This is just about the time when all hell breaks loose in the draft world. Cell phone bills skyrocket, disinformation spreads daily through the media, scouting reports get thrown out the window, career statistics and achievements are glanced at simply to be pushed aside later, and camps like Portsmouth are remembered as a distant memory. All the while NBA draft prospects are flown around the country every day to interview, take mind numbing psychological tests, and most importantly: work out, individually and against each other, in private, and not-so-private, settings. In these hectic times, your best friend, and really the only thing you can trust, is your own two eyes.
DraftExpress was invited this weekend to attend a private workout at the Five Star Pro development center in Clearwater, Florida by Executive Director David Thorpe to watch and sit down with two possible first-round prospects as they prepare for possibly the most important month in their lives so far. The two prospects are Kevin Martin and Jamie Lloreda. In Martin's case, we had the honor of being the first ones to get a look at him since he finished the season at Western Carolina.
Martin has been locked up behind closed doors for the past month in the gym and weight room. Starting this week NBA teams will finally get to take a look at him. He has workouts lined up for Tuesday (with Portland), Wednesday (with Orlando), and Thursday (with Denver). The week after, many other teams will send representatives to Clearwater to check him out as well. Many see him as one of the biggest sleepers of the draft; after watching him play on tape and in person, it's not hard to figure out why.
Martin is a junior and has been playing for Western Carolina, a small school by college basketball standards in the Southern conference. NBA teams have scouted him off an on over the past year, but not much is known about him outside of the information held tightly by NBA personnel.
Martin was recruited very lightly by NCAA schools out of high school, something that many top programs are undoubtedly still kicking themselves about. His biggest liability has always been his weight. As a high school freshman he weighed in at a measly 90 pounds on a 5-8 frame. By his senior year, he was up to 6-5, 145 pounds, but it/he was too little, too late. He averaged 22 points a game his senior year, a respectable number, but nothing that would indicate what he would become in the future. In fact, the very next year he again averaged 22 points per game, as a college freshman this time, good for 11th best in the NCAA. Pretty good for a kid that only received offers from schools like Buffalo and West Virginia, and even then, only if he would agree to go to prep school for a season.
Over the past year, he has bulked up, from 167 pounds to just less than 185. He will always have a slight frame because of his narrow shoulders, but judging by the way he has bulked up this past year, coupled with the pounding he used to take night in and night out in the NCAA (he went to the line over 9 times a game this season) that might not be too big a concern anymore. He is obviously a tough kid that has no problem taking contact.
So what kind of player is Kevin Martin? I got to watch him work out twice this past weekend, and I was pretty impressed by what I saw.
The first thing you notice watching him is the way he moves on the floor. He's an extremely fluid player, with great quickness and an ability to make sharp cuts and change speeds almost instantly. This skill will help him greatly with his off-the-ball movement, which is already pretty good. While he probably won't be the most athletic shooting guard in this year's draft, he certainly won't be too far off. What separates him from other freaks in this draft is how quickly he gets off the floor: he just bounces off the ground as though he has his own personal trampoline at his disposal. His nickname in Clearwater is Cat, and it's not hard to figure out why when watching him work out. His 37-inch vertical leap is impressive. When he goes to the basket, he finishes strong, because of the upper-body strength he has added over the past year. He still needs to add some lower body strength, though. Martin is going to be an excellent transition player in the NBA right off the bat; I have no doubt about that.
His half-court game is pretty polished as well. He has a quick and competent handle, with a strong crossover, which he'll be able to use in the NBA to create his own shot, and a pretty shooting stroke with a quick release that complements his slashing game quite nicely. If he continues to work hard he should be able to develop an excellent NBA mid-range game. He can stop on a dime and create separation, thanks to the excellent elevation he has on his jump shot. You can tell he knows how to adjust and get his shot off in many different ways; moving left, right, off the dribble, flat-footed, stepping in, or back and fading away. His range is solid, but he needs to become more consistent from outside, something that will probably come as he develops his game. He is also a good free-throw shooter, averaging 84% for his college career on a huge number of attempts (635 in 79 games), including hitting 43 in a row as a freshman.
Defense is where he has really yet to be tested. As a player that was asked to carry the team's scoring load almost from day one at Western, he always had to conserve his energy and stay out of foul trouble, which isn't easy for a player that is constantly slashing hard to the basket when NCAA refs seem hell-bent on calling the charge. He does have good footwork, but it will probably take time for him to adjust from being ranked as the #1 or #2 scorer in the NCAA all season to a guy that is expected to contribute in many different ways in the NBA. As his body continues to develop he should begin to have a more polished all-around game; right now he is a scorer, and a great one at that, but with the ability and especially the attitude to get better at the rest.
The level of competition he played against on a regular basis leaves something to be desired. But he actually was always at his best when he was going against top-level competition outside his conference when he finally got to play without constantly being double-teamed and chased around from the second he crossed the half court line. In the first game of the season this year, Martin and Western Carolina traveled to Athens to match up with Georgia, a tough SEC opponent (especially defensively) that many thought should have made the NCAA tournament. Martin lit them up for 44 points in 35 minutes on 14-25 shooting (7-14 from behind the arc) in a losing effort. The very next game at Virginia Tech, Martin scored 24 points on just 12 shots (5-12 FG and 11-11 from the line) as Western lost to Tech at the buzzer on the road. A few weeks later against another SEC foe at Arkansas, Martin scored 33 points on 16 shots (9-16 FG, 11-14 FT) as Western secured the upset victory. Last summer, Western Carolina traveled to Canada to prepare for the upcoming season by playing against five Canadian teams in exhibition games. One of those games was against the Canadian national team, who were preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in Puerto Rico. Martin scored 35 points, and even played some PG against Dallas Maverick Steve Nash. UConn SG/SF Denham Brown guarded him for most of the game.
