By now, the Toronto Raptors’ draft night surprise and the Scottie Barnes vs. Jalen Suggs debate are in the past, as Barnes was taken with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. In truth, we’re still a long way from being able to properly evaluate the club’s risky, against-the-grain choice of Barnes over Suggs.
So instead of looking forward, now might be a better time to look back. While Suggs may have, at one point, been the preferred choice for Toronto, reports have since indicated that the Gonzaga guard suffered through a horrible workout for the club, while Barnes dazzled.
The Raptors’ organization is notorious for being tight-lipped, so we will likely never know the full truth, although this scenario seems highly plausible. And furthermore, it wouldn’t be the first time a pre-draft workout swung the fortunes of an NBA prospect, along with the team that selected him.
Let’s look at some other workouts that altered draft stock and potentially changed the fate of some franchises – for better or worse.
Does Scottie Barnes’ great workout with the Raptors mean he’ll succeed?
Kobe Bryant, 1996 NBA Draft
Bryant, then the rail-thin teen son of Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, had the skill set to tantalize NBA executives, but looked the part of a long-term project. However, teams quickly grew intrigued by his competitive fire and self-belief. But Bryant’s workout with the Los Angeles Lakers at an Inglewood YMCA was something else.
The Lakers brought in team coach and former Defensive Player of the Year Michael Cooper to guard Bryant. Unsurprising to anyone who followed his career thereafter, the 17-year-old rose to the challenge and dominated the match-up.
The workout, as ESPN writer David Fleming put it in his comprehensive recount of the event, “would ignite a nonstop frenzy of pre-draft machinations, subterfuge, and intrigue before ultimately launching a legend.”
When the dust had settled, LA was so enamored with the Philly native that they traded a 27-year-old Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the chance to nab Bryant 13th overall. It’s fair to say the club’s pursuit of Bryant worked out pretty well.
If Barnes even ends up being one-third of the player Kobe was, this would be a tremendous selection.
Kwame Brown, 2001 NBA Draft
Holding the draft’s No. 1 pick, Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards, were doing their due diligence on the selection. They had Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry all come in for extensive workouts and interviews, with Brown standing out to the group (and to Jordan, in particular) above all.
Right before the draft, Brown was asked to return for another workout, this time against fellow preps-to-pros top prospect Chandler, a future All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA champ.
Believing he had already proven himself, the freakishly athletic big man took the opportunity to take it to Chandler, out-muscling him in drills and generally remaining relentless.
The workout served as more of a confirmation of Washington’s draft instincts (which, of course, were ultimately proven wrong). As if to put an exclamation mark on the dominant workout, Brown would later vow to Jordan, “I promise you if you draft me, you will never regret it.” Whoops.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, 1993 NBA Draft
I suppose this one stretches the definition of “pre-draft workout” a bit. The young Magic franchise, holding the No. 1 pick in the 1993 Draft and looking for a young star to pair with second-year big man Shaquille O’Neal, had worked out Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and were reportedly leaning towards Michigan star Chris Webber.
Those plans changed when, on the set of the 1994 college basketball film “Blue Chips”, O’Neal came up against Hardaway during an on-court scene.
Though the two were acting, Shaq quickly realized the current Memphis head coach could bring it. The Big Aristotle called Orlando management and demanded they take the electric guard, prompting a second official workout.
While the Magic technically took Webber first, they would flip him to Golden State for Hardaway (who went third) and three future first-rounders on the strength of an impressive second showing and the belief of their franchise big man.
Injuries robbed Hardaway of what could have been a Hall of Fame career, but four All-Star appearances and a trip to the 1995 NBA Final still make for a strong resume.
Adam Morrison, 2006 NBA Draft
A major part of the mysterious aura that surrounds many of these workouts comes from their private nature. Rarely does the public get anything more than second-hand accounts of the secretive affairs.
In the case of Morrison, however, long-time draft expert Jonathan Givony was on hand to provide some contextual details of the mustachioed Gonzaga legend’s workout exploits.
Working out at a health club in LA ahead of the 2006 draft, Morrison drilled 46 of 50 two-pointers and then 75 of 110 three-pointers to highlight his shooting. While Givony didn’t offer specifics, he also stated that the NCAA Player of the Year fared even better when defended by prospect Kibwe Trim.
By the time scouts got around to seeing Morrison’s underwhelming work on the defensive side of the ball, they were already enamored with his shooting, leading to a third overall selection by Charlotte (and, yet again, MJ). While 2006 produced one of the weakest drafts ever, the Morrison pick still proved regrettable for the then-Bobcats.
Damian Lillard, 2012 NBA Draft
The NBA’s first taste of ‘Dame Time’ came at tiny Merritt College in Oakland. There, Damian Lillard put forth a memorable pre-draft workout that had representatives from the Trail Blazers, Warriors, and Clippers buzzing, at least according to former ESPN reporter Marc Spears.
Through Spears’ account, Lillard aced an exercise where he would sprint from the baseline across the floor to the opposing three-point line, shoot and then run back, hitting about eight 3-pointers while showcasing his incredible conditioning. To cap it all off, he wrapped up the exercise with emphasis by throwing down a tomahawk dunk.
The workout clearly helped given Lillard’s lack of exposure at small Weber State. The Blazers selected him sixth overall and have since been rewarded, with the 31-year-old fittingly amassing six All-Star appearances and six All-NBA selections.
More often than not, it seems that a strong pre-draft workout highlights a young athlete’s preparation and dedication, even if it doesn’t offer a full-on taste of what they can do on the court. Let’s hope that’s the case with Barnes, who seems to have all the intangibles. Soon, we’ll see if he has the game to go with it.