WIth just over a week to go before the NBA Draft, the Raps pick up the pace and get their third workout session in this afternoon at the ACC...
Last week we had top dogs Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker in town for workout sessions, however neither faced off.
At noon today we get the first of this week's workout sessions, one that features a few more top prospects, including two Canadians, in a solid group session.
Let's dig into it...
1. Kawhi Leonard - F- San Diego State - While the Canadian kids will probably get the bulk of the media attention today, it's Kawhi that I'm hoping the HQ crew gets a chance to talk to. Of this group, he's the premiere prospect, and we've explained why over the past few weeks, doing an entire feature on his strengths and weaknesses.
The Coles Notes version of that feature was that he's got a similar game to that of Gerald Wallace when Wallace entered the league; ie an exceptional rebounder and hustle play type thanks to his length, athleticism, instincts...oh, and extremely large hands. These characteristics also bode well for him as an excellent defensive player at the next level.
Also like Wallace was as a rookie, Leonard is not a very efficient scorer, and one thing I'm sure the Raptors' braintrust will be taking a good look at today is how he shoots the ball in live action and individual drills.
We've currently got Kawhi penciled in as a top option for the Raps with the fifth pick, but how he fares today against Marcus Morris could go a long ways in deciding his ultimate fate.
2. Marcus Morris - F - Kansas - In many ways, Marcus Morris is the opposite of Kawhi Leonard. He doesn't possess the same athletic and physical gifts, and doesn't have the future defensive upside. However he was the most lethal scorer in college last year from a points per minute basis, averaging 17 points a game to go alongside his 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
On paper, this all sounds pretty good right?
Indeed, and his PER of nearly 30 last season shows that he's not simply a chucker.
However there's a big question as to his role next year in the NBA. Morris claims to be as comfortable at the 3 as the 4, the position he manned for a good chunk of the season last year with Kansas, but can he play in a small forward position at the next level? His offensive repertoire, including his excellent long-range ability (he shot 37 per cent from downtown over his college career) makes him better suited as a 3, but he doesn't have the athleticism and quicks that your typical NBA 3 possesses.
That's why you hear a lot of Al Harrington comparisons with Morris, something obviously the Raptors don't need.
That being said, his inclusion in this workout is an interesting one as a bit of a yin to Kawhi Leonard's yang.
3. Tristan Thompson - F - Texas - The first of the two Canadian kids not only slated to be drafted this year, but appearing in today's workout, we recently profiled Thompson the past weekend, discussing his pros and cons.
Obviously there's a PR slant to bringing Thompson in today as he doesn't look to be a realistic option for the Raps at the moment regarding the fifth pick, but aside from that, he makes for yet another interesting sparring partner. His size, length and motor down low will provide a tough test for both Leonard and Morris, and the individual shooting drills will help the club determine just how much he's improved in this area.
Remember, for all of Thompson's upside as a defensive force and offensive rebounder, he shot under 50 per cent from the free-throw line last season and has a ways to go in terms of being a threat on O.
4. Tobias Harris - F - Tennessee -Now here's an interesting name that we haven't discussed yet.
Harris had a very nice season for the Vols last year despite all the turmoil the club went through. He averaged 15 points and seven rebounds, and posted a PER of nearly 24, showing that he was no one-dimensional player.
He can play the 3 or 4 thanks to his length (6-11 wingspan despite only 6-8 height), and his basketball IQ and passing ability make him a threat every time he touches the ball. He reminds me a bit of a better shooting Terrence Williams in the way he can control a game without even scoring, however his superior size (and attitude) makes him a more intriguing prospect I'd argue.
He's not an option for Toronto at 5, but I feel quite confident in saying that this is the type of player who could have a long NBA career, filling a key role for a team similar to say a Jared Dudley.
Again, another good add to this workout by the Raps.
5. Corey Joseph - G - Texas - The second of this session's Canadian contingent, Joseph had a terrific freshman season for the Longhorns averaging 10 points, nearly 4 rebounds and 3 assists a game, showcasing his all-around abilities.
He's a lethal gunner from long range (he connected on 41% of his 3's last year), and can play both the 1 and the 2.
However which position is he in the NBA?
At 6-3 he's on the short side for the 2 spot, even with a solid 6-6 wingspan, and he's got a ways to go before proving he can run a team.
That being said, I believe there's a home for him in the NBA next year, even if it's via a second-round selection. He's one of the quickest players in his draft class who can finish at the rim with the best of them, a very solid defender, and I could see Joseph being a sparkplug off an NBA bench in the same vein as Juan Jose Barea.
However without a second round pick, and already possessing a more potent combo guard option in Jerryd Bayless, I don't see him finding a way onto the Raps next week. Joseph's addition to this workout seems to be based more on his nationality than need, which brings us to...
6. Demontez Stitt - G - Clemson - Hmmm.
Off the top Stitt looks like an inclusion in this session as a match-up for Joseph, and to facilitate some 3 on 3 action.
He' s no slouch though.
The four-year Clemson alum posted similar totals to Joseph last year averaging 14.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He also hit some big shots against my Blue Devils in ACC action, so I know very well that he can compete with upper tier guards.
However there's not the same upside with Stitt as Joseph, and to get a shot in the L, Demontez will probably have to fight through the D League route.
Commentary: Now we're talking. The Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight sessions were a disappointment in that they didn't go mano-a-mano, but today there should be some nice battles between these six. I'd argue that three of them are playing for lottery positioning, so that alone should make this very competitive. Add in the Canadian connection and that Corey and Tristan will want to put on a good show for the home team, and this looks like a nice little session.
But to me this is still all about Leonard. I'm hoping he shows off the motor and effort we saw during his college career, and some nice offensive play would be a bonus. If Knight gets chosen before Toronto picks then Leonard is going to be tough to pass on, and he needs to show the Raps' brass just why he should be their man, if that situation unfolds.