Draft

Draft workout notes: Richardson, Finney-Smith again, Poeltl-Labissiere note, and more

The Toronto Raptors held their penultimate pre-draft workout with media availability on Sunday. The session was originally expected to wrap up an expedited yet lengthy process, but the Raptors opted to add a workout for Tuesday, too.

And there are two names that jump out from this group (and three if you’re a big March Madness fan). Malachi Richardson, whose stock is all over the place and really tough to peg down right now, is a really intriguing name if you’re the type to swing for upside (like your boy), and Dorian Finney-Smith becomes just the second player to come in for a second workout. Considering the other was Stefan Jankovic, a local product who’s probably only being considered as an organization player at this point, DFS (aka DraftKing?) may be the first player we can call a potential target who’s visited a second time.

It’s not a coincidence that those two were matched up, by the way. Finney-Smith’s first workout left the Raptors comfortable that he’d be able to push Richardson at both ends of the floor, and when Finney-Smith was willing to return, it was a no-brainer for Toronto.

“Absolutely,” assistant general manager Dan Tolzman said. “You’ve gotta think of the kind of guy Malachi’s gonna face in the NBA on a nightly basis, and they’re guys like Dorian, guys that are out there to do nothing but try to stop him. Definitely a kind of two-way comparison between the two. It was really a good matchup.”

“We went at each other the whole workout. He made it tough on me and I made it tough on him,” Finney-Smith said of Richardson.

Also interesting? Two of the three players who worked out and are on the draft radar (Richardson and Fred VanVleet) could join elite company as just the fourth and fifth players in the last 31 years to be drafted immediately following a season in which they shot under 40 percent on twos. That is, uhh, something.

Player Notes

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

Trey Freeman Guard 6-2 Old Dominion
Fred VanVleet Guard 6-0 Wichita State
Malachi Richardson Guard-Forward 6-6 Syracuse
Dorian Finney-Smith Forward 6-8 Florida
Tyler Harris Forward 6-9 Auburn
Venky Jois Forward 6-8 Eastern Washington

Trey Freeman
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

The 23-year-old measured with a 6-foot-4 wingspan at the Portsmouth Invitational, but even with that bit of length, you’d qualify the 177-pounder as diminutive. The transfer from Campbell to Old Dominion after two seasons agreed with him from a scoring perspective, but his assist rate declined and he never solidified himself as a long-range shooter despite a fair number of attempts. There might be some microwave man potential here, but it’s tough to see Freeman as an efficient scoring option without some overseas or D-League seasoning.

Fred VanVleet
Chad Ford Rank: 60, DraftExpress Rank: 85

A favorite of March Madness aficionados, VanFleek played a major role for the Shockers in four consecutive runs to the tournament, including a Final Four appearance in 2013 and a Sweet 16 berth in 2015. You could make the argument he and teammate Ron Baker should have come out last year, riding their momentum, and VanVleet now finds himself on the draft bubble. That’s in part because his numbers stagnated as a senior – he hit threes at a slightly better clip but finished worse, a concern given his size and relative lack of athleticism. Despite those concerns, VanVleet’s shown he can run an offense, and he does so in intelligent fashion, rarely coughing the ball up or making mistakes. With so few miscues and a decent steal rate, VanVleet is someone that grades well by statistical models (particularly those, like Kevin Pelton’s, that give a strong value to underclass seasons), and there’s four years of evidence to suggest he’ll be able to knock down the NBA three.

That sounds like a backup or third-string point guard, but he may have to play his way into that role as an undrafted free agent, based on current mocks.

Malachi Richardson
Chad Ford Rank: 15, DraftExpress Rank: 37

If you want to talk about a divisive prospect, this is the guy. Not only does Richardson have one of the largest ESPN-DX differences in rankings, his mock draft placement has been all over the place. That makes some sense considering how well a player like this should stand out in workout settings and how shaky the actual production was, and as a result, he probably rates very differently team-to-team. He’s not in that top-eight tier, but there will definitely be teams who look at the potential and think he’s one of the top 10 talents in the class. That’s a gamble some teams can take, while others may not have the faith or the patience to find out if he can not only develop that talent, but actually apply it at the next level.


