Pre-Draft Workout: June 3rd Recap

Holly MacKenzie on the importance of showing up to compete for workouts

Video Links: Russ Smith | Nick Johnson | Jordan Clarkson

During the Toronto Raptors’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, head coach Dwane Casey talked about the close-knit group he was in charge of leading. After Kyle Lowry called this team the best he’s ever been on chemistry-wise, Casey discussed the elusiveness of it in the locker room.

“Chemistry is a funny thing,” Casey said. “You know it when you got it, but it’s so easy to lose. It’s hard to put your finger on it. I think we have good chemistry, the right pieces, the right guys, the right personalities in the locker room. You know when it’s messed up. It could be an equipment guy. It could be an assistant equipment guy. It could be a media guy. Anybody in that locker room could mess it up. It just doesn’t have to be a player. It could be a coach. It could be an assistant coach.”

Whoever the Raptors wind up selecting with their three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, the front office will be confident in their ability to mesh with the current group.

“That’s one of the biggest parts of bringing these guys in, to see them in person, to get to know them, who they are as kids,” director of scouting Dan Tolzman said. “It’s not like we’re doing one-on-one actual interviews with them. But just sitting around with them, talking with them and getting them in their relaxed environment, just seeing what kind of people are, it’s a huge part. You want to see how are these guys going to fit with the chemistry of our team. I think that was one of the biggest positives of our team, the chemistry. One of the last things we’d ever want to do is mess that up.”

On Tuesday, the team brought in six players for their second pre-draft workout of the year. That group included Louisville guard Russ Smith, Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson, Arizona guard Nick Johnson and Arizona State guard Jahii Carson. While Carson did not participate due to an ankle injury sustained during an earlier stop, Smith, Clarkson and Johnson spoke with the media following the session.

Although it is only the first week in June and draft night is still more than three weeks away, some hopefuls are in the full swing of pre-draft preparation and visits. The near-constant travel and need to perform at the highest level in every session are starting to make the players face the realities of fatigue and importance of rest already. 

“Ice, lay down as much as possible, sit down as much as possible and just try to keep my legs up,” Smith said. “But I’ve been doing a great job. I’ve had a lot more workouts than a lot of guys, but it’s only adding up and I’m conditioned enough to do it and compete. I’m not afraid of competing.”

While each of the participants on the court Tuesday had no qualms against showing his skill set and proving himself, at this time of the year, with so much on the line, it can be difficult to get guys to come in and take the court.

Tolzman explained that while the team has most of its scouting done by this point, it’s the face-to-face interaction and chance to look at draft hopefuls in high-pressure situations that make these workouts so important. 

Despite the grind of the process, Clarkson doesn't allow himself to give in to the fatigue and lose sight of what's in front of him.

“I feel like it’s a blessing, getting this opportunity," Clarkson said. "Growing up I wouldn’t think I would be here so, shoot. It’s a blessing, man. Going out here and working in front of these guys getting an opportunity to make your dreams become a reality."

Johnson seemed to have a handle on why it serves him well to show up for as many teams as possible.

“A lot of these staff members on teams they know who you are as a player but they’re in the season the same time that we were so they haven’t gotten a chance to watch everybody play extensively,” Johnson said. “To get them in here, to see their body language, see how they interact in a workout, see how they listen is definitely big in my mind. The same for the players, you go and you ask questions to coaches and staff members, you see the facilities and you go from there.”

Tolzman agreed with Johnson’s assessment of the importance of workouts and referenced it as a type of networking that can pay off for players years down the line.

With the team holding the 20th pick in the first round and the 37th and 59th picks in the second, Tolzman reiterated comments made by general manager Masai Ujiri after Toronto’s first draft workout. In a deep draft, lots of people want to dream about the team moving up into the lottery.

“You’ve got to be realistic,” Tolzman said. “It’s hard to move up in the draft. Every year, everyone complains about the draft all year long. And then when the draft comes around, everyone loves their draft pick and never want to trade it, because they fall in love with somebody.”

With four more sessions already locked into the calendar there’s plenty of opportunity for a prospect to catch Toronto’s eye.