostly the old school guys who will never admit that they go on the site, but I am talking to at least half the league on a daily basis here, and a lot of them know that what we are doing is legit. They tell us all the time that we’re making their job easier. They know we can help them out and they want to help us out in return. People move up the ladder quickly in this business. Guys I started talking to in 04 and 05 who were lower level scouts, video guys, interns and others are now moving up, and some of them are even GM’s at this point, or will be quite soon.

4. RaptorsHQ: This years draft process has been a little different that years past, where there seem to be more "group" workouts where more than a handful of prospects and teams get together at the same venue to evaluate players rather than individual team workouts. Why do you think that is?

Givony: The window is shorter to evaluate these guys now. You used to be able to work them out all through May and even parts of April, but now you can only work them out after the pre-draft camp. That only leaves you three weeks, and agents don’t want their players working out every day because they want them fresh. They can only do 11-12 workouts at the most because it is a real grind physically. Some agents only allow their guys to do 6 or 7. More teams around at each workout is beneficial to everyone—why does a player need to audition 30 times when he can be seen by every team by doing just 5-6 workouts?

A perfect example of this is Minnesota and Houston. Almost all of their workouts have been together. It makes sense because the T’Wolves have two early second round picks and Houston has number 25. They are basically looking at the same pool of players. The agents also want that safety net for their clients. If a player doesn’t go in the first round then they know they have at least be seen by teams in the early second round too. So they workout for the 25 pick, but have that backstop, and you may even see a trade where Minnesota moves into the late first round.

5. RaptorsHQ: It seems like this year, more than ever players or more particularly their agents are trying to control the draft (i.e. where their clients workout). What are your thoughts on this?

Givony: That’s their job. An agent’s job is to minimize risk, control everything they can, and put their client in the best light possible. I don’t always agree with the way they do it necessarily—I actually think some agents hurt their players by being overly controlling, but they definitely have their players’ best interest at heart. Their job is often the exact opposite of the team’s job and at times the exact opposite of our job. They are trying to get their agenda out there, but if you do this for a few years, you are going to know these guys and how they operate. They are as much a part of the process as anyone. They know we are here to stay and if they lie to us we are not going to take them seriously next year. There are a few agents out there that I just don’t communicate with because I know they aren’t capable of being honest and realistic about their players’ situation. I think that may indirectly hurt their clients. We can provide the kind of exposure for their players that they want. We won’t sell our souls to do that, but we tell the truth. We don’t sugar coat things and we won’t do a 180 on a guy that we don’t like. In the end the agents are just doing what they have to do and that’s why they get paid the big bucks. Teams understand that, and they rely on them for information throughout the process a lot more than you might think.

6. RaptorsHQ: In terms of this year’s draft, you have had Rose on the top of your Mock for a while now. Do you think that is a deserving spot or is there any chance he is taking advantage of the fact that the PG position has suddenly found the spot light again in the NBA?

Givony: I think he is absolutely deserving of that spot. I think Beasley is also deserving of that spot based on raw talent. Timing plays a big part in this process, though, and so do perceptions. I don’t blame Chicago for taking Derrick Rose. Paxon’s job is on the line and he can’t screw up the number one pick. We’re talking about his career, his legacy here—you can’t afford to make a mistake. So that’s why I think Rose is going to go number one…that and obviously the fact that he is an unbelievable talent.

7. RaptorsHQ: A lot of people are saying how deep this draft is, but that much like last year the two best prospects are head and shoulders above the rest. How much better are Rose and Beasley projected to be than say O.J. Mayo or Bayless?

Givony: A lot depends on them to be honest with you, and especially how much they want to work. It also depends on the type of situation they are put in and their team-mates. The draft is an inexact science. We are taking a snapshot of where these guys are right now. Some of the guys have the mental fortitude to workout like crazy in the off-season until they become great players, and some won’t. If you look at Gilbert Arenas and Michael Redd, the common thread there is work ethic. It’s not something we can measure from where we are. It’s hard to project I believe, but it will play a big role in how most of these kids turn out.

