West Coast Workout Swing: Day 2 (Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, etc)

West Coast Workout Swing: Day 2 (Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, etc)
May 17, 2007, 04:02 am
After spending the weekend in the Bay Area taking in a Dominic McGuire workout, the A’s walk-off 3 run homerun against the Indians, and Carlos Boozer/Deron Williams dismantling the Warriors; we hopped on a quick 7 AM flight down to LAX to check out a much larger group of prospects training in Los Angeles.

We started off in Carson at the Home Depot Center (which doubles as an Olympic training facility and the home of the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy), arriving just in time for the tail end of a skills workout for guards Gabe Pruitt (USC), DaShaun Wood (Wright State), Brandon Heath (San Diego State), Nate Funk (Creighton), Adam Haluska (Iowa) and Keoni Watson (Idaho).

After that workout it was time for the wings and big men, pitting Joakim Noah (Florida) and Nick Fazekas (Nevada) on one end of the floor and Corey Brewer (Florida), Marcel Jones (Oregon State) and Russell Carter (Notre Dame) on the other.

The workouts are being overseen by Joe Abunassar of Abunassar Impact Basketball, who has established himself as the most popular trainer on the NBA Draft workout circuit this year through the work he does both here and at his second state of the art facility in Las Vegas (which we’ll be visiting next). If the name sounds familiar, you might recall articles on DraftExpress from each of the last two years from the work Abunassar did at IMG Academy with guys like Ryan Gomes and Brandon Rush in 2005 (article), and Patrick O’Bryant, Cedric Simmons, Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Lowry in 2006 (visit one, and visit two).

The workouts started with light stretching, jogging, and plyometric drills intended to work on players’ core strength, balance and coordination. Shooting is all the rage here and the players are being given the opportunity to put up more shots in a single hour than we’ve ever really seen, from every spot on the court and in many different situations.

The big men do very intensive work on their footwork, post moves and counters, with a heavy influence of fundamental hooks, step-throughs, up and unders, and turnaround jump-shots. The guards and wings are drilled extensively on their ability to create shots for themselves, particularly from mid-range with jab steps, freeze fakes, pivot moves, step-backs, and more—usually leading into the ever-important pull-up jump shot. Players must have a motion shot off the dribble in their arsenal and be able to hit at a high rate to truly take their offensive game to the next level.

The most impressive part of the workouts at Abunassar Impact Basketball has to be the efficiency and fluidity in which every drill is run. Players are given an extremely intense and productive exercise in all the fundamental skills they need to both look good in the pre-draft process, (whether it’s the pre-draft camp or NBA private workouts) but they also get the chance to round out and polish their game to increase their confidence in areas that they might not have gotten a lot of work in during college. The work that lead-trainer Dan Barto does in coordination with Abunassar on the court in terms of organizing and planning out each session proves to be invaluable.

Something else that separates AIB from other gyms we’ve been to is the emphasis that is put on implementing the skills that players are being taught through competitive play. We took in two full-court five on five sessions in the two days we attended, and observed numerous drills that put the players in real game-time situations where they were forced to make quick decisions and then receive hands-on instruction/feedback on what they are doing right or wrong. That’s just one of the perks of having so many high-level players available at all times to play in real games. To make things even more interesting, NBA players such as Martell Webster, Kirk Snyder and Danny Granger stopped by to participate in these pick-up games, raising the level of play with their presence and giving us a better chance to better evaluate the college players in attendance against the type of players they will be facing in the near future, if all goes well.

You would think that with so many players coming in and out during all parts of the day that it might be difficult to keep everything running smoothly at all times, but from what we saw in the two days here, the workouts seem to run like clockwork and the players definitely benefit from the “one-stop shop” nature of the Home Depot Center which allows them to work on everything they need to in order to maximize their basketball skills.

In between basketball workouts designed to improve game performance, the players get the opportunity to work extensively off the court on the “tools” needed to excel through their conditioning and physical/athletic ability. This is overseen by Mark Verstegen and Athletes’ Performance, taking full advantage of the latest technology available to increase strength, speed, acceleration, leaping ability, flexibility, mobility, stamina and reaction-time to maximize their full potential.

Day One Evaluations

Corey Brewer, 6-9, Junior, Small Forward, Florida

Fresh off a national championship, Brewer has been in Los Angeles for about a week now, and is clearly still working himself back into shape after the extended post-championship holiday him and his teammates took following their triumph in Atlanta. From the workout we saw, it’s pretty clear that AIB is trying to get Brewer as comfortable as possible creating shots for himself on the perimeter by adding more versatility to his ball-handling and mid-range game. While at Florida he was most effective as a catch and shoot player or taking advantage of defensive rotations to explode off the dribble going left and finish with a finger roll, Brewer has a lot of work to do on polishing up his half-court game and being a consistent shot-creating threat in the NBA.

