Hoping for a shot, fringe Draft prospects take the court

USA TODAY Sports

The PNY Center was the scene for the latest NBA workout. Many prospects attending are fighting to be picked late in the second round. Some helped their cause while others hurt it.

Wednesday morning, 22 draft hopefuls got a chance of a lifetime, taking the court at the PNY Center in East Rutherford and hoping they could catch the eye of a NBA executive who would give them their next chance of lifetime, making a team’s roster. And there were plenty of them there to impress.

All of the players are fringe prospects, second round picks in next month’s draft, if even that. This workout, organized by the Nets, is one of two for such prospects. The other one will take place next week in Minnesota.

The workout was broken down into shooting drills, then a 5-on-5 scrimmage.

First up were the guards shooting —and it wasn’t pretty. The first eight shots were off the front rim and it was clear that some if not all of them were nervous going into this. D.J. Stephens was the only effective shooter during the drills, despite having weird form, his legs space out when he is lifting on his jumper. Besides the Memphis product, 5’11" (maybe) Phil Pressey was the next best, but he was erratic throughout the drills.

When the bigs joined in, it was clear that they were the strongest of the 11 prospects in the first group. Christian Watford was playing with the post players, a bit surprising in that he’s been more of a perimeter player. It didn’t stop the 6’9" Watford from getting an array of hook shots to fall during drills. An improved interior game makes Watford much more intriguing because of that strong outside game. The other big man who impressed was Romeo Osby, out of Oklahoma. Osby is NBA-big a 6’8" power forward who weighs in at 238 pounds. Despite his bulk, Osby showed he can hit mid-range shots, something he needs to prove to solidify his draft stock. Right now, none of the mock drafts have him being selected.

After these drills, the most revealing portion of the morning began, the 5-on-5 scrimmages.

Right from the tip, the prospects needed to feel themselves out and get into the flow of the game. Some did that better than others. Pressey forced things early, trying to fit passes into spots too small, coming up with three turnovers in three minutes. Pressey was erratic from the get-go and never really got his legs under him, playing too fast and out of control the entire time.

Watford and Osby played well during the scrimmage, with Watford working the post and Osby hitting several shots out of it, a must for each of the two if they wanted to be selected.

One player who garnered some looks from the assembled scouts and executives was James Ennis, the 6’7" forward from Long Beach State. Ennis hit several mid-range jumpers and had his way with Michael Snaer throughout the scrimmage. Ennis has great size and talent on the ball for the small forward position. Of the 22 players in the gym, he has the highest draft stock, projected as an early second round pick.

The player that stole the show from the first session, though, was Stephens. As noted, Stephens was fine in drills, but took over during the scrimmage. At 6’5", he plays much bigger than he is. He rose up above the rim twice to block shots. He also had one play that got everyone’s attention, when he blocked a layup, saved it before going out of bounds, and then jumped into the stands. I spoke with Stephens at the end of the day and he has, "several workouts coming up." Stephens played the post at Memphis, but he knows he has to, "be a guard with a lot of energy," in the NBA. That transition may be one reason he’s not listed in any of the mock drafts.

Overall, Snaer greatly disappointed in the scrimmage, just as he had in the shooting drills, scoring rarely and not making much of an impact on the floor. He has an awkward, slow release on his shot, made even more noticeable because he wasn’t a consistent scorer.

Pressey, too, also played below his level. It still seems likely that he’ll be picked, specifically on his upside, but he didn’t help his cause with today’s performance

Stephens, Watford and Osby might have played their way into the draft with their performances today. All have workouts lined up, and were the clear best of the crop in the first session. James Ennis also looked strong, but it was unclear if he has any future workouts with teams.

In second workout of the day, the energy level and competitive level was much improved in comparison to the first.

In the guards shooting drill, Vander Blue of Marquette and Vincent Council from Providence hit most consistently on their shots, but there were no outliers among the others … in either direction.

In the forward/center group, Norvel Peele, who was a late addition to the workout gained a lot of attention just before the draft began. And Wednesday, he was the one who everyone had their eye on. Pelle passed the eye-test. He’s a legitimate 6’11" with arms down to the middle of his legs. He’s also a legitimate sleeper. The nation’s best center prospect in high school two years ago, academic issues prevented him from playing a single game in college.

Problem is that his play didn’t live up to many’s expectations. In drills, Pelle wasn’t consistent in the post, and during the scrimmage aspect, he lacked anything in particular that jumps off the page … other than his athleticism. Pelle didn’t use his natural talent, size and speed, to his advantage and rarely made plays.

In the 5-on-5 portion of the session, several different players took control and helped their draft stock.

Dewayne Dedmon was the most impressive big throughout, working Pelle in the post and swatting several shots. Dedmon, out of USC, stands at 7’ and 255 pounds, and has great athleticism to support his game, making him a unique prospect.

Matthew Dellavedova had some trouble in the first couple of minutes, but settled down and finished as the best guard on the court in the second workout, commanding his team. He had a stretch where he hit back-to-back threes and burned Vincent Council on a back-door cut for an easy layup. At 6’4", Dellavedova has solid size for a guard, but he doesn’t have great speed to keep up with the likes of pros. An Australian, Dellavedova was one of the few international products on hand.

Vander Blue kept up his great shooting in the scrimmage, hitting several jumpers from 15 feet or so out along with two difficult perimeter shots. Blue stands at 6’4" and is much faster than Dellavedova, making him the more intriguing project. Neither is projected as a pick in the draft.

Carrick Felix had a fine day at the workout. He hit several shots and played fine defense throughout the day, showing size and length at 6’6". It allowed him to deflect several passes. Felix is a guard/forward giving him the versatility many teams like.

Trevor Mbakwe had a volatile day, which included three missed jumpers, but also highlighted by taking a charge on Carrick Felix and throwing down an emphatic put-back dunk.

Council played fine at the point with a bigger Blue guarding him, but at times would get lost in the game. At 6’2", Council plays bigger then he actually is and is not afraid to get physical. Council is intrigued by the possibility of playing with MarShon Brooks if the Nets are interested in him, "MarShon is the best two guard I’ve ever played with," Council said.

Pelle played well enough to continue to intrigue scouts, but he didn’t make as big of an impression as many thought he would. Solomon Hill seemed scared to make a move with the ball and couldn’t buy a bucket.

All in all, none of the prospects seemed to make enough of an impression to jump into the first round, but enough of them held their own, with several of them perhaps forcing their way into the second round. Many though are D-League prospects whose fate will be decided not in June at the Barclays Center but in November when the D-League runs its draft, by conference call.

Would the Nets be interested in any of them if they buy a pick or two, as they have in the 2011 and 2012 drafts? No one is saying, but a big like Pelle or a tough guy like Stephens might interest them. The three players the Nets picked up with purchased picks – Bojan Bogdanovic, Tyshawn Taylor and Toko Shengelia -- are likely to be on the roster next season. So this could be the start of something.

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