Mitch Kupchak (center) addresses the media at the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo on June 9.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Kupchak Updates Workout Progress

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

After nine days of working out prospects for the 2015 NBA Draft, General Manager Mitch Kupchak addressed the media following Tuesday’s first session. Below is a full transcription from El Segundo:

Q: On the potential No. 2 overall draft picks:

Kupchak:
We’ve had three of the so-called top four players (work out), and there could be more. But the ones that you know about are three, and they’re all different and exceptional in their own way. Two of the players we’ve had in so far — Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell — obviously are guards. One (Russell) played at a high level in college at Ohio State, and the other didn’t play much this year. (Mudiay) played in China in limited minutes.

Of course, the player that we had in today (Jahlil Okafor) won a national championship at 6-foot-11, and he’s a different position. I thought all of them played really hard and played to their strengths. (They have) varying degrees of experience and, of course different positions.

Q: On what he has learned about the players from having dinner with them:

Kupchak:
We’ve had two informal meetings. The basketball operations staff takes out the prospect for dinner, and the next night the coaching staff takes out the same prospect. All three of the players (were) very polite, well-mannered (with) hardy appetites for sure. And mature kids. It’s different than it used to be. The kids are 19 years old. Of course, going back in the Dark Ages, everybody that graduated from college was 22 or 23 years old. But you’re dealing now with 19-year-old young men.

But they’ve grown up differently, too. They’re far more mature at 19 than, let’s say, I was or somebody else was 30 years ago at 19. So it’s impressive to be around them. Of course they get good tutoring and good advice from their representatives and their families. It’s rare when you’ll have a bad meeting or dinner or social gathering. But having said that, if you have three or four people there from basketball operations, everybody gets a different take on a kid. And you can usually get a good feel after a few hours.

Q: On what he wants to see from the prospects in the workouts:

Kupchak:
These three workout are more difficult than the other workouts. At this position when you’re dealing with players that could get drafted one, two, three or four, a lot of times the representatives dictate what you can do and what you can’t do. Now, we run the workout; our coaches do. But all three of the players that we just mentioned did not want to work out against anybody. Little did they know that we have (assistant coach) Mark Madsen in here, who is a willing player on the court (with assistants) Larry Lewis and Thomas Scott. But Mark against the big guys is a formidable opponent. So it’s tough when you’re doing one-on-solo workouts. There’s really so much you can do.

It’s a little bit easier for a big player, because you could look at post moves and do a little bit of two-on-two and pick-and-rolls and see how players pass out of the post and how comfortable they are in the post. For a guard, it’s tougher, because you can’t get a feel of the open court: how they are in terms of making plays. Two-on-two with three Laker employees — if you’re a ballhandling guard, you can (only) show so much. So I think it’s easier for a big player to show what he can do than it is for two guards.

Q: On whether the workouts have made his decision harder or easier:

Kupchak:
I think we’re getting a comfort level. We’ve scouted these players … for one year. We’ve seen them multiple times, so you think you know them. But until you get them up close and until you interview them, put them through workouts, stay 10 feet away for an hour and a half and see them work — that’s when you get a good feel. Our comfort level right now with the three players is very good.

Q: On how many workouts for the No. 2 pick he foresees the Lakers having:

Kupchak:
There is a workout this weekend in Las Vegas for one of the European players that will attend. There’s another European player or two that I don’t know will make it over in time for a workout. Other than that, we have nothing else planned.

Q: On whether it’s better to use the No. 2 pick on a big man or guard:

Kupchak:
You go back to the (Hakeem) Olajuwon, (Sam) Bowie, Michael Jordan draft. And in years past and maybe even today, it makes sense to build around a big. But you don’t want to take a big because it’s a big and pass up on the No. 3 pick, which turned out to be Michael Jordan. So we’re going to look at the bigs and the guards and see if there’s a guard there that — despite being just a guard — you don’t want to pass on him.

Q: On whether it’s possible to build around a guard in the same way that it is possible to build around a big:

Kupchak:
Absolutely, and it can be argued that in today’s game maybe you should do that. If you watch Golden State play and a lot of the teams in the NBA, you look at the (Mike) Conleys and the (Stephen) Currys. You can argue that maybe the way to go is with a guard.

Q: On whether it is possible to find a good big in the second round, like how they found Jordan Clarkson, a guard:

Kupchak:
No, you’re not going to get a big like him or like the top two or three in the (first round). The Clippers got DeAndre Jordan, and he was in the 30s. That does not happen very often.

Q: On the plan for evaluating Karl-Anthony Towns:

Kupchak:
We’d like to get him in; schedule him and get him into this facility for a workout. To date we have been unsuccessful in doing that, but we’ve got another two and a half weeks. I’m sure we can get it done.

Q: On Okafor’s defense:

Kupchak:
It’s tough (to evaluate) out here. He’s going up against Mark Madsen, Larry Lewis and Thomas Scott. At Duke, they only had eight or nine guys on the team, so there was a conscious effort, I think, to make sure he did not get into foul trouble and contest a lot of shots … or be overly aggressive, because if he got in foul trouble, they had nobody to go to. I think literally they couldn’t practice for most of they year, because they only had eight guys on the team.