Has obviously has some outstanding tools to work with, including great quickness, a superb first step, and the kind of smooth fluidity that you just can’t find anywhere else. As we’ve mentioned many times this year already, it’s pretty amazing how effective a player Brewer is considering how much room he still has left to improve on his skill-set. His handle is pretty loose, his jumper is streaky, and only weighing out around 180 pounds, he’ll probably be one of the skinniest 6-9 players to play in the NBA in quite some time.

With that said, Brewer’s shooting has a ton of potential as we saw in the Final Four this year, where he was named Most Outstanding Player for those who forgot. His shooting mechanics are clean and very fluid, with a crisp, quick release, good balance, and the ability to get his shot off almost whenever he wants thanks to his height and length. He shot around 70% from 16-17 feet out from what we charted, and about 60% from the NBA 3. Those are decent, but definitely improvable numbers, although it’s not hard to envision him becoming a very solid NBA shooter considering his mechanics and work ethic. His shot can flatten out at times in terms of the arc he gets on it, something that he’s already working on from what we were told. He put up a ton of jump-shots in the time we saw him, and was pretty streaky overall.

Obviously not being a pure “drills” player in terms of his skill-set, it was in the five on five pick-up game where Brewer really shined. He looked a bit bored at times doing some of the drills, but his competitive juices really got flowing once the ball went in the air. He made some fantastic passes all game long whenever the ball was in his hands, including a beautiful alleyoop pass to Martell Webster to start off the game.

Always there was his uncanny sense for sniffing out steals in the passing lanes, and he looked incredibly smooth slithering through the defense with his terrific first step to get his shot off. Despite his skinny frame, he took the bulkier Marcel Jones down into the post on a number of occasions to finish with a turnaround jumper or up and under, and on one occasion exploded over the top of a couple of opponents for an awesome put-back dunk. Even though Brewer later told us that he was instructed not to play too hard and to avoid risking an injury at all costs, it was pretty hard for us to see that on the court. At one point Brewer went careening off the court and crashed into the weight room fencing just to save a loose ball. If that’s indicative of Brewer’s innate competitiveness in a setting like this, one can imagine how he’ll compete when every possession counts. The one negative we could analyze from this setting was probably his pull-up jumper, which was not really falling for him at a high rate.

All in all, Brewer looked and played the part of a top 10 pick, and considering team needs factors and the strength of this draft on the wing, he should not end up sitting too long in the Green Room on draft night.

Joakim Noah, 6-11, PF/C, Junior, Florida

In our mind obviously the most impressive player we’ve seen workout thus far, Joakim Noah went a long ways in reminding us why we liked him so much to begin with when we first began discussing his professional potential 18 months ago. The constant swirl of negativity around him coming from the direction of the general public caused us to forget that momentarily, but we’re more certain than ever now that teams will be making a grave mistake if they decide to pass on him outside of the top few picks in the draft.

Showing that his reputation on the court is anything but an act, Noah was clearly the most intense player we’ve evaluated in the way he approached the workout. He attacked the hoop ferociously on every opportunity, punishing the rim with powerful one-handed slams accompanied by loud, primal grunts (much like a tennis player…). He showed big and incredibly soft hands catching and controlling anything and everything thrown his way, particularly in the two on two drills where Corey Brewer tossed a few difficult passes right around his knees. His length is particularly impressive in the way he finishes around the hoop with jump-hooks, giving him the opportunity to finish plays above the rim in almost every way imaginable, and with either hand.

As the workout wore on, we thought that fatigue might kick in, especially since Noah and the Florida boys have been “partying like rock stars” since the championship, in his words. He just got here last week as we were reminded on a few occasions. Regardless, Noah kept pushing forward harder and harder, finishing first by a large margin in the full-court sprinting drills and refusing to lose in anything competitive that was thrown his way. He just doesn’t run out of energy no matter what it seems. The poor trainer, Andrew, that was assigned to be a “dummy defender” on one particular play got to experience that first hand, taking a swift elbow to the throat as a reward for his efforts.

What AIB is working with him the most--as you might imagine—is his jump-shot. Anyone that has seen him shoot a free throw or mid-range jumper knows that he has some of the most awkward mechanics seen in the NCAA in quite some time, flicking the ball from in front of his chest with crazy side-spin. After discussing things over with Noah, the trainers here don’t plan on changing his shooting mechanics for the time being, partially because of the time constraints involved, but more specifically because of how well they say he is shooting it, despite the unconventional appearance. We understand the time constraints involved, but it seems inevitable that something is going to have to give if he is going to reach his full potential as a face the basket, high post power forward.

