I’m sure to most of the media in attendance at yesterday’s pre-draft workouts, these types of events are old hat.
There’s only so many times that a prospect can say he thinks he’d be a good fit for the Raptors, and only so many times you can ask said prospect what he feels he can contribute to a team.
However for myself, and all of us at the HQ in fact, having only had access to these events for the past few seasons, this never gets old.
Part of the reason is because unlike the folks at the Star, Globe and Post etc, we watch college ball with as much religious fervor as we do the NBA, so when these prospects come in to work out, we’ve got questions for days for nearly all of them.
The other reason is a bit more esoteric; there’s just something indefinable about standing in a gym surrounded by the Raptors brass, watching college kids who for most of their lives, each were "the man," now having to dump egos aside and grind it out with the rest of the one time studs.
Yesterday’s collection of "grinders?"
There was no Robert Dozier, whose flight out of Carolina was cancelled, but the group included Australian big-man Joe Ingles, Temple guard Dionte Christmas, Michigan defensive stopper Jevohn Shepherd, Durham College attendee Anthony Batchelor, North Carolina alum Danny Green and the center piece of the workout, Louisville uber-athlete Terrence Williams.
So how did everyone look?
Williams and Green stood out during the time in which we were able to observe. Green is a bit of an Anthony Parker, "do a bit of everything" type, and isn’t someone who’s going to shy away from a little grunt work. He’s got good range on his shot, which was on full display today, is a good albeit not great athlete, a solid defender, and someone who knows what it takes to win. I expect to see Green go late in the first round but there’s no question that if he falls into the second, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Toronto make a play for him. This marks two years in a row that Colangelo has brought Green in for a look, (last year of course he withdrew before the deadline and returned to win a championship with Lawson, Hansbrough and the rest of the Tar Heels), so there is obvious interest on the Dinos’ part. And to give you an idea of Green’s heart and work ethic, last year when the Raps had him in he was suffering from multiple injuries and yet still wanted to participate in the workout. Considering that most prospects back out of workouts for mere scratches, tales like these speak volumes.
As for Williams, he was in top form.
He’s in great shape having worked out with Gary Payton since the end of the college season, his shot mechanics look better and better, and he’s still as dominant as ever athletically.
The Raptors ran the prospects through an interesting drill where one player would have to defend each of the other five individuals in turn. Only when the defensive player got a stop or rebounded a missed shot, did the next player take their turn attacking. If the defender committed a foul or failed to gain the possession, the two would go at it again until a stop was made, or the offensive player scored. Each of the six individuals yesterday took their turn defending the other five and of the group, Williams dominated every player he was matched up with from an offensive standpoint, from Green to the taller Ingles. He settled for a jump shot once but otherwise simply attacked off the bounce using his superior quickness and athleticism. (Sidebar – it was interesting to hear the Raptors’ brass continuously yelling for players "not to settle" in this drill. Think BC is looking for someone who’s going to attack the basket?) Williams is also extremely strong as even if the defender managed to get Terrence to pick up his dribble, Williams would simply put his shoulder into his man and power through to the hoop or out-jump his man in order to drop-in a baby-hook.
Defensively, Williams excelled as well locking down almost everyone from Green to the much taller Ingles. Only on one occasion did Williams fall for the fake, unfortunately resulting in a dunk.
However as much as we are fans of Williams’ game, he’s still got some work to do. His shot looks much improved from a standstill position (he was nearly automatic in drills from beyond the arc), however in motion, he still struggles with consistent form. Considering that the Raptors hardly need another long-range threat however, I’m not sure that’s so much of a concern. A bigger concern in my books is his ball-handling. Williams is virtually unstoppable on one-bounce plays to the rim, but you could see yesterday that he still has trouble creating off the dribble, as his handle just isn’t where it needs to be yet for an NBA slasher.
You can catch most of my chat with Williams via this clip on Raptors.com however what you won’t catch, is that he was the last player yesterday to speak with the press as Bryan Colangelo kept him aside after the workouts had concluded, and spoke one-on-one with the former Louisville star for a good 15minutes.