Martin sounds confident about taking the step to next level this year, and it this point it doesn't look like he'll be returning to school. Right now he is ranked at #37 in our 2004 mock draft, and it's quite possible that he could be getting some late first-round attention if he impresses enough in workouts. As stated, a good number of NBA teams will be watching him work out over the next few weeks, and unless he plays well enough to secure himself a first round guarantee, he will most likely be participating at the Chicago pre-draft camp. From what we saw, he could be a real sleeper in this draft.
As an avid SEC follower, LSU graduate Jamie Lloreda is a player with whom I am very familiar. I have seen him play many times, both in person and on TV, and I never had any doubt that he would become a solid player if given the proper chance. I met up with him on Thursday to eat dinner and watch game seven of the Nets/Pistons playoff series, and we got to talk about his SEC career, the players he has gone up against in workouts, and the reputation he has established for himself as being something of a psychopath both on and off the court.
When Lloreda is on the floor, he always plays as if he has something to prove. He's a bruiser, the kind of guy that isn't happy unless he's making his opponent's life miserable with his physical style of play, and no-nonsense attitude on defense and on the glass. Off the court, though, I was really surprised at what a nice and humble person he is. He's soft-spoken, genuine, and has a great sense of humor. We talked about the incident last year in Baton Rouge, where he violently elbowed Brett Nelson in the head while he was on a fast break, a cheap shot that earned him a one-game suspension from the SEC. Jamie says that Nelson was on fire (which he was, he scored 26 points in that game), and that he had to find a way to make him cool off a little, so his team would have a chance to win. Like it or not, and most NBA coaches do, that's the way Lloreda plays the game. He was very animated when talking about the workouts he's had so far, highlighting how fun it was to throw an alley-oop pass to fellow SEC player Matt Freije, and emphasizing how well he thought he shot the ball with the Heat (I was feeling it man, feeling it). He was in New Jersey on Tuesday, and Miami on Thursday, and was asked to come back again on Friday by Miami because of how well he played. Once again he was very happy with the way he performed, matched up with his ex-teammate Brandon Bass, and there was no way he was going to let his ex-protege look like anything less than a freshman.
It doesn't really surprise me one bit that they liked him in Miami. Lloreda is a Riley-type player. He's a tough, hard-nosed defender, with the ability to guard three positions because of his quickness, footwork, strength, and intensity. He's also a fantastic rebounder, tied for 2nd in the NCAA with Emeka Okafor this season, again due to his quickness, strength, good second bounce, and especially his desire to gobble up every rebound in sight. Other than maybe Okafor, I don't think there's anyone in this draft with more lower-body strength than him.
These are all things that I knew about from watching Lloreda play this year and last, but he showed some things on Saturday that I just had no idea he had in him.
Lloreda has always been a horrendous free-throw shooter, with possibly the ugliest shooting stroke in all of college basketball. Almost immediately after he was taken out of commission with plantar fasciitis in late February, he started working with Coach Thorpe on reworking his shooting form completely, and has since put in a tremendous amount of time on perfecting it. The results weren't very hard to notice. He is now at least an above-average free-throw shooter, hitting at least 80% of the free throws I watched him take.
One of his biggest weaknesses in college and the thing I always felt most limited his pro potential was his poor perimeter shooting. LSU would sometimes run offensive sets that put him in the high post, with the option to use his good passing skills to find the open man, or use his solid ball-handling to take his man to the basket. What teams would do to defend this is just back off and dare him to shoot the 16- or 18-footer, which he just did not have in his repertoire. Jamie has worked extremely hard on this in the past few months, and he is now a pretty competent outside shooter. I watched with amazement as he drained three-pointer after three-pointer in his Saturday workout. Now don't get me wrong, he's no Nowitzki or anything like that, and he probably won't be creating his own shot that much in the NBA, but if you give him space he will hit the open jumper, which is huge for a guy like him, who was somewhat of an undersized NBA center offensively up until three months ago. If he continues to work on this, there's no reason why he won't get much better. (You have to wonder if that injury he suffered in February wasn't actually a blessing in disguise.)
Lloreda has been working his tail off the past few months. That much is obvious. He's added a ton of upper-body strength to complement his lower-body strength. He's quite simply a beast in the paint, but his game isn't really suited to knock someone's socks off in private workouts like Kevin Martin can, just because he doesn't have jaw-dropping athleticism or the ability to hit 15 NBA threes in a row. He's going to have to do well in Chicago to have a shot at the 1st round, but that's something that he is very capable of doing, because of the way games are played there. I think his game will probably translate a little better to the NBA, where they allow a lot more contact, and he'll benefit from having an extra foul on defense at his disposal. The main things holding him back from a potential NBA career are his aforementioned on and off the court temper problems, which NBA teams will be able to do more research on than me, as well as his lack of size, only looking to be around 6-7 or 6-8 or so. This could end up being something that hurts him.
Both Jamie and Kevin are already at a big advantage in the way they have been prepared for the draft. They go through one or two NBA-type workouts every single day, with most of the same exact drills that they'll see in real workouts. They work with a personal trainer on adding strength and eating healthy, along with a large amount of personal coaching to perfect every facet of their game: whether it's polishing their shooting mechanics, learning the pick-and-roll both offensively and defensively, triple-threat scoring, ball-handling, off-the-ball movement, agility, and preparing them individually for each and every private workout, both physically and mentally, so they aren't surprised by anything. You would almost think that they're at an unfair advantage compared with the other players they will be working out with, but these are all things that they need to have down pat for the NBA anyway, so they are helping themselves as well as helping out their future teams by bringing a lot of fundamental stuff to the table already.
We'll see how it pays off on June 24th.