|by Jason Klein |
Danny Granger and Britton Johnsen worked out at Pauley Pavilion at UCLA on Thursday, May 19. UCLA legend Don MacLean is working with both players to get them ready for the NBA. Granger is jockeying for position in the draft, establishing himself as a firm lottery pick while Johnson is looking to catch on for good with a team for his third stint in the league following tours in Orlando and Indiana.
A little background on Don MacLean – he holds some career records at UCLA including field goals made, which he shares with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and points. He spent 9 years in the NBA and won the Most Improved Player award in 1994.
Because this was nearing the end of a grueling week that marked Granger’s return after a 2 week layoff due to a hamstring injury and with workouts with NBA teams starting the next day, I was informed that they were going to take it a little easy today, which meant no full court or half court two on two or one on one play.
MacLean has Granger and Johnson going 6 days a week. 8:30-10:00 at Athletes performance is strength training, 11:00-1:00 is on the court with McLean, and then 3:00-5:00 again at Athletes performance back in the gym. There’s no doubt that Granger is in the best shape in his life and is about to peak at just the right time for private workouts.
The workout started with dribbling drills at a standstill. First hand to hand, then left hand, then right hand, then low figure 8’s between the legs all with their heads up and eyes facing forward followed by hand to hand behind the back. All of these were done with their heads up and eyes facing forward. This was followed by full court dribbling drills with a ball in each hand. The first laps were done dribbling the balls simultaneously baseline to baseline, followed by dribbling the balls alternately. In both cases the first lap was done straight through and the second consisted of stopping every 5 feet or so, backing up, then moving forward again. The final dribbling drills were done with one ball, zig-zagging across the court, turning their backs and switching hands.
According to scouts who saw him in college, Granger's biggest weakness is the fact that he spent his first three years in the NCAA almost strictly in the post, but is now projected as a small forward at the next level. Therefore, his ball-handling suffered in college because of a lack of opportunities to work on it in real time game situations. There are questions regarding how long it will be before he will become adequate at using his athleticism to create his own shot at the next level. The scouting report says that his left hand is particularly weak, almost always favoring his right hand to take his man off the dribble and get to the basket.
Granger's ball-handling looked surprisingly fluid during these drills and his left hand looks competent. This is huge for him, as making that much progress in such a short amount of time only makes you wonder how good of a ball-handler he will become in 2-3 years down the road. This goes well with the notion around the league that despite his age, Granger still has a big upside to improve, thanks to his physical attributes and work ethic. He appears to be working hard on this weakness and he will most definitely benefit from continuing with these drills.
After that, it was catch and shoot drills with Johnson on one end of the court and Granger at the other moving from the left side of the court to the right. These started inside the NCAA 3 point line at first, then moved to the NCAA 3 point line, followed by moving out to what would be NBA 3 point range.
Granger did well within the NCAA arc and at the NCAA arc. He has a textbook release on his shot and got some good lift on his jumpers. When he moved out to the NBA 3, his shot became more inconsistent. His shots were either all net or hitting the front of the rim. That can be attributed to the adjustment required for the added distance, as well as the fact that he just hadn’t been on the court in a while. With his form, feel for the game and work ethic, the adjustment should come fairly quickly.
Then came pick and roll drills, all of which were confined to from just above the top of the key in, first on one side of the court, then the other. If the ball crossed over to the wrong side of the key, the play was stopped.
The first of these drills consisted of one person with the ball, and the other setting the pick against no opponent. After the pick, the person with the ball would make a move to the hoop while the person setting the pick would move to the baseline and receive a second ball, so both were constantly working.
This was followed by two on two pick and roll games with Granger and Johnson both teamed with a guard, local players from the area. On pick and rolls, Granger was setting some solid picks, but most of his shots after receiving the ball were rimming out. He looked comfortable in both situations, but was more successful with the ball in his hands as opposed to receiving it. Based on the frustration he expressed with each miss, it could have been an off shooting day due to the fatigue of a hard week after a long layoff. It would not surprise me since these were shots he was making with ease during the catch and shoot drills.
Granger stands 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan and a 36 inch vertical leap. He’s a lean, but very solid 220 pounds, and his frame can handle more muscle if needed. As he is now, he has a prototypical small forward body and is athletic with very good lateral quickness and quick jumping ability. His low post experience at New Mexico will help him in the pros, but defensively he will benefit from the additional strength, bulk and experience that will come as he continues to mature. Once this happens, him and his team will really be exploit that part of his game, even against the elite players like the McGrady’s and Marion’s of the league. There are some edges that need to be polished, mainly the experience that comes from guarding the perimeter night in night out, but he has the potential to be an excellent defender with his length, wingspan and lateral quickness. This is one of the things that NBA teams seem to be most excited about and will really be looking hard at.
