2019 Draft Workouts: KZ Okpala

June 17, 2019 - Stanford forward KZ Okpala speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the St. Vincent Center.

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2019 Draft Workouts: KZ Okpala

June 17, 2019 - Stanford forward KZ Okpala speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the St. Vincent Center.
Jun 17, 2019  |  01:33

2019 Draft Workouts: Nickeil Alexander-Walker

June 17, 2019 - Virginia Tech guard Nickel Alexander-Walker speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the St. Vincent Center.
Jun 17, 2019  |  02:50

2019 Draft Workouts: Phil Booth

June 17, 2019 - Villanova guard Phil Booth speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the St. Vincent Center.
Jun 17, 2019  |  01:46

2019 Draft Workouts: Matt Mooney

June 17, 2019 - Texas Tech Matt Mooney guard speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the St. Vincent Center.
Jun 17, 2019  |  02:39

2019 Draft Workouts: Kris Clyburn

June 17, 2019 - Following his workout with the Pacers, UNLV guard Kris Clyburn talked about his career with the Runnin' Rebels and what he's trying to show during the pre-draft process.
Jun 17, 2019  |  01:30

2019 Draft Workouts: Justin Robinson

June 17, 2019 - Virginia Tech guard Justin Robinson speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the St. Vincent Center.
Jun 17, 2019  |  01:52

Okpala Offers Intriguing Option with Versatility

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Just three days before the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pacers held their ninth and final pre-draft workout on Monday at the St. Vincent Center.

All told, 49 prospects visited Indiana over the last month, with 48 participating in workouts (LSU guard Tremont Waters interviewed with team executives but was unable to work out after spraining his right ankle at the NBA Draft Combine).

Just a handful of those prospects are likely to go in the first round of the draft, where the Pacers currently own the 18th overall selection. Two of those players worked out for the Blue & Gold on Monday: Virginia Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (who Mark Montieth profiled here, along with Alexander-Walker's college teammate Justin Robinson) and Stanford forward KZ Okpala.

2019 DRAFT CENTRAL: Complete Coverage at Pacers.com/Draft »

Okpala looks the part of a first-round pick. He measured at 6-9 1/2 with a wingspan just under 7-2 and a 37-inch vertical leap at the Combine last month.

On the court, he demonstrated marked improvement in his sophomore season at Stanford.

Okpala was okay as a freshman, averaging 10 points and 3.7 rebounds per game but struggling with his shot, posting a paltry .226 3-point percentage.

But he improved across the board in his second year in Palo Alto, averaging 16.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists last season for the Cardinal while knocking down 36.8 percent of his 3-point attempts, and was named to the All-Pac-12 first team.

The combination of Okpala's athleticism and his development, together with his age (he didn't turn 20 until the end of April), make him an intriguing prospect with a good chance of hearing his name called in the first round on Thursday night.

The Athletic's Sam Vecenie has Okpala going 21st overall to Oklahoma City in his last mock draft, ESPN.com's Jonathan Givony has Okpala going 23rd to Utah in his latest mock, while NBADraft.net projects for him to end up in Golden State with the 28th overall selection.

Okpala prides himself on his versatility. He was a 5-10 guard entering high school before hitting his growth spurt and still has the ability to handle the ball and initiate offense.

"I can bring it up," Okpala said Monday. "I love getting rebounds and when I get the rebound, (I can) just push it up. I can play-make, I have a really good first step and can get in the middle and find guys."

With his size and length, Okpala can guard multiple positions, an enviable asset in the modern NBA where switching is becoming more and more commonplace. Offensively, he has the skill set to play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward and said on Monday that he believes he could even play point guard if needed.

With a number of players set to enter free agency — including shooting guard Wesley Matthews, small forward Bojan Bogdanovic, and power forward Thaddeus Young — Okpala could fill a number of potential voids on the Pacers' roster.

It could be a good fit on both ends.

"Just the culture around here, everyone plays hard," Okpala said. "Victor Oladipo is a great guy, he plays really hard. I think I can fit here just because I'm gritty. I like to get dirty, defensively, offensively, whatever. Whatever coach needs me to do."

Okpala still has plenty of room for improvement, whether it's continuing to work on his jump shot or simply coming out of his shell (the 20-year-old is a definite introvert and quieter by nature). But teams can point to his improved 3-point percentage, the end product of summer spent revamping his shot to remove a hitch in his release, as evidence that he is willing to put in the work to get better at the next level.

Whether it's with the Pacers or elsewhere, Okpala will realize a lifelong dream on Thursday night.

"Just so excited," he said on Monday. "It's everything I've always wanted."

