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Raptors News

Draft workout notes: Caleb Swanigan impresses as process trudges on

There’s a lot to like with Swanigan.

The Toronto Raptors held their latest set of 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability on Tuesday, the first workout they’ve held in a week. There will be nearly a week between workouts again, which seems odd but is just kind of the flow of things at this time of year. Between scheduling (two players had to pull out of this workout), agents, and other means of scouting (adidas Eurocamp is next week, for example), there’s not a sense of urgency to have a workout every day. As a reminder, last year the Raptors didn’t work anyone out until June 1 and still managed to work out 59 players by the time the draft rolled around. It’s a long process, and these workouts are just one part of it, with a lot to come.

The gap around this particular workout is interesting, though, especially considering at least one of the attendees Tuesday would seem to be in the mix at No. 23. If you’re to believe rankings, maybe that number is one, but the Raptors generally buck convention in that regard.

“We actually see some of these guys around our pick,” director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “I think the general consensus online isn’t always what the teams themselves think. From our team needs and fits and that sort of stuff, we kind of block out all of the mock drafts. Range is kind of an eye of the beholder thing in this business, and I think that’s kinda how we approach the draft more than what everyone else thinks of guys.”

Also notable from this workout is that multiple attendees have some flags in their off-court profiles, which speaks to the depth of the draft process outside of these sessions. Teams have to get information beyond any headlines associated with players, and the interviews likely carry a lot more weight in those instances. So, too, do conversations with others who know the players or situations in question.

“I think the background research is by far the most important,” Tolzman said. “Usually when you’re digging around and trying to learn about guys, people are usually pretty honest, so you get a pretty good feel for who these guys are as people.”

The Raptors have generally valued quality people in their organization above all else, so learning about the person behind the player is probably one of the most important ends they’re looking to serve over the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Nate Britt Guard 6-1 UNC
Scoochie Smith Guard 6-2 Dayton
Damyean Dotson Guard 6-5 Houston
Antonius Cleveland Forward 6-6 Southeast Missouri
Caleb Swanigan Forward 6-8 Purdue
Austin Nichols Forward 6-9 Virginia

Nate Britt
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

When four years at UNC aren’t enough to get you any draft buzz, you’re probably headed for a career overseas. The NBA draft workout process can still be instructive, though, and if Britt has his eyes on continuing to develop under the tutelage of an NBA team, perhaps the D-League is an option. Raptors 905 point guard Shannon Scott, a more established collegiate player, followed a similar route two years ago before increasing his international pay-day. Wherever he lands, the 23-year-old Britt still has a lot he needs to show – in four seasons, he never once shot better than 38.4 percent from the floor, and while his role vacillated a bit, he was firmly a veteran safety net guard by the end of his time with the Tar Heels. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds without the benefit of a 3-point shot (he hit 33.5 percent for his career), there’s nothing here that suggests NBA-level mobility.

Scoochie Smith
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Don’t call him Dayshon. Scoochie Smith, who is probably better known for the interesting nickname his grandfather gave him more than anything, is an interesting point guard prospect out of Dayton, one who got a few eyes on him with a 25-point showing in a loss in this year’s NCAA Tournament. That capped a nice senior season for the 22-year-old, who averaged career highs of 13.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting career-best marks of 46.8/38.8/77.2. As a fourth-year player at a high-major, that’s what he’s supposed to do. Still, armed with a dangerous handle, a solid 3-point stroke, and a 6-foot-4.5 wingspan (around a small-ish 184-pound frame) that helped make him one of the better defenders in the Atlantic 10 (he led the conference in Defensive Win Shares), Smith should be able to carve out a solid career internationally, unless he opts for the D-League route in hopes of impressing a suitor with his floor generalship and shooting.

And hey, maybe the 905 and Smith can co-brand some gear.

Damyean Dotson
Chad Ford Rank: 58, DraftExpress Rank: 64

The Raptors need shooting. So after he hit 44.3 percent of a massive volume of threes as a senior at Houston, Dotson warrants a longer look. The 23-year-old came to his stroke a little late, having shot just 32.3 percent over his two seasons at Oregon, but a redshirt year to move to Houston seemed to work. He took a lot of threes, took them from deep, and backed up his improvements in percentage with strong free-throw shooting, generally a positive indicator. All told, he was fifth in Division I in catch-and-shoot scenarios, per Synergy (via DraftExpress). With a fluid transition game and a lethal stroke, there’s an obvious need filled as things currently stand, if that’s a priority for the Raptors at all, as the Raptors probably wouldn’t ask Doston to create for himself much, anyway.

The question, then, becomes what else Dotson can do, and whether his defense can grade high enough for him to earn the potential 3-and-D label. The jury seems a bit out, because despite good use of his length and quickness on the ball, he’s not a complete package at that end. DraftExpress notes that he’s less polished off the ball, closing out wildly or losing his check on cuts. He’s athletic, to be sure, and rebounded well (6.9 per-game) for a wing. He also measured with a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the combine and an 8-foot-5 standing reach at the Portsmouth Invitational, so there’s a bit more size to play with than 6-foot-5 would suggest, even if he still needs to fill out. The mileage for teams may vary, which is why he’s mostly considered a second-round prospect by rankings.

The biggest concern with Dotson may not be on the court. His transfer from Oregon was not to do with basketball but following a dismissal for involvement in alleged sexual assault. It’s not within the scope of these workout notes posts to dive into something like that, but it’s certainly something the Raptors would look into if they give him more serious consideration.