His jumper has a textbook high release and he shows the potential to be a powerful dunker, although he was overly enthusiastic about it on a few occasions which led him to hitting the back of the rim. His ball handling abilities have improved thanks to his work with MacLean, and they should improve more with continued practice.
He is a very intelligent person (he turned down a scholarship to Yale) and his adjustment to the NBA game should be a fairly short one if he continues on his current training regimen.
He will be working out for the Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers and Lakers next week.
Johnsen stands 6’9” and looks to be around 220-225 as well (he put on 10 pounds during his time off). What really surprised me about Britton was his deceptive speed. I did not expect him to move as quickly as he did, especially with those toothpick legs of his. When it came to side to side sprints, MacLean threw down the gauntlet, saying that $50 was Britton’s if he completed 17 sides in less than 56 seconds. Johnsen made it in 55 and happily handed the money to his wife who was courtside with their infant son.
He was a McDonald's All-American out of high school, and played under the conservative Rick Majerus at Utah, where he played a very limited role offensive, mostly as a post player who was not allowed to play too much on the perimeter and create his own shot. His pro potential therefore suffered, as he's clearly as perimeter oriented SF for the next level, but lacked the shooting or ball-handling skills out of college to get drafted. He also went on a two year mission (he's Mormon) so he was much older than everyone else in that draft. Regardless, he made the Orlando Magic thanks to an excellent summer league campaign, and then made the league once again last summer after another excellent summer league campaign. This year, he started off with Idaho in the CBA before being signed by the Pacers and even starting a few games for them before being cut.
Johnsen did well on the catch and shoot drills, showing a solid shot out to the NCAA 3 point line. Beyond that, he was inconsistent. During the pick and roll drills, he hit around half of his shots when setting the pick. He looked to be able to hold his own defensively against Granger and the guards, using his long arms to get a couple of blocks and steals during the drills.
Britton seems to have improved in most aspects as a small forward. His ball handling was decent and he had a very smooth shot from outside. As of right now, he is not starting material, but it would not be surprising to see him as an energy guy off the bench considering his speed, motor and defensive abilities. He needs to get a little more consistent from behind the NBA 3 point line to improve his chances, as he wavers from either not being able to miss or not hitting anything.
Both Johnsen and Granger did a good job of talking to their partners in the pick and roll exercises, letting their guards know when to go over or fight through the picks. This is the type of thing that will endear these guys to an NBA team behind the scenes in practice. Defensively, both had some breakdowns, but overall showed the effort and ability to be effective using their length to bother their opponent. It’s a small thing, but both really cared about their shooting even in an empty gym and expressed frustration whenever they missed a shot that should have been an easy make. You could tell they are constantly pushing themselves and won’t settle for anything less than the absolute best.
Unfortunately, even though Danny looked very impressive in the workout, we weren’t able to see some of his biggest strengths, like his basketball IQ within the team structure, his ability to be creative and improvise, his leadership skills, and just his overall feel for the game, which is excellent. These are the type of things that come out in games, but not so much in workouts.
Britton’s best aspects of his game are his motor, constant energy, and his uncanny ability to get from one end of the floor to other. Again, this is something that you can get a better feel for when watching him play five on five. He seems to be the type of player that will excel in an up-tempo team that likes to get up and down the floor, as he has good speed in transition. Guarding him is an exhausting task, since he’s always moving.
Overall, it’s not easy to judge either based on the competitive drills that were run, and that’s why this is just another tool that NBA teams use to evaluate prospects, along with footage from their career up to this point. There was no wide open two on two scrimmaging and when you confine any player to just a sliver of the court, you really can’t see what they really can or cannot do. I can say that both guys put forth maximum effort and would have been ripped by MacLean had they not.
Without seeing them in an open court game, it’s hard to get a feel for their decision making on either end of the floor, and that’s a shame because this is an area that they both excel at, especially Granger. MacLean’s drills will definitely prepare them for what’s ahead, but watching them here is not enough to get a feel for how what they have learned will translate to live situations. We’ll just have to wait for next year when we see them in real NBA games to decide.