A day removed from the first of a handful of Raptors predraft workouts and I’m wondering where to begin. Let me tell you, you want to fall into a bunch of conversations about the team, draft and draft prospects, spend your day writing at the ACC instead of leaving. Since you’ve probably already seen the videos of Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight and Isaiah Thomas talking with the media, I wanted to give you some thoughts on the day as well as things I’ve been thinking with respect to this year’s draft after tracking down as many people as I possibly could to talk all things class of 2011.
- Brandon Knight looks to be his listed height of 6-foot-3. He was also exactly as advertised. Beyond composed, he was poised and polished in the media scrum. It didn’t matter what we wanted to talk about, he was prepared and had his answers ready. He’s definitely been prepped for all of the media attention that comes along with being a future lottery pick.
- Loved how Brandon handled the questions about the “scheduling conflict” that meant he and Kemba wouldn’t be working out against one another. Rather than get rattled or stumble over excuses, he simply said he shows up where his agent tells him to be and allows him to worry about everything while he focuses on basketball. Smart answer. Easy answer. And he stayed with it, despite repeated questions about whether he would have liked to compete against Kemba.
- Of course, for us media people, it’s frustrating when guys don’t want to go against other players because it makes it so much tougher to get a feel for how the team feels about the players. Jim Kelly, the Raptors senior director of scouting acknowledged the situation, but said there’s not much the team can do other than set up workouts and see how it shakes out with respect to the schedules of the players. It was really funny to hear Isaiah Thomas give his two cents on guys ducking out of workouts against other player’s, saying, “I told my agent, every workout, I want to be against the top dudes. Brandon Knights, the Kemba Walkers, all of them. Show I’m as good as them and I can compete with them. I’m just out here playing hard and having fun.”
On some of the high-profile guys ducking other guys in workouts:
“A lot of them are. That’s just how it is, I guess. I wouldn’t do that if that was my situation, but that’s how it is. People don’t wanna, I don’t know, I’m not going to…”
- Speaking of Isaiah Thomas, if you need a player to root for in the draft, look no further. Listed at 5-foot-9, standing maybe an inch shorter with a smile that will light up any room and a personality that makes him seem much taller, Thomas has big dreams and the perfect mix of confidence and complete awareness that he is on the cusp of living out a dream he’s been chasing for years. It was really cool to hear him talking about enjoying every moment.
- Thomas also has the quote from Hoop Dreams tattooed on his back. Yeah, you know which one. “They ask me will I forget about them when I make it. I ask them will they forget about me if I don’t.” Here’s hoping he makes it.
- One thing I found interesting: Kelly praising Walker’s passing ability. Besides his size, this has probably been the biggest knock on his game, so for Kelly to praise that specifically was good to hear. Kelly praised Knight’s athleticism, again, something we’ve known about him coming into these workouts. It’s pretty obvious that the team is a fan of Knight’s, but talking to some people after the workouts, it’s clear that Walker won some of the Raps personnel over in the workout as well.
- I’m a sucker for undersized guards who sometimes shoot too much. Scoring “point” guards are my favorite thing in the world. Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Lou Williams, Ronnie Price, fill-in-the-blank here, I always gravitate toward those players. Because I know this, I tried to come into this workout knowing that Knight is the consensus pick at five if he’s there and you’re going with a point guard. Walker is the obvious player for me to like in this draft. Undersized, chip on his shoulder, surplus of confidence, New York kid. Regardless, I came into the workouts having sold myself on the fact that he’s too small and might not be a one. After listening to Kelly praise his passing and say that size isn’t such a big concern, I was back on the Walker bandwagon.
- While Knight was ridiculously polished, Walker was confident and bold, answering a question about his size and teams being worried about it he said,
“I could care less to tell you the truth. If a team is interested then they’re interested. If not then, I guess not.”
- Walker on who he models his own game after: “No one. I never really grew up trying to model my game after anyone. I just play.” When I asked him who his favorite players are, he said Carmelo Anthony is his favorite player, but that Chris Paul is his favorite point guard. The other quote that really stood out to me from Walker’s scrum is when I asked if it’s frustrating that people question whether he can play the one. Again, he handled it well and I have to say, his response won me over:
“Not really. I think I’m used to it now. Throughout my whole career I’ve always been getting questioned and I’ve always seemed to do well. I’m used to it. I think it’s a plus for me. At one point people questioned whether I could score or not. Now I’m scoring, people are wondering whether I can pass or not.”
