Former Louisville point guard Russ Smith, and Stanford power forward Dwight Powell headlined today's group of players who participated in the Suns workout. Here's the scoop.
Today, the Phoenix Suns held their fourth draft workout, featuring a group entirely made up of senior prospects...highlighted by Russ Smith from Louisville, and Dwight Powell from Stanford.
As you may recall, Russ Smith was one of the names heard mentioned at the NBA Draft Combine that the Suns interviewed. So it was certainly no surprise to see him get an invite.
Dwight Powell is a 6'11" power forward from Stanford who I think is one of the better, more underrated prospects who could be a possibility for the Suns in the second round. He has the ability to get to the rim with his athleticism, he runs the floor well, and he can hit college-range threes...He's definitely a player to keep an eye on in the coming draft.
Other participants included Lamar Patterson (SF, Pitt), Andre Dawkins (SG, Duke), Kendall Williams (PG, New Mexico, and De'Mon Brooks (SF/PF, Davidson).
In regard to the workout itself, once again the media availability portion included only the three-minute post conditioning run. And once again, Archie Goodwin was in attendance...but this time, he also decided to participate.
Goodwin took the lead and ran up the court several times in the first two minutes, but New Mexico point guard Kendall Williams paced him for the most part in what looked like a pretty even match. But then with one minute left, when the other prospects were starting to get tired and slow down, Archie kicked it into fourth gear and began flying up and down the court as if he had simply been toying with the drill for the first two minutes.
Archie blew away the other competition and finished with 28 full court sprints in three minutes...an unofficial record, and definitely the best performance by any prospect this week. Way to go Archie!
On expectations from a veteran group of prospects:
"I think generally when you have an older group...the coaches don't have to do as much, the guys know what to do. Most of the guys we had in today were veteran guys, four-year college players, they knew what to do and they know how to play, so you just point them in the right direction and they don't need a whole lot of instruction."
On Russ Smith
"I think Russ's quickness and anticipation really stand out. He has a good feel for the game. He's a guy that's really hard to stand in front of defensively. And when he's playing defense, he's got good anticipation and quickness and a good knack for when to get the ball...he get's a lot of steals. He's a guy that stood out, especially when the workout was going up and down in the full court. In three-on-three it's really hard to contain a guy like that."
On Russ Smith's potential role
"His role would probably be a scorer off the bench...a guy you bring in the game and gives you a boost as a spark-plug. If you can do that then I think the size becomes less important, as long as he proves he can score and also run a team. There's value in a guy that can do both. He'll need to be able to guard point guards, and I think with his quickness and toughness he'll be able to do that."
On Dwight Powell
"He's skilled at his size. He can put the ball on the floor and make a play. There's obviously value in being able to spot up and space the floor and knock down shots, but if your bigs can also catch it...and make a dribble or two and hit a guy on the next pass and make a play, there's value to that. I think his versatility stands out."
On Dwight Powell's shooting range
"He shoots it up to the college three, the NBA three is still a work in progress, but it is with most of these guys...Andre Dawkins has a beautiful stroke but that's what he does, he's a shooter. But he's probably more of the exception than the rule. Most of these guys, especially the bigs, it takes some time to develop into a solid NBA three point shooter."
On importance playing for bigger or smaller programs
"It doesn't really matter that much. You look around the NBA you've got guys who come from big-time college programs, and guys who come from mid-major and low-major programs, a few guys come out of junior college and then all the international players. I'd say generally the high-major guys are easier to evaluate in terms of the inverse of scouting and also film, because they're playing against competition that's more similar to NBA competition, With the mid-major and low-major players it can be more difficult because they only play teams that kind of replicate NBA size and athleticism maybe two or three times a year. A lot of times, when you're in conference play, watching them, they dominate just because they're bigger, stronger, and more athletic. That's another benefit of these workouts...guys who didn't play at the high-major level you get to see them against some of the better high-major players and see how they hold up."
