We had the chance to take an in-depth look at many prospects for this draft, weeks before the NBA will, including Patrick O'Bryant, Kyle Lowry, Alexander Johnson, Guillermo Diaz, Yemi Nicholson, Rashad Anderson, and others. This report will focus on the second gym we visited, IMG Academy, where we watched one day of workouts.
Part One: Five Star Pro Training
Last years visit to IMG was very productive. We got a chance to watch Ryan Gomes in action, who impressed us with his fundamentals, craftiness, toughness, intelligence and feel for the game rather than with his athleticism. Looking back, its a bit ironic to see what we said about him in hindsight: He managed to convince that he is the type of player that will be in the league for a long time, regardless of where he ends up being drafted. Will NBA teams feel the same way? Needless to say, Gomes most certainly has by now.
This year the caliber of prospects was a bit higher, even considering who we missed out on because of it being Mothers Day weekend and a Saturday, typically a day of regeneration for the players. Players who we narrowly missed out on but might still go back to see include Kevin Pittsnogle, Darius Washington, Keydren Clark and Randy Foye, amongst others. The players who were in attendance were Patrick O'Bryant, Kyle Lowry, Rashad Anderson, Yemi Nicholson, Travis Garrison, Renaldo Balkman, Jasper Johnson and Harold Jamison.
The two hour-long workouts were run by IMG Basketball Academy Director Joe Abunassar. Considering that it was a Saturday and a number of the players had just arrived a few days before or less, it was more loose and less intense than most weekday workouts usually are from what I was told.
They started as all workouts do with a series of warm-ups, mostly fullcourt drills with and without the ball to get the players blood flowing. They worked simultaneously on lateral movement, ball-handling in the full-court, and short pull-up jumpers from end to end. Patrick O'Bryant was then sent to one end to work on his footwork in the post with former NBA player Harold Jamison, while Yemi Nicholson and Rashad Anderson worked on plenty of shooting off the dribble, mid-range jumpers and static 3-pointers from mid-range, and the college (for Nicholson) or NBA (for Anderson) three-point line.
My focus was quickly diverted to a one on one matchup that was developing on one end between Patrick O'Bryant and Harold Jamison, pitting a 29 year old NBA and Euroleague veteran versus a raw 19 year old mid-major prospect with a ton of hype behind him.
After initially being abused by the 6-9 Jamison, O'Bryant slowly started to adjust and began to absolutely dominate both offensively and defensively before his lack of conditioning caught up with him.
On the other end, Nicholson was being put through a series of intense drills that went a long way in explaining why his body looks so much better now than it did at Portsmouth just a month ago or during the regular season.
Abunassar then started making things very interesting by working on O'Bryants leaping ability and explosiveness around the rim and beyond. He was asked to finish around the hoop in a variety of ways from just inside the free throw line as well as around the hoop without gathering himself.
Kyle Lowry had just showed up in anticipation of his own workout, and had a hard time hiding how impressed he was by O'Bryants length and surprisingly good leaping ability, muttering something towards the end along the lines of why couldnt he had a big guy like that to work with at Villanova.
Some work on transition drills followed, making the big men run the court at full speed before catching the ball in full stride and finishing at the rim.
Once the first workout was over, the second began. On one end Travis Garrison and Jasper Johnson were being put through a number of drills to improve their perimeter shooting ability and overall small forward skills. On the other end, Lowry and Renaldo Balkman were doing similar drills, just with more ball-handling and triple-threat scoring involved. One involved doing one dribble right, a crossover, a short dribble left and then a pull-up jumper. The next asked the players to drive from half court at full-speed, and then pull-up for a mid-range jumper from the elbow. Work on their floaters and teardrops ensued before the players got to the meat of the workout as far as I was concerned: one on one play. On the other end, Jasper Johnson and Travis Garrison did the same. Lowry and Balkman finished things off with a very entertaining dunk contest between the two.
Patrick O'Bryant, 7-0, Center, Sophomore, Bradley
Watching Patrick O'Bryant practice in person for an hour would have made this trip worth the price of admission even if he was the only player to be seen in the Tampa Bay area all weekend long. It was very hard not to come away excited by how much potential this young monster in the making has in him, and after seeing him with my own eyes, it was even harder not to go overboard with where we have him slotted on the mock draft (currently 9th).
