- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
LAS VEGAS -- Our annual workout tour ended on Friday in Las Vegas. After seeing prospects
Representatives from 28 NBA teams were there to watch players go through a series of drills followed by 3-on-3 action for the last 30 minutes.
Here's a look at the top players in Vegas:
Karasev was the primary draw. After wowing scouts at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, scouts were eager to get another look at him on the floor with his peers.
Karasev is a 6-foot-7 shooting guard who has been playing big minutes in Russia this year for Triumph. He averaged 16.1 PPG and shot 49 percent from 3 in Eurocup play this year and averaged 18.4 PPG and shot 36 percent from 3 in the Russian league. Those are fantastic numbers for a 19-year-old playing professional ball.
Unfortunately, Vegas wasn't an ideal setting for Karasev. He had visa issues in Russia and wasn't able to get on a flight to Vegas until the last minute. He arrived in Vegas after midnight on the day of the event and was clearly a little sluggish from the long trip.
He was most impressive in warm-ups. After a few minutes he was drilling shot after shot, including nailing a series of bank shots that were circa 1976. Karasev has a very smooth release on his jump shot and unlimited range -- his primary appeal to NBA decision-makers.
The workout wasn't as notable. Karasev looked a bit befuddled by some of the drills (the other players had several days of practice) and in spot-up shooting he went 21-for-56. His legs clearly weren't there. When he got into 3-on-3 play, his point guard, North Carolina State's Lorenzo Brown, wouldn't pass him the ball, and he ended up just spotting up on the weak side for a number of possessions and watching Brown try to break down defenders off the dribble. Karasev finally did get involved later in the 3-on-3 play and hit a game-winning shot during one contest and made a terrific assist to win another game.
If this was the first time a GM was seeing Karasev play, they probably walked a way a bit disappointed. The performance here wasn't as strong as what scouts saw at the Hoop Summit. But for those who have done their homework, they know Karasev is one of the best shooters in the draft, plays with a high basketball IQ and is one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the draft. I don't think the workout helped his stock, but I doubt it hurt it much either.
Franklin was the other big draw for the workout. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle about a month ago and is still in rehab. Franklin was in a walking boot at the NBA draft combine and missed that event as well. While his agent believes he'll be ready for team workouts in another week or two, they didn't want to risk him reinjuring his ankle.
Franklin did come out on the court to put on a shooting demonstration. The one good thing about the injury is that it has forced Franklin to focus on his shooting -- the biggest weakness in what is otherwise a very formidable array of skills. Franklin was the only player in the NCAA to lead his team in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals.
While Franklin was not going full speed because of the ankle, the shooting display he did put on was impressive. He was ripping the nets from everywhere on the floor, including from beyond the NBA 3-point line. His shooting motion isn't particularly ideal (he pushes the shot out with both hands) but it was really going in.
If he can get healthy and shoot like that in individual workouts, he'll go much higher than what we currently project (No. 18 to the Hawks in the latest mock draft). He has elite athletic abilities, has a great motor and can defend multiple positions. In fact, the only major difference between him and Victor Oladipo was the fact that Oladipo improved his shooting this season. If Franklin can convince scouts he can shoot like that in a competitive setting, I could see him moving into the top 10.
Brown's performance Friday was a mixed bag. On one hand, he had a terrific performance shooting the basketball. That's great news because Brown shot a miserable 27 percent from beyond the 3-point arc as a junior. His shot looked much better in both the drills and in the 3-on-3 play.
He also showed off his quickness and length and showed the ability to get by Miami's Durand Scott at will during the scrimmage. The issue was his unwillingness, in the first half of the scrimmage, to pass to Karasev. Instead, there was a lot of one-on-one happening -- not what scouts want to see in a guy who is still making the transition from the 2 to the 1.
A number of scouts remarked to me that he seemed to be playing selfishly at the beginning and his team lost the first two scrimmages because of it.
However, Brown got everyone more involved at the end and showed off his court vision.
As far as his draft stock goes, it's an interesting discussion. A few scouts and GMs in the gym loved him (primarily because of his elite size for the position) and project him as the fourth-best point guard in the draft behind Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. McCollum and predicted he'd go in the mid-first round. Others feel he's a second-round prospect.
Murphy might have helped himself as much as anyone at the workout. He went on a tear in the 3-on-3 scrimmage where he couldn't miss from the NBA 3-point line.
Murphy isn't a great athlete, nor is he a strong rebounder, but he can really shoot the basketball, as evidenced by his 45 percent shooting from 3 this season at Florida. He showed in Vegas the extra distance in the NBA didn't faze him, and I could see a team looking for a stretch 4 grabbing him early in the second round.
Mbakwe continued doing what he did in both the New Jersey and Minnesota workouts. He was just a beast on the boards. He's undersized, but a massive 7-4 wingspan combined with a 36.5-inch vertical allow him to play bigger than he actually is. While his checkered background and multiple knee surgeries will keep him from hearing his name called in the first round, I think more and more teams see him as a risk worth taking in the second.
Thomas has slimmed down a bit since his days at Ohio State and looks to be in the best shape of his career. He did his thing at Vegas, showing off his elite scoring skills. But his lack of elite athletic ability and indifference on the defensive end continue to hurt his stock. While I thought he played well, the NBA scouts I spoke with didn't think he moved the needle much.
Aiken is a potential sleeper. His three years at St. Joseph's were mostly disappointing. The upside of an athletic, 6-10 small forward with a 7-2 wingspan is obvious. Just watch Paul George in the playoffs for the Indiana Pacers. However, Aiken's production was spotty, his jump shot streaky and his effort lacking at times.
Aiken's decision to declare for the draft this year was met mostly with disbelief. However, he has quietly helped himself the past few weeks in workouts. Scouts do love the physical tools he has and his work in Vegas with trainer Joe Abunasser has reaped some dividends. He's looking more and more like a 3 (instead of a skinny 5) and a number of scouts remarked that he might be the most intriguing player in Vegas if he could continue to develop in the D-League for a few years. He could sneak into the second round based on what scouts saw here.