Does this mean he’s a lock to be Toronto’s pick at nine? (If that’s indeed where they end up picking from.)
However I’d place a lot of money on a bet that Terrence is one of a handful of players that Colangelo and co are keeping that much closer of an eye on during this process, and that we’ll see him return to work out again with some of this year’s bigger names later in June.
And will we be seeing a return from any of the other players who participated yesterday?
I doubt it, although of the group, Dionte Christmas might have a shot. He’s certainly not the 6-5 he’s listed at (note – the heights that Green and Williams are listed at ring true in person) but he’s an explosive scorer who lit it up from long-range in the various one-on-one and three-on-three drills. It’s hard to say if he’s a true 1 in this league, and looks to be too small to play the 2, but I expect that even if Christmas doesn’t hear his name called on draft night, he’ll easily find a spot on a summer league squad.
I don’t expect any of yesterday’s Canadian content to be selected in June but that doesn’t mean they won’t find a niche playing pro ball. Shepherd displayed his defensive abilities in drills and looks to be a lock to play with team Canada in the near future. He should also get a solid amount of interest from overseas. It’s hard to know what to make of Batchelor as while he struggled a bit yesterday, he’s had a great career at Durham as a scorer so should draw international interest as well.
The last player from yesterday’s sextet was Australian Joe Ingles, a very intriguing prospect. Ingles nearly declared last year but decided to withdraw in the end in order to beef up his game for this year’s draft. He’s incredibly long and at 6-7, has great size for the 2 guard spot, apparently the position he mostly plays, and is quite skilled offensively. I was a bit leery of his ability to play a guard position at first glance, wondering if his game wasn’t better suited for the 3 or 4, however in drills, he was absolutely lethal from long-range and also displayed some great one-on-one moves, at one point beating a much smaller and quicker defender and cramming it down. Ingles will need to bulk up a bit but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team taking a flyer on him late in the second-round and stashing him overseas for a while.
It was too bad that Robert Dozier didn’t make it as his length and athleticism would have made for some interesting battles between he and Williams and Green. Jim Kelly however assured the media that like Sam Young, Dozier would be back later on.
With that, it sounds like the Raptors are done in regards to workouts until June. Evidently this was a chance to get some of the better seniors in early as sometimes late in the process, politics and agents get too heavily involved.
Also, just a note too on how exhausting these workouts are. Terrence Williams made an interesting point in my earlier conversation with him that there’s a big difference between working out in a gym by yourself, and being in these settings.
"When you’re working out at the gym, there’s no coaches in there, you feel you’re going hard, but you tend to go at your own pace. When you’re here with the GM and the head coach here, you tend to run more, even if it’s just to get some water."
That being said, as tired as Williams was, he showed just how competitive he can be. As I’ve mentioned before, you can never make snap judgments about players in these settings, however there are certain pieces of minutia that do tend to stand out.
In the last drill of the day, the Raptors had all six players doing as many baseline to baseline laps as they could within a three-minute time-span. Joe Ingles raced out to an early lead while Williams was lagging quite far behind the rest of the group. At first glance, it looked like he was dogging it a bit – after all, the last drill of the day that failed to involve anything directly related to basketball was hardly going to decide your draft fate right? However with about a minute left I looked back up and suddenly, Williams was right back with the rest of the pack! And once about 15 seconds was left on the clock, Williams suddenly turned on the reserves and began an all-out sprint, just missing finishing ahead of the rest of the group.
This is the sort of thing you like to see in these settings. Last year I watched players like Marreese Speights waltz through the workouts and it hardly was an encouraging sign. Williams could easily have done the same considering he was by far the most highly touted of yesterday’s group, however even in something as simple as running laps, he wanted to finish at the top of the pile.
It's this type of intensity and competitive spirit that Toronto needs a lot more of, especially from the bench and again, that’s why even though most of the prospect scouting is done over the course of players’ careers, seeing them up close in these settings still goes a long way in filling in the blanks.