If you recall we had some similar concerns about Andrea Bargnani when we first spoke two years ago. Now we don’t know everything, but with the snapshot we have right now, there is no question Rose and Beasley are the top two talents in the draft. A guy like O.J. Mayo, if he does have that maniacal Kobe Bryant like workout ethic he could get there, but I don’t think he has the same physical tools as say a Derrick Rose, which makes things a lot murkier. We all saw the kind of impact Rose can have on a game, and Mayo isn’t on that level yet.

I think there are good players after 1 and 2 and maybe even up to the early twenties. Regardless of where you are picking you can get someone good for sure.

8. RaptorsHQ: What was the Orlando pre-draft camp like this year?

Givony: It was great. I had a blast, met a lot of people, had some great conversations, saw some good players and just enjoyed my time there. The pre-draft camp is what it is, and we’ve learned not to come in there expecting it to be something it’s not. You are not going to see the lottery picks playing out there for four straight days, and that’s fine. We saw the lottery picks so much during the season I’m about ready to see some new guys anyway. I would rather watch players like Lester Hudson who played in a very small conference or Mike Taylor who played in the D-League and we didn’t get to evaluate him that much during the season. I thought all in all it was very helpful. It could be improved, and they will improve it, but I was extremely content. Where else are you going to find every single person in the NBA in one small building running around for four days?

9. RaptorsHQ: Based on everything you have seen this season, who do you think is the most over-rated prospect and who is the most under-rated?

Givony: If you would have asked me this two weeks ago I would have very easily have picked a couple of guys like Anthony Randolph, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee. We’ve been pretty vocal about that I think if people have been reading between the lines. They are three guys I have had some concerns about, but over the past little while people are starting to share that sentiment, or so it seems, and they are now started to slip a little bit. Of course if you get a DeAndre Jordan or McGee in the early twenties, which was almost unthinkable a month ago, then that’s a whole different story. If these guys were to go in the mid to late lottery, from say 6 to 12, I think they will be overvalued. Overrated depends on where they are rated, which we don’t know quite yet, but these are guys I had concerns about based off the way they were being projected by some of our colleagues in the business. They could all turn out to be really good players, but they are just not worth a top ten pick and that was my concern when they were projected to go that high by other scouting services. People were saying that Jordan was Dwight Howard and Randolph should be drafted third, and that made me want to pull my hair out. You have to wonder if those people had actually ever seen these guys play. But hey, we’re just a bunch of hacks on the internet, so what do we know...

Underrated…if it were two weeks ago after some workouts in Vegas I would have said Joe Alexander. We saw him workout and we started to call him the sleeper of the draft. At that point he was projected to go somewhere between 15 to 22, now it looks like he is a top ten pick. So now he’s surely not underrated. We will see what happens with him because his rookie year production may not be good enough for him to go where he is projected to go now, but we will see. When you talk about work ethic you have to talk about Joe Alexander.

Other guys…I think Kosta Koufos. If he goes in the late part of the draft from 18-25 then he is a steal. I don’t see a lot of guys who are 7’1 with a 7’5" wingspan and that kind of skill level. He reminds me of Mehmet Okur. There are definitely some questions off the court like whether he is a good team-mate or humble enough and things of that nature, but if I am picking in the 20’s I am taking Koufos and laughing all the way to the bank.

Another guy is Nicolas Batum. If he were to go in the second round like some projections currently predict because of his heart issues, then he could be a huge steal. I always questioned in the back of my mind whether he was a top 10 or top 12 talent like he was projected to go last year, I always thought he would be a great role player, but in the second round it’s pretty much where do I sign? Same thing with Richard Hendrix. There are some question marks about his size and athleticism and whether he might have a bad wheel, but I love his talent and I think he could be big time and become the Paul Millsap of this draft. The guy produces like a lottery pick and has the intangibles of a champion. You can have your 6-11 jumping jack who can’t play a lick, and I’ll take my 6-8 beast any day and watch him whoop your lottery pick’s ass. Courtney Lee is also another guy that I really like. He’s super versatile and is going to surprise a lot of people. A 6-6 guy with a 6-11 wingspan who can shoot the ball like Shan Foster has to have a place in the league somewhere...It’s too bad Omer Asik likely won’t ever play in the NBA because we had him pegged as a sleeper from a mile away.