Phil Booth, Kris Clyburn, Matt Mooney

Villanova's Phil Booth (left), UNLV's Kris Clyburn (center), and Texas Tech's Matt Mooney (right) all brought years of experience to Monday's pre-draft workout. (Photo Credit: @Pacers)

Battle-Tested Guards Hope to Use Experience to Earn a Roster Spot

In addition to potential first-round picks Alexander-Walker and Okpala, Monday's workout also featured a number of veteran guards, including Robinson, Villanova's Phil Booth, Texas Tech's Matt Mooney, and UNLV's Kris Clyburn.

Booth ended his college career with quite the resume and two national championship rings.

He was the sixth man for the Wildcats as a sophomore and came up huge in the 2016 national title game against North Carolina, scoring a team-high (and season-high) 20 points off the bench. A knee issue three games into the next season forced Booth to redshirt, but he was back and in the starting backcourt for the Wildcats during their run to the 2018 national championship, averaging 10 points per game in a supporting role.

After Villanova lost four players to the draft last June, Booth transitioned into a different role as a redshirt senior, becoming his team's primary scorer and playmaker. He was excellent in that new role, averaging 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists and earning a number of individual accolades, including unanimous selection to All-Big East first team, Most Outstanding Player at the Big East Tournament, and Big 5 Player of the Year.

"It made me be a lot more of a decision maker," Booth said about his greater offensive role. "It made me learn how to control a team (and) run a team, know when to score and know when to pass."

At 6-3, Booth is a combo guard who can play on or off the ball. As a fifth-year senior, he is unlikely to hear his name early (if at all) on draft night, but his experience playing for Villanova coach Jay Wright — who has produced numerous NBA guards from Kyle Lowry to Josh Hart to Jalen Brunson — should be one thing that intrigues NBA scouts.

"Coach forces you to play both ends of the floor and be the best player you can be on both ends of the floor," Booth said. "He forces you to be a good defender, ball-handler, decision maker, rebounder, whatever it is on the court. He doesn't want you to have any weaknesses."

Mooney very nearly experienced the same thrill as Booth, helping lead Texas Tech on a magical run to the national championship game, where they fell in overtime to Virginia.

Mooney's college career was a unique journey that included stints at three different colleges. The Wauconda, Ill. native began his career at the Air Force Academy, but transferred after his freshman season to South Dakota. After sitting out a year, he had two highly productive seasons for the Coyotes, averaging 18.6 points per game as a sophomore and 18.7 as a junior. He then moved to Texas Tech last season as graduate transfer and thrived in his first year in power conference basketball.

In his lone season in Lubbock, Mooney averaged 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals and shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range. He was named to the All-Big 12 second team and all-defensive team.

"I think playing at three different schools helped me adjust," Mooney said. "You go to play for a new team, you've got to adjust to that new style and new players. I played at the mid-major level at Air Force and South Dakota and then I played my last year at Texas Tech and I made a jump to a higher level and still was able to play well and adjust.

"I think that helped me now making my transition to the NBA, where I'm going to have to adjust to a faster paced game and some bigger guys. It helps me be ready for that moment."

Defense and shooting could be Mooney's ticket to the pros. The 6-3, 200-pound guard uses his stocky frame to get into players and thrived in Chris Beard's defensive-oriented system at Texas Tech.

Mooney had a number of strong performances during Texas Tech's tournament run. He tallied 17 points, five rebounds, and three steals in an Elite Eight win over Gonzaga, then scored 22 points and went 4-for-8 from 3-point range in a Final Four victory over Michigan State.

Mooney said Monday that experience can help him now as he auditions for the NBA.

"That tournament run we made, playing on that stage — probably the biggest stage in basketball other than maybe the Finals — playing in front of 70,000 is crazy, it's a great experience," he said.

"But then I come into workouts like this and I just remember I played on a big stage. It helps me stay calm and remember that I'm doing what I love and to play hard and give it everything and not really worry about who's watching."

Clyburn is a 6-6 guard who spent three seasons at UNLV after beginning his career in junior college. The Detroit-area native averaged 7.3 points per game in each of his first two seasons with the Runnin' Rebels before breaking through as a senior, when he averaged 14.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

While his offensive output increased considerably, Clyburn was still best known for his defense while at UNLV, earning Mountain West All-Defensive team honors as a senior. That could be his best chance of earning an NBA roster spot.

"That's one of the major things in the league or anywhere," Clyburn said. "Playing defense, that keeps you on the floor."

Clyburn is hoping to show teams he can be more of a playmaker than he was able to show in college. While he has the size to play shooting guard, he also wants teams to see him handle the ball and make decisions in the pick-and-roll.

He has a mentor in older brother Will, who actually also worked out for the Pacers in 2013 after completing his college career at Iowa State.

The older Clyburn has not played in the NBA, but has carved out a great career overseas. He led Russian club CSKA Moscow to the EuroLeague championship in May, earning Final Four MVP honors.

"He's a big influence," Kris Clyburn said of his older brother. "We're six years apart, but we still get after it like we're the same age every time he comes home in the summer."

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