: DraftExpress had the opportunity to view a well-attended workout at the Pro Training Center in Clearwater Florida yesterday hosted by Coach David Thorpe. Members of the Houston Rockets were in attendance along with ESPN and the Miami Herald, who were covering local product Diaz.
While there was no competitive 2-on-2 played in this workout, it could hardly be called “light,” as Coach Thorpe’s emphasis on full-court play had each player sweating profusely within minutes. NBA team workouts over the last few weeks have prevented the players from training, and it was clear that Coach Thorpe really wanted to get a feel for whether or not there was any conditioning slippage over the time off.
The emphasis of the workout was on execution in the face of fatigue. Thorpe sat with each player after they had returned from their first intensive round of workouts and talked with them about their own perceived strengths and weaknesses based off the feedback they had gotten while on the road. The work was a simulation of much of what these players will be tested on during their NBA workouts. Thorpe’s philosophy is to develop skill, then work on endurance and see if the players can maintain the form and technique under heavy duress. The message is that if you trust your conditioning and nutritional work your body will surprise you with its performance.
The workout began in standard form, with the players warming up with a little light jogging and some ball-handling drills. The players then progressed into some shooting and more ball-handling drills followed by left and right handed tip drills with the players bouncing the ball off the backboard three times before the one-handed catch and finish. The drills then switched to almost entirely to full-court work, starting with the “Mugsey Bogues” drill in which the players have to simulate beating pressure defense and then explode mid-court for the finish. There was some work done with the players where four chairs were lined up with little space in between and each player had to “slalom” through, using tight handling and strong body control before accelerating out and going the length of the court for the finish. One of the hardest drills by far was a series of three full-court revolutions where the players would start on the offensive end and retreat full court to simulate lane denial, then sprint back the other way for the break out, retreat once more, and then attack again and finish the play. Needless to say, it was an endurance challenging set. Player Evaluations: Alexander Johnson, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Florida State
Johnson’s endurance and conditioning were the most prevalent things to come out of this workout. Since stream lining his physique to a lithe 228, Johnson has been able to show off the plus NBA athleticism he possesses. Johnson has an extremely quick double-jump and his mobility and overall agility looked excellent. Johnson gets up with speed and his lift is excellent, not needing to gather himself at all due to his terrific lower body strength. Johnson looked noticeably bigger in his shoulders and chest since the last time we saw him. On physical appearances alone, he is certainly one of the most impressive players in this draft, if not the most impressive. Once he starts bouncing around the floor and getting up to punish the rim, that impression only increases.
Johnson showed good overall skills to couple with the raw physical ability he displayed. Johnson handled the ball decently for the position he projects to and showed excellent footwork in the post drills. His touch is soft and both his jump-hook and turnaround jump-shot look polished. Johnson still needs to continue to work on his ball fakes and reaction time out of those fakes, but his ability to finish the move was solid. Johnson’s shot could not be explained as fundamental because of the way he arches his back and falls away a bit. But, he uses his full length to shoot a high arching shot when stationary and there is little wasted motion. When Johnson keeps his motion north/south and limits the east/west drift when squaring for his shots, the results are there.
Overall, Johnson showed us what an asset he can be to a team for the role he’d be projected to play. As an offensive and defensive rebounder, Johnson has the speed and agility to wreak havoc on opposing teams if they over-commit to the ball-handler. He has the raw athleticism, toughness and tenacity to go well out of his area to grab rebounds, and his hands looked impressive in all of the drills that were conducted here. Offensively, Johnson will be able to make a living solely off of put backs and alley-oops if that’s what his team decides to make his role, but he can also really set himself up nicely for the 12-15 foot uncontested jumper on kick outs and ball rotation. He seems to be a well-grounded, humble kid who has clearly shown the work ethic that makes NBA teams feel confident in their selection. With his size, body, freakish athleticism and attitude, Johnson will always be able to find a living in the NBA as a productive complimentary player, a la Udonis Haslem, with the upside to develop into more than that if he continues to work on his skills.
