Q&A: NBA skills coach Drew Hanlen shares players' offseason workouts

Q&A: NBA skills coach Drew Hanlen shares players' offseason workouts

Interview

Q&A: NBA skills coach Drew Hanlen shares players' offseason workouts

Recently, NBA skills coach and Pure Sweat Basketball CEO Drew Hanlen was a guest on The HoopsHype Podcast and he had a wide-ranging conversation with Alex Kennedy. They discussed what his clients are working on this offseason, his training strategies and much more. You can listen to the full episode here. But if you prefer to read the conversation, a condensed and edited transcript is below.

Can you break down what Joel Embiid is working on this summer? A lot of our questions on Twitter were about what Embiid is focused on improving.

Drew Hanlen: There are three big things this summer. No. 1 was just low-post dominance. Obviously, he was really good in the mid-post last season. But when you look at the game where he had 46 points, the Lakers game, and if you look at the game before when I think he had 32 against the Clippers, he was a bully down low. Our first thing is just becoming a bully on the block. Our second thing is having him consistently make threes. When he’s making threes at a high clip, no one in the NBA can guard him. It just stretches the floor out so much and it opens up driving room. Then, No. 3 is playing on the perimeter/taking care of the ball. We noticed that he turned the ball over too much [at 3.7 turnovers per game] and most of those turnovers came from drives on the perimeter or drives from facing up in the triple-threat in the mid-post, so our third thing is just being able to make plays while facing up. That means tightening up his handles, making more plays off the bounce, changing directions and adding some face-up moves so he can be better in that category as well.

You’re also working with Joel’s teammate, Markelle Fultz. Right now, every Philadelphia 76ers fan wants to know what he looks and what they can expect from him next season. What can you tell us about Fultz and what he’s doing this summer?

DH: What I can tell you is that he’s doing very well. I think that a lot of people think that we’re hiding him and we’re not hiding him. We’re just being very strategic in what we share because, obviously, you don’t want to ever add pressure to a player when you don’t have to. Fans and the media would love to be able to witness every workout of every player that I work with, especially with guys like Markelle. All I can say is that it’s going really well and that we’re purposely doing things just to protect him right now. But I think Philly fans will be very excited.

You’re helping Gordon Hayward as he comes back from that devastating injury that he sustained in the first game of last season. How is Gordon looking and what’s the latest on his recovery?

DH: He’s doing really well. He’s up to full-speed workouts now, so he’s able to cut and play and do everything; there are no limitations in his workouts. Then, in the next week or two, he’s going to be able to start competing again, which is awesome because then we can begin to make adjustments and do stuff as he starts playing live – that’s super important so we can make sure everything we’re working on translates into games.

His biggest thing is being able to create his own shot. We want him to be able to create his own shot better. Playmaking is our No. 2 focus – being able to drive-and-kick and find shooters and just become a better passer. Then, No. 3 is giving him a mid-post game because we know a lot of teams in the NBA are starting to switch 1-through-4 or 1-through-5 and especially with the Celtics, with Al Horford playing as their 5 sometimes. We know a lot of teams are going to switch 1-through-5 and Gordon can be involved as a screener and get smaller guys on him. Basically, his main thing is isolation stuff, whether it’s mid-post or perimeter-oriented, and then becoming a better playmaker so that he can continue to make plays with all of those talented guys that the Celtics have around him.

One of those talented guys is Jayson Tatum. You recently shared a video of him hitting 18-straight threes and it went viral. How much has he developed while working with you and what’s his ceiling?

DH: Jayson and I have been working together since he was 13 years old, so obviously I know Jayson really well and believe in him – almost too much, as other people might say. I think Jayson is a star. I think he’s going to be an All-Star this year. We’ve been working on continuing to improve his three-point numbers off the bounce. A lot of people thought he couldn’t shoot when he was in college. Well, we knew he could shoot and we made a couple changes during pre-draft, and then he was one of the Top-10 three-point shooters in the NBA as a rookie, which is just unheard of. But we’re continuing to improve his range and his ability to knock shots down off the bounce – that’s one thing we’re working on.

No. 2 is driving through contact. He’s really, really good at doing what LeBron James does at times, where he swipes off defenders when they try to start jamming him, but we noticed that he’d get bumped off of his line a little bit, so we want him taking an extra dribble and being able to use his body a bit more and be more physical while he’s driving – that’s the second thing we’re working on. Then, the No. 3 thing is playmaking for him as well. He’s a guy who is an automatic bucket; I think he’s one of the best bucket-getters in the NBA. We want him to make smart passes when teams double-team him and start throwing different rotations at him. One thing that happened with Joel – that we didn’t prepare for enough – was when Joel started killing it during his rookie season and then they started throwing double-teams at him, there were different looks that I didn’t get him reps in and so he started struggling against double-teams. I don’t want that to happen with Jayson, so I’m sort of learning from my [previous] mistake with Joel. We’re really trying to prepare Jayson for double-teams and for teams to really load the box and force him to become a playmaker instead of just a scorer.

