Workouts steal the show
As the final buzzer sounded on the 11:00 matinee game, the first one of the 2004 camp, the crowd rushed out headed a few blocks away to the MetroFlex Gym, where Western Carolina’s Kevin Martin had a workout scheduled.
The NBA was out in moderate force as Seattle, Dallas, Miami, Denver, San Antonio, and the Los Angeles Lakers were all in attendance. Martin’s performance was limited to shooting drills that reinforced the notion most already had that Martin was a perimeter player. The poorly run workout offered up the opportunity to watch a shooter shoot baskets and little else.
45 minutes later, the gym emptied as the crowd made its way to Hoops the Gym, Tim Grover’s cross-town training facility housing most of the NBA’s first-rounders who have bypassed the Pre-Draft Camp.
SFX, among the most elite of the agencies, had several clients working out for all 30 NBA teams and a large flock of media members. The four players on display were Roko-Leni Ukic, the up-and-coming point guard from Croatia, Erazem Lorbek, the former Michigan State Spartan standout currently playing for Skipper Bologna in Italy, Sasha Vujacic of Slovenia, and the massive and impressive project Ha Seung-jin from South Korea.
They were put through several strenuous workouts over a near two hour period, and it became apparent that this event, not the Pre-Draft Camp may have more to do with shaping what the 2004 Draft will look like. The Korean Seung-jin is a project who may capture some first-round consideration, especially if Boston and Utah both keep their three picks. While he’s inexperienced and in need of some serious tutoring, he’s only 18 and 7-foot-4. His upside may negate any worry about selecting him in Round 1.
Lorbek looks nothing like the young lion who toiled for Tom Izzo one year ago. His game has gained valuable polish and finesse, and his frame suggests controlled strength. The 6-foot-7 guard Vujacic plays with maturity and confidence. He’s smooth and his every move seems effortless. Ukic, the son of a Croatian rock star, may be the top point guard in town this week. He also looked confident and played with the typical European calm, quickly becoming associated with European point guards.
All this talent at a gym not being run by the NBA speaks to the changes in the dynamics of the NBA draft. All the NBA people in attendance were extremely attentive and came away with a lasting impression of these kids. Come draft night, the workout may have proved to be a lightening rod for these four kids.
But back at the Moody Bible gym, the NBA was flashing its very best Chicago game face. In the opening game, settled by one point, Team 5 prevailed 79-78 over Team 6. For the winners, Nate Robinson tallied 22 points and Damien Wilkins chipped in with 17. Meanwhile, Jackson Vroman got 17 points and 7 rebounds.
In the first of two night games, Team 1 prevailed over Team 2 91-83. The best performers were lone high schooler Jackie Butler (13 points and 10 boards), Tony Bobbitt (14 points) and PG Beno Udrih (13 points and 6 assists). Team 2 was led by 20 points from Andre Emmett, a second-year camp player.
In the nightcap, unheralded Mike Williams put up 13 points to lead a balanced attack as Team 4 defeated Team 3 74-64. Delonte West, filling in at point guard for the injured Blake Stepp, had 10 points, 5 assists and 2 steals while Ricky Minard chipped in with 11 points. Minard, who was inadvertently omitted from the list of players who competed here last year, shot 5-10 including several key shots down the stretch. For Team 3, Aleksander Capin delivered 10 points and 4 assists to lead his squad and has established himself as one of the premier point guards in the camp.
Blake Stepp leads a list of players who have sprained left ankles and are done for the week. Herve Lamizana and Sergey Lishouk are the two equally unlucky athletes who have joined him in street clothes.
Underclassmen dominate the conversation courtside as many experts try to determine who should go back and play out their remaining eligibility. Among those appearing to need more time to develop are Brandon Bass, off a 2-8 shooting experience which also included a cluster of bad decisions. Another player needing more hardwood schooling is Trevor Ariza of UCLA, who shows a lot of promise, but is raw on fundamentals. Based on his workout, Kevin Martin, who needs some bulk and must show an ability to defend, belongs to that group too.
Other talk surrounds the expansion draft and what Charlotte may be willing to do to accommodate other teams and collect additional draft picks. One scenario has them taking a salary off the Bulls hands in exchange for a future first-round pick.
Day three promises three more games, while SFX promises more workouts. After a second session of games, tendencies and trends will be more evident.
George Rodecker is in his twelfth season of providing expert analysis on the NBA Draft. He has been diligent in pursuing analysis by acquiring the consensus opinions of experts. Rodecker also writes for Basketball Times, Eastern Basketball and College Hoops Insider, as well as consulting privately with several pro teams and leagues around the globe
Tell us what you think about this article. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com