10. RaptorsHQ: The Raptors, unlike last season are back in the draft. The needs on this team are pretty clear. Based on projections there could be a variety of swingmen and project big-men available. You had the Raps taking Brandon Rush and now Robin Lopez. Why is that?

Givony: That’s a really tough call. I mean either one could be there at 15 or 17, and I pretty much change my mind on who I think Phoenix is going to take every five minutes. It could be Rush, it could be Lopez. All of the teams have one of those two pegged there unless, Rush goes 13.

11. RaptorsHQ: With the draft there is also a lot of trade discussion, have you heard anything on the Raps as of late? Fans expect to see TJ Ford moved, do you have any intel on that front?

Givony: I heard there are some discussions with Portland and the 13th pick for TJ Ford. I think it might have been nixed though because Portland may end up keeping the pick. Toronto is going to be very active in the trade market and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they got something done on draft night. There is no question that they need to get rid of TJ Ford. He’s obviously holding them back.

12. RaptorsHQ: One player the Raps expect to see at training camp this year is Roko Ukic, what are your thoughts on him at this point. Is he NBA ready?

Givony: I watched him a few times last year. He’s a talent but I’m not sure he is anything more than a back-up at best. I am not even sure if he is a rotation minute type guy at this point, especially under Sam Mitchell. He still has some work to do, even though I do like him. The problem is he is a point guard who can’t guard point guards and he is very wild at times with his decision-making. In terms of his shooting, it’s better based on the time he has spent in Italy. Playing for a Croatian coach in Rome was one of the best things that could have happened to him. Whether he is able to make the transition and all that we will see pretty soon. I’m more sceptical these days about European players making the transition—especially when we’re talking about guards. There are so many things that need to fall in place perfectly.

13. RaptorsHQ: There are three prospects that really interest us at the HQ, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robin Lopez and Alexis Ajinca. Can you talk about each of them?

Givony: CDR is a guy who has slipped a little on some boards because he is not really a workout guy. He’s not a great athlete, he’s not a great defender, he’s not a great shooter-- he’s just a ball player. He’s a first team All-American, and there was a reason for that, even if that is a distant memory at this point. He was in the NCAA Tournament Championship game, and he can flat out put the ball in the net. He’s got moxy to his game that you can’t teach. He’s got good size and length and as a back-up he could be solid. I think the Raps maybe need a little better of a shooter, I’m not sure, but he’s not a consideration at 17 from what I understand, unless I’m completely off base. Maybe if Parker really goes to Greece than things change—I’m not sure.

Robin Lopez is a guy that has moved up a lot lately in the last month or so with workouts. First off he’s big. He is 7 feet tall, he’s long, he’s probably going to fill out, but he needs to add strength. He should be able to get to where he needs to be strength wise. His skill-level is nothing special at all, but he’s going to make a living as a hustle guy, a rebounder and a defender. Teams need that. There are some question marks about his intensity level—can he maintain it over an 82 game season? Sometimes it waivers, his overall awareness, sometimes he can be a bit of a space cadet. When looking at bigs out of the lottery it’s pretty rare to get a player like him if he really does pan out. I can see the appeal in taking a guy like Robin because it looks like he’s a pretty solid back-up at the very worst. He definitely should have stayed another year, though, which you could pretty much say about 8-10 big guys that are going to go outside the lottery.

Alexis Ajinca, he’s a guy who I am happy about seeing move up. His agent sent us his tape back in March, and we took a close look at him and were wowed. I went out and told people they need to take another look and they looked at me as if I were crazy. Look at what he did against Beasley last summer in the U-19s—this guy is no joke. If he were in college basketball he could be a top 10 pick. Easily. You look at his size-- he is 7’1 or 7’2" in shoes, with an unbelievable wingspan, and he’s skilled on top of that. He moves pretty well, he’s definitely not a stiff, he is aware of things going on around him on the court. When you look at a bunch of theses guys who are not in the lottery and are just big—they usually don’t have a clue. He’s not anywhere near a finished product, but he is pretty mobile and agile and could be a great presence defensively with that wingspan. He’s got other skills too-- he can shoot a little, he runs the floor and he can get up and finish. He has to work on his body and he probably will never be a very strong player but he could be ok. I heard his intangibles are fantastic too. He’s a great guy, great in the locker room, solid leadership qualities, and teams have raved about those characteristics. By no means is he a sure thing, but you take a risk on a guy like that. I don’t know if he will be around at 17 because Portland and Charlotte like him, but you have to look at him if he is. He could be there, but we will see. There are teams in the way. I don’t know if he would be a great fit beside Chris Bosh, but I don’t think you will find anyone at 17 who is necessarily going to be perfect.

