RaptorsHQ breaks down the third in Toronto's string of pre-draft workouts and realizes one thing - the Dinos still don't know which direction they're going to go with the 13th pick...
Yesterday after we had all returned from the Raptors' third pre-draft workout, a colleague of mine, Eric Koreen of the National Post, tweeted that regarding the draft workouts, "we simply don't see enough to form legit opinions on these guys, not even close..."
And I totally agree.
However I am a strong believer that if you've done your homework (ie watched a ton of college games all season and PVR'ed the likes of Denver-North Texas in February), these sessions can be invaluable for several reasons.
1) You get to see prospects in isolated situations. Compared to a college game where the object is the player's team coming out the victor, in these pre-draft workouts, it's simply the player in question showing what he's got. Maybe you don't get to see the team game elements, but I'd argue you get a better view of what they can do as a "go-to option."
2) You get to see prospects' development. Perhaps player X couldn't shoot from distance when you watched his body of work in college. Well, having the benefit of specific pre-draft training, he now comes in and shoots the lights out. I've seen various prospects do that over the years and not just in terms of a "well they shot well that day" type of situation; fundamentally their shot had improved.
This point also could be used regarding a player's physical development. I'll never forget seeing JJ Hickson a couple years back; a player who I believed a tad on the skinny side at NC State, in person, it was obvious he had done a great job bulking up since the end of his NCAA career.
3) Technique and skill set can be closely examined. It's in these pre-draft settings that you really get an idea of how sound fundamentally some of these guys are. Best example of this? Kansas big man Cole Aldrich yesterday. I watched him probably 20 times while he played for Kansas and knew he had a rather bizarre shot, but it was up close yesterday that it really stood out. Think of a soccer throw-in, something he stated to us, as a former soccer player, might have contributed to his form. Yes, it was that awkward looking.
That's why for all the games NBA team scouts have witnessed, these individual sessions are still extremely valuable.
Beyond what management sees on the court, there's also a big off-the-court piece to the puzzle as well. Players are taken out for dinner so coaches and management can get a good feel for their personalities, and it's this "all-inclusive" approach that I think does really matter when choosing a player come June 24th.
Yesterday of course there was no shortage of talent to choose from as big men Ekpe Udoh of Baylor, Daniel Orton of Kentucky, Larry Sanders of VCU, and Cole Aldrich of Kansas all worked out for Toronto. And lucky for us media, we got to see a good chunk of the workout this time, which allowed me to note a few things:
-Cole Aldrich is going to have an immediate impact on whatever team drafts him. He simply does his job. He rebounds well in traffic, has great size and toughness (he's still missing a tooth from a game against K-State two years ago), blocks and alters shots, and is generally just a presence in the paint. I compared him to Portland's Joel Przybilla yesterday, but a more mobile (and of course younger) Rasho might be an apt compare as despite the Shawn Marionesque shot, he's fairly effecient from 10 to 12 feet. Don't think of Rasho now, but think of the player who started beside KG and Tim Duncan early in his career, albeit again, a more nimble version. If you can get a player like that at 13, you should pat yourself on the back.
-Daniel Orton is a very interesting player. Many of the media in attendance scoffed at the notion he could be an option for Toronto at 13 but that tune changed once they saw him in action. He's huge ala Kendrick Perkins, but was draining 3's with ease in one of the shooting drills (before he ran out of gas near the end and had the entire gym's attention trained on him.) I asked Orton about his developed face-up game after the workout and hilariously he stated that he had to work on that aspect because in high school he was so much bigger than everyone else, that when he tried to post-up he would get called for a charge every time! He reminds me a lot of Marreese Speights, another player I saw work out for Toronto a few years back; big body, fairly nimble despite the size (although he will need to get in better shape) and great touch from inside and out.
Obviously he's a project but again, if two or three years down the road you get a starting center out of your 13th pick, you've got to be pretty pleased. The question then is which direction are the Raptors going? Are they looking to blow things up and therefore go with a project like Orton? Or are they going to draft maybe someone with less potential, but who can help right now (Aldrich or Udoh.) I asked Jim Kelly this post-workouts and he admitted that that's a decision he, Colangelo, and the rest of the brain-trust are struggling with - it's the million dollar question. So for anyone who thinks they're sure of who the Raptors will be picking at this point, I'd say "stop partying with Hedo so much."
-Ekpe Udoh has a number of Raptor fans but I'm not one of them. Not that I don't think he's got great skills, is a personable young guy, and an extremely hard worker...I just don't buy him as a great NBA player down the road. Physically he looks great of course, and is powerful and athletic, but where does he play in the league? You could see his height and size issues when matched up against the likes of Orton and Aldrich yesterday, and offensively he doesn't do anything one-on-one that makes you think he could be a great 4 either. Maybe it's just me but I see more Pops Mensah-Bonsu than Jason Thompson. I think he'll have a role in the league, but he's just not someone I want at 13 when Toronto drafts.
-On the other hand,the stand-out player to me yesterday was Larry Sanders. Many don't know about this kid but like Hickson a few years back, I wouldn't be surprised to see him creep up draft boards and have an immediate impact in the league. He's even longer than I remembered, was all over the court in drills, rebounding the ball, dunking put-backs, and is starting to show a solid face-up game as well, something we touch on in my interview with him below. He's raw, but I'd argue more polished than Udoh or Orton, and has more upside actually than Aldrich.
