Attending the workouts this year has been a fantastic experience.
Unlike last year, where at times we only got to see small pieces of the workout action, this year the media has been able to see the Raptors' staff run prospects through a whole gamut of drills. Yesterday was a prime example of that as Franchise and I soaked in almost an hour of action before getting to conduct some interviews.
Watching these guys battle it out in drills does two things. First, it gives us a great opportunity to see how certain players match-up.
Second, it makes you realize that while these work-outs really are just a small piece of what goes into evaluating a player, there is still a lot that can be learned.
Exhibit A - Chase Budinger.
While Franchise has always thought Budinger probably was being undervalued and his "soft" label was a bit overblown, you could easily see yesterday why this concern was there. It wasn't so much that Chase shied away from contact, or didn't attack the rim, but he just didn't win very many battles for loose balls, or do any of the dirty work. He clearly has a solid shooting form and he showed good footwork when catching the ball close to the basket, but you never would have guessed that he tested out as one of the most athletic guys in this year’s draft. Despite his athleticism I have a hard time believing that he will be anything more than a spot-up shooter at the next level and I am not sure I could stomach another "shooter" on this Raps team.
However if Budinger represents the clarity that sometimes can be given from watching players in these settings, Goran Suton represents how easy it can be to fall in love with prospects based on this small sample size. In fact let's take it one step further and say that if these work-outs were the be all and end all of scouting then the Raps would likely select Goran Suton with the number 9 pick. Suton was arguably the most impressive guy on the court today showing great touch not only around the rim, but also an impressive range and shot mechanics.
During the 3-point drill he was absolutely lights out nailing the trey time and time again. For a big man, this was obviously quite a feat and offensively he was the most dominant player on the court yesterday.
Of course the Raps are not going to draft the pivot from Michigan State in the first round. But his play opened some eyes to say the least and I think Franchise and I would be be shocked if we didn't hear his name called on draft
It was interesting to see Suton putting on such a show because it distracted a bit from the showdown that was supposed to be the headling performance; the PG battle taking place between Jonny Flynn and Jrue Holliday.
So what did we see?
Straight off the bat both pass the eye test. Holiday is indeed a good deal taller than Flynn with a longer build. And while shorter, Flynn has a very impressive physique. He may indeed be a shade under 6 feet in reality, but as one of our associates from The Score noted, he appears to be no smaller than Chris Paul. He's hardly a string-bean either, possessing a Joey Graham type frame albeit on a smaller player.
However what most of us couldn't stop awkwardly staring at were Flynn's calves which resembled huge tensely coiled springs. It's not much of a surprise then that he tested out with a 40 inch vertical leap, something that was on full display in drills.
As Franchise wrote yesterday, Flynn is uber-athletic and attacks the rim relentlessly. In 3-on-3 drills he got anywhere he wanted on the court and was extremely aggressive getting to the cup despite having the longer and bigger Holiday matched up against him. Flynn’s passing ability was also on display in the 3-on-3 drills where he constantly made the smart play and created some easy looks for his teammates.
The thing that struck me the most about Flynn was just how vocal and competitive he is. Flynn was constantly talking it up on both ends of the floor and leading his team. For a Raptors club looking for more leadership, toughness and grit, this is exactly the kind of guy that would help address these needs. When he watched his teammate Suton complete a nasty dunk in traffic, he was as excited as if he had hit the game-winner himself.
Maybe this should come as no surprise considering Andy Rautins was watching the workouts from the sideline along with his Dad, but indeed it was hard not to fall in love with the Syracuse product and contemplate him being a great change in tempo pace to Jose off the bench. For those who wished that TJ Ford would have accepted the back-up role to form a formidable match-up for opponents, it's easy to see Flynn as being a TJ Ford 2.0; just as quick and aggressive, however with a much stronger physique, and better attitude, shot selection, athleticism and shot. Flynn's by no means a lights-out shooter, but he's no Rajon Rondo either.
The one drill where Flynn had problems was the 1-on-1 where against bigger players he had a difficult time keeping them out of the paint. Despite his fierce effort there will be times when he won’t be able to overcome his smaller stature. Of course in the NBA, it's going to be extremely rare for an opponent to be able to back Flynn down from the perimeter to the hoop as Flynn will have four other teammates to help out. And with his strength and athleticism, only
much brawnier players like Damion James were able to do so with ease.
