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Pacers Groom Prince, Examine Diamond at Pre-Draft Workout
Pair of Potential First-Round Picks Audition for Indiana Brass
After nearly a two-week hiatus, the Pacers held another pre-draft workout on Wednesday morning at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, their sixth such workout in preparation for the 2016 NBA Draft, which will take place on Thursday, June 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Wednesday's workout featured six prospects, including a pair of guards with sweet shooting strokes and local ties in Butler's Kellen Dunham and UIndy's Jordan Loyd (Pacers.com's Mark Montieth wrote about their day). But in terms of pro potential, the headliners on Wednesday were Baylor forward Taurean Prince and Maryland center Diamond Stone, both of whom have good chances of going in the first round of the draft and could be potential options for the Pacers with the 20th overall pick.
Both players have been linked to the Pacers in recent mock draft projections, with Comcast Sports Network's A. Sherrod Blakely predicting the Pacers draft Prince while NESN's Nicholas Goss and Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler guessed Indiana will take Stone. DraftExpress.com lists Prince as the 18th-best prospect in this year's draft class and Stone as 33rd, while ESPN.com's Chad Ford ranks Stone 32nd and Prince 34th.
In a lot of ways, the two players couldn't be more different from each other. Prince is an athletic wing who spent four years in college, while Stone is a one-and-done big man with more of an old-school style of play. Still, each player could fill a potential void for the Pacers depending on what happens in free agency.
Prince would seemingly be a natural successor to pending free agent Solomon Hill. Like Hill, he is versatile defensive player capable of guarding multiple positions. Standing 6-8 with nearly a 7-foot wingspan, Prince has good size to man the small forward position and could even slide over to power forward in "small ball" lineups, much how the Pacers utilized Hill at crucial junctures during their playoff run last season. Prince isn't afraid of matching up with bigger players, as he played center in high school and manned the power forward position for large swaths of his career at Baylor.
Offensively, Prince is a solid shooter. He hit just under 40 percent of his 3-point shots as a junior at Baylor, when he was named the Big 12's Sixth Man of the Year. His percentage dipped slightly as a senior, but still was a respectable .361. He's got generally good mechanics and a quick release that should translate well to the next level.
Between Prince's defensive abilities and his shooting prowess, many scouts see him as a prototypical "3-and-D" type of player, a role which is ever-increasingly en vogue in the modern NBA. Prince told reporters that he envisioned himself playing a similar role to DeMarre Carroll, another "3-and-D" All-Star who has manned the role for both the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks in their recent runs to the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I definitely feel I can guard 1-4," Prince told Pacers.com. "I can play 2, 3, 4, whatever the team needs...It doesn't matter if it's just playing defense and hitting open shots, or being that third option or fourth option offensively, or just playing defense and just swinging the ball. Whatever needs to be done to win games."
Although he spent four years at Baylor, Prince is very young for his class, which suggests that he still has plenty of room to develop. He won't turn 22 until August 22. To put that into perspective, Goodluck Okonoboh, another participant in Wednesday's workout who turned pro after just two years in college, is only 39 days younger than Prince.
Prince said that he is working hard on his ball-handling in preparation for the faster NBA game. He also is answering a lot of questions about his performance in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Though Baylor was upset by 12th-seeded Yale in the first round of the tournament, Prince was excellent in the game, scoring 28 points with just one turnover on 12-of-24 shooting (4-for-7 from 3-point range). But a pair of incidents during and after the game put Prince in the national spotlight.
First, he got in a brief shoving match with teammate Rico Gathers during a timeout, an incident that was caught by TV cameras. Then after the loss, a reporter asked Prince a somewhat condescending question at the postgame press conference, saying, "How does Yale outrebound Baylor?"
Prince took the question quite literally and his deadpan response quickly went viral.
"You go up and grab the ball off the rim when it comes off," Prince said. "And then you grab it with two hands and you come down with it and that's considered a rebound. So they got more of those than we did."
Prince said he tells teams when they ask about the incident that his response was indicative of his personality. He's a fierce competitor on the court, but he doesn't take himself too seriously off of it. True to form, he pulled off a joke even when I first met him on Wednesday, refusing to let go of an introductory handshake before cracking a smile and saying, "I'm just playing."
The two incidents from the Yale game notwithstanding, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of concern about Prince's character or his ability to fit in at the next level. He graduated with a degree in communications on May 15 and his on-court abilities are very much in-demand in the NBA right now.
"I see me as a fit pretty much anywhere," Prince said. "Indiana is a great place, a great sports town. Me being here (with) my versatility, I think I'd be a good asset to this team."
While "3-and-D" players like Prince are a hot commodity right now, Stone is more of a throwback-type of player. A stocky 6-10 center who thrives playing with his back to the basket, Stone likely would have been considered a lottery pick five or 10 years ago. But as the NBA continues to get smaller and faster, Stone's fate on draft night is a bit more uncertain.
Make no mistake, there is a place for a player like Stone at the next level. He's one of the youngest players in the entire draft class, having just turned 19 on February 10. In his lone season at Maryland, Stone was a force in the low post, averaging 12.5 points while shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
Offensively, his game is reminiscent of a young Zach Randolph. Stone has soft hands, quick feet, and a wide array of post moves. He's comfortable scoring with either hand, particularly on hook shots, and figures to be a capable low-post scorer in the NBA.