14. RaptorsHQ: Do you think if CDR had a more traditional shot he would be higher on teams draft boards?

Givony: If he hit his shot more often he would be. It would help him, his shot is a concern. He is not a guy you give the ball to and let him go to work on every other possession like they did in Memphis. Ideally you want him to be able to park out in the corner and hit some 3’s too. Maybe he can do that and maybe he can’t because the NBA line is so much further back. The shot is a concern, but that’s something he can definitely improve on too.

15. RaptorsHQ: Last year you predicted that Boston would deal their pick. Any predictions on what goes down on Draft Night?

Givony: Honestly I am really not sure about what is going to happen between 3-6 at this point. I guess Mayo is going 3 and if he does I think we are ok, but if he doesn’t then forget about it. It will be a wild night. There are a lot of trades on the table and it will be good stuff. I can’t make any predictions on who will trade because it is all up in the air, but I can guarantee it is going to be fun.

Is it still too early to say that BC was wrong by going chosing Bargnani #1 overall?

Is it still too early to say that BC was wrong by going chosing Bargnani #1 overall?

Note - At this point in time our discussion turned away from the upcoming draft and looked back to that of 2006, when Toronto made Andrea Bargnani the top pick overall.

RaptorsHQ: Looking back at our interview two years ago we talked about Andrea Bargnani. You said he was overrated. Can you comment on where he is as a player right now and whether he can improve his game and play at a level that would be deserving of the number one pick in the draft? The people at Caliper said that his intangibles are off the charts and that’s why they recommended that Toronto draft him. Has that been the case?

Givony: When you looked at Bargnani two years ago you saw what looked to be a decent player. But I didn’t see the number one pick in him, I didn’t see that dog in him to be "that guy." If you are going to be number one, you better be the best player on your team. It shouldn’t even be close really. Just looking at his profile, I know the guys at Caliper who do the psychological testing had a lot of great things to say about him; how his upside was just off the charts and he was going to be one of the top centers in NBA history, and I think that turned out to be a bit of a nightmare for those guys. Because obviously just watching him and talking to people around him, that is not the case. They may have patted themselves on the back a little too early…

He is a bit of a particular guy in terms of what he wants to work on, what shape he is consistently in, and although I don’t want to write the guy off because I think he can be a decent player, I can say without a whole lot of uncertainty that he should not have been the number one overall pick. Whether he should have gone 5 or 10 or 15… that would have been more realistic for the kind of player he is. He is a very skilled player, he is a pretty good athlete with unbelievable size, he can really pass, but obviously he does not have that kind of aggressiveness and toughness that you need from the number one overall pick.

On the site we talk about how you want to wait before you judge a class. If a guy does well in his first year it’s not necessarily an indication that he’s going to be a great pro. If a guy does badly in his first year there is no correlation to the kind of player he is going to be. The jury is obviously still out, but those are my thoughts on Bargnani thus far.

RaptorsHQ: So the natural follow-up question then is "who should have been the number one that year?"

Givony: We were pretty emphatic at the time that Aldridge should have been the number one pick. There was really no question about that in my eyes. Look at our draft report card…I’m still shocked that the Bulls passed up on him too. There is an argument that Roy should have been number one, and it looks like the Blazers may have the top two players in that class, which we talked about the day after the draft. We liked Roy, but Aldridge was our guy.
That being said we loved Morrison and we have to mention that too. You take credit where credit is due and where you make a mistake you need to man up and admit making the mistake. I think that had not torn his ACL he could have shown something more and hopefully he recovers. Based on year one though he didn’t look great, but you want to give it more than one season. The jury is still out and it looks like he should not have been drafted #3, but we will have to wait and see.

A big thanks to Jonathan for the interview and the entire crew at Draftexpress.com for continuing to provide industry-leading coverage for us draft-fanatics. We look forward to chatting again around this time next year.

THE HQ