WALTHAM, Mass. — In the everyday world, Cleanthony Early would be an unusual physical specimen. Standing 6-foot-8 and 219 pounds, he would stand head and shoulders — literally — over everyone else in virtually all walks of life.
On the court at the Boston Celtics’ practice facility on Tuesday, however, Early was anything but unique. The Wichita State product was one of six players, all around his size, trying to prove their worth for the 2014 NBA draft.
It seems like every draft has its collection of athletic 6-8 or 6-9 players with no defined position — often called “tweeners” — who puzzle NBA evaluators. The one that shows a special skill or wrinkle to his game often is the one who separates himself from the pack.
Early was not looking to highlight one particular area of his repertoire, however. He was looking to show something much more straightforward.
“That I’m better than these guys,” Early said, “and I’m pretty sure they’re trying to show the same thing.”
It’s tough to say which players at the closed workout were flat-out better, as all of them reportedly had strong showings. But they all have their strengths. Early and P.J. Hairston were the best shooters of the bunch. T.J. Warren is a creative scorer. Kyle Anderson is unorthodox offensively for a 6-9 forward. DeAndre Daniels is a possible late bloomer. K.J. McDaniels is a defensive menace.
“I think each has his own unique skill set, so you’ve just got to play to your advantage,” Anderson said. “Some guys use athleticism. Some guys use their skills. You’ve just got to play your game.”
A 90-minute workout is not the most in-depth setting to try to make an impression, but Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said some of the players who have come in for the first two days of draft workouts have improved their standings on Boston’s board. Players do not showcase new skills at these workouts so much as demonstrate how quickly they can pick up new things in a practice setting.
“It’s all the things that separate a player — there’s no magic for a workout,” Ainge said. “We try to put them in situations where they make reads and we can test their basketball IQ.”
Of course, they also can be just plain better than the other players.
“Just beat the matchup in front of you,” Ainge said. “There’s a lot of one-on-one, two-on-two, and if you guard to guy a lot better than he guards you, that’s a good start.”
It is not lost on the players that they are competing for the same job. The Celtics own the 17th pick in the June 26 draft, and at least Anderson and Warren are projected to go somewhere in that range. That leads to an extremely competitive environment, but one that still leaves most of the players smiling and encouraging each other at the end.
“It’s very competitive,” Warren said. “Everyone wants to win every drill, every sprint. It’s just a fun workout for us. I feel very fortunate to be here. I’m sure everybody feels the same way.”
Photo via Twitter/@HoopsScoop