This year's pre-draft run-up opened in earnest this morning as the Blazers worked out 6 marginal college prospects at the Practice Facility. General Manager Kevin Pritchard, Scouts Mike Born and Chad Buchanan, Assistant Coaches Dean Demopoulos and Monty Williams were among the names who watched Marqus Blakely, Landry Fields, Tyren Johnson, Tory Jackson, Andy Rautins and Ryan Thompson go through the paces.
Stanford's Landry Fields attempts a jumper as Kevin Pritchard, Mike Born and Chad Buchanan look on.
Monty Williams Update
Before we look at the prospects, the biggest story in the gym was Williams, who is seen as one of two finalists for the New Orleans Hornets head coaching position. "I'm really flattered that I get the opportunity to talk about being a head coach," Williams told a media pack this morning. "As of now, there's really nothing [new] to talk about."
Asked about a Yahoo! report that Chris Paul wants Williams to be his next head coach, Williams smiled and joked, "I'm hoping Brandon Roy still wants me to coach him. I'm flattered, I didn't hear that from Chris. I didn't see his quote, so I don't know if that's accurate. But it is pretty cool that you have maybe the best point guard in the game wanting to work with you."
Williams, as always, was measured and careful in his comments but did sound like he was happy with how he is positioned around the league. "I think head coaching has an eye on you," he said. "It's not something you can get an application and go fill it out. I think the league picks you out. For me the opportunities have opened up and I'm just thankful."
Draft Strategy Tidbits
Kevin Pritchard did not take any questions immediately following today's workouts. But here are some takeaway thoughts culled together from discussions in the gym today and other correspondence with various NBA people over the past week or two.
- With so many players seemingly fixed into place for next season because of their skills, contract, health status or some combination of those factors (Roy, Aldridge, Batum, Oden, Camby, Miller, Bayless, Przybilla, Cunningham), identifying potential roster holes is pretty easy: an extra front court body, a 3rd string point guard, and a backup 2 guard if you're looking to jettison Rudy Fernandez. Nevertheless, the overriding strategic principle for the Blazers remains Best Player Available this year. Given the results from previous drafts, the team says it sees no reason to change course despite their narrow needs.
- As stated previously, the Blazers see this as a deep draft pool. So deep, in fact, that they see value picks existing well into the second round. What does that mean for potential draft strategy? Last year, in a somewhat weaker overall pool, the Blazers maneuvered to get 2 of the top 3 picks in the second round to grab Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham, thereby avoiding the bigger-dollar salaries owed to first round picks and getting two players they liked. This year, with a deeper crop and a pick at #44 there may not be the same urgency to move up to the very top of the second round to find value as, the thinking would go, the value at #44 this year is better than it would have been last year.
- Talk that some teams would be looking to trade out of the top half of the first round entirely for financial reasons is probably being overstated, a team official said. The thinking goes that drafting well remains the best, cheapest way for those teams to rebuild and that any picks traded from high on the board to teams in Portland's range would be tied to bad contracts. Given the Blazers current cap situation (big dollars owed to Roy, Aldridge and Camby in the near future) and their timeline (a serious playoff push will be the goal again next season), it's difficult to envision Portland taking on a large/long contract simply for the right to move up marginally in this year's draft order. The Blazers would have to be truly enamored with a highly-regarded prospect to take on that extra financial obligation (future salary). To justify that move, it stands to reason the targeted player would need to be an impact, rotation player from day one. Outside the top 3, who is that player in this year's class? I don't see him.
- A lot of the talk up to this point has seen the Blazers trading up from the #22 position. However, one Blazer decision-maker agreed with my assertion that the difference in talent between the 20th pick and the 40th pick really isn't that significant this year. If that's the case, wouldn't trading down from #22 make as much (or more) sense than trading up from #22? It's easy to envision a scenario in which the Blazers turn their first round pick into a high second round pick and future considerations, pick off a couple of their favorite prospects in the top half of the second round, and walk away from this draft with as little guaranteed financial obligation as possible, turning towards free agency to address their needs on proven players via the mid-level exception.
Tory Jackson: A four year point guard at Notre Dame who shot 60% on free throws. Displayed questionable shooting form today and his bricks sent his fellow workout attendees chasing all over the gym on multiple occasions. Solidly built, he got some extra attention from Dean Demopoulos and seemed to have an engaging personality. Didn't look like an NBA player.
Landry Fields: Stanford grad and son of a former NBA player, he led Pac-10 in scoring as a senior. Does not have NBA athleticism. Looked slow laterally and struggled under ball pressure during drills, turning it over multiple times. Good personality and good interview, but the SoCal native praised the Blazers but also noted that he was a Lakers fan and was rooting for them in the Finals. Come on, brah.
Marqus Blakely: One of today's attendees ranked in Chad Ford's top 100 prospects at #72. A 6'5" four year guard/forward from Vermont. Chad Buchanan told reporters today that he's still figuring out how to play against NBA size and quickness given the relative lack of quality competition in his college conference. His stats from college (19 and 11 as a college sophomore) look overwhelming on paper but he looked fairly unremarkable today.
Andy Rautins: Buchanan praised his catch-and-shoot abilities and noted that his father is the head coach of the Canadian national team. Seen as a worker who improved his game over four years at Syracuse. Lacks some of the physical tools that have helped JJ Redick carve out a niche in the NBA. Update: Earlier, I overlooked Rautins at #62 on Ford's list. Draft Express has him at #89. Sorry about that.
Ryan Thompson: Younger brother of the Sacramento Kings' Jason Thompson. Arguably put up better overall numbers than his brother at Rider but is shorter/smaller and looking to play on the perimeter in the pros. Another player with questions to answer when it comes to quickness, ability to score against NBA competition, etc.
Tyren Johnson: A small school combo forward from Lousiana-Lafayette who could enhance his game with improved outside shooting. With true 3 point range he could pose greater challenges to NBA defenders. Seen as something of a project who will go undrafted but has some longer-term NBA potential given his size (6'8") and athletic tools.
Joe Freeman has more on each prospect.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com
PS Programming note: The Full Court Press will be up tomorrow morning.