West Coast Swing: Shawne Williams, Thomas Gardner WorkoutDraftExpress flew out to Southern California this past week to watch a number of potential lottery and first round prospects conduct private and public workouts either exclusively for us or alongside different NBA executives. The first workout, on Saturday morning in Carson, California, featured Memphis Freshman Shawne Williams, Missouri Junior Thomas Gardner, Northern Iowa Senior Ben Jacobson and Mountain State Senior Rodney Epperson.
This workout was run by Joe Abunassar of Abunassar Impact Basketball (AIB), and was attended by representatives of the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Sacramento Kings and other NBA teams.
It began with brief warm-ups before going into plenty of shooting drills. The players attempted more shots from mid-range than anything; from either side of the elbow both static and off the dribble, taking one long dribble and step in from the 3-point line for a pull-up, running in at game-speed from the half-court line for a pull-up jumper from just inside the free-throw line, coming off short curls, off one short dribble for a pull-up, adding a jab-step left and then shooting off the bounce going right, off a pick and roll, etc, etc. Less emphasis was put on full-court ball-handling and shot-creation skills, and the players practiced coming off a screen with the move of their choice and finishing with a dunk, floater or layup. The players then played a bit of 1 on 1 and 2 on 2, with the teams being Epperson and Jacobson against Williams and Gardner. A short spot-up NBA 3-point shooting drill capped things off. Player EvaluationsShawne Williams, 6-9, Freshman, Small Forward, Memphis
The headliner of this workout, Williams is a player we never really felt that we had a great handle on from the game footage we’ve seen in the past and recently acquired. There was always a feeling that he could be showing slightly more, and that was somewhat the case walking out of this workout as well unfortunately.
Just looking at him, it’s not hard to tell why NBA types like him and especially his potential. He passes the eye test and then some, with great size, a phenomenal frame, long arms, wide shoulders and excellent lower body strength. He looks the part of your Boris Diaw/Tim Thomas small-ball forward, and has most of the budding skills you’d like to see from a player in that mold.
Williams was excellent in most of the mid-range drills conducted here, looking very good knocking down unguarded shots from both off the dribble as well as with his feet set from 14-18 feet out. He has smooth mechanics on his jump-shot, even though he jumps forward a bit on each attempt, with very good elevation and a high release point that will make his shot nearly unblockable when taking into consideration his height. Abunassar pointed out that this workout was intended to work on and show the type of shots he’ll get and hopefully knock down in the NBA, as he projects mostly as a face-up forward whose bread and butter lies in his ability to pick and pop, which is what the NBA seems to be all about these days.
When attacking the basket in the one on zero drills, Williams looked quite effortless putting the ball on the floor and elevating quickly and impressively off the ground to dunk with either hand. Much like during the regular season, he did not stand out in any one particular area in the drills, but did a good job showing off his all-around upside here.
In the 2 on 2 was where we were allowed to learn a little more about the type of player he is at the moment, rather than what he projects to become in a few years. He looked smooth on the catch and shoot with his feet set, but did not show much in the ways of putting the ball on the floor and making his way all the way to the basket.
Williams is, at this point, more comfortable creating a mid-range shot off a short jab-step and pull-up rather than slashing hard and finishing with contact at the hoop. Similar to the impression we got watching Rudy Gay last weekend in Washington DC, Williams gets his shot off from the perimeter almost whenever he pleases due to his size, high release point and terrific elevation, and therefore has a tendency to settle for tough, contested shots that sometimes go in. It might be unfair to criticize someone who only played college basketball for one year, but at this point he lacks the improvisation skills, experience, ball-handling ability, explosive first-step and shot-creating polish in terms of hesitation moves and overall craft to be a reliable and consistent offensive threat outside of the pick and pop. He is still stuck a bit between the 3 and the 4 positions on both ends of the floor.
He wasn’t the most intense player we saw in our 4 days/4 workouts in Los Angeles, particularly on the defensive end where he struggled to stay in front of his man. This might have had something to do with the nature of the workout and the fact that he was clearly the most talented player on the floor at all times. His potential here did come out at one point, though, with a super-quick recovery on the perimeter and an impressive blocked 3-point attempt on the 6-8 Rodney Epperson. In the NBA 3-point shooting drills at the end of the workout, Williams struggled to a certain extent, hitting 5/11 from the right corner, 5/14 from the left corner, and 5/8 from straight-away.
All in all this workout did a good job of showing the player Shawne Williams might develop into in the future, but was inconclusive at best or underwhelming at worst in terms of showing the player he is right now. The NBA draft is all about upside, though, and this is something that he clearly has plenty of. Most of his weaknesses are hopefully the type of things that can be developed under the right coach, but he’s more of a down the road type guy than someone who will be expected to step in right away and produce. Williams is projected by most as a top-20 pick and is working out for teams accordingly, and according to his agent Happy Walters has been invited to the physical-only portion of the NBA pre-draft camp, which should tell you that his stock is indeed where it needs to be right now in the eyes of the people that count most.
