Saturday, June 20, 2009

Draft Notes: Harden Workout, Thabeet Pull-Out, Heisley Talks

Posted By on Sat, Jun 20, 2009 at 2:28 PM

The Grizzlies held their second major draft workout Friday morning with former Arizona State swingman James Harden, considered a darkhorse candidate for the #2 pick.

Harden had, frankly, a terrible workout, missing an avalanche of jumpshots while dealing with the stifling defense of small orange cones. Arguably worse than all the missed shots was how clearly frustrated Harden got.

Afterward, a team official pulled me aside and said 'Look, we both know that was one of the worst workouts we've seen, but we've seen this kid enough to know what he can do."

Harden, who shot 50% from the floor and 38% from three last year at Arizona State, is clearly a better shooter than he showed. (And he did find his rhythm toward the end, hitting 19 of 25 going around the horn on long two-point shots and a somewhat less impressive but still respectable 13-25 from three in the same drill.) And he may have been hobbled slightly by recovering from a minor ankle injury and recent sickness.

Still, after his poor performance in the NCAA tournament and his easy frustration at Friday's workout, I would tend to worry about his nerves.

The interesting comparison right now is Harden and Tyreke Evans, who worked out for the team on Wednesday. Harden and Evans are similar physically (height, weight, and wingspan), play essentially the same position, and are both thought to be pushing Ricky Rubio and Hasheem Thabeet as draft options for the Grizzlies.

In terms of this comparison, it was telling that the workout regimen the two players were put through by assistant coach Damon Stoudamire was not identical. Evans did almost exclusively ball-handling, perimeter defense, and basic shooting drills. There were two notable changes to the Harden workout: One was a series of alley-oop dunk drills, some in the open court and some with Harden trying to shake defensive contact. Harden looked good here, playing above the rim easily even after multiple attempts deep into the workout. The team also gave assistant coach Dave Joerger arm pads to bump and grind with Harden on the block and tested Harden's ability to shake a defender and get open for catch-and-shoot jumpers. Harden got free fine, but the shooting was shaky.

Essentially, they were working with Harden on scoring opportunities off the ball, which will be important in a backcourt rotation with two ball-dominant guards in O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley. Harden's clearly superior ability to play off the ball would seem to make him a better fit on the current Grizzlies roster, though there doesn't seem to be uniform concern among the front office over how much of an issue Evans' ball-dominant game would be.

Frankly, this question might also relate to the coaching staff's usage of Mayo. My one big complaint about Lionel Hollins' direction of the team after taking over last season was his refusal to give Mayo regular spot minutes at point guard, even after the trade of Kyle Lowry. If that hasn't changed and the coaching staff is still, for whatever reason, resistant to letting Mayo spend time on the ball, then a three-guard rotation of Conley, Mayo, and Harden wouldn’t work. On the other hand, because Evans allegedly played point guard in college last year, I could see it being (arbitrarily) determined that he can play point guard even if Mayo somehow can't.

440a/1245525881-hasheem-thabeet-cc.jpgWorkouts to Come: The Grizzlies were supposed to have three individual workouts in succession tomorrow morning with Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill, and DeMar DeRozan, but apparently Thabeet has pulled out of the workout, citing injury. From what I've been told, Thabeet did not make the trip to Memphis at all this weekend. I'll try to find out more about this at the Forum tomorrow.

The team will get serious about it's latter picks — #27 and #36 — with a series of multi-player workouts Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I wasn't able to take notes when I heard the lists, so I don't remember the full array of players, but the most prominent prospects are Danny Green (a personal fave), Marcus Thornton, and DeMare Carroll (all these Monday), Derrick Brown (Tuesday), and Jodie Meeks (Wednesday). I'm going to try to make all three workouts if I can, but it's going to be tough.

On the Radio: Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley did a radio interview with Sports 56 last week and had a few interesting things to say:

**He said the team was "looking at four or five players we're interested in drafting," which is a much more reasonable number than the 8(!) the Commercial Appeal had previously reported.

**He made it clear that he hasn't given up on the longshot scenario of moving up to #1 to get Blake Griffin. "I'm not saying Donald Sterling and his organization would trade the #1 pick, but I'm saying to you that it isn't out of the question," Heisley said.

**He was candid about how low payroll (on and off the court) helped the bottom line last season despite flagging attendance: "Last year we did not lose money. We will be in the top echelon of the league as far as bottom-line."

Friday morning after the Harden workout, I joined Geoff Calkins and Gary Parrish on their show for a segment on the draft. You can listen to Geoff, Gary, and I instruct the Grizzlies on proper off-season strategy on the 730 Fox Sports podcast. It's the second segment of Friday's show.


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