The trainer, Idan Ravin, has slowly been establishing himself as one of the best teachers in the country through his coaching each year with a select clientele base that he works with year-round. Weve been meaning to get out to DC to watch him in action for quite some time now. Hes the lone trainer who can claim to have trained three of the past five draft prospects who ended up winning Rookie of the Year honors after working with him; Chris Paul, Steve Francis and Elton Brand. Other players hes helped prepare for the draft or trained before or during the NBA season include Carmelo Anthony, Gilbert Arenas, Mike James, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels and many others. His reputation appears to be well deserved, as the emphasis on and personal instruction through stern and encouraging motivational techniques was evident throughout the workout.
The session started the way most NBA workouts do, with warm-ups and a series of full-court ball-handling drills. The players worked on the type of basic skills theyll be tested on in the next few weeks, in and outs, crossovers, between the legs, behind the back, spins and other standard ball-handling moves. Mid-range pull-ups, step-backs, and finishing around the basket in a variety of ways was mixed in with a series of other skill oriented drills. 3-point shooting was practiced both from stand-still and off the dribble, and one on one half-court and full-court matchups brought out the competitive side of the prospects in attendance and taught us all we wanted to know about their individual skills.
Rudy Gay, 6-9, Sophomore, Small Forward, UConn
Its not every day that we get to watch a potential top 5 draft pick train for the NBA draft in front of our own eyes for an hour and a half, and it was immediately evident to us why Gay is held in such high regard.
In terms of physical attributes, there is no doubt that Gay is the absolute prototype for what a modern day NBA wing should look and move like. He is every bit the 6-9 he is listed at, but possesses the type of wingspan that youd normally expect from a 6-11 power forward. His hands are huge and his are fingertips freakishly long. Gay has an excellent frame and looks to have already added a bit of weight to it in the few weeks hes been here preparing for the draft.
As far as his athleticism goes, Gay came as advertised, executing a few moves in the workout that only a select number of current NBA players can. He runs the floor fluidly, like a 6-3 guard, elevates gracefully and instantly off the floor, and has an incredibly smooth vertical leap.
In terms of skills, there wasnt anything that could be hidden in this type of setting due to the nature of the drills they were put through. Gay got his shot off whenever he pleased thanks to the terrific separation he can create at any point in time from his defender, and looked absolutely terrific pulling up from mid-range. He not only elevates instantaneously off the floor to create space between him and his defender, but also possesses a high release point on his shot to compliment the already beautiful arc he puts on it. Certain drills here worked on moving off the ball and utilizing screens, and this appeared to be a part of his game where hell have success in the NBA almost right off the bat. This also appeared to be something that was more difficult to evaluate in him in college due to the shorter 3-point line and lack of spacing that UConn at times suffered from. The NBA 3-point line is four feet further back than the college line, and this is a part of the floor in which Gays strengths will be better utilized because of the sheer ease in which he can get his shot off.
When attacking the basket, his long strides allow him to get to the hoop from the 3-point line off of one short dribble. He showed quite a bit of craftiness getting his shot off in many different ways, particularly with a sweet-looking jump-hook shot that we probably didnt see enough of at UConn. When focused on attacking the basket and finishing strong, Gay was virtually unstoppable, as his length and explosiveness almost make things unfair on the player who is guarding him. Things just come that easy for him. Defensively, he was extremely disruptive at times thanks to his wingspan and outstanding lateral quickness. As he matures physically and gains more experience, he is likely to develop into an absolute terror on this end of the floor.
The biggest revelation to come out of this workout revolved around his mental toughness and intensity. Gay has been described at times as being a soft player, but that certainly did not look to be the case in this workout. He was highly competitive almost throughout and was visibly displeased by every shot he missed. His work ethic seemed top-notch, and it was impossible not to notice the kind of excellent shape he was in. Talking to him and watching him play, its obvious that the intense criticism hes received over the past season has forced him to develop a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and he seems to be all the more motivated now to prove his doubters wrong. He might never be as good as people want him to be because of the fact that he looks like such a stud and there always seems to be something more that he might be able to do, but thats not really his fault.