________________________________________Guillermo Diaz, 6-1 ½, Junior, PG/SG, Miami
Another impressive specimen, Diaz has a nice set of physical tools to compliment his mental approach to the game. The most noticeable difference in the player he was in college to what we see now is clearly the coolness and confidence in which he carries himself. Gone is the chaotic and herky-jerky ping-pong ball that got by almost solely on his raw talent and physical attributes, and in his place we see a much more polished overall player who has been given plenty of new toys to work with and appears to be enjoying playing with them immensely.
Diaz is clearly a top level athlete in this year’s draft. His body control in mid-air is excellent, and his speed and initial explosive step are plus NBA attributes. Diaz is extremely fit and it showed in his endurance work. Diaz can easily elevate off of two feet and throw it down while directly under the basket, something most players who are 6’2” can only imagine. Diaz’s ball-handling skills are much improved, which helps to keep his dribble crisp and low to the ground and makes him much more of a consistent threat attacking the basket off the dribble.
As far as skill sets, Diaz has the ability to handle and penetrate like a point guard. It was impossible to see whether or not he has the decision making aptitude for the position, but he can certainly play both ends of the court as a 1 as far as penetration, handle, and lateral quickness are concerned. Even though he didn’t have the greatest conversion rate on his jumpers, Diaz’s form and touch looked very natural and extremely smooth virtually every time. All reports we’ve gotten have indicated as much, with Diaz continually being praised for his shooting wherever he’s worked out. With mid-range, motion, 3 point, and left hand/right hand finishing ability, the whole package is there offensively.
While we didn’t get to see the awe-inspiring explosive leaping ability that Diaz has shown in the past, much of this had to do with the setting and the lack of need to elevate without purpose. Coach Thorpe’s take on this when asked was quite poignant. Thorpe said that for a player who has spent a good portion of his life putting tremendous wear on his legs due to professional volleyball, it is better to save these displays for when they are truly needed. This goes hand in hand with the more heady and under control player we’re seeing compared with his style of play just a few months ago.
The most telling thing about Diaz and his future success in the league will be just how much ability he has as a lead guard. As a combo guard who uses his scoring to spear-head the rest of his game, Diaz projects more as a spark off the bench in the mold of Leandro Barbosa. But, if Diaz has the court awareness and mentality to effectively set others up before himself and can utilize his dynamic offensive repertoire to supplement the rhythm he establishes for his team, Diaz could be an excellent scoring point, ala Chauncey Billups. Regardless, he’s an NBA player and will be for some time. The only question is how highly NBA teams value what he brings to the table and how much upside they see in him to continue to improve.
________________________________________Jeremy Kelly, 6-4, Senior, Point Guard. Tennessee Martin
Kelly has been getting a good amount of workouts since we last saw him, as teams apparently see upside in him being a tall and extremely strong 6-4 point guard and are asking for another look in private settings to make sure they know what they have on their hands.
Kelly’s perimeter shooting wasn’t quite as polished as it was last time we were here when he almost could not miss. When he’s able to set his feet and execute his jumper with the polished mechanics he’s been taught here over the past few months, his shot looks good and falls for him at a good clip. When he’s on the move, though, and not able to gather himself before his shot, he resorts back to his old sloppy form and misses badly more than he makes.
Kelly’s athleticism is quite unique. In the open floor he has good speed and excellent leaping ability off a few long strides. Underneath the basket off two feet, though, he struggles to finish strong unless he has a moment or two to gather himself. Two very important considerations in his evaluation process, his defense and passing, were not on display in this workout due to the nature of the drills, which still leaves us a bit up in the air in regards to his definitive NBA potential. Kelly will clearly get his chance to make a team through summer league and might even have a chance to slip into the late 2nd round if he continues to work out well. His conditioning is terrific, as is his build, and he uses both well in the tenacious type of fashion you’d like to see from a player who is clearly on the bubble as far as his NBA future is concerned. For the second time here, we were impressed with his focus and drive both on and off the court.