By Aggrey Sam

About a month ago, I was in Orlando for the NBA Pre-Draft Camp while working on a story for an upcoming issue. Obviously, this took place a while back, so any of you who stay on top of draft coverage already know what went down there. However, I’m gonna give you my take from a slightly different perspective.

The Milk House facility at the Disney Wide World of Sports is a beautiful gym, one of the nicest (if the not the top) courts that isn’t a team’s home arena that I’ve ever seen. The set-up is perfect for what takes place–the biggest networking party this side of the Grammys (not that I’ve been, but I imagine it’s like that).

NBA scouts, general managers, coaches, agents, media, draft site specialists, reps from overseas teams, various other movers and shakers and all kinds of pretenders all convened in Orlando to gossip, basically. From Mike and Bird to Pat and Nique, everybody was there I liken it to the pro game’s version of the Final Four: Pre-Draft is the place to get a job, find out what’s happening and most importantly, be seen.

That said, the event itself is somewhat of a sham. I go to a fair amount of college basketball games every year (especially before I moved) and I’ve become somewhat acquainted with a few scouts. I might not agree with all of their opinions, but I do think they put in a lot of work evaluating talent. For those guys to watch players over and over during the season, only for a glorified sneaker camp (Orlando was very similar to the largely do-for-self summer high school scene) to contradict their research is a damn shame.

Now, the camp didn’t have the top available talent participating in the actual games. Not only were Beasley, Rose, etc. exempt from playing (aka “physical-only”–they also did drills, which were observed with the scrutiny of diamond appraisals), but non-lottery types who were invited to play but feared their stocks could only take a hit also skipped out. To be honest, I can’t blame a guy like Western Kentucky’s Courtney Lee for doing that. He was already scheduled to do most of his workouts with Brandon Rush, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Bill Walker anyway–fellow wings and likely first-round picks–and none of them are playing either. Makes sense to me, although NBA personnel will argue that because he played at a mid-major, playing at the camp will help them evaluate him against better comp.

Then you have a guy like IUPUI’s George Hill, a big-time scorer at a small school who has a year of college eligibility remaining. Hill has point guard size, but played the two in college. In Orlando, he was on the ball, and a few good games convinced him to stay in the draft, where he’s now projected to be a second-round pick. Can he play the point at the next level? Maybe, maybe not. But it only takes one team (cough, Lakers, cough) to “promise” (tell a kid they’ll take him if he’s available at their spot) a player to make his mind up.

Speaking of so-called promises, let’s talk about Tywon Lawson. The UNC point guard was one of the more high-profile names in Orlando. After one decent (Internet hyperbole might have made you think he destroyed the competition) game, Denver supposedly promised to take him at 20. He never played again at the camp, citing a phantom ankle injury. Of course, he was charged with DUI in Chapel Hill a week or so later and decided to pull out of the draft. Still, whether one good camp game against borderline pros would really make a team take him in the first round (before workouts!) is highly questionable to me, especially a player who was on national TV all the time last season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Richard Hendrix. Elena Bergeron’s favorite college player had an excellent camp, but concerns about his height and athleticism seemed to override his actual performance, despite displaying similar production that led him to average a double-double at Alabama. Now he’s apparently doing the same thing in workouts for NBA teams. You would think the recent success of undersized power forwards (Hayes, Millsap, Powe, etc.) in the League would make people see the light.

After saying all that, I do think the camp was a great tool for helping teams decide who they want to put on their summer-league rosters and possibly bring into training camp. If players think realistically, it’s a great opportunity for them, too. Most of the players there are second-round guys at best, so a mediocre performance can doom their pro hopes, since every NBA team was represented in Orlando, unless they absolutely kill the workouts and the word gets around. But seeing where you stand amongst your peers, regardless of how good you think you are or what kind of college career you had, should enable you to make an educated decision about your future. It’s like any recent college graduate: if you do poorly on the GRE, then you might want to reconsider grad school and take the job offer you have on the table. If a player doesn’t kill in Orlando, overseas should look a lot better (Sasha Kaun). NBA summer leagues have that same pool of players, plus the more-coveted rookies, the hungry dudes who weren’t even at Pre-Draft, as well as some seasoned vets. Get some money in your pocket (Sasha Kaun). The D-League is like minimum wage, with a minimal amount of call-ups and an even more minuscule amount of success stories.