Franchise had a great opportunity to chat with Flynn prior to the rest of the media joining in. The video can be found here on our HQ Youtube channel. You can easily see how charismatic the Niagra native is, joking with Franchise about the fire alarm (which randomly started going off during drills) and about being "nearly Canadian already!"
On the flip-side there was Holiday.
Albeit no less impressive, Holiday is a very different PG. He had a solid workout, and although he made some questionable decisions at times turning the ball over in the 3-on-3 drills, he looked comfortable running the point.
Being a team’s primary ball handler however, could be a bit of a transition for him. Although he played more 2 guard at UCLA, he is sure that he will play the 1 at the next level. I asked him about his ball-handling skills and he seems confident that running the point will not be problematic.
The one place where Holiday really stood out was on the defensive end though. While as mentioned, he had a tough time containing Flynn in 3-on-3 drills, he did a very solid job containing him in the one-on-one portion demonstrating very quick hands and feet. The Raptors had the players run through a variety of pin-down and high screen-and-roll drills to see if both Flynn and Holiday could fight through bigger players and while both passed with flying colours, it was Holiday's length and quickness that were extremely bothersome for whoever he was guarding. And in the 3-on-3 portion, Holiday repeatedly stole the rock by getting into passing lanes resulting in easy buckets for his team.
After the work-out Jim Kelly was quick to point out Holiday’s defense and you got the feeling that there is legitimate interesting in the former Bruin at the 9 spot. A capable defensive player at the point is something we all know this Raps team is lacking terribly.
What we found most interesting about the Raptors and Holiday is that it doesn't appear that Toronto is putting any weight in his struggles in his freshman season. As you can hear in this clip, Franchise asked Kelly about this and from Kelly's response, it's quite clear that the Raps simply believe the fit wasn't there with Bruin coach Ben Howland's system, and they're relying on reports based on the player they've probably been watching since high school.
And what about yesterday's other two participants, Damion James and Alade Aminu?
James, who apparently has been tearing it up on the workout circuit, was admittedly impressive given my expectations and what I saw of him at Texas. During the 3-on-3 portion, his shot was falling and he was extremely active defensively. He clearly has the body to play the 3 in the L, but there are going to be questions about his ability to shoot the ball on a consistent basis. During the 3-point shooting drills James had a tough time and couldn’t really get into a groove. However you can easily see him being a second-round pick who finds a role with a team as a defensive stopper.
Will it be on the Raps?
Doubtful but if there continue to be Joey Graham trade rumours, it's hard not to think that defensively James could come in and replace him without missing a beat.
Finally, Aminu was the least impressive of the group by a long-shot. He struggled offensively missing a few easy looks in close to the hoop and even a wide open dunk. He looks to be headed to the Summer League route in terms of hooking on with a team post-draft.
Really, it will be interesting to see who the Raps bring in next. Although exciting to see some of the top PG prospects battle it out I am not sure taking a PG is a luxury that the Raps can afford at this point. With only Kapono as an established 2, the roster is completely devoid of swingmen right now. Either one of Flynn or Holiday would help the Raps in both the short and long term but to take one of these guys at 9 essentially means heading into next season with even more inexperience at the PG position.
Franchise has a slightly different view of things but there's not question after last year that we both feel an experienced back-up to Jose is a must.
Post workouts we chatted with Bryan Colangelo a bit and it seems like there will be two more prospect evaluation sessions here in TO; one next Wednesday and then a catch-all the following week for anyone the team missed.
We're guessing some of the names will include Curry, DeRozan, Evans, Blair, Henderson and Clark. Of course some of these players may decide they think they'll be drafted earlier and forego attendance, but it seems likely that these are the remaining names on BC and co's
Outside of the work-outs, it was a busy day for the Raps. While there is still nothing concrete regarding Alvin Williams, the club was not only hosting 6 prospects but they were also announcing the hiring of Marc Iavaroni and the re-signing of Alex English as assistant coaches. Both men were in attendance at the workout putting the guys through the paces.
Iavaroni spoke to the media after the work-out and he seems quite happy to be here in Toronto. During the scrum Iavaroni referenced his work with big-men while an assistant and how important defense is to playing an up-tempo style in terms of getting stops and jump-starting the offence. "Up-tempo" is clearly the word of the day as it was used repeatedly when discussing how this team will play this upcoming season.
Bringing on a coach who can not only continue to work with Bargnani but who is committed to improving this team from a defensive standpoint is exactly what this coaching staff needed. Iavaroni's experience as a head-coach can only be viewed as an asset and hopefully he and Triano develop a great working relationship.