The teams that are high on Richardson will look at the 7-foot wingspan, multi-position defensive potential, and how much he improved as the season went along. They’ll also see a player comfortable trying to create his own offense, one who should be able to get to the rim and the free-throw line as he gets stronger. The shot, while inconsistent, looks like it should be steady, too. At the same time, Richardson shot just 36.9 percent overall as a freshman, and it’s tough to project players from Syracuse due to their adherence to zone defense (the track record of Orange products in the NBA is spotty at best). The inconsistency doesn’t help in that regard, and despite being a 20-year-old freshman, he didn’t always make the best decisions.

“That I’m a really good defender,” Richardson said when asked what he wanted to show today. I followed up with him about Syracuse’s zone and the transition to the NBA system, and Richardson was hopeful that he’s showing teams that the system shouldn’t be a concern. “When we get in these workouts, guys are going at you. So you’ve gotta defend or you’re going to be embarrassed.” (And “Naw,” he didn’t get embarrassed today.)

There’s just so much to like here, in pure skill and body terms, that it’s easy to see why some teams would be really high on him in the later portion of the lottery. Also of note is that Richardson has reportedly cancelled a few workouts and received a green-room invite for Thursday. That means if the Raptors are going to jump, they’re going to have to do so at No. 9. You better have a lot of faith in your ability to develop players (and the Raptors should) to make that kind of pick.

“His pre-draft process has really kind of elevated him” Tolzman said. “We wanted to make sure we took a look at him and got a really good feel for him before draft night, to make sure that we’ve kinda crossed all the ts.”

Dorian Finney-Smith
Chad Ford Rank: 72, DraftExpress Rank: 58

As mentioned, this was Finney-Smith’s second workout with the team, as he was also here back on June 1 (and you can read a bit more about the defense-first combo-forward there).

“I believe I shot the ball better,” Finney-Smith said of his follow-up visit. “I competed hard both times. That’s all you can ask for. I have no regrets, I left it all on the floor. But I did shoot it better this time.”

Finney-Smith said he knows the Raptors are interested by the second invite but wasn’t taking anything for granted. There wasn’t anything in particular he was trying to do or show differently from the first time out, and it doesn’t sound as if the Raptors needed to see anything specific from him. Instead, the Raptors wanted to ratchet up the quality of his competition, using him to push Richardson and to see how he’d respond against a potential lottery pick.

“He’s a guy that we liked in our first workout with him. We had a high-level guy like Malachi Richardson coming in, so we wanted to see what Dorian could do against him,” Tolzman said. “He’s a guy that, he’ll be playing in the NBA, and you want to get to see him against as high a level guys as you can…It was definitely a good measuring stick for him.”

The Raptors pretty clearly like Finney-Smith, even if he seems like a reach at No. 27. The Raptors are willing to take the guy they want, regardless of perceived draft stock (it’s not really that easy to just trade down in the NBA), and with the draft as deep and balanced as it is – it’s not a “good” draft because it’s not very top-heavy, but there are a lot of potential NBA players in the class – there’s an argument to be made that nobody is really that big a reach late in the first round.

Tyler Harris
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

It’s moderately surprising that Harris is still just 22 given how circuitous a path he’s taken to get here. After a freshman year at N.C. State, Harris red-shirted a year to transfer to Providence, later making the move to Auburn for his senior season. His numbers took a big step forward this year, but even at 6-foot-10 and 218 pounds, he wasn’t particularly efficient inside the arc or beyond it. He’s a strong rebounder thanks in part to using his body well, but he’s not particularly strong or athletic, so it’s unclear if even that would translate.

Venky Jois
Chad Ford Rank: 143, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Remember last year’s No. 51 overall pick Tyler Harvey? Jois got some moderate draft buzz during Eastern Washington’s run last year with Harvey at the helm, but that mostly died out as he returned for a senior season. Now 22 years old (he’ll be 23 in a few weeks), Jois will probably still pop for the analytic types thanks to his high-efficiency scoring (he shot 67.9 percent this year, 61 percent the year prior) and elite rebounding (he never averaged fewer than 7.7 rebounds in a season), and he passes pretty well for a big, too. It’s his lack of shooting touch that could be a sticking point – he was 4-of-22 on threes over four seasons and shot 54 percent or under from the line in his last three seasons. He’s probably not an NBA player, but these types have fought their way to the league before, and the Aussie would at least stand as a quality D-Leaguer.