I hope this doesn’t come off as too negative, as I did learn a lot from Orlando. The biggest thing, seeing these players–most of whom were high school stars, if not in college–is that you can’t label kids pros too early. They were essentially fighting for simply a chance to be a late first-round pick, second-rounder or undrafted free agent. Cats who were the best thing since sliced bread a few years ago and weren’t required to even play defense were diving for loose balls, clapping for their teammates–stuff they probably haven’t done in a long time, if ever. Aside from the aforementioned cats, I wanna show love to some of the players who helped themselves at the camp–in my opinion.

–Malik Hairston, Oregon: Top-10 prospect in high school, never reached potential in college, was solid all-around–if not a monster athlete or showing great size for his position–in Orlando.

–Mike Taylor, D-League: The best “story” at the camp (kicked off Iowa State’s team a year ago, killed the D-League this year), Taylor was wild and isn’t a true point, but showed great explosiveness and natural scoring ability.

–Sean Singletary, Virginia: Went through this process last year, only to go back to school and suffer through a disappointing season (as a team), my man Shiz ran the show like a true point guard.

–Joey Dorsey, Memphis: Not only did he behave himself (except when he set the silly media afire by saying he “knew” Rose would go first in the draft) and do his usual Ben Wallace impression, but he showed a bit more skill than Cal allowed him to at Memphis.

–Othello Hunter, Ohio State: Not exactly polished or possessing a chiseled pro-like physique, Hunter hustled and did all the little things to spark a few Bo Outlaw comparisons.

–Josh Duncan, Xavier: I always thought Duncan had a chance to be a good pick-and-pop four one day and he showed it, also displaying improved toughness.

–Joe Crawford, Kentucky: I’m not sure how his scoring outbursts translate into pro potential, but Crawford did his thing in Orlando and proved that at the very least, he can be a high-level Euro star.

–Mark Tyndale, Temple: Even if he didn’t go to my alma mater, Tyndale would have stood out to me for his versatility (and big-time dunk over Brian Butch), as he adjusted to playing the point (he was a 3 in college) and focused more on team play than scoring.

–Gary Forbes, UMass: Forbes was the consensus top performer to many in attendance, as the Panamanian/Brooklynite scored at will.

–Sonny Weems, Arkansas: Everybody knows Weems is an athlete supreme, but his ability to hit jumpers and create for himself was impressive.

–Brian Roberts, Dayton: Roberts came in with a rep as a smaller scoring combo and while I still think he has a lot of Eddie House in him, he did a nice job running the show, especially in pick-and-roll situations.

–Pat Calathes, St. Joe’s: While his body might not be up to pro standards, the fluid Calathes showed he could handle the ball like a guard and knock down jumpers.

–Darnell Jackson, Kansas: A career role player for the national champs (even last season, his semi-breakout year), Jackson showed his physical nature, nice touch and surprising athleticism could be an asset on the next level, too.

–James Gist , Maryland: Instead of taking the ill-advised perimeter shots that plagued him in college, Gist stuck to playing with energy and using his athleticism to make plays above the rim on both ends.

There were also a few players who didn’t improve their stock in Orlando–to me, at least. I won’t go into details, but Wayne Ellington and Lester Hudson have another year (two in Wayne’s case) to rectify the situation. On the other hand, Davon Jefferson and Keith Brumbaugh made big mistakes. Bryce Taylor and Deron Washington disappointed me. John Riek didn’t play; he shouldn’t have been there at all.

As far as the actual draft tomorrow night, I have a few thoughts (for those of you who made it this far). I think we all know by now that Rose is going first. I disagree, but I understand. I think most of you have heard Pat Riley wants OJ more than Beasley. Look for some type of trade scenario. I disagree and I don’t understand. Beasley, to me, is the only no-brainer in the draft. For the hometown thing alone, not to mention two semi-knuckleheads the last two years, Pax gets a pass, although I think it’s pretty obvious a 20-10 guy would help the Bulls. At least they have nice pieces to trade. Riley, though, I don’t understand. I like OJ as a pro, but I think he has a ceiling on his game, unlike Beasley. I disagree.

Look for Eric Gordon (disagree), Brook Lopez (understand), DJ Augustin (disagree), DeAndre Jordan (understand), CDR (disagree), Darrell Arthur (understand), Bill Walker (disagree), Javale McGee (understand), Nicholas Batum (disagree) and Danilo Galinari (understand), to slip and Jason Thompson from Rider (understand), Russell Westbrook (disagree), Serge Ibaka (understand), Brandon Rush (disagree), Joe Alexander (understand), Mario Chalmers (disagree), Anthony Randolph (understand) and Robin Lopez (disagree) to go higher than expected. Two guys I’m on the fence about are Jerryd Bayless and Kevin Love.

Real quick, a big thank you to Amber Godfrey for hooking everything up in Orlando. Read my next novel soon!