First you need to start with his physical attributes, which absolutely put him in a class of his own as far as this draft is concerned. Hes a legit 7-footer, with an incredible 7-5 wingspan and 9-4 standing reach. His frame is perfect and will carry just as much weight as he needs to in the pros, as his shoulders are high and wide and his lower body is solid. He ran the court like a deer early on in the workout before tiring a bit towards the end, which was understandable considering that he had just arrived a few days prior. In the post hes extremely mobile, fluid in his movements when he knows what hes doing, quick with his feet, and fairly explosive getting off the floor. He got off the ground impressively to dunk from just a foot inside the free throw line in one drill, and used his already big body to establish position and work his way around the post at will against the shorter and slower Jamison in the one on ones. Once he established himself around the rim, he barely has to jump to dunk the ball thanks to his reach. Abunassar was working with him on his foot-work, and it was evident that hed be able to get off his jump-hook at will in the NBA due to his height and length.
Early in the one on one drill his inexperience began to show as Jamison forced his will on him and made him shot some tough fade-away jumpers rather than let him use his body to get deep inside the paint. But to his credit, O'Bryant quickly adapted himself and used his nimble feet to spin around him or just shoot the ball over the top of him with a soft touch. Once he learned what Jamison wanted to do offensively, which did not take him very long, he put a lid on the rim and refused to give him anything easy. Jamison is a savvy veteran and has all kind of crafty moves in his arsenal he can go to, but O'Bryant picked up on his tendencies and slid in front of him time after time to bother his shot.
Despite his apparent dominance, it was obvious that O'Bryant is still a fairly raw prospect who will need patience from the team drafting him. He still lacks polish in the post with his footwork, and noticeably favors going to his right hand. Watching him shoot the ball from mid-range reminds a lot of Joakim Noah in the way he releases the ball from his chest--just not as violently--but regardless the accuracy from almost any distance outside of 12 feet--except for the baseline--just wasnt there. His free throw shooting was also very poor. What might hold him back the most would be his conditioning, though, at least early on in his career. He still has some work to do with his phenomenal frame, in terms of adding weight in the right places and improving his core strength.
Whats most impressive is just how little he gets by on at this early point in his career at age 19. Two years ago he was barely a top 300 high school recruit who most mid-major coaches wouldnt touch with a 10 foot pole. Now, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the lottery. The only concerning thing coming from this workout--and this could be either a positive or negative considering how good he looked regardlesswas the fact that he seemed to be in 3rd or 4th gear for most of the time. Part of this has to do with how long he was here at IMG for, and part of it has to do with the nature of the workout, but it was hard not wondering at times whether hes a little too nonchalant for his own good. This is something we saw from him during the regular season as well, as hes not really the type of big man who will want to rip your heart out if you get in his way, and doesnt have the kind of chip on his shoulder you like to see in a player who still has a considerable amount of improvement to make.
Regardless, O'Bryant has a world of upside at his fingertips, and it can not be forgotten just how much hes improved over the past two years playing at Bradley. People who saw him do warm-ups during the summer in AAU competition (since he wasnt good enough then to actually play in the games) said that he was so awkward and uncoordinated that he would just carry the ball to the basket in layup lines and dunk it with two hands. The coaches at Bradley have obviously done a fantastic job with him. This type of improvement speaks highly of his work-ethic and likelihood to continue to improve over the next few years, and if he remains focused once he reaches the NBA, its scary to think just how good he can be. Off the court, his attitude looked excellent as well.
Kyle Lowry, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, Villanova
Lowry looked a little bit bored to begin with during the drills, knocking down most of his mid-range jumpers and some of his college threes--still picking things up along the way considering that this was only his 2nd day at IMG so far, but managing to leave a favorable impression mostly due to how he looked in the one on one portion of the workout.
Physically, he is definitely on the small side, but looked much more natural finally without the undershirt he usually sported under his Villanova jersey. Hes built not unlike many NFL tailbacks are, extremely strong and explosive, shifty in his movements, and patient and instinctive with where he wants to get out on the court.
