In the past week, the Phoenix Suns have conducted five separate individual workouts for prospects projected to be taken in the lottery of the Draft later this month. Four of those prospects are projected to go in the latter half of the lottery.
Jaylen Brown, Domantas Sabonis, Henry Ellenson, Skal Labissiere and Jakob Poeltl have all opted for solo time with the Suns coaches and trainers, foregoing the competitive three-on-three drills other prospects endured on the same day.
Most predraft workouts are conducted as a group session, in part to see more players at one time and in part to see how the player reacts in a competitive setting while being coached by a team's own coaching staff, running a team's own plays.
"Ideally, we'd like five on five," Suns Assistant General Manager told Bright Side this week. "But we're not allowed to do that (per league rules). Three on three is the best thing we can do there in pre-draft workouts."
Former coach Jeff Hornacek and current GM Ryan McDonough have, in the past, hinted that they prefer players who come in ready to compete with other prospects over those who insist on solo workouts. I remember when Ben McLemore got a solo workout in Phoenix in 2013, and the off-the-record talk was that he didn't do himself any favors.
In the past several years, the Suns have only given private workouts to a small handful of players, mostly in 2013 when they held the 5th overall pick. Never have I seen late-lottery picks get solo workouts before, yet four of the five the Suns have given in the past week are to guys projected closer to the Suns 13th pick than their 4th pick.
But then the competitive part of the visit is not actually a large factor in the decision-making.
"It's nice just to get them in," Connelly now says of the new twist this year. "Ideally, you want to see them in a three on three so you can see them, simulate as much as you can in that setting. But we're happy to get them in regardless. We put them through the different things we want to see, the best we can."
I asked Bobby Marks, former Assistant GM with the Nets and now columnist for The Vertical, what its says about this process, the players and the teams and he gave a quick response.
"It says that agents have finally caught onto the pre draft workout," Marks replied. "One of the few times when an agent dictates the process.
"Every year it seems we add a layer on how the workout is constructed."
Surely, a high-rated prospect can only hurt themselves getting outplayed by a "lesser" prospect in the middle of a grueling city-to-city schedule of workouts.
For instance, a week after participating in a group workout and, according to one source, being potentially outplayed by a second-round prospect, California small forward Jaylen Brown required a solo workout for the Suns.
The Suns, for their part, are just rolling with the punches.
"We're happy to get guys in," Connelly said. "We've done our heavy lifting, scouting these guys at different times for a couple years. Some guys even more time than that."
For sure, the competitive part of the predraft visit is only a small portion of the overall scouting process, and the Suns know this.
"The teams that put heavy emphasis on the pre draft workout are the lazy teams that have not done their homework during the players career," Marks says. "There is not much on the court to take away from a player going 3 on 3 or 2 on 2 and especially 1 on 0. The visit is more for the coaches to get their hands on the kid and get a comfort level. That also includes from a management side, psych, medical etc."
Draft position is imperative to these kids, with all the rookie contracts slotted. Players picked in the top 7 earn, on average, twice the guaranteed salary of players picked 8-14. And players picked outside the lottery make proportionately less than lottery picks. All the salaries are slotted based on pick position.
So your whole first four years in the league depends on how you fared on draft night, and your draft night success is somewhat dependent on how you fared in predraft visits with teams.
So, the agents have taken a stronger stand this year than in years past so as not to hurt their guy's chances on draft night.
"Usually the agents run the process on that one," Connelly said of whether the player will compete in a group session or require a one-on-one. "We make do with what we get, obviously."