Cross-Country Workout Swing, Part 5, A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics, Chicago

Cross-Country Workout Swing, Part 5, A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics, Chicago
May 25, 2008, 11:08 pm
Part two of our two part article from Tim Grover’s A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Training Center in Chicago, where prospects such as O.J. Mayo, Brandon Rush, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Bill Walker, Jason Thompson, Shaun Pruitt and many others are preparing themselves for private workouts and the NBA pre-draft camp.

Part one, and our introduction of the A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Training Center, focusing mainly on O.J. Mayo, is right here.

Bill Walker

We had heard a lot of things about how great Bill Walker was looking here in Chicago leading up to this visit, but may have been a bit unlucky to not be able to see all that over the course of our two day visit.

Walker was working heavily on his perimeter shooting (he shot just 31% from behind the arc this season), and indeed looked very focused on shooting the ball correctly. He’s had a tendency throughout his career to rush his release and not fully set his feet, and it’s pretty clear that they’ve been working with him on slowing down and using a more pronounced follow-through. The results were fairly solid, but not overwhelming, indicating that he still has work to do on this part of his game. He looked quite a bit better with his feet set than he did shooting off the dribble. His ball-handling ability is another part of Walker’s game that is still a work in progress. Despite having the strength to get to the basket at a very good rate thanks to his powerful strides, he needs to improve his ability to change directions with the ball and cut down on turnovers.

From what we were told, Walker has been shooting the ball a lot better in most of his workouts, which is the reason he’s created so much buzz over the past few weeks. “His shooting is very underrated,” Mike Procopio told us, “because he’s such a great athlete. It’s a little inconsistent at times, he needs to get his elbow out and elevate as high as he can. That’s what we’re working on, and he’s responding really well. I compare him to Jerry Stackhouse. He can knock down shots from 15-17 feet, and that’s what team will need him to do. That will open up his drives, and his 3-point shot will get consistent in time. When he’s open, he’ll hit them. He gets up and down on himself quickly. We’re just keeping him confident in himself. He’s impressed with the ability to make deep shots, but now he needs to just do it a little more consistently.”

Regarding the other parts of his game, Procopio had a lot to say as well. “His ball-handling is getting better. Right now he’s not a guy that will bring the ball up the court. He can score effectively off of 1 or 2 dribble drives, and that’s what he needs. In time he will improve on his ability to Iso and play the pick and roll. He’s good enough to create offense for himself. If he needs to get better, bring the ball up the floor, we want him to be able to do that down the road. We do ball-handling in between sets of shooting drills. It’s a confidence thing. It will come in time. Again, I go back to Stackhouse-- he was a total off the ball, alleyoop, post-up guy. Now he does everything. Billy has the fundamentals down, he’s probably the best athlete in the entire draft, and you have to respect that. The handle will come. He’s a competitive, aggressive kid. He’s a mean guy on the court, in a good way. “

Something that was especially impressive was the incredible amount of weight Walker has lost since arriving here in Chicago, according to him, over 25 pounds. His body is clearly NBA ready, and the athleticism he lost seems to be coming back, although from what we can tell, it’s still not quite at the level it was in high school.

Another thing that caught our eye was the intelligence Walker exhibits off the court. We had a chance to spend some time with him—the results of which you’ll see in an interview tomorrow—and really came away thinking that he’s an extremely bright and articulate guy, which will surely go a long ways in helping him reach his very high ceiling. It doesn’t seem like Walker will be playing in the pre-draft camp next week. He’s not ruling out going back to Kansas State, but that doesn’t seem all that likely at this point.

Thoughts from Procopio: “Frank Martin, who is one of my best friends, told me that he’s one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. I passed judgment on him before we started, and I was proven wrong. Thank god Synergy doesn’t charge me or him by the clip, because we would both be broke. He absolutely loves watching tape. Right now he’s learning how to use his athleticism better and not rely too heavily on it. We’re helping him expand what he does by simplifying the game for him. Things like jabs, post-ups, turnarounds, and using athleticism to finish, instead of just creating. He’s become more effective this way now. He’s a lot more efficient using his footwork and setting people up. He’s just a very systematic player. His attitude has been fine here. He’s just an emotional kid. He’s one of our favorite guys, because he works so hard. He wants to get better. He asks so many questions. He pays attention. He’s working on the stuff we’re giving him. He is going to be a very good NBA player.”

