Pacers Draft Workouts Notebook: June 13, 2013

Wheat Hotchkiss

June 13, 2013

The Indiana Pacers held draft workouts with prospects for the 2013 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 13 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The workouts were the first open to the media this year.

The main attraction Thursday for local media was Ohio State forward and Fort Wayne native DeShaun Thomas. North Carolina State forward C.J. Leslie was present and met with team officials, but did not work out or speak with the media due to injury.

In addition to Thomas and Leslie, four other prospects worked out for the Pacers on Thursday. Here’s a short notebook on the impressions they made in Indianapolis.

Oriakhi Willing to Embrace Team-First Role

When transitioning from college to the professional ranks, a lot of players struggle with taking a lesser role on the offensive end. That’s not a concern for Missouri forward Alex Oriakhi.

“My game’s not too complicated, you don’t got to run a play for me,” Oriakhi said. “I can be effective without scoring the basketball.”

Oriakhi, the one true post at Thursday’s workouts, won a national championship as a sophomore at Connecticut, where his primary role was to rebound and defend (he led the team with 8.7 boards and 1.6 blocks per game) and set a lot of screens for star guard Kemba Walker. Oriakhi said multiples times on Thursday that he prides himself on being a great teammate.

"Just being a team guy, knowing what it takes to win and giving yourself up for the team, I understand how to do that,” Oriakhi said. “Whatever team I go to, I’ll be able to do the same thing.”

Though Oriakhi had a disappointing junior season at Connecticut, he bounced back as a senior after transferring to Missouri, where he had his best season offensively. The big man averaged 11.2 points per game on 63.9 percent shooting (both career-high marks) and improved his free throw percentage from .569 the previous year all the way up to .746.

At 6-foot-9 and 238 pounds, Oriakhi projects as a power forward, but he said he feels comfortable defending bigger players – he played center at both UConn and in his final collegiate season at Missouri.

“I have no problem guarding guys, 7-feet, 6-11,” Oriakhi said. “I definitely think I’m strong enough to do it.”

With David West (unrestricted) as well as Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph (both restricted) all impending free agents, the Pacers power forward position is in flux. With physical tools to contribute and a willingness to put the team first, Oriakhi might be a fit for Indiana in the second round.

3-Point Shooting Thursday’s Main Attraction

If there was one attribute most common among the players at Thursday’s workout, it’d have to be 3-point shooting.

Outside shooting is one area in which the Pacers have room to improve. Indiana ranked 22nd in the league in team 3-point percentage during the regular season. Orlando Johnson’s 38.3 percent average led the team, but Johnson only appeared in 51 games. The team’s 3-point percentage dropped from .347 in the regular season to .327 in the playoffs, and George Hill, Paul George and Lance Stephenson – the team’s highest volume outside shooters – all saw their percentages drop in the postseason.

Perhaps the most decorated shooter at Thursday’s workout was VCU guard Troy Daniels. Daniels made 124 3-pointers his senior season, shattering the school record of 94, which he’d set as a junior. More impressively, Daniels’ percentage improved even as he took more shots, jumping up from 38.1 percent on 247 attempts his junior season to 40.3 percent on 308 shots in his final college campaign.

Daniels said he tries to get up around 1,000 shots every day and recognizes that shooting is his meal ticket for the next level.

Syracuse forward James Southerland also mentioned shooting as the first element he believes he can contribute in the pros.

Southerland came on strong as a senior for the Orange, seeing his scoring average jump from 6.8 to 13.3 points per game. He knocked down just under 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc, an improvement of over six full percentage points.

“Just staying focused and working hard,” Southerland said about his dramatic improvement. “Nothing comes easy and you never know when your name’s going to be called.”

At 6-foot-8 and 221 pounds, Southerland projects as a small forward right now, though he said that he believes he could turn into a power forward as he gets stronger, which would make his ability to stretch the floor all the more valuable.

Iowa State guard Will Clyburn has also shown an ability to shoot the trey, though you might not know it just looking at his stats from his senior year. Clyburn shot just 30.8 percent from deep in his lone season in Ames, but two years earlier shot 40.3 percent as a junior at Utah.

“I’m a lot better shooter than what I showed this year,” Clyburn said about the discrepancy. “I took some ill-advised shots during this year, took some bad shots just to try to get the team going. So I think that was a big reason why my shooting percentage went down.”

Prospects Praise Pacers Playoff Performance

All of the draft prospects at Thursday’s workout said they’d taken notice of the Pacers during this year’s playoffs.

“I’m pretty sure everybody in the country did,” Daniels said. “They had a great run, they have a lot of good players and a great coach.”

Several prospects said they were pulling for the Pacers to beat the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I was definitely a Pacers fan this year,” Oriakhi said. “It was unfortunate (that they lost to Miami), but they’ve got a lot to look forward to next year. They’ve got a heck of a team.”

Clyburn also rooted for the Pacers, saying he was “a big fan” of Paul George.

James Southerland, who grew up in Queens, said he especially took notice of the development of Lance Stephenson, who came up through the ranks with Southerland in New York City. Though he finished his high school career at Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts, Southerland was a junior at Cardozo High School while Stephenson was a sophomore sensation at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High.

It may not have been the case in past years, but it’s clear this year’s draft prospects are well aware of the Pacers’ progress, and are well-informed about the roster and the organization.