On Russ Smith's Style of play
"We want to play fast. Obviously where he played and the stuff they did they wanted to get the ball up and down...they played a little bit of the pro style. When you're that size, we want that guy to be a speed demon. When you're smaller and you get in the half court it's gets a little tougher, so we want to his strengths and his strength is speed and quickness, and moving around and passing the ball."
On Dwight Powell's versatility
"As a big guy in college typically you may shift down a position in the NBA...so you want to see that they're not just one dimensional. Can you step out and hit a jump shot as a big man? Can you handle the ball some? We do different drills throughout the workout that give us a little idea...can they handle the ball at all, and can they pass the ball. He's one of those guys that's working on things and I think he did show us a little bit, that he can make the 16-18 foot jumper, so that was good."
On what he wanted to showcase today
"Just my game...a lot of people don't get to see me up close...just what I can do with my speed and aggressiveness and how many times I can get in the paint and make some plays."
On his draft stock
"I'm a realist, I probably won't reach the top 15-20, but maybe I can sneak in the first round. I definitely have the ability."
On what he needs to show in the workouts:
"I honestly don't know because I've been shooting the ball tremendously, and I've been getting by my man throughout my whole career at Louisville. And just this past season I've shown that I can put on a passing clinic....I can jump, I can defend, so honestly I don't know what I have to show. Maybe my off the court charisma, being a good person and a good person...maybe that's something they want to see, and I can definitely supply that."
On knowledge of Suns and how he can fit
"I've been a big fan (of the Suns) since Stoudemire, Nash, Joe (Johnson), Barbosa, Marion, Raja Bell...and I know they get up and down the floor even now with Bledsoe and Dragic and Ishmael (Smith) from Wake (Forest), so they get up and down...they get after it and shorten the possessions and just get up and down quick."
On his shooting range
"It's always a work in progress...and I'm always trying to improve that. Hopefully I'll be able to push (my range) out the the NBA three in the near future. Right now I feel comfortable from the college three and a little beyond that, so I'm just trying to get better."
On the advantage of being a senior prospect
"The experience...I've had four years of college coaching which helped a lot. We've been in a lot of different situations whether that's the post season or different points throughout the regular season, and different conferences people are in...we've played against a lot of different guys, so I think it's definitely an advantage in a lot of ways."
On what he needs to improve on
"Continue to work on shot and work on my range, and work on my overall strength."
On proving himself:
"I've been trying to prove myself every time I step on the court. That's something that was instilled in me by all the coaches I've had, especially Coach Dawkins at Stanford. Every time you step on the court you're signing your autograph and you're stamping whatever performance you put out there. You definitely want to bring your best regardless if you're at the Phoenix practice facility with all of their staff, or whether you're at home on the playground."
Another workout coming Monday...stay tuned.
Who are the 2014 Phoenix Mercury?
That does not matter.
What matters is who will the 2014 Phoenix Mercury become?
Two years ago the Phoenix Mercury came in with high hopes drafting point guard dynamo Samantha Prahalis to compliment Diana Taurasi in the back-court and make another championship run. Instead, Prahalis lasted a year in Phoenix and injuries rocked the team rolling them into uncharted territory; the top of the WNBA Draft Lottery.
Last year the circus came to town with rookie phenom Brittney Griner and the season ended in a better place than it started, but it was an overall inconsistent at best and a disappointing season at worst.
The common denominator for both of those seasons was premature hype.
It is not uncommon in a world of preseason polls, power rankings, and predictions that range from too early to laughable. Nobody other than the dot coms traffic benefit from these, but they still get written, and they still get read more than just about anything else. How often is the preseason No. 1 the last team standing in any sport at any level? Rare.
While the 2013 Mercury were dubbed "The Avengers" as a collection of great individual talents that would come together to form a great team and the 2012 Mercury were a team on the rise, the 2014 Mercury are, well, the 2014 Mercury.
No nicknames. No hype. No mention of the "C" word (Championship) until the team cuts down the nets.