Playing with several other NBA prospects at Maryland (the Pacers have also worked out his college teammates Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, and Robert Carter in recent weeks), Stone was asked to play a very specific role in college. He believes that experience should serve him well as he transitions to the next level.
"Especially at this level, right away you're not going to be the best player on your team," Stone said. "So you need to understand your role and (do) what they ask of you."
Still, he's eager to prove to teams that he can do more than what he showed in college. Since Carter and Layman were able to stretch the floor, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon's offense didn't ask Stone to hoist many jumpers, particularly in pick-and-pop situations. Still, Stone believes he's a capable shooter, saying he is "real confident" in his jump shot. He knocked down 76.1 percent of his free throw attempts and was hoisting 3-pointers during shooting drills at the end of Wednesday's workout, despite not attempting a single three in his one year in college.
Measuring out at 254 pounds and 12.9 percent body fat at the NBA Draft Combine last month, one of Stone's biggest challenges will be getting himself into better shape so that he can keep up in a league that values speed and pace more and more. Though the Pacers have a talented young big man in Myles Turner, they don't have a ton of depth in the post right now with centers Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill both about to enter free agency. Stone, for one, thinks that he could even flourish playing alongside Turner in Indiana's frontcourt.
"Myles Turner, he's my boy," Stone said. "So I think me and him (could) be like the twin towers."
With draft night fast approaching, both Stone and Prince are growing increasingly anxious to find out where they're headed. Both players said they plan to attend the draft next week.
"I'm really nervous," Stone said. "It's nerve-wracking just thinking about it."
"I fear the unknown, but I'm also happy for how far I've come and even the guys that are going to get drafted with me in my class," Prince added. "It's just a great opportunity and I'm glad God keeps blessing us."
Better Late Than Never: Poythress Finally Entering Draft Waters
When players accept a basketball scholarship to Kentucky, they don't expect to spend four years in Lexington. Alex Poythress was no different.
A McDonald's All-American in 2012, Poythress headed to Kentucky planning to follow the familiar formula for Wildcats' recruits in the John Calipari era: spend a year or two in school before entering the draft.
But while Poythress watched many of his teammates follow that formula to a T, his journey was a bit different. Remarkably, Poythress was the first Calipari recruit to stay at Kentucky for four years.
He seemed destined for an early exit after a stellar freshman season, when he averaged 11.2 points on 58.1 percent shooting and 6.0 rebounds per game.
His playing time decreased, however, his sophomore year after Calipari brought in another loaded recruiting class that featured Julius Randle, James Young, and the Harrison twins. So Poythress came back for his junior year, but appeared in just eight games for the Wildcats before tearing the ACL in his left knee.
So, Poythress returned to Lexington for his senior season, where he was again a key player for Calipari. His numbers as a senior were remarkably similar to his stats from his freshman year. The 6-8 forward averaged 10.2 points on 60.1 percent shooting and 6.0 rebounds per game in his fourth and final year on campus.
Like most players coming back from an ACL tear, Poythress wasn't entirely himself last season, but he said that he's feeling healthier now than he did during the season.
"My body feels great," Poythress said on Wednesday. "I did a little bit more rehab after the season and my body feels the best that it's felt (since before the injury)."
Once considered a lock for an eventual lottery pick, Poythress' name now rarely pops up in any mock drafts. He admitted that he feels overlooked by draft analysts, but he tries not to pay too much attention to all the noise as he prepares for the next level.
"I can't control how people see me," Poythress said. "I just come in and prepare to work each and every day. I've been through a lot of adversity. A lot of this stuff doesn't faze me no more, so I've just got to come in and work hard."
With a strong frame, Poythress thinks his calling card will be his defensive intensity at the next level. Offensively, however, he will need to show improvement on his outside shot (he never took more than 33 3-pointers in a season in college and shot 30 percent or worse from beyond the arc in each of his final three seasons).
No longer a hot commodity, Poythress finds himself in unusual territory for a Kentucky player heading into the draft. Still, he believes that four years of practicing against a slew of future NBA players (his college teammates included Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, Randle, Young, Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, and Devin Booker) has prepared him well for the NBA.
"I'm a way different player than I was coming from high school," Poythress said. "I matured a lot more and just really got better all around.
"...Going against the best each and every day, practicing against the best and getting coached by the best, it prepares you for the next level."
Okonoboh Taking Unconventional Path to the NBA
In addition to possessing far and away the best name in this year's draft class, Goodluck Okonoboh is also one of its biggest mysteries.
The 6-10 big man played just one real season of college basketball. He was a valuable role player in his freshman season at UNLV in 2014-15, averaging 5.7 points on 52.1 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game.
But Okonoboh's role decreased in the early part of his sophomore season. The addition of McDonald's All-American Stephen Zimmerman (who himself worked out for the Pacers on June 1) pushed him into a reserve role. After just eight games, Okonoboh elected to leave UNLV, but he never transferred to another school.
Instead, Okonoboh made a somewhat surprising choice to enter the draft. Asked why he decided to make the move, Okonoboh said simply, "I knew I was ready."
Even though he hasn't played competitive games in nearly a year, Okonoboh believes he is a smarter player now than he was as a