First Pre-Draft Workout Sports Balance, Diversity

Ryan Wolf/
by Matt Petersen

March equals madness in the NCAA, but May and June are just as hectic in the NBA ranks.

Tuesday kicked off a month-long sprint of workouts for pro basketball's hopefuls in Phoenix. Keith Appling (Michigan State), Alec Brown (Wisconsin Green Bay), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Artem Klimenko (Russia), JaKarr Sampson (St. John's) and Jamil Wilson (Marquette) formed the first 2014 NBA Draft group to work out under the watchful eyes of the Suns' front office and coaching staff.

And in case you were wondering, there is a method behind the pre-draft workout madness. It's found mainly in the positions the players play.

Appling and Burton gave the workout two point guards and playmakers. Sampson (6-9) and Wilson (6-7) both played small forward in college and sport the size to do the same in the pros. Brown (7-1) and Klimenko (7-0) brought the big man element to the workout.

"We tried to do that, at least initially, to have at least two point guards, two wing players and two big men," said General Manager Ryan McDonough. "You can only have six players in a workout at a time, so we feel like doing it this way simulates game action the best. You can have some pick-and-roll situations. You can play some 3-on-3 full-court. You have individual matchups that are pretty good. You get to see how guys guard different positions if they're cross-matched."

While the positions were similar, the skill sets offered by each player were markedly distinct, especially those of the two point guards.

Burton bull-dozed his way to 20.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the Nevada Wolf Pack. Appling's numbers were more conservative (11.2 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.0 rpg), but his team's success was not with him in the backcourt. Michigan State advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in his last three years with the team.

"The two guards, they're a little bit different," McDonough said. "Deonte Burton's pretty strong. He's a very productive college player, a good scorer at the college level. Keith Appling had a lot of success on one of the best teams in the country at Michigan state. He stood out in 3-on-3 play."

The big men were similarly intriguing. Brown flourished for under-the-radar Green Bay University, where he averaged 15.3 points and 3.1 blocks per game in his senior year. Those numbers are ideal for a 7-foot-1 big man. His three-point shooting (42 percent) was anything but typical, and he backed it up in the workout.

Klimenko is a more traditional big man that, at just 20 years of age, offers intriguing potential. Last season for Avtodor of Russia, he averaged a versatile line of 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 0.9 steals in just 23.1 minutes per contest.

"Alec Brown's shooting I think stands out at his size," McDonough said. "Artem Klimenko, who was the youngest player in the workout I believe, his skill at his size stood out."

Meanwhile forwards Sampson and Wilson showed the athleticism that boosted St. John's and Marquette, respectively.

"The two wings, JaKarr Sampson and Jamil Wilson, their ability to guard defensively and their athleticism from the wing position was impressive," McDonough said.

Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek oversaw much of the workout process, including the ending three-minute run drill that left all six prospects gasping at the end.

"Some of these guys, if they could improve their shot, it would give them a better chance of playing in the league," Hornacek said. "Overall, they all lend their different things where it's shooting, rebounding, going after the ball."

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