Chris Douglas-Roberts

Considering that he did not take part in the scrimmage and we mostly got a chance to watch him shooting jumpers on his own, there really isn’t a great deal of new information to add to the extremely intensive evaluations we’ve done on him over the course of the past two seasons, which weigh a lot more heavily in our mind considering his overall body of work.

Douglas-Roberts’ frame looks pretty toned, and he seems to have added a bit deal of weight from what we could tell. He’s got a very good wingspan as well, and is an extremely confident player on the court. He shot the ball very well in the first day of workouts we took in, and then not quite as well in the second. His ball-handling looks a bit loose at times in this open setting, even though he wasn’t particularly turnover prone at the collegiate level. Athletically, he is good, but probably not amongst this draft’s best.

The bottom line is, Douglas-Roberts probably isn’t the greatest workout player you’ll find, which is not surprising considering his highly unorthodox style of play. He is a lot more impressive in the stuff that actually counts—the real games. Teams will be a lot more impressed breaking down his tape and seeing the 25 points per game he averaged per-40 minutes, the 54% he shot from the field, or the 41% he shot from behind the arc. They’ll also be impressed by the way he speaks and conducts himself off the court—smoothly and extremely confidently, just like he does on it. Check out the interview we did with him in Chicago for a perfect example of that.

Procopio’s thoughts on Douglas-Roberts: He’s a very effective basketball player, he really has the ability to shoot the ball. He’ll be able to come off pin-downs and screens in the NBA and be a very good spot-up shooter, and that will open up drives for him. A guy who can shoot the ball like he can will be in the league for as long as he wants. He is a great floater, and is just a very smart all-around player. He’s not a one-trick pony. He’s a player you can throw in the game and ask to get baskets for you because he knows how to read defenders. He’s learning every day, and is very efficient.“

Brandon Rush

Rush has spent some time working on his body since the season ended, that much is evident. His upper body looks quite a bit more toned these days, although his lower body still needs some work. His wingspan is fantastic, likely somewhere in the 7-foot range, and he really knows how to use it to its fullest to get his shot off with his high release point.

Rush’s strength and size makes shooting from behind the NBA 3-point line a piece of cake in this setting. He looked effortless knocking down shot after shot, and only needed a glimpse of daylight to spot up while being defended in a fairly competitive pickup game by Bobby Simmons. He also defended him extremely well on the other side of the ball, using his length and height to contest his shots effectively, and not being afraid to fight back when the much stronger veteran took him down to the paint and posted him up.

In terms of weaknesses, Rush’s ball-handling skills are clearly a work in progress—the ball slows him down and he struggles a bit to beat guys off the dribble. The obvious lack of aggression he showed at times offensively at Kansas wasn’t something you could really measure in this type of setting. Still, teams are going to like the things that he brings to the table—size, athleticism, length, perimeter shooting, and excellent defensive ability—the combination of which is pretty hard to find in an NBA swingman, and could make him a very safe pick starting in the late lottery. There were rumblings here in Chicago that Phoenix in particular at #15 has taken a liking to him.

Less than a year removed from the ACL surgery that forced him to return to Kansas last season and indirectly helped him win a national championship, Rush’s athleticism is slowly returning to the level it was prior to his injury. It wouldn’t be surprising if he looked a lot more explosive in his rookie season than he did in his final year in college, ala Carl Landry, as it often takes up to 18 months to fully recover from the surgery (which many players now return much stronger from.)

Thoughts from Procopio: “Brandon Rush is one of the top wing players in the draft. No one plays off the ball better than him. He brings a lot of things to the table, starting with his very good size, which allow him to play either the 2 or the 3. He is long, athletic, and has a great basketball IQ. He can already make shots from deep. You can run him off pick and roll plays, pin downs, and he’s great in transition.