In terms of negatives, there were definitely some that came out due to the extremely intense nature of this workout. In the ball-handling drills and one on one, it became evident that Gay will have to work much harder on this part of his game than most 6-6 or 6-7 wing players do due to his freakishly long wingspan. Its just that much more difficult for a player with his size and length to have complete control over the ball from when the ball hits the floor and bounces back into his hand, due the sheer physics involved. This is something hell have to continue to work hard on.
In terms of creating his own shot, Gay is yet to truly master the art of establishing separation from defenders with change of speeds and directions, hesitation moves, jab-steps, freeze fakes and other crafty tricks that all veteran shot-creators have and need in their arsenal. He is a bit too upright when driving towards the hoop, and might have some problems taking advantage of smaller defenders until he becomes more flexible in terms of getting his body low to the ground as he slashes his way towards the basket. This certain reluctance to expose the ball causes him to settle for jump-shots more than youd like to see a player with his physical gifts do. His release point and therefore his overall shooting accuracy is still a bit inconsistent since he has a tendency at times to snap his hand violently on the follow through, but this is something that can easily be tweaked once he gets into training camp.
When he did take the ball to the basket, he doesnt always go up that strong, which prompted Ravin to encourage him to play big and be more of a mother------, but always in a heartening manner and not by depreciating him. When having his buttons pushed correctly, Gay responded emphatically, making the exact adjustments that he was encouraged to and indeed playing up to his strengths better in the possessions that followed.
All in all this was an excellent setting to evaluate Gays strengths and weaknesses. The things he does well on the court are clearly the type of virtues that are innate and cannot be taught, while the things he doesnt do particularly well at this point generally seem to be weaknesses that can be worked on and he should improve upon as he matures and adds more polish to his game. The biggest question is, how soon will the lightbulb come on?
Gay would be best served landing on a team like Charlotte, Toronto or Minnesota who will not ask him to be their go-to player right off the bat. Its obvious that his potential is absolutely off the charts, but at the same time the team that drafts him will need to be patient and realize that he is still only 19 years. Its been our opinion all year that if he focuses on playing a role similar to the one Shawn Marion plays in Phoenix as opposed to trying to be a Tracy McGrady type offensive player, he will find greater success in the league sooner and potentially become an all-star down the road.
Gays first private NBA workout is scheduled for May 31st for the team that might fit him best, the Charlotte Bobcats. According to what we were told, he will not be taking the Gerald Green route and will be playing competitively against the top players who are willing to match up with him. In an interview youll read in the next few days, he singled out Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas and Brandon Roy as three players he would like to go up against in the next few weeks. He still has his heart set on going #1 in the draft, and is quietly looking forward to proving those whove doubted him along the way wrong.
Steve Novak, 6-9 ½, Senior, Small Forward, Marquette
While Gay is the athletic freak who is oozing with potential but will need to be harnessed a bit until he fully learns how to play up to his strengths, Novak is the crafty senior who is already superb at what he does well and is ready to step into his likely NBA role from day one.
We were warned beforehand that Novak is likely to look much better in the drills portion of the workout than the competitive one on ones, but that ended up not being the case at all here, as he looked very very good in both.
He handled the ball effortlessly in the ball-handling drills, maintaining control at all times while running and up down the floor, and looked smooth pulling up off the dribble and using the glass. Throughout the workout it was clear that were dealing with one of the most lethal shooting threats well probably ever witness in this type of setting. His jump-shot is fine-tuned like a well oiled machine, identical in its mechanics on each attempt, featuring an incredibly quick release, a beautiful follow through, and deadly range and accuracy. In the drive and kick portion of the workout, he was especially impressive, not missing more than one or possibly two attempts of all the shots he took from mid-range and behind the 3-point line, either from static positions or off the dribble. While watching this drill, a half a dozen NBA teams or more immediately sprung to mind as being able to use this type of threat on the wing right now if they could.
Once the one on one session began, we thought Novak would struggle a bit since he was never considered much of a shot-creating threat in college and was supposed to be at a distinct disadvantage when pitted up against a smaller and quicker player like Gray or a long and disruptive freak like Gay. That wasnt the case, though, as he seems to be more mobile than he gets credit for and is smart enough to know what his strengths are and play to them at all times. One would think that hed go to his 3-point shot at all costs, but he actually did a wonderful job of keeping his defender guessing at all times by taking him down to the post, and using crafty step-through pivot moves and pull-up jumpers off the glass from mid-range.