He's also one of the funniest and most personable prospects I've ever spoken to over the years, and you can see that in the following interview:
RHQ: How'd the workout go today?
Larry Sanders: It went good, I thought it went well, very intense, I think we all got after it today which made for some great competition.
RHQ: Cool - I was just asking Jim Kelly (Raptors' Defacto Head of Scouting) about your performance actually; you've sort of flown under the radar a little bit at college compared to the other guys in here today, but Kelly was saying you came out here and were the quickest up and down the court, and really intrigued with your overall skills package. For those readers of ours who don't know you as well, can you talk to us a bit about some of those skills you bring to the game?
LS: Definitely my speed like you mentioned, my ability to get up and down, my motor; I'm able to out-run some of these slower guys. I'm a very energetic player, I love playing defence, and that's where I give most of my energy at...and that's basically my game.
RHQ: I heard you compare your game to KG in the scrum, can you elaborate on that?
LS: I think it's my defense-first mentality and the fact that I'm long, quick and athletic. Not saying I'm the next KG (laughs) but I'd say I try and look to his game in terms of how I'd like to develop.
RHQ: Of course KG provides a lot of attributes that this Toronto Raptors' team could use right now, do you look at this club then and see a good fit for yourself?
LS: I would say it is - I mean, it seems they need big guys, defense, rebounding, that stuff...and of course I'd love to be able to work with Chris Bosh every day, just things like that. It would just be such a privilege for me, learning from the coach here, the coaching staff, the facility is wonderful, I've been here one night and I already love Toronto!
LS: Man, this city is ridiculous! I didn't expect Canada to be like this, and not to down Canada, but I'd just never been anywhere in the country!
RHQ: It's funny but over the past few years of workouts, I've heard that quite a bit!
LS: Yeah man, my eyes are open now! (More laughing.)
RHQ: So I want to get back to the KG compare for a second. KG has a great face-up game and yet can post-up etc, too. Would you say you're more of a "face-up player?" I watched you a good deal in college and I know you've got a back-to-the-basket game, and saw some great drop-steps and footwork today, but what are you more comfortable with style-wise?
LS: I would say back-to-the-basket, but in this league, the players are going to be a lot bigger and stronger. My face-up game is definitely in development, that's something I'm working on every day and I'm going to be good at. I'm going to be able to use my quickness to get around some of these bigger guys, and I think that will help expand my game.
RHQ: Talk to us a bit about your career in college, because you played at a smaller school, do you think that helped or hurt you? I was talking to a colleague during the workout and explaining how sometimes that's a benefit because you get increased playing time, you get to dominate and therefore really work on your game. Contrast that to say Daniel Orton who's here, who barely played at all even though he went to one of the biggest basketball programs in Division I.
LS: Well, I talk to Eric (Maynor) about this a lot and he said something interesting that I agree with; players who go to big schools, the schools kind of make the player. We felt like we made our school.
LS: It's hard because we're not on ESPN a lot, you know, it's difficult to get certain games against certain people so scouts can see you match-up against other prospects, stuff like that. It's hard, but we did it and I think showed the pluses of our situation.
RHQ: How many workouts do you have after this, you were saying earlier this is your...
RHQ: Fourth one, ok...
LS: ...yeah, four so far...and I have approximately nine more.
RHQ: Oh wow...
RHQ: ...you'll be getting a good run in!
LS: Rolling. (laughs.) I'm almost at that hump though! Almost there so I'm good, it goes up from there!
RHQ: So any particular players you're working out with? I know there are groups of guys working out in Vegas, or LA etc.
LS: I'm at IMG...
RHQ: ...aww, right, forgot you're working out with that team.
LS: Yeah, in Florida. Down there with Derrick Caracter, the point guard from Alabama, Mikkail Torrance, just going at each other every day and trying to improve.
RHQ: Great stuff man. Well thanks for taking the time to talk to us and good luck in the process!
So final thoughts?
I think you'll see Sanders on our draft board after our next update for starters. He's another upside pick like Orton, but I think he's got a bright future in the league.
My favourite of the group of course was Orton, but I'd have no problem with Toronto landing Mr. Aldrich, provided he actually falls to 13, something I'm not confident will occur.
I did wish the Raptors had brought in better point guards to play with these bigs. Yes, Jeremy Wise and Eric Hayes were solid players at the pro level (they worked out with the four bigs yesterday), but they're not exactly upper tier point guard talent, or exceptional passers and a lot of the workout that I saw yesterday was wasted on restarting drills thanks to bad passes and poor decisions at the 1. I wanted to see the ball go into the big men immediately to see what they could do.
Up next for TO? The club is off to Italy for some more pre-draft prep, and as PJ Carlesimo discussed with us yesterday (more on him and his talk with the media this weekend), some individual work with various current Raptors.
Therefore no workouts today, or next week in all probability.
With only 3 workouts under their belt that means the following week should be pretty jammed as I expect Toronto to still bring in players like Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Xavier Henry, Luke Babbit, Damion James, Hassan Whiteside, Quincy Pondexter, James Anderson and maybe even Patrick Patterson.