Coming back to Clearwater this time was about more than just getting another look at a couple of NBA prospects. After watching both Greene and Wade throughout the season at Louisiana Lafayette, and then in a private setting last month, this was a great opportunity to evaluate their game from another angle and see just how much a player can improve over the course of the season and through their preparation process for the NBA draft. This was also a fun and very informative workout to watch since a large portion of it was dedicated to two on two fullcourt matchups, which always tell you much more about a players defense, ball-handling, outside shooting, competitiveness and especially their feel for the game. These are the type of things that just dont always come off that well in drills. Dametri Hill, the former Florida Gator (better known as Da Meat Hook) who helped the Gators miraculously reach the Final Four in 1994, was present at this workout and added another added dimension of an extremely skilled, smart and experienced player to test the draft prospects against, although undersized and out of shape. Hill has played all over Europe over the past decade, with stops in France, Israel, Latvia (with Andris Biedrins) and most recently Cyprus, just to name a few.
It was particularly interesting for me to compare what I saw here with what I just saw at the Chicago pre-draft camp, considering that two of these guys here (Greene and Badiane) are seniors who never even got a sniff at either Chicago or Portsmouth, mainly because of the fact that the NBA (according to what the league itself told me) lost track of them over the course of the season. In all honesty, I just can not understand why the NBA keeps deciding to bring in guys to their pre-draft camps who lack the basic physical attributes and skills to even deserve any serious consideration at their respective positions from the pros. You look at guys like John Lucas, a 5-10 PG who stands out in nothing he does, David Lucas, a 6-7 power forward, Juan Mendez, Daryl Dorsey, Jason Klotz, Keith Langford, Roger Powell, Omar Thomas, David Simon the list of players goes on and on. Sometimes it seems like its the European scouts in attendance that teams are trying to please rather than bringing in guys with real NBA upside, who have an NBA position and at least some basic skills that can translate over to what the league usually looks for.
Most of the players above can be considered mainstream or rather safe bets, guys who had great college careers and/or came from big time college programs. As we are all fully aware of, though, that rarely translates into success unless some basic prerequisites are met.
Thats why I personally find it a little more interesting to try and seek out gifted players who slipped through the cracks; whether its because of the team they played for, the system they played in, injuries, transfers or just plain old bad luck. 4 of the top 12 players drafted in the 2nd round last year were college seniors who werent invited to the Chicago pre-draft camp. Some of them, like Lionel Chalmers and David Young, werent invited to Portsmouth either. Like Stephen Graham and Orien Greene, these are players that not every NBA team is aware of or is willing to take seriously, even though there is no such thing as owning a monopoly on guessing who is good enough to play in the NBA. You just need to work a little bit harder to scout these guys on tape and watch them play in person in workouts.
This workout here at Clearwater started as they all do with stretching and warm-ups drills to get them loose. The warm-ups then continued with two on zero fast break drills that provided a chance to mainly evaluate their athleticism. After that were skill oriented drills, mainly footwork, and a variety of finishes around the basket and from 15 feet out and in, while the guards worked on their mid-range game and triple threat and individual moves to create shots. Pick and pop drills followed before the best part of the workout, the pickup games between the players, kicked off. These games were set in various formats and lasted for over a half an hour, plenty of time to get a decent feel for their game, athletic ability, shooting, ball-handling, defense and competitiveness.
Tiras Wade, 6-7, junior
Wade was extremely impressive the last time I saw him, but this time I wasnt as lucky. He suffered a back injury on his swing the week before I came through the west coast and was visibly stiff and in pain in every move he made. Wade had a bunch of upcoming workouts so he was trying to take it easy and keep his back from stiffening up more. You could tell that he added some much needed lower body strength, and was still showing off his picture perfect stroke from the perimeter, even if he wasnt getting much lift on his shot.
Something that did impress was the way that Wade still fought through and competed in the two on two games towards the end of the workout, even winning the last three. Beyond that, there wasnt much else to be had from this workout unfortunately. Wade has some huge workouts coming up for teams draft in the late 1st and early-mid 2nd round, those will most likely decide where he ends up going in this draft. He still has his work cut out for himself to ensure himself a spot.
Last time I stopped by in Clearwater, Greene disappointed me a bit compared with the way he looked on tape. All the Lafayette games I saw showed me a flamboyant, bouncy and super athletic PG who handles the ball like a wizard and shows outstanding confidence and feel for the game that only comes from being considered one of the best prospects in the country at your position from a very young age.
Not only did I walk away from this gym impressed, I now have the feeling, more than ever, that Greene is easily one of the biggest sleepers in this draft. I just dont see anyone in this draft who he resembles even in the slightest. The only NBA executive I talked to in Chicago regarding Greenes chances in the NBA said he agreed with me 100% that he will surely be in the NBA next year and has a great chance of being drafted even, maybe by his team in the late 2nd round, depending on who they take in the 1st round. He knows his game pretty well because his team got a look at him in a private workout just a few days after I did.
Greene looks to be in the best shape of his life right now and looks the part as well, built like a rock and looking like he would have a decent chance as an NFL linebacker if things dont work for him in the NBA. Greene looks to be almost fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered early on in the year at Kansas and is running and dunking all over the place as if it was nothing. His footspeed is back to where it used to be and hes particularly impressive turning the corner off a screen with the ball in his hands, just exploding towards the hoop and finishing with the kind of fearlessness and strength that you love to see in a PG his size. When Greene is using his footwork to make sharp cuts, change directions (with or without the ball) and jerk his man all over the place is when he is truly at his best.
