Draft workout notes: T.J. Leaf gets stretch-four audition

The Toronto Raptors continued their 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability on Thursday, and they’ve wasted little time focusing in on a player that could be in the mix at No. 23, and getting him in for an intimate two-man workout. Generally, the Raptors run two- and six-man workouts, and the two-man sessions allow the team to dig in deep on a player, even if that’s not necessarily the intention or even their choice.

“That’s more of an agent decision,” Raptors director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “It’s more of the way his workout schedule worked out and trying to fit in certain teams getting looks at him. It’s just kind of the way it worked out for us getting an opportunity to see him…You get a better chance at sort of taking a long look at who he is development-wise, where he’s at, and getting ready for skill-based parts of the game and what he’s got to work out.”

There are limitations to a smaller setting, though, as the team can only work players out in skill or small-group drills. The amount of action that can simulate game situations is at a premium here, and the team has to extrapolate some from what they see in unrepresentative workouts.

“It’s almost tougher in some ways because you don’t get to see how as much live-action decision making. It’s a little tougher to get a feel for the player that he really is,” Tolzman said. “t’s not nearly as competitive as a setting where you see a guy getting in, mixing it up, getting physical, that kind of thing. You have to kind of look through the stained glass and picture him doing different things based on what you’re seeing here and hopefully get a read on it.”

Last year, these smaller sessions focused on the No. 9 pick, and even then it was difficult to lock some prospects down. Agents sometimes don’t want their players working out outside of their perceived draft range for what it could signal, and they definitely want to control the workout environment as much as possible. It’s while you’ll see top prospects hold their own workouts, limit who they workout for, or do agency-led workouts. Now that the Raptors only have the No. 23 pick, it could be even harder to bring high-end players in. There’s understandably the cloud of tearing things down, and what it could mean in terms of Toronto’s draft warchest by June 22, but agents aren’t going to have top-10 picks work out for teams on speculation. Luckily, pre-draft workouts are just one part of a very large and in-depth process, so if the Raptors move up or a lottery pick slides, the Raptors can still be prepared.

For now, they’ll focus on the No. 23 pick, and that means drilling in on anyone projected close to the lottery who will come in. There’s a ton of variance in rankings and mock drafts outside of the top 15 or so, so pegging down who may be available will be difficult. That means when you get a chance to get someone in that range into BioSteel Centre, you dig in as best you can.

Player Notes

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

Tyler Cavanaugh Forward 6-9 George Washington
T.J. Leaf Forward 6-10 UCLA

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

A five-year senior out of George Washington (after two years at Wake Forest), Cavanaugh is mostly here to help test Leaf. That’s a big nod of respect, though, and it’s a role Stefan Jankovic was used in by the Raptors last year (multiple times) and helped put him firmly on the radar heading into Summer League. Despite being somewhat of a non-prospect on most rankings lists, Cavanaugh is working out all over the place, with this standing as is fourth of nine workouts he already has locked down for the early portion of the process. What Cavanaugh can bring as a sort of tester of other forward prospects is a big body with an outside stroke, someone who can really test a player’s defense inside and out. That’s immensely valuable to a team like the Raptors wanting to measure Leaf on his perceived weaknesses.

From Cavanaugh’s perspective, this is a great chance to show he’s more than workout fodder and that his offense – particularly his shooting – can carry over to the next level. Cavanaugh averaged 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, and he shot 41.2 percent on a high volume of threes over his two seasons with the Colonials. Cavanaugh lacks in length with a 6-foot-9 wingspan that matches his height, but he’s solidly built and at age 23 is the type of mature, seasoned player the Raptors have been drawn to n recent history. Frontcourt players who can shoot are always worth a close look, and Cavanaugh even narrowly defeated Leaf in the “finishing drill” at the end of the session, one that mixes shooting and an ability to fight through fatigue.

T.J. Leaf
Chad Ford Rank: 20, DraftExpress Rank: 26

There is a non-zero chance that Leaf ends up being the highest-ranked player the Raptors are able to bring in for a workout. There’s a pretty wide range of feelings about Leaf, with some rankings placing him anywhere from a bubble lottery pick to a late-first rounder. The lack of consensus comes from some conflicting elements in Leaf’s profile, namely that while he has a world of offensive tools and is by all accounts a very heady player, he really can’t defend much. Leaf is somewhat small at just 222 pounds and with a 6-foot-11 wingspan that barely outstrips his height, and he’s not particularly quick, though he does have some nice bounce on the move. He was susceptible to being posted, and until he gets a year or two of NBA strength training under his belt, that’s not going to change much.

“I’m not the best defender right now,” Leaf conceded. “So if they wanna put me in defensive drills and help me get better, it’s great. It only gets me better, so I’m game for that…I think every team I go to knows what I can do. They’ve watched my games, they’ve done their homework, nothing’s gonna surprise them. So they just wanted to get me in and I think get a feel for me. A lot of that I think is how hard you work.”

While the defense is a work in progress, Leaf can really score, and that’s something the Raptors found themselves needing last year. As a freshman, he averaged 16.3 points and knocked down 46.6 percent of his threes, shooting 61.7 percent overall. He was one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball, and he did it in a premium conference (and he feasted in nine games against non-power conference teams). He’s also a really strong passer for the position, so he might project as more than just a spot-up threat. He can score pretty much anywhere, and while his volume of threes was fairly low, the stroke looks like it will extend out. In general, the greater space the NBA game provides should help him thrive, and the team raved about Leaf’s feel.

“I think you saw a lot in this playoffs,” Leaf said of his fir with the Raptors. “Adding another guy who can score the ball from three levels. You have guys like DeMar and Kyle that can do that. But adding another guy that can do that and having teams having to run him off the line, and a guy who can penetrate and kick for others and make others better would add another dimension for them.”

Leaf also comes with the sort of pedigree the Raptors like, having been born in Israel while his father was playing professionally there. He grew up in California from there, but he’s suited up for Israel in Under-18 international events in the past (after being cut by USA Basketball), lending some additional experience, and his father transitioned from player to coach, keeping Leaf around the game full-time.

“Oh, totally. You can tell he plays the right way, not only in this setting but scouting him so much,” Tolzman said. “When it’s a decision-making and team-oriented basketball, he’s elite at that. Always seems to make the right passes, finds himself in the right spot. I think a lot of that probably comes from being around the game at such a young age and having the fundamentals kind of engrained in him of how to be an effective player maybe when you don’t always have the ball in your hands. He’s a classic example of he doesn’t need to be dominating the ball to have an impact on the game.”

And again, his freshman year really couldn’t have gone much better, with Leaf earning an All-American honorable mention and a First-Team All-Pac-12 nod. How the Raptors ultimately feel about him will probably come down to how he interviewed and how well his defense held up in the intense one-on-one setting.


  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
  • Bruno Caboclo was at BioSteel working out earlier in the day.
  • Canadian Dillon Brooks will headline Monday’s workout. There’s a session scheduled for Tuesday as well.
  • Leaf is not wearing Big Baller Brand, by the way, but “hopefully Lonzo hooks it up.”
  • 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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