He reminds me of Caron Butler. He has the ability to handle the ball, spot-up and make deep shots, and defend. He can do so much. The sky is the limit for him. I think in time, he develop into a team’s second or third best player. He can be a top 50 player in this league without question, because he can do so much, and he’s so athletically gifted. At that position you need, length, speed, size, and skills-- and he has all that. Some of the 2’s in this draft are very limited, very undersized. This kid can do a lot of things. He’s been going full speed since he got here. He has a lot of upside. He’s a guy you have to discuss from 5 on. You can put him in the same breath as Gallinari, Eric Gordon. He needs to learn some things, but I really like Brandon Rush, I’m a big fan. Whether we trained him or not.”

Jason Thompson

Coming off a minor shoulder injury he suffered last week going up against Sun Ming-Ming of all people, Thompson did not participate in the scrimmage, and looked fairly limited in the shooting drills as well. He had a bit of a hitch in his shot that almost certainly was caused by the shoulder injury, making it pretty tough to take much of anything away from what we saw here. He looks like he’s in very good shape and was moving very well up and down the floor. To draw any more conclusions from what we saw would be pretty irresponsible. We’ll settle for the half dozen games we saw him play in this season and the very impressive showing we took in in person at the NABC game in San Antonio.

Thoughts from Procopio: The injury against Sun Ming-Ming was a teaching point for Jason. We were doing a drill where he needed to finesse his way around the basket like Pau Gasol, and he tried to just run through his man. I told him: ‘there is only one person that went through the Great Wall of China, and that’s David Copperfield. You’re not David Copperfield.’ He just learned the hard way. He’s gonna be fine.

The first time I saw him was last summer at the LeBron James camp. He stood out to me a little bit. I thought we might have something here. He has length, is a good athlete, has a good body, and can take contact. He will be a very solid 4-man in the league. I can see him being a Channing Frye type. He can make shots, he’s great from 17 feet. He can run, and he rebounds at a very high rate. He can defend multiple positions in the league, but is more of a 4. He has a body that can put on weight. I think he can be a starting post player in time. He’ll have some growing pains initially, but he’s a very talented offensive player. He can pick and pop, he can turn to either shoulder. He’s a very serviceable, very skilled post player. A tough kid. Just a meat and potatoes type player that makes shots. A Juwan Howard type. He’ll be able to go out and get you 12 and 7 every night.”

Shaun Pruitt

We watched Tim Grover work Pruitt out this time last year as well, and the Illinois big man is definitely making some strides in his game, particularly in his conditioning. He seems to have lost a great deal of weight from the last time we saw him, and is noticeably elevating and finishing more effectively around the basket, as well as competing better defensively. His jump-shot—while not the stuff of legends—looks a bit better, and he’s expanding his arsenal of moves around the hoop too. His wide frame and super long arms makes him a presence on the glass on the offensive end in particular. Not being particularly quick or explosive, Pruitt will need to continue to improve the finesse parts of his game, rather than rely on his brute strength at professional level, as well as significantly improve his lateral quickness and ability to defend the perimeter. Right now he’s strictly a center, although his wingspan does help him quite a bit. He’ll be participating at the NBA pre-draft camp next week.

Thoughts from Procopio: “Shaun has been working very hard on his shooting. He’s just working very hard in general on getting better, which he definitely is. Conditioning and things like that have been a big key for him. He’s getting better with his post game. He’s a strong kid. I think he has a chance to stick in the league. People in the second round need to look at him. He’s not Wilt Chamberlin on the block, but he can take contact, he can rebound, and he can set good screens. He needs to get consistent from 12-15 feet, but he’s getting there. He’s learned a lot in terms of taking his time with his post-ups. He used to rush. He’s learning how to use running hook shots and such. His body looks great right now. He’s lost a lot of baby fat. He’s a very good kid. “

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