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June 16, 2011, 4:55 PM
The focus of Wednesday's pre-draft workout at ACC was largely on a homecoming of sorts for Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, but the latter of those Longhorns was also one of four forwards projected to go top-20 in attendance, making for much more stimulating session than last week.
"Today was by far our best workout," said senior director of scouting Jim Kelly. "Most competitive, highest level of skill. [We] had some very interesting players."
Thompson was joined by Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State and Marcus Morris of Kansas -- two other players projected to be draft in the lottery portion of the June 23rd draft. Rounding out Wednesday's group was high-rising Tobias Harris out of Tennessee.
This was a fine group, no question, but getting picked fifth would be a major coup for any of Wednesday's participants, which may have explained the increase in intensity.
"I think some of these players realize that they're pretty close to where we're picking and they want to get the best possible position in the draft," said Kelly. "I thought there was a little more competitiveness here today."
It's hard to believe that Leonard knows any other way to play.
In what's been a meteoric rise up draft boards, the versatile forward has put himself in the conversation for a top 10 selection, with some mock drafts suggesting he could go as early as fourth overall to the Cavs. Good luck trying to convince him of that.
"When they move me up on the draft board, that doesn't mean a team is going to pick me," said Leonard. "That's what the scouts or the media that owns that website thinks. So I'm not caught up in that. I could go to the 20th pick, but that's how it is. I'm not looking for the pick, I'm just want to get picked by a team and be in the NBA."
After putting up 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest in a wildly successful sophomore campaign for the Aztecs, he probably won't have to wait long to hear his name called on draft night. Armed with athleticism, long arms, mammoth hands and a well-documented relentless drive to improve, Leonard is a standout defender and rebounder with an efficient offensive game that doesn't boast any real strength.
But the one area of his game that clearly needs improvement is his long-range shooting -- a distinct void for the Raptors on the wings this past season. Not long after he declared for the NBA Draft and signed with agent Brian Elfus, Leonard was in Las Vegas working on his mechanics with highly-regarded trainer Joe Abunassar at Impact Athletics.
"I've been working on my catch and shoot from the three-point shot, that was my weakness, so I've just been working on that. But since I've been working on it for about three-and-a-half weeks, or just since college at practice, I've been feeling more comfortable with it and shooting it without thinking about it."
According to Kelly, that work is paying off. Kelly is primarily based on the West Coast and has seen his share of Leonard, saying that he can see improvement with the young man's mechanics and believed he shot it as well as anyone from distance at Wednesday's workout.
So Leonard's clearly in the mix at five, but the presence of the three other forwards was more than a little intriguing and shouldn't be discounted. Geography is obviously a factor in Thompson's invite, but Bryan Colangelo has dropped his name frequently in recent interviews and nbadraft.net has the hustling, defensive-minded power forward going sixth.
Morris, a solid overall player with a well-rounded offensive game, is actually ahead of both Leonard and Thompson in some mocks, but never seems to receive mention in that first handful of picks. Both Morris and Thompson also project to be power forwards in the NBA, a position where the Raptors are pretty well stocked, but the familiar refrain of acquiring another pick or even trading down seems to be an option being researched if there's value to be had.
That also has to be the thinking with Harris, a hybrid forward who may not wow you with any one particular aspect of his game, but he can score from anywhere on the floor, boasts a high basketball IQ and reportedly has been wowing teams in interviews. According to Kelly, his invite is just a case of due diligence.
"He's probably one of the hottest names out there right now and a guy who's moving up on the board and I think you can't always pin yourself that you're going to be number five. Who knows what's going to happen, if we're going to get another pick."
More food for thought for the Raptors on a menu already teeming with mystery meat. With just a week to go until draft night, we won't have to wait much longer for an order.