It is easy to launch platitudes all over the internet with predictions and hype like a mascot holding a t-shirt gun during a timeout. Yeah this team has potentially the greatest player in WNBA history in Diana Taurasi, a dominant force in Brittney Griner, and three players that could run their own team if desired in DeWanna Bonner, Penny Taylor, and Candice Dupree. Nearly every team out west has great players, multiple great players. They also have WNBA coaches, something Mercury have for the first time in seemingly in forever.
"I think they want to win," Coach Brondello on getting the stars to buy into the team. "That comes from the type of players that they are. They know that they have more success when they are involved with the players around them and they want to win. In the WNBA there are a lot of superstars and it is about making them gel. It takes time and we will get there. At least we have the core group together and we are just adding some new faces."
Those are the things that matter. Also, adding role players that fit in with the very top heavy talented roster like Erin Phillips and Shay Murphy.
New head coach Sandy Brondello has played in the WNBA at the highest levels with the Detroit Shock, Miami Sol, and the Seattle Storm. She has coached in the WNBA with the San Antonio Silver Stars and the Los Angeles Sparks in recent years. She has coached internationally with UMMC Ekaterinburg where she led the duo of Taurasi and Sue Bird to great success. She is a four time Olympian winning one bronze and two silver medals. Suffice to say she knows the game, the players, and everything in-between as a veteran of this game of nearly 30 years.
The Mercury's last two head coaches had a combined zero games played in the WNBA, Olympics, or international women's basketball. Neither Corey Gaines nor Russ Pennell, for as talented as they are as coaching minds, knew this game like Brondello does.
While this group needs to work out the kinks of a new system heavily oriented on defense they have Taurasi who has played for Brondello while Erin Phillips and Penny Taylor are both very familiar with her as Australian Nationals themselves.
"I think that is a big thing having coached Diana for the past two years in Russia," Coach Brondello on establishing chemistry as a coach.
"We have created great chemistry and she understands obviously how I want to play. She is a coach on the court and it kinda helps that transition. It is a smooth transition."
Brondello wants to mix in a polite amount of defensive structure into this team as the pieces are already in place for them to be a juggernaut on offense as they always are.
"It is all about playing hard," Coach Brondello continues on team defense. "Making every shot a contested shot on the defensive end and being a unit. For me it is not about being the greatest one-on-one, but we have to have a team behind them all. That is really important for me. Communication, activity behind the ball, and finishing plays."
The only WNBA Champion in the last five years to not rank in the Top 3 of Defense Points Allowed was, ironically, the Phoenix Mercury back in 2009. It is not common in this league that poor defensive teams win championships. Same for the NBA as six of the last 10 champions have been in the Top 3 in Defensive Points Allowed as well. All of which were in the Top 13 in that category as well. Brondello understands that outliers exist, but defense still wins championships.
"I want to run. I think that is entertaining," Coach Brondello said with a smile" We can actually create a lot of points by letting our defense create offense so that is how I play."
Scoring is not an issue. The Mercury can score the ball. In recent years the scoring has gone from prolific and overbearing for opponents, like the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000's, to a collection of buckets in an inefficient manner leading to losses. Like the late 2000's Phoenix Suns.
It is all about establishing chemistry.
For various reasons it was lost with Gaines. It was never really there with Pennell. Those teams in hindsight were not built well, not coached much better, and did not give themselves a chance against rising giants like the Minnesota Lynx and company across the league.
"We got a long way to go," Bonner on team chemistry after three games. "A lot of new people so it is going to take a minute, but starting out this way with a lot of new people I think we are right where need to be. We can only get better. It is kind of scary once we get our chemistry to see exactly where we will be."
That is pretty much a nail on the head there. It is not about where the team is in the pre-season, after a trade, the draft, or training camp. A team becomes who they will eventually be as the season progresses and chemistry either naturally happens or blows up in their collective faces.
Scars from the chemistry projects of recent years are finally healing and time will tell whether this new formula will mix together well now, in season, and into the playoffs for that unspeakable "C" Word. Championship.