Now that the college basketball season has come to an end, many of the top players from around the country are shifting their focus to June’s NBA draft.
Players with dreams of playing in the NBA are now preparing for the next two-plus months of workouts. As the draft gets closer, players will work out for as many teams as they need to in order to boost their draft stock.
Some players see the pre-draft process as a great opportunity to climb up teams’ draft boards. Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton began the pre-draft process projected to be an early second-round pick, but the point guard dominated workouts and often embarrassed other prospects with terrific plays. He would eventually be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft (and was immediately traded to the Magic).
College prospects have taken notice and many understand that it doesn’t matter if they played at a powerhouse school. They know that having great workouts can be all that’s needed in order to be drafted. Former University of Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez is planning on taking full advantage of his upcoming workouts and is utilizing every opportunity to showcase his game.
That first opportunity comes this week at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia.
“It’s very important [to stay in the moment] because you don’t want to overlook any opportunity that’s given right now,” Rodriguez told Basketball Insiders (watch the full video, with workout clips, above). “The closest thing right now besides workouts is Portsmouth. I got to make sure I do a good job. I got to be consistent because everything matters at this point. There is no tomorrow. This is not college basketball anymore. We’re all trying to become professionals and everything matters.”
The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament brings in 64 of the top seniors in the country. The prospects participate in 12 games designed to show off their skills in front of representatives from every NBA team.
In past years, players like Jimmy Butler, Jeremy Lin, Tim Frazier and Henry Sims (among others) have participated in the tournament.
For a player like Rodriguez, the tournament is a great chance to make a first impression on scouts during this process. He is coming off of his best season as a collegiate player with Miami. He averaged 12.6 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game in 35 games last season. He hit several big shots during his time at Miami, including a game-winning three-pointer against No. 8 Florida in 2014 and a tip-in with 1.4 seconds left against Pittsburgh last season.
Rodriguez played his best basketball of the season when the spotlight was at its brightest. He turned heads during the NCAA Tournament, leading Miami to an appearance in the Sweet 16 by averaging 21.7 points, 5.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and three steals in three tournament games. He shot 54 percent from the field and an excellent 60 percent from three-point range.
His best game of the season was against Wichita State in the second round; he recorded a season-high 28 points as well as five assists, four steals and two rebounds.
For many prospects, keeping things in perspective is a big key during this process. Rodriguez is currently not listed within the top 100 prospects on DraftExpress’ rankings, but Rodriguez believes he can help a team at the next level and is realistic about how he’ll be used.
“I know I’m not going to come in and be an All-Star,” Rodriguez said. “I know I’m not going to come in and plays are going to be ran for me. As long as I know my role, I’ll stick to it and I’ll do a very good job. [What I want] to bring for sure is defense and energy. That’s something you can’t teach. That’s something that not everybody loves – not just in games, but in practice.
“It’s something I know coaches look forward to and something that coaches appreciate. It’s something that, as a team, everybody is going to like because I’m going to help guys get better. I’m not going to let guys have a free lunch. They might score, but they’re going to have to work on it.”
Rodriguez is hoping to follow a similar career path as Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea. Both players are similar in size as Barea is listed at 6’0 and 185 pounds while Rodriguez was listed last season at 5’11 and 180 pounds. Barea began his professional career in Puerto Rico before catching on with the Mavericks in 2006.
Barea played some of his best basketball with the Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs, when he became a key role player during the team’s run to the championship. He has made a career of being a floor general and doing the dirty work during games. Rodriguez mirrored that style of play during his four years in college between his time at Kansas State and Miami.
“I’m a person that’s very confident in myself,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve played against great players in college and guys that are at the pro level right now. I know the capability is there, but the size is always going to be a question. At the end of the day, I just got to be the best that I can be.
“A guy that I look up to is J.J. Barea. I want to be more like a [Patrick] Beverley on the defensive side. I think Barea is a great offensive player, but something I truly take pride on is defense and Pat Beverley is somebody I look up to in that way.”
Following his senior year at Miami, Rodriguez has been working out with several other NBA prospects. In Basketball Insiders’ exclusive look at the workouts with Elite Skills Training in Miami (seen in the video above), Rodriguez was a standout among six other Division I prospects.
He flashed a strong handle, a good shot from three-point range and was a pest on defense in three-on-three drills. He was very vocal during scrimmages, a much needed quality for a point guard in the NBA. His shooting is among the things that he wants to improve the most.
“Obviously, everybody has to get adjusted to the three-point line,” Rodriguez said. “That’s one thing everybody is working at. For myself, I’m trying to become a much better mid-range guy. I want to be a very energetic guy – a guy that comes in and dogs the ball. A guy that comes in and changes the game on defense.”
As Rodriguez continues his preparation ahead of the draft, he hired Pedro Power of YouFirst Sports as his agent. While it remains to be seen if Rodriguez will be drafted, many players have proven that draft position doesn’t matter. They have shown that having strong outings in the Summer League can sometimes be the key to being on a team’s radar – and then it’s all about opportunity and finding the right fit.
Playing a season or two in the D-League or overseas has also become a more common route to the NBA. Sometimes, being an undrafted rookie can be a blessing in disguise since players are able to pick the best situation available to maximize their playing time and opportunities.
Rodriguez leaves for Portsmouth tomorrow in what will be one of the biggest showcases of his playing career with so many professional scouts in attendance. Don’t be surprised if his draft stock rises after leaving Portsmouth.
PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More
Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.
Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia
Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.
After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.
On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.
Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.
When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.
“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”
While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.
“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”
The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.
Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.
So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”
In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.
Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.
“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”
On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.
“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”
After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.
“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”
Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.
“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.