________________________________________Thomas Gardner, 6-5, Junior, Shooting Guard, Missouri
Gardner had a very solid all-around workout, showing the type of urgency you’d like to see from a junior who is clearly on the bubble as far as getting drafted, but recently hired an agent regardless. He played very hard for every second he was on the floor, much like he did at Missouri, and did a nice job displaying how hard he’s been working on his now much-improved ball-handling skills. Like Williams, he’s also an impressive physical specimen, not so much with his height but more with the kind of terrific strength and NBA ready frame he already brings to the table.
Gardner has solid physical attributes for the shooting guard position, but nothing spectacular. His touch and balance are his greatest strengths in this regard and it shows in his shooting, which is excellent. Gardner has a sturdy frame and looks to be a relatively strong player for the shooting guard position. His shoulders and core should enable him to play well in the post, though he doesn’t have tremendous reach and won’t elevate over defenders with his back to the basket. Gardner’s first step is average and he doesn’t have explosive lift, but he gets up above the rim easily off one foot and can do it from a decent distance from the hoop. Smooth is the best way to describe his movements on the court, with the exception of his ball handling, which still needs some work.
As far as basketball skills, Gardner is a shooter in the mold of Rashad Anderson, just stronger. He showed a very consistent release and puts his shots up with nice trajectory and very limited arm motion, making every shot identical. Gardner drifted inward a bit on his shots, but it wasn’t dramatic and he still kept the same motion throughout every repetition. During the 3 point shooting drills, Gardner shot 15 of 24 total and made 10 of his last 13 after warming up to it. In the midrange drills, Gardner actually looked much better shooting in motion, only having difficulty going left.
Gardner hit some decent shots during the two on two work, but certainly needed separation from his defender in order to get into his motion or penetrate the lane. Gardner really doesn’t have the ball-handling ability at this point to free himself from heavy pressure, though it is has improved since his time at Missouri. The floaters and other in-between shots weren’t falling for him, so he’ll definitely have to work on this because his outside shooting and quick release will enable him to get defenders to rush him enabling him to get runners and other motion shots. His pull-up is strong however, so he’s got some more offensive game to offer beyond his spot-up 3-point shooting.
In terms of weaknesses, Gardner’s athleticism might be considered the main one. He isn’t a poor athlete by any stretch, but also isn’t the quickest or most explosive wing player in the draft, particularly in terms of his leaping ability. His ball-handling skills have come a long ways from the drills we saw here, but his entire game from the left side of the court needs serious refinement, both in terms of his left hand as well as his ability to knock down shots going left.
All in all, Gardner clearly helped himself in this workout. His perimeter shooting ability should help him land a spot on someone’s roster this summer already, and the work-ethic he displayed both here as well as over the past year in raising his scoring averages from 10 points per game to just under 20 in almost identical playing time speaks volumes for his ability to continue to improve over the next few years. A top-level NBA executive we spoke with following the workout appeared to be even more impressed than we were, saying that he thought Gardner will surely make the league, mentioning being quite a bit more impressed with him than Shawne Williams, and openly saying that DraftExpress has Gardner ranked too low. From what Gardner told us following the workout, he has yet to receive his invite to the Orlando pre-draft camp, which comes as a bit of a surprise considering some of the players that have.
________________________________________Rodney Epperson, 6-8, Senior, SG/SF, Mountain State
The lone prospect of the four that we were not familiar with at all, Epperson left a nice impression despite being in no shape to play due to a groin injury he suffered just a few days before.
Epperson is obviously a very solid athlete, with good size, nice quickness and the ability to get off the floor and finish strong. His shot was a bit streaky at times, but he heated up occasionally and looked very good stroking the ball from the perimeter. Epperson’s ball-handling is just average at this point, but he will have the ability to create his own shot at the highest levels once he adds some more polish to his all-around game.
Not having the type of exposure that most high-major Division I prospects do, Epperson is on the outside looking in at the moment, but will get his chances to make a team both this summer and down the road through summer league. He’ll probably make plenty of money initially overseas as an impact scorer.
________________________________________Ben Jacobson, 6-3, Senior, SG
Jacobson isn’t a physically imposing player by any means. He is a shooting guard with a point guard’s height and doesn’t have much muscle to him. But, what he does have he uses to its utmost and is a good deal more tenacious and physical with his style of play than many players much larger than himself. Jacobson doesn’t possess any real speed or explosiveness, but he does move with purpose and used his change of direction well enough to create some space for his shot.
Jacobson’s best skill is his jump-shot. His form is textbook, with a high release and a beautiful follow through. He gets up well before shooting and always lands in the same spot. Jacobson handles the ball decently, but doesn’t have the court vision to be considered a point guard. There were a number of times when the pass presented itself and Jacobson couldn’t pull the trigger. But, Jacobson can protect the ball and isn’t a turnover liability and showed that he could shoot coming around screens as well as pulling up for the shot. The one real flaw in his shooting game is his range and release speed. Jacobson’s release is smooth, but it takes some time for him to get off, which will make it tough hit the pull up against a taller opponent who can use length against Jacobson. Also, Jacobson didn’t show great NBA 3-point range, hitting only 15 of his 30 attempts. It looks like the NBA range is too deep for Jacobson to overcome his lack of overall strength, so he ends up leaving the ball short or he has to force the ball.