You’re also training Mo Bamba, who will be a rookie for the Orlando Magic this year. What have you seen from him, how does he do against a guy like Embiid and how is his shot looking?

DH: Mo has impressed me a ton. I was quoted as saying that Mo has probably came further along in three months than anyone I’ve ever had in pre-draft and that’s so true. He still has a long ways to go, obviously, because he came in so raw, but he definitely has all the athletic tools. We really improved his shot. I feel really good about his shot. I think he shot 2-4 from three in Summer League, so he was at 50 percent, but that’s obviously a very small sample size. But the fact that he was knocking them down in workouts very, very consistently and the fact that – even though it was a small sample size – he was making them at Summer League is a big improvement from the 27 percent he was shooting at Texas.

We worked a lot on his low-post and mid-post moves; I don’t think you’ll see him do too much low-post stuff this year, just because he still has to improve his strength. I think you’ll see him weighing 40-to-50 pounds heavier in the next three-to-five years. I think that low-post [game] will come as he continues to improve his lower-body strength and overall weight on his body. I do think he can score in the mid-post right now, just because he’s so good with his feet. We’re really trying to model his post game after Joel Embiid and, obviously, we know exactly what to do to give him those skills. The next thing is just him being able to make the right reads, and I think that’s one thing that makes Joel so special. Joel is really, really, really smart; a lot of people don’t give him enough credit for how smart and high-IQ he is. We’re just trying to get [Mo] better at that stuff because I think that’s where he can really shine. Then, the third thing is just working with him defensively. I think he can be an eraser and make up for a lot of peoples’ errors on defense because he’s so long and he really knows how to rotate to the ball and block shots.

You’re also working with some 2019 NBA prospects, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, who are both playing for Duke next season. You’ve worked with so many guys who have become All-Stars or have superstar potential. Where do these guys rank in terms of their talent and development?

DH: I love those guys. I think they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, so they’re very highly regarded. But they’re completely different players.

With RJ… To me, Jayson Tatum was one of the most professional 19-year-old kids I’ve ever had as far as walking in the gym, handling himself like a pro, watching film like a pro and working like a pro, but I put R.J. right behind Jayson in that category. With his dad [Rowan Barrett] playing professional basketball and Steve Nash being around in his life, he’s just learned from great people as far as how to handle himself like a pro. He just comes into the gym and brings a certain level of toughness. He competes harder than anyone I’ve had at that age, and he’s really good. He was playing in the pick-up games with our NBA guys, and not only holding his own but kind of shining at times. He beats some of the NBA guys in one-on-one. He’s ready to go. We worked a lot on his shot, that was his one kind-of-little question mark. He’s improved his shot a ton, so I think that he’ll get better results at Duke than people have seen in the past. And then that’ll be an area of focus in pre-draft as well so that hopefully we can make that transition to the NBA similar to how Jayson did.

With Cam, he’s super skilled. He’s a guy who’s just super versatile too, just because of his length and height and his ability to move at that size. He’s a guy who will continue to get better with consistency and effort, and once he gets that, I think he’s going to be a really, really good player as well. Both of those guys are really good and those guys are some of my favorite [2019 prospects]. I don’t watch college basketball much, but I don’t think there are many teams that can compete with those guys, so I have Duke as my early national champions for next season.

The rest of these questions were submitted by listeners on Twitter: How do all of your clients have Michael-Jackson-level footwork?

DH: (Laughs) The truth is, to me, it all comes down to shooting, feet and decision-making. That’s kind of what offense is about. And a lot of defense is footwork and decision-making too. Those three things are kind of my main areas of focus. As far as guys getting shiftier and being able to hesitate and stuff like that, those were the things that Brad Beal had to work on most to become an All-Star; we thought he got snubbed a few years when he was averaging more points than certain players who did get the All-Star nod. So we said, “The only way for him to cement himself as an All-Star is by being able to create more.” I did a ton of homework and made sure I did anything and everything I could to help him become more shifty a few years ago, and it worked. Now, I’ve continued to adapt and [improve those techniques]. I try to make sure that all of my guys have good feet, good shots and good decision-making because those are the three things that, I think, lead to really good offensive players.