Friday’s workout – Poeltl and Labissiere

The Raptors also quietly held a workout in Buffalo on Friday. With student visa issues posing a problem for a few players, the Raptors opted not to risk bringing them to Canada, instead making the short trek for a workout in New York. It’s yet another reminder that the public workout lists released are really only one part of the process, and there may have been sessions like this (or ones the Raptors don’t want the public to know about, or agency workouts, and so on) that the Raptors opted not to provide a player list for.

“It was a great workout,” Tolzman said. “It was some high-level play. Going into draft night, it’s better to make the trip down to Buffalo and see those guys live and meet them in person than just roll with it and take a guess.”

Most notable are Jakob Poeltl and Skal Labissiere. Poeltl’s been a name linked with the Raptors in mocks and is considered by most to be a top-10 prospect in the class, while Labissiere seems to be a commenter favorite, one who may be a little further away from helping but who has a higher ceiling and could fit better with Jonas Valanciunas long-term. Both players are potential options at No. 9, as neither will be around at No. 27.

I’m working to get a complete list of who worked out, but I couldn’t get a feel for who may have stood out, or who of the two bigs may have looked better. (I’d go deeper on each, but we’ve already talked about both a fair amount, I wasn’t at that workout to get any intel, and this post is already like 3,000 words.)

Assorted

*This brings the total number of players the Raptors brought in to BioSteel (or Buffalo) to 58, only five of who register as potential top-10 picks (Richardson, Poeltl, Labissiere, Sabonis, Ellenson), and only two of who have come in for multiple workouts (Finney-Smith, Jankovic). Of course, they’ve surely done some off-site or private workouts that were kept quiet for a reason, and as I’ve tried to stress, the in-house workouts are only one part of a very long, in-depth process.

Don’t worry about who wasn’t here or why the Raptors cast such a wide net for No. 27 and potential free agent targets – that information never hurts to have, and it’s time well-spent. Sometimes it’s just tough to get players in for individual workouts, and the Raptors have tried to maximize their time by bringing in a boatload of players who were willing. And if there are names you like that are missing from the workout list, that could also be a byproduct of the fact that there are maybe 10 players who would be a reach at nine and will be off the board at 27.

“Our two picks are spread enough apart that there’s a large chunk of players that we probably aren’t going to have a chance to really consider,” Tolzman said.

*One possible indicator of who’s in the mix at nine: The NBA released the list of players invited to the green room for draft night. Generally, these are players who have a good shot at going in the lottery and aren’t likely to slide out of the first round. This year’s list: Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown, Dejounte Murray, Domantas Sabonis, Henry Ellenson, Jakob Poeltl, Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson, Deyonta Davis, and Wade Baldwin. Some of these names have varying mock draft ranks, but they’re all in Ford’s top 18 (and DraftExpress’ top 37) for rankings.

As for the Raptors, they seem about as certain as all of us that the top eight picks are going to be the eight we’ve all been assuming, with the Raptors essentially leading off the uncertain portion of the draft at No. 9.

“That’s what we’re planning for, yeah,” Tolzman said. “All the calls we’ve been making, it does seem like the same eight names come up. We’re sitting at nine, so it’s essentially the first pick in the draft.”

*A name that may be off the board at No. 27 now? Damion Jones. He worked out here on June 6 and has some really enticing tools, but he underwent surgery this week to repair a torn pectoral muscle, per Jonathan Givony of The Vertical/DraftExpress. He apparently suffered the injury doing the bench press, which serves as a reminder to never work out or exercise or try at anything. While Jones is “expected to make a full recovery by the start of the NBA season,” he wouldn’t be able to participate in Summer League, and teams may balk at drafting a recently-injured player who won’t get the benefit of summer development with the team.

*According to a few tweets I saw that I can’t find now, Sabonis apparently shut down work outs, and most are speculating he has a promise from someone. Whether that’s the Raptors is unclear – I didn’t get the impression they were that high on him, and it certainly didn’t seem as if the Raptors are locked in at No. 9 yet – but someone may be.

*ONE IMPORTANT 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 (Jaylen Brown, for example), and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). And sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public. 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, that information becomes a little more important.

*I’ll publish my own personal rankings list tomorrow.

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