Here in this workout, Noah did a solid, but not incredible job shooting the ball. We had him charted around 70% on well over 100 shots from 14-15 feet out, which is decent, but nothing to write home about considering that he was wide open shooting all by himself in a gym. What’s clear is that his mechanics—as ugly as they are—stay the same every time he shoots it, which is very important obviously. He also has good touch on it. This is something that is obviously very important for him considering how many shots we saw him take in the short amount of time we got to evaluate him. Even in these drills his competitive nature came out, as he got so into it that he kept insisting on taking more shots than the drills called for, when his plea for “just one more shot” turned into 10 or more sometimes.

In terms of his body, contrary to what we thought coming in here, it seems like he’s going to be just fine in both the short and long-term. His frame looks good and he’s clearly added more strength. A good friend of mine—David Thorpe of ESPN—likes to remind people that this year’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year award was given to a “skinny ass guy” by the name of Marcus Camby, which tells you something not only about the direction the NBA is heading in, but also about the risk involved in stereotyping what players in certain positions should look like according to the “prototype”. As Noah mentioned in the interview we conducted—and I fully agree with—it’s dangerous for a player like him to get “too heavy” and lose the biggest advantages he possesses in terms of his athleticism and running the floor.

Nick Fazekas, 6-11, Power Forward, Senior, Nevada

It’s tough to draw too many conclusions considering that we only saw one workout here and didn’t get to take in any 5 on 5 action either (he didn’t want to be the only big man out there we’re told), but there are some things to be quietly encouraged by from what Fazekas did show us in the workout we attended.

For one, his body obviously looks a lot better after spending the last 6 weeks here in Carson. He was criticized by some in the media for dropping out of classes and heading here to prepare himself as best as possible to maximize himself for his professional career, but after seeing the results, it’s impossible to argue with that. Fazekas has added 11 pounds to his frame so far while dropping 1.5% of his body fat, looking a lot better in his upper body in particular. Beyond just pumping iron and putting on weight the way a bodybuilder would, they seem to have restructured it completely the way you would hope it would be proportioned. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most Nevada fans would have a hard time believing what the people at Athletes’ Performance have been able to do with his body in such a short time.

Beyond his frame, Fazekas has clearly spent some time working on his shot. It’s not like he was a bad shooter before he came here, but he’s an even better one now. We charted him at an extremely impressive 80% from the NBA 3-point line on over 100 shots over the course of the workout. For any player that would be considered a very solid showing in an NBA private workout, but for a player who measured out here at 6'9 3/4" barefoot, that is especially noteworthy.

Any way you look at it, his shooting mechanics with his feet set are nothing short of gorgeous—especially the rotation he gets on his shot. In motion is where is percentages drop considerably, though, as his body tends to drift along with his feet and he lacks the same dead-eye accuracy he gets from a stand-still position. Considering what his role will be in the NBA, we’re not sure that is going to be all that much of an issue.

Fazekas in general is not the most productive player in the world once he gets in motion. He noticeably lacks quickness and explosiveness, which limits his ability to create his own shot either in the post or on the perimeter. For that reason exactly he will have to adjust to being the type of player in the NBA that keeps things nice and simple—catch and shoot jumpers from 18 feet and out with his feet set, pick and pop plays, jump-hooks and turn-around jumpers in the post, etc etc.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a role for a player like that in the NBA—maybe even a substantial one—but a team and especially their head coach will need to realize exactly what they have on their hands before they decide to commit to him. From what we understand, Fazekas will not be participating in the NBA pre-draft camp later this month. That might be a little disappointing for those looking to evaluate his defense and rebounding in a competitive setting against more athletic players than he normally went up against at Nevada, but the counter argument to that is that big men like him don’t usually touch the ball much in those settings. Regardless, it’s our belief that anyway you slice it, there is a place in an NBA rotation for a player like Nick Fazekas.

Russell Carter, 6-4, Shooting Guard, Notre Dame, Senior

This was Russell Carter’s first day at the Home Depot Center due to Notre Dame’s late academic schedule, but unfortunately for us, even that was cut short because of a minor ankle injury he suffered mid-way through the day. That’s not going to affect his draft status in the short or long term, or especially his plans to cash in on the invite to the Orlando pre-draft camp he scored while we were here, but it did stop us from seeing anything more than half a workout or so.

What we did see confirmed a lot of what we felt about him coming out of Portsmouth. His shot is incredibly smooth, with effortless mechanics and a very quick release. The ball barely touched the net on most of the three pointers he hit, hovering around 80% in the college and NBA shots we charted.

We also saw some nice athleticism in the warm-ups to complement his NBA caliber body, but as we said, there wasn’t much time to do more evaluating than that since Carter tweaked his ankle. It will be fun to see how he fares in the pre-draft camp.

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