Antonius Cleveland
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

If you can’t beat ’em, draft ’em. That seemed to be the popular “Cleveland” joke on Twitter when I tweeted out the workout list last night. Obviously, the masses haven’t been watching their Southeast Missouri games. For shame. If they had, they’d see that Cleveland has been a somewhat complicated case, improving as a scorer on a per-game basis over his four seasons, with his senior year marking his most efficient yet. Even with a drop in rebounding, that’s notable.

What complicates things, though, is that the 23-year-old only took 215 threes over his four years, so even with a 38.4-percent mark as a senior, the Raptors will want to get an intimate look at the mechanics and repeatability of his stroke – he only shot 28.8 percent on threes for his career, and he’s a poor free-throw shooter, usually a bad sign (as a shooting comparison, Norman Powell shot a slightly higher percentage on a much higher volume of threes at UCLA and was a significantly better free-throw shooters). He impressed Tuesday, though, breaking Semi Ojeleye’s previous high-score in the workout finishing drill, a mix of stamina and shooting.

You might be able to chalk Cleveland’s 2016-17 success up to his age in a mediocre conference, but there may be some remaining upside since Cleveland got a bit of a late start (he didn’t play much until his final year of high school, as he was nearly a foot shorter at 5-foot-8).

Caleb Swanigan
Chad Ford Rank: 37, DraftExpress Rank: 30

One of basketball twitter’s favorite draft prospects, Swanigan was reportedly on the fence about entering the draft but seems a pretty safe bet to get drafted now that he’s opted to stay in. While most rankings have him outside of the first round (usually the 30-to-45 range), a few people I spoke to think he’s one of the more near-term prospects in that large group of bigs with wide draft ranges outside of the lottery. Essentially, even at 20, Swanigan should be ready to contribute sometime relatively soon, which is his drawing point over some other bigs in that range who may have a higher ultimate upside with a significantly lower floor. Depending on which way the Raptors go this summer, that might make Swanigan an intriguing prospect. The Raptors don’t need another big right now, of course, but as we’ve talked about here plenty, looking at need-at-this-moment is not how the Raptors will (or should) approach things.

“A lot of what he does and brings to the table translates pretty well to the NBA,” Tolzman said. “You have to kind of get him in certain situations against certain players to where you get an idea of what he can do at the NBA level. In college a lot of times he was the biggest, strongest guy that was pushing guys around and doing what he wanted to. You have to kind of imagine it and see him against more of the NBA bigs and try to figure out, is what he’s doing gonna translate. I think that he showed us a lot today, and just from following him pretty closely over the last couple years, we’re pretty comfortable with what he’s doing to have success at the next level.”

Swanigan is coming off of a strong sophomore season that saw his production spike across the board. He averaged 18.5 points and knocked down 44.7 percent of his threes (with strong free-throw shooting to back it up), hauled in 12.5 rebounds per-game, and improved dramatically as a playmaker, averaging 3.1 assists and generally looking the part of a potentially fluid, functional part of a modern offense. He graded well defensively despite low shot-blocking numbers, too, and despite the fact that there are concerns about his body and athleticism. It’s that same Zach Randolph-adjace body that makes him such a problem on the glass and such a unique offensive piece, though, with the combination of size, length, shooting, and touch fairly rare. He measured 6-foot-8.5 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, 9-foot standing reach, and 246 pounds at the combine, some terrific marks given the skill level at play here, too, and he showed well in the Raptors’ finishing drill, somewhat rare for a player of his size.

“Trying not to focus on it,” he said of his shooting. “I’m trying to focus on my competing and things like that. Just go with my form, shoot the ball, shots gonna fall some days, some days they might not. So you gotta put your hat on something that you can do every day…Biggest thing, just playing with that motor.”

He’ll also bring some experience, both on the court and off of it. Swangian’s played internationally for the U.S. in junior FIBA events, has dealt with some very serious hardships growing up, and lost over 100 pounds at one point, speaking to his work ethic.

“I think it’s definitely the type of thing you look for in a guy,” Tolzman said. “He’s clearly working on improving not only as a player but physically. He’s got some drive, it’s obvious that he’s not content with just being the player he used to be. He’s trying to transform himself into the types of guys that have success at the next level. To see the strides he’s made the last couple of years is pretty remarkable.”

Really, there’s a ton to like with Swanigan. Players with this much size and length don’t often boast shooting and skill, too, and even if he’ll have speed or athletic limitations at the next level, it’s pretty plain to see why some see Swanigan filling a role not too far down the line.

Austin Nichols
Chad Ford Rank: 104, DraftExpress Rank: 99

Getting a read on where Nichols is at in his development is tough. After two years at Memphis, Nichols opted to transfer to Virginia (which worked out after a bit of a legal battle), where he played all of 16 minutes before being dismissed. Prior to his dismissal, he had also been suspended a game for violating Virginia team rules. So in Nichols, there’s a 22-year-old prospect who has 16 minutes of game action to judge from over the last two years. He also didn’t attend the combine. Even as a former top-15 recruit, there’s an awful lot of difficulty projecting from a two-year old sample. There’s a reason he’s still sniffing around top-100 lists, though, as a 6-foot-9 power forward who flashed some developing range at one point. He was also a heck of a shot-blocker at Memphis, turning away 3.4 shots per-game as a sophomore. He’s also a quality rebounder, has some ball skill, and earned rave reviews for his feel for the game and his effort levels.

Given what he once potentially profiled as, it makes sense that the Raptors want to take a look. He’s almost definitely a guy that would need a D-League season to continue his development, though. Unfortunately, Nichol was injured fairly early in Tuesday’s session, so the Raptors didn’t get an extended look once again.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
    • The adidas Eurocamp also goes down June 9-11, if you’re looking ahead to future drafts.
  • The Raptors have draft workouts scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week. Someone else will be covering them in this space.
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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