- Both Knight and Walker said they knew DeMar DeRozan from the AAU circuit, another reminder of how small the basketball world is. Both players expressed interest in playing with a younger team like the Raptors and both had kind words for the city. While Walker claimed to have never heard about players having an issue with coming to play in Canada, Knight gave the perfect answer, saying:
“I just wanted to come here just in case I did fall back in a position just to make sure Toronto is comfortable picking me, to make sure I worked out with them, to make sure I didn’t leave any doubts in their minds. That’s why I came in Toronto. It’s a great place. I wouldn’t mind being here. Lovely place.”
- It’s clear that Kelly believes there’s a chance Knight will be available when the Raptors select their fifth overall pick and it sounds like the team has done their fair share of researching the 19 year-old. From scouting him during the season to seeing him at the combine and then again a week earlier, they’ve seen what they need to see. Kelly on Knight:
“He’s a big-time athlete, big-time motor, can really fly up and down the court there. Can’t really judge the point guard game in this type of session, but we know that coming in.”
That’s the unfortunate part of Knight not going up against Walker in the morning session, but, in NBA-speak, it is what it is.
- Here’s Kelly on the difference between Knight and Walker:
“He’s got a bit more size to him, if size is deciding factor, but I don’t think it is. He is a little bit bigger than Kemba, probably a little quicker straight ahead. I think Kemba has a little bit more on the ball maneuverability. I think a little bit more experience, he’s been in three years of college basketball and got his team to a championship this year. You can’t knock experience especially at that high level.”
I thought that quote was really interesting for a few reasons. First, Kelly saying that size isn’t a deciding factor. Second, in talking about Knight, he ended up giving Walker more praise. Both are very young players, but it’s been funny to me how it’s Walker who has received all of the questions about his ability to be a point guard when Knight himself explained how much he still has to learn at the position. I think either way, both of these guys are two young guys with the ability to score and distribute and they’ll be learning how to do both at the professional level with the usual bumps and bruises along the way.
- Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the actual workouts this time around. Usually we see some 3-on-3 or scrimmaging as well as some drills. On Tuesday we saw some shooting drills, that’s about it. The Raptors always finish guard workouts with a three-point shooting drill that is meant to fatigue players and it always does. Despite shots clanging as legs grew heavy, Walker and Knight both looked better than a lot of the guys I’ve seen do the drill in the last two years.
- Ever wonder how stressful these workouts can be on the players? USC’s Marcus Simmons left for Toronto on Monday and was supposed to arrive that night in order to get a good night’s sleep before his morning workout at the ACC. Because of delays, he was stuck in Atlanta for a few hours before departing for Toronto where his flight was rerouted to Ottawa because of thunderstorms. Simmons didn’t even get into Toronto until early Tuesday morning and then had to shake off the fatigue and jetlag and compete in the morning session. As a result, he ended up staying in Toronto Tuesday night to get some extra rest.
- Sounds like Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard will both be in town for one of the team’s next workouts, which is pretty exciting. I’ve talked to quite a few people around the league on Leonard and everyone has great things to say about him so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fly up the draft board.
- The team saw Enes Kanter work out in Chicago on Monday and… I’m not sold that the Raptors would take him. Not near sold. I kind of soured on him when he didn’t interview with the team in Chicago at the combine, find it annoying that he had teams come to him to see him work out (where he worked out solo) and have heard too many conflicting things on him to feel excited about him at the moment. There’s been some really good compliments and some very unflattering comparisons as well. Seems like a risk I wouldn’t be crazy about taking if I was the one making that call on draft day.
- The European player I keep hearing great things about? Jan Vesely. According to one source, “You’d like him. He’s tough.”
- Conversation I had on Tuesday that I didn’t expect to have was one with Joey Dorsey. Dorsey is in town working out, without knowing where he’s going to be next season. He came over after his workout to say hi and the guy is somehow even bigger than last season. He laughed when I asked what the hell he’d been doing and said everyone has been giving him crap about it. The only thing he really wanted to know was how Kemba Walker looked in his workout because he’s a big fan of his game. We also discussed coaching candidates and it sounded like he was pretty surprised Jay Triano wouldn’t be back. In a bittersweet moment, Dorsey expressed his desire for wanting to return to Toronto, both because of his love for the city and the bond he found with his teammates here. Wherever he ends up, I wish him well.