So that could be a factor. But having said that, I think that if there’s a part of his game that lags, it would be his defensive presence on the court.

Q: On whether the importance of bigs has been increased with the abundance of great guards in the NBA:

Kupchak:
I think you need both. I think you need shooters, too. If you have a big guy that could have a presence down in the paint — if you don’t have shooters, they’re gonna collapse on him, and you’re gonna have a problem there.

We like Jordan Clarkson. He was a good player this year on a very bad team. So I don’t know how that’s going to play out, but we think he has a future. But we also think he can play with one of these guards in the draft, too. Jordan is not a prototypical ballhandling point guard. He’ll make plays for other players on the team, but by and large he looks to attack first offensively, whether it’s to attack the rim or look for his shot. That’ll change as he goes forward, but we could pick another guard to play with Jordan and feel comfortable.

Q: On how long it typically takes guards and bigs to develop:

Kupchak:
Bigs typically have been slower to develop, and you can argue why is that, and my theory is big players kind of get selected to play the game because they’re big, and they’re taught to play the game and then they love the game. Whereas with other players, when they’re four or five years old they just picked up a ball and loved to play the game.

Q: On how much that affects his decision on whom to draft:

Kupchak:
They’re all 19. … By and large, the top eight or nine players, most of them are 19 years old. So they’re all going to be take time to develop.

Q: On how he compares workouts to what they’ve seen from players in college:

Kupchak:
That’s always a challenge not to be swayed by these workouts. Fortunately, we are able to bring them back one more time. You’re allowed to bring in a player for one 24-hour period and one 48-hour period. So the three players we’ve brought in have been here one time, and we can bring them back. But you don’t want to forget what you’ve watched for the whole year. At our dinner last night with our scouts and Okafor, we went through the scouts (who) had seen him four or five times. So in that room last night, including myself, we had seen him about 15 to 18 times in one year as a freshman. So you think you know him, but you don’t want to forget what you’ve watched and just be biased by what you see today.

Q: On how important it is to get to know the players off the court:

Kupchak:
Quite frankly, the most important thing is the ability to play the game. And then you want somebody who you feel comfortable with in terms of character, representation, upbringing, understanding of the game. Those things are important, too. But to get a guy that’s a great kid that can’t play doesn’t help us.

Q: On whether the Lakers’ championship success with dominant big men affects his decision:

Kupchak:
That’s a good argument. We’ll have to see how that plays out. We have a lot of photos in this building and a lot of those jerseys over there have the names of big men that we’ve retired and had success with. Once again, it’s debatable. Is Golden State going to win (the NBA Finals)? Is Cleveland going to win? Neither team really has a dominant center, so you don’t have to get to the Finals with a dominant center. But we’ve had great success with dominant centers.

Q: On the impact that Kobe Bryant can have on whomever the Lakers pick:

Kupchak:
I don’t think it’s that big a factor. Kobe is going to have a presence in training camp, and I’m sure he’ll try to impart his approach to the game on the players in camp. He’s never been great with rookies, and rookies have come to expect Kobe’s glare and ignoring them in the locker room and saying things.

But rookies do need to go through that. They don’t need to carry the basketballs or the projector like we did 30 years ago, but they do have to understand that — although they’ve signed contracts and have been drafted high — this is a gift to be in this league, and they have to earn whatever they get. At the very worst, Kobe’s going to impart a work ethic in training camp that will be beneficial to any player we bring onboard.

Q: On what he thinks the Lakers’ young players can do for Bryant:

Kupchak:
I think they can make it fun for him again. Julius Randle is still an untested rookie. We’re hoping that he can play again in Summer League, and play well. We talked about Jordan Clarkson. (Hopefully) we can get another player that can play the game and contribute right away. And we’ve got a lot of flexibility in free agency this summer. So I’d hate to go into training camp with just rookies and Kobe. I’d hope to add a veteran or two in the summer. If that’s the case, I think we’d have a nice mix.

Q: On whether there is a consensus on what they should do with the No. 1 pick:

Kupchak:
It doesn’t have to be a consensus. Really, it’s going to be my decision with the support of ownership, and I report directly to Jimmy (Buss). That’s how we’ll do it. I’ll talk to our scouts, and Jimmy and I will talk. We talk every day. And he’ll give his opinion. It’s rare when we have varying opinions. And I know basically in the last three workouts that our opinions are very to similar to each other, so I don’t expect anything to be different. But we don’t take a vote. … It’s helpful to poll your scouts, and we spend hours in the room doing “votes,” so to speak, on these five players. But at the end of the day, somebody has to be accountable, and for better or for worse that’ll be me.

Q: On whether he is worried about the top prospects’ shooting abilities:

Kupchak:
They’re all of varying talents, and nobody has a broken shot. So I don’t think that’s a concern. I really don’t. I’ve seen many broken shots in the league that, if they’re at a certain age, you can’t correct. I don’t see that with any of the three players we brought in today. I know some shoot better than others, and there are some rumors that maybe one of them don’t shoot as well as the others, but I don’t have a concern that two or three years down the road they won’t be excellent shooters.

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