Of all the players you’ve worked with, who are two or three guys with the highest IQ?

DH: For me, I would like to think, that all of my guys have high IQs. If not, I’m not doing my job very well! But Joel Embiid has a very high IQ. There are times where I’ll be showing him some clips and he’ll stop me and talk about how he remembers Patrick Ewing using that in the playoffs in a certain year and I’m just like, “Dang.” He’s a really big film junkie.

Jayson Tatum is definitely up there. We just recently put out a clip of the similarities between him and Kobe Bryant. That’s no accident; he loves Kobe and he’s been studying Kobe since he was 13 years old. But we’ve done a ton of film work with him, making sure he’s stealing from just about every player you can imagine. I’d definitely say Jayson is on the list. [Kobe recently joined Jayson and Drew for a workout].

Then, Brad Beal. I always joke around and tell people, “Brad knows everything that I know.” We’ve been together for so long and sort of built Pure Sweat together. He’s like the Pure Sweat OG. Brad and I have so many conversations about basketball and we’ll bounce ideas back and forth off each other, and I’ve learned so much from him too. [Since he was one of my first NBA clients], he was kind of my guinea pig. We tried a lot of things out on Brad and if it worked, we’d try to make it better and perfect it [and continue using it] and if it didn’t work, we’d kick it to the curb or try to make adjustments until it did work. But Brad is one of the highest IQ guys I’ve ever worked with and I’ve stolen so much from him, just because we’ve been together so long and built this thing together.

When you’re training a guy, can you tell if they’re not going to make it in the NBA? What are some signs you look for in a player to determine whether they will be fine in the NBA or potentially not make it?

DH: No question. People don’t realize that I’m very selective in terms of the guys I work with. There are years [like 2014] where Jordan Clarkson goes No. 46 in the draft and he’s named 1st Team All-Rookie and Zach LaVine goes No. 13 and, boom, he’s a star. You’ll look and people will say, “Man, Drew really developed those guys,” but it’s not all true. The truth is, the player makes the player. The player should get all of the credit for this. I look at myself like a GPS because a player will tell me where they want to get to and I give them the most efficient and effective way to get there. If I get off track, it’s my job to get them back on track.

Because I’m so selective with my players, when I work with a guy for a week or two, I can tell right away if they have the “it” factor. I have three big things. Do they love basketball? If they don’t love basketball, they aren’t going to reach their full potential. Do they crave improvement? And when I say crave improvement, it’s not just liking the idea of improving, it’s seeing them get pissed off when they aren’t understanding things and looking at every little detail under the microscope and [doing anything in their power to improve]. Finally, and this one is super important: Are they a good guy? If I’m going to have spend this much time around them and invest a ton of energy into them, I want to make sure they’re good people too. Those are the three things on my check list. There have been a lot of NBA All-Stars and stars that I’ve kicked out of the gym because we didn’t see eye-to-eye, and nobody really knows about [those guys] because I don’t really publicize everyone who comes through the gym if they aren’t a full-time client of mine. Those are the three things that I lock in on. The guys that I consider my full-time clients, my Pure Sweat fam, those are the guys who all show a love of basketball, a love of improving and they’re all great guys. That’s why we work well together.

Who has the toughest workout regimen? If you had to choose, who craves improvement the most?

DH: I think all of my guys are all-in; they wouldn’t be with me if they weren’t. Like I said, I would kick them to the curb in a heartbeat if they weren’t all-in. But the guy who kind of stands out to me is Zach LaVine. If you’ve seen Zach’s Instagram, you see the work that he and his dad put in on a regular basis. He’s turned his dad’s home in Seattle into a [workout] compound. They have 50 yards of football turf in their backyard, they have blow-up things that he can run up with low impact and stuff like that. His dad is one of the most insane coaches when it comes to strength and conditioning and he pushes Zach to a crazy level. So I would say Zach LaVine because of him and his dad’s relationship and how his dad has pushed him to crazy levels. Him being able to fly in the air is the result of his work with his dad, so I would give Zach the nod – even though I’d like to think all of my guys are in that insane category.

If you could work with any college or NBA player you haven’t trained yet, who would it be?

DH: I get this question all the time, so I have an answer prepared: It’d be Giannis [Antetokounmpo], the Greek Freak. The biggest reason is that I feel like if we worked together in the summer, he’d have a knock-down three-point shot and mid-range shot. And he’s already one of the best players in the NBA, I just think this would make him literally unstoppable. Giannis is the only guy I don’t currently work with that I think would be a really fun project, just because I think I could really help him in the shooting category, which would really open everything up.

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