Obviously this would be nothing without his flashy ball-handling skills, the key to his ability to create his own shot, but this is one of the places where he really excels. After working hard for over a month now Greene has all kinds of new moves in his arsenal which make him that much harder to defend, especially with his left hand. In addition to possessing a strong crossover he can now pull up fluidly and elevate off the dribble for a smooth jump shot from mid-range, all in the blink of an eye like everything he does. Since he wont be able to just get into the lane and dunk the ball whenever he pleases like he showed in college before he got injured, hes been working on a nice little floater in the lane just to give himself yet another option to finish when he gets to the basket. Greene has been studying a player he resembles somewhat, Dwyane Wade, very closely to try and find out how he uses a similar combination of size, strength, athleticism, ball-handling and mid-range shooting to get his points in the NBA. Wade is, and always will be a much more gifted scorer than Greene is, but they are similar enough in other enough in other parts of their game to make this comparison without insulting Wade.
He wasnt really able to play like this in college because his shot wasnt anywhere close to being good enough to represent a real threat for him to go to in order to keep the defense honest and prevent them from sagging off him. Greene seems to have adopted the new shooting mechanics Coach Thorpe instilled in him when he got here and now looks very good shooting the ball in rhythm out to the college three. He was outstanding from mid-range and even did a decent job from the NBA three point line, although this is clearly the thing he needs to work on most to make it and stick in the NBA. Still, its hard not to notice how much progress hes made in such a short time, going from a brick layer in college with horrendous shooting form to a guy that clearly can not be left open on the perimeter unless you want to pay for it, at least from what I saw here in their drills. Just becoming decent in this area opens up his game that much more. If he continues to work on his shot and becomes adequate in game time situations from the NBA three point line as well, then well really have something to talk about here. He was never considered a great scorer throughout his career, but he shows enough potential here, especially in his ability to get to the basket, to lead you to believe that hell be fine in this aspect as a backup PG in the NBA.
None of his passing skills have been lost in the process, as Greene is and always has been a pass first PG. He threw up a number of sensational passes to Moussa Badiane either right over the top of his defender to put him in place while hes moving for an easy dunk, bouncing the ball perfectly into his hands on a switch off a pick and roll, or just lobbing the ball in the air and letting him go get it while they were running the fast break. From my experience with the workouts Ive been to, its not all that easy for a PG to show off his passing and playmaking ability in a setting like this. Orien did a damn good job with the few opportunities he had, though just continuing to push and push and push the ball some more, never seeming to break a sweat or get tired, and not making too many mistakes in the process.
Defensively, judging from this workout and the fact that he was back to back defensive player of the year in his conference, there is absolutely no doubt that he is going to be able to hold his own in the NBA. He is big, strong, long, tough as nails and an absolute pest out there.
Any respectable two on two workout or training session wouldnt be complete without a long and athletic big man to step into the lane and force the guards into changing their shots on the defensive end, while presenting a big target in the paint on pick and roll and transition drills on offense. This one was no exception.
Badiane is a 6-11 (measured in front of my eyes), extremely quick and mobile big man who hails from East Carolina in Conference USA. The Senegalese native arrived in the States via France, where his parents still live and he owns a very valuable passport from. His biggest claim to fame is breaking Kenyon Martins all-time shot blocking record in the conference, despite the fact that he was played pretty sporadically over his NCAA career and never averaged more than 30 minutes per game in any of his four seasons at ECU. He averaged 3.6 blocks per game as a freshman in 23 mpg, 2.3 as a sophomore in just under 22 mpg, 3.3 as a junior in 26 mpg, and then 2.8 blocks per game as a senior in 29.7 mpg. Foul trouble has always been an issue for Badiane in his attempt to stay on the court for long enough to help his team come away with wins, and up until this season he struggled to score consistently in double digits on the offensive end.
Badiane is a guy who is extremely intriguing to watch in drills, as hes mobile and agile enough that youre afraid to take your eyes off him for too long in fear that youll miss one of his trademark dunks from outside the paint. This guy is really athletic, and compared with the tapes I saw of his from his junior year, a little more bulky than I expected.
Its not hard to tell that Moussa is a smart player on the court, and talking to him off the court leaves little doubt about just how intelligent and well spoken this guy is. That, along with his work ethic, size and athleticism should be enough to say that the guy has at least a decent upside as far as the NBA is concerned. Watching him elevate for blocked shots, thanks to some good timing, further confirms that notion.
His mid-range jumper looked decent enough in the drills to make you think that it has potential to become a solid tool, and indeed in the games he was stepping out nicely and hitting mid-range jumpers from 16-18 feet out, showing nice mechanics in the process.
All in all its not hard to tell that Badiane is still a pretty raw player at this point, who needs to continue to be coached and brought along by someone patient and diligent like Coach Thorpe to teach him the fundamentals of the game and correct him when he makes mistakes. Badiane looks to be ready and willing to soak up everything that hes being taught, but unfortunately it didnt look like he got too much of that at the NCAA level.
Watching tapes of East Carolina, its not hard to tell that no one on his team had any idea about how to throw a proper post entry pass or run the pick and pop, and thats probably why Badiane lacks the offensive skills he shows on the defensive end..
Training with a player like Dametri Hill has to be helpful for a guy like Badiane. He has the strength, polish and experience that Badiane is sorely lacking. If he can help this young French center develop a little bit more of a mean streak as he approaches his private workouts, then he would be in great shape. In most years he would be an interesting player to nab in the 2nd round and stash overseas for a year or two (his French passport would come in handy here), but this years 2nd round might be a little crowded depending on how many players pull out at the deadline. Regardless of what happens, NBA teams will have to keep track on Badianes progress over the next few years. Guys with his physical attributes dont exactly grow on trees in the States. He needs to continue to add strength to his frame and work on developing a little bit more of a killer instinct (he hesitates a bit sometimes, but the upside is clearly there.