Once he established that hes more than just a one-dimensional shooter, he reminded us what we here for by knocking down an effortless 3-pointer in the blink of an eye from 30 feet out that barely touched the net. He got each of his defenders in the air on multiple occasions just with the threat of his lethal jump-shot, and then sailed smoothly to the rim for the easy finish after the pump-fake. When he did put himself in jail by giving up his dribble, he still used his height and intelligence impressively to knock down tough, contested shots while fading away left or right.
Defensively, he actually did a solid job using his length and getting a hand in his matchups face on most possessions, mostly due to the effort he put in on this end. He anticipates very well and had all of the players here scouted very well from the few days he had worked out with them already, knowing their tendencies and what kind of counter moves they like to go to.
When he was not on the court, he showed a great attitude by constantly encouraging everyone else on.
In terms of weaknesses, there wasnt too much you could fault him for considering what we know about his likely role at the next level. He is a bit too upright (some would say stiff) in the way he moves laterally defensively, not getting low enough to the ground to challenge the often smaller players he will often encounter. His vertical leap is not off the charts, and he still could stand to add some strength to his fairly skinny frame. Hes never going to be the type of player who creates his own shot off more than one or two short dribbles, but he seems smart enough to realize how not to be a liability here either. There was no offensive post game to be evaluated in order to see how well he uses his height
All in all he seems like the type of guy people will look back at in a few years and wonder how in the world he was drafted behind certain players who ended up being complete busts when the writing on him was all over the wall. As long as he falls in the right situation, hell have a long and productive NBA career as a solid rotation player, and maybe even a 3-point contest win or two.
According to information we received independently following this trip, Novak worked out yesterday in Houston with Dee Brown, Chris Quinn, Paul Davis and Chris Hernandez. He has a very interesting workout coming up in Sacramento on Thursday with James Augustine, Kevin Pittsnogle and Steven Smith.
Justin Gray, 6-2, Senior, PG/SG, Wake Forest
Of the four players, Gray was easily the best ball-handler in the drills. He looked smooth and confident at all times, executing the drills to perfection quickly and very much under control. His shot looked terrific both in the drive and kick drills as well as when asked to pull up off the dribble running up and down the floor in the full-court. His footwork is especially impressive, and his instincts as a scorer were always evident.
In the one on one matchups, Gray was very dominant at times. His 3-pointer was falling for him and he was taking the much bigger players off the drill at will. He took a number of tough contested shots with long arms in his face, but this didnt seem to bother him even one bit, even though he was a bit streaky at times. When getting to the basket, he finished nicely on more than one occasion with a swooping one-handed lefty floater in the lane that looked highly polished. He scored in almost every way possible in this workout, whether from well beyond the 3-point arc, pulling up from mid-range and in the paint.
Defensively it wasnt easy to evaluate him since every player here was at least 7 inches taller than him, and they are of course not the type of players hell be asked to guard. Shades of his typical lack of defensive awareness did come out at times as we saw this past season at Wake Forest. His shot-selection was at times a bit questionable as well.
After having watched him play extensively over his senior year and realizing how little point guard he has in him, it was nice to again see what made him such a highly touted player to begin with. Someone could certainly take a flyer on him late in the 2nd round as an Eddie House type scorer to bring off the bench, or he could find himself making six figures every year as an absolute killer of a shooting guard in Europe. Either way, hell be playing basketball somewhere for a very long time to come.
Alex Loughton, 6-9, Senior, Power Forward, Old Dominion
Loughton is a fairly skilled face-up power forward, with nice ball-handling skills and an excellent jump-shot with range out to the NBA 3-point line. He plays hard, knows his limitations, and seems to have a very good feel for the game.
In terms of the NBA, players at his height and position usually need to be either tremendously athletic or have one excellent skill they can rely on to warrant being brought off the bench. Loughton probably doesnt have either at this point in his career. He doesnt seem to have a problem with that, though, realistically noting that if things dont work out for him and the NBA, hell gladly go to Europe to add some polish to his overall game.