He didnt have the same polish that a lot of players who have been doing these same drills for a month or more already possess, and is regardless a bit lacking on the offensive end in terms of his perimeter shooting ability, but in the one on one was when his competitiveness really came out.
His strength was evident in the way that he would take contact either on the perimeter or at the basket and brush it off as if nothing had happened and continue to go to work. He took the ball to the hoop strong time after time and finished well, even when being bumped off his spot initially.
When creating his own shot he was smart and patient with the moves he wanted to make, leading his defender on into thinking he has him before exploding right past him with his quickness or a crafty hesitation move. His ball-handling skills looked superb even without the things hell be learning here in the next month or so, as hes a street-smart instinctive New York City type point guard who just knows how to get the job done. He couldnt get his shot to fall for him consistently from behind the arc, but looked good stepping back from mid-range off the dribble and elevating for a smooth looking jump-shot.
Defensively in these drills, Lowry was an absolute menace. He got in his mans grill on every single possession and just would not let anyone go by him. Hes a pest in the truest sense, bodying up his man constantly, using his terrific hands to wreak havoc, and even blocking shots on the perimeter or in the paint when someone had the nerve to challenge him.
After the workout was over he decided to put on a little show by putting his leaping ability on display. He pulled off a number of extremely impressive dunks, bouncing the ball high off the ground and then going up to get it before slamming it home with a windmill. Lowry told us later on that he still hasnt decided what hes going to do in terms of staying in or pulling out of the draft. Hes likely to participate strictly in the physical-only partition of the Orlando pre-draft camp should he get invited, and then decide afterwards what his next move is after feedback from NBA teams starts coming in.
Yemi Nicholson, 6-10, Senior, Center, Denver
There wasnt too much to take away from this workout considering that Nicholson was mostly working on his perimeter game, but it was very obvious that hed lost quite a bit of weight since the last time we saw him in early April at Portsmouth.
Nicholson ran the floor much better than he did on tape or at the NCAA seniors only camp, and seemed to be working extremely hard throughout the workout, from the start until the very end. Hes not the type of player who will look that good in many of the ball-handling and perimeter shooting drills we saw him go through, but you can at least say that hes gone from having absolutely no skills on the perimeter to not being embarrassing to watch in this type of setting. His feet were just as nimble as we remember them, his hands still huge and his arms incredibly long, so it will be very interesting to see how he looks at the pre-draft camp in June with another few weeks of training under his belt. Despite his age he hasnt been playing organized basketball for all that long, so it wouldnt be a stretch to say that he isnt done improving yet.
Rashad Anderson, 6-4, Shooting Guard, Senior, UConn
Rashad Anderson did what we expected him to in a workout like this, and thats look absolutely great shooting the ball from the perimeter. The transition from the college 3-point line to the NBA 3-point line clearly isnt going to be much of an issue for him from what we saw here, and he has the type of lift on his jumpshot, quick release and high release point to help him get his shot off against most defenders if given just an inch of daylight. Anderson looked good putting the ball on the floor and shooting off one or two short dribbles. His ball-handling beyond that was not there to be evaluated due to the fact that there wasnt any one on one or specific ball-handling drills in half-court type settings. The same can be said about his perimeter defense. Anderson also appears to have lost some weight since we last saw him at Portsmouth. Hes not particularly toned, but is still in better shape than he was a month ago.
Travis Garrison, 6-8, SF/PF, Senior, Maryland
Following up a very solid showing at Portsmouth, Garrison continues to surprise with the skills he never got to show off in his four years at Maryland. In terms of his frame, hes clearly molding himself into being marketed as an NBA small forward, and appears to have the right build at least to pull that off. His perimeter shot looked excellent in the drills, especially from mid-range and the college 3-point line, but also from NBA range. He looked smooth both with his feet set as well as pulling up off the dribble. In the one on one session it looked like he still had work to do on his perimeter defense and ball-handling skills, but this is the type of thing thats better to evaluate at a setting like the Orlando pre-draft camp, which he seems worthy of being invited to.