MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There is plenty of predraft work to be done less than a month away from the 2015 NBA Draft. After the Memphis Grizzlies’ first predraft workout, Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton made his mark in Friday’s 90-minute session at FedExForum.
"Tough, strong, shoots it well," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said of Connaughton. "(He’s) got good confidence, willing to do the dirty work. Very conscious player. He doesn’t need to dribble all over the place."
Memphis is looking for wing length and athleticism to go along with scoring ability. The 6-foot-5 wing is projected in the second round, but quickly is rising.
Ranked by Draft Express as the 12th-best available shooting guard, Connaughton could emerge as an NBA outside threat. A 46.6 percent shooter last season, he shot a career-high 42.3 percent from deep, a percentage that rose each of his four seasons with the Irish. In a scrimmage at the NBA Combine, he hit four of his five 3-point attempts. He also averaged a career-high 7.4 rebounds, making him the attractive shooter for the Grizzlies who can also attack the boards with the bigs.
"He’s able to pass and cut and spot up and play off of other people, which is important," Joerger said. "You come in as a rookie, we’re not probably going to clear Zach (Randolph) and Marc (Gasol) out so you can work out on an isolation. You’re going to have to be able to fit in and guys like that can do that."
A pro baseball prospect as well, Connaughton plays like a big, averaging nearly a block a game. And it won’t get him in the NBA alone, but Connaughton posted a 44-inch vertical at the combine, the second-highest in the event’s history. That is enough though for the athleticism-hungry Grizzlies to look deeper into the rest of his rising game. There is certainly more than he was able to show at sharing-Notre Dame. His numerous workouts could bring out the pick-and-roll ball handler an NBA team needs.
Connaughton was one of six to work out for the Grizzlies, a round number giving Joerger a chance to see 3-on-3 to provide more than the already-defined shooting numbers. The six included guards Josh Richardson (Tennessee, Ky Madden (Arkansas) and Aaron Thomas (Florida State) and bigs Chris Walker (Florida) and Brandon Ashley (Arizona).
The 6-foot-6 Richardson’s scoring went up annually in his for years at Tennessee. He averaged 16 points per game last season and shot 46.1 percent from the field. He is a 36 percent 3-point shooter.
"Josh Richardson was very interesting, got good size, really good defender," Joerger said. "We’re definitely looking for size at the wing."
Also projected as an NBA guard, Arkansas senior Madden (6-foot-5, 171 pounds) was a 42.4-percent shooter last season who scored 9.6 points per game. He shot 37.7 percent from deep and took more than three 3s per game. His field goal percentage dipped each of his final three seasons at Arkansas.
One of the biggest question marks of the draft could be Thomas, who played in six games for the Seminoles before being ruled ineligible for the second semester. Before the year was up, he signed with an agent. There were rumors he would seek professional ball in Europe. In those six games, he led FSU with 14.8 points and averaged 3.5 rebounds per game. Thomas shot less than 24 percent from deep his freshman and junior season, but as a sophomore made 37 percent of the 105 3s he took. He shot a combined 58 his freshman and junior season, the latter obviously cut short. He did have eight steals in his six games.
He isn’t the only draft question, not even the only one from that state. Walker, a sophomore out of Florida, is a 6-foot-10 bundle of expectations. A top-10 recruit out of high school, he may or may not be drafted, but his size and potential alone are enough for teams to want to see in person.
He averaged only 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in two seasons and shoots less than 40 percent from the free-throw line. It led to reduced minutes last season under now-Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan. His work ethic has been questioned (ineligible for his first freshman semester) and he was also suspended three games last season. But Walker is only 20. Some team is going to think it can pull his yet-molded potential out and into the league.
Ashley also enters the draft at 20. At 6-foot-9, he averaged 12 points and five rebounds last season and is ranked among the back end of the Top 100 prospects.
"I thought Brandon Ashley had a nice day today," Joerger said, "really smart, knows how to play, been well-coached by (now-Memphis Tigers assistant) Damon Stoudamire and Sean Miller."