- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Josh Smith's agent wants his client in the same gym as Luol Deng. Pick a day. Any date in June is fine. He'll gladly reschedule any of Smith's workouts so the two potential lottery picks will be on the same court.
You see, if Deng is projected to go as high as No. 3 overall in the draft to Chicago, well Smith's co-agent Brian Dyke wants Smith to at least get a chance to go one-on-one with him.
But it hasn't happened yet.
Deng originally made stringent pre-draft workout plans. He had Duke send out a release saying he would only hold workouts at Duke for scouts of top-five teams. But Duke associate head coach Johnny Dawkins said Deng never held any pro workouts at Duke and his plans have changed. Deng is interviewing agents this week and is willing to go on the road to visit teams' facilities now that he has decided to stay in the draft.
Smith, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-8 forward out of Oak Hill Academy (Va.) who's willing to go up against anyone in this year's draft. A former Atlanta Celtics summer league teammate of Dwight Howard, Smith is currently working out against Stanford small forward Josh Childress at Atlanta and Washington this week. The two are projected to go in the same range within the lottery, but Childress has apparently climbed ahead of Smith, possibly as high as No. 4 to Charlotte.
And while Smith may be able to sway a few scouts' minds by working out against Childress, Deng has been off limits.
"When we went to Charlotte, we said go get (Deng) but he wouldn't do it," Dyke said. "It's hard to control, but we want to work out against guys in his range. We've got Childress. We wanted Deng but he won't do it."
Aaron Goodwin represents Howard, the possible No. 1 overall pick, and doesn't want or need to see his client matched up against the other possible top pick Emeka Okafor of Connecticut.
"I want the teams to focus on Dwight, not on Dwight versus Emeka," Goodwin said. "I want them to see the stuff he can do that pretty much only (Kevin) Garnett can do. I want them to see him dribble the ball, run the point and shoot facing the basket."
Goodwin, however, has seen how a player's stock can rise if given a chance to match up against his competition. When Goodwin represented Jamal Crawford in 2000, the guard had an impressive Chicago pre-draft camp and leaped past other notable point guards Mateen Cleaves, Keyon Dooling and Erick Barkley to go No. 8 in the draft.
This year is different.
"It's about timing and it's about the right player," said Goodwin, who also represented last season's No. 1 pick in LeBron James. "But not in this case. I wouldn't do it."
So, while NBA teams spend thousands of dollars on scouting each year, they don't always get the matchups they want come June. And while they'll watch future NBA draft picks as high school players; attend summer all-star camps where marquee matchups will occur; sit front row for all-star games in the spring, and then watch countless hours of college basketball through the season and NCAA Tournament; rarely are teams given the chance to actually compare two players (together on the court) who they could ultimately be forced to make a draft-night decision on each June.
Matchups between the best high school juniors and seniors occur each July, but those are next year's prospects. And, once a player has declared for the draft, similar matchups don't happen nearly often enough during the month-long workouts leading up to the June 24 draft.
The opposite, however, is true in Europe. This week in Italy, the Reebok Eurocamp has successfully brought together some of the best international talent in this year's draft. The pre-draft camp is akin to the annual high school summer camps like ABCD (Reebok) and Nike in July. But unlike most American's pre-draft workout schedules, some of the best young talent is banging in the post or defending each other off the dribble in Treviso.
It's no secret that players will shy away from individual workouts against specific players. It's also become clear in recent years that plenty of others are advised to duck the Chicago pre-draft camp for fear that it won't be a true test of their ability.
It's ironic, actually. The Chicago pre-draft camp, which begins next week, was created to be a primer for the draft. But it has been reduced to a tryout for players hoping to get into the first round or get drafted at all in the second round. And even if a potential high draft pick shows up to play, rarely are the best players at a specific position matched up against each other, let alone in any kind of one-on-one situation.
"We don't see enough of those matchups," said Walt Perrin, Utah's player personnel director. "Sometimes we as teams have more power than the agents, and can tell the player that we won't draft a player if he doesn't work out on a specific day.
"But more and more teams are going to have problems because some players or agents are against doing it."
Matchups between mid-level or late-first round picks do happen in individual workouts with teams. But not as much as some teams would like to see.
For instance, potential first-round centers Rafael Araujo (BYU) and David Harrison (Colorado) went against each other under the watchful eye of Utah last month. The pair are also penciled to go against each other a few more times for other teams this month.
Jameer Nelson's agent, Steve Mountain, also isn't against his client matching up with any point guard projected to be selected in the first round. To prove it, he gladly had the Saint Joseph's senior work out against high school senior Sebastian Telfair, even though Nelson is projected to go ahead of Telfair in the first round.
Mountain said, on the surface, Nelson would have more to lose than Telfair. But Nelson didn't mind. He wants the competition. Telfair and Nelson went against each other for the Clippers and in Utah, and are expected to continue the tour at a few other stops. Perrin said Telfair held his own, but Nelson proved to be more experienced -- as expected.
"You can't make a pick by just the workouts, because these guys have seen me play four or five times. But they want to see how you compete," Nelson said. "It's foolish to duck it. I love to compete."
The Nelson-Telfair show included some one-on-one time, but Nelson said it was more about having him in the team's facility, to get to know him and watch how he works out.
Duke senior point guard Chris Duhon, who's looking to secure a spot in the second round, took the opportunity to join Nelson and Telfair on the court during the workout. Once again, it was a plus for Duhon more than Nelson or even Telfair, since Duhon isn't trying to take a spot or two away from either.
"One of the best things to see is how competitive these guys are now that there is a job on the line and money on the line," Perrin said. "That's when you see how competitive someone is. We've seen all of their athleticism during the year and can see their tendencies on tape. But we want our coaches to see how competitive they are."
Danny Ainge, the Celtics executive director of basketball operations, said the one-on-one workouts also allow a team to see each player's true athleticism. He said it's hard to judge a player's quickness or speed (compared to the other's) unless they're matched up on the same day.
"But you're always going to get resistance to that because a number of agents feel they'll see a player be rated higher in a mock draft and won't want to jeopardize their player's position," Ainge said. "But workouts are mostly for confirmation, not something that would win or lose it for a player."
But agents, on the whole, aren't against the idea. Dyke certainly supports having his client work out against the best at Smith's position. Telfair's agent, Andy Miller, isn't having his client shy away from other top point guards.
But it depends on the client.
Still, Chicago is the place where matchups are supposed to take place. And that's why Mississippi State junior Lawrence Roberts wants to play next week. He knows there won't be too many players in his position in Chicago. But if he can stand out enough, maybe he'll be catapulted into the first round.
For now, Roberts is working out in Houston with some players at his position, including Josh Smith. But he's not getting the chance to go against someone like Al Jefferson, a high school senior projected to go ahead of him in the draft. Jefferson was invited to go for the physical-only workouts in Chicago, not to play. So, Roberts won't get the chance to go one-on-one against him.
"It's always better to go against a player for the simple fact to see if they're better or not," Roberts said. "Teams can usually judge it when you go head-to-head. The most frustrating thing is that I want to play and that's what I'm trying to do ... but I'm not going to be going against the high school guys (projected ahead of him).
"Some guys don't want to play in Chicago. But I do."
Oh, by the way, Lawrence's calendar is wide open after Chicago as well. Anyone 6-8 or so interested in a trip to Houston?
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Unlike their international counterparts, the draft process isn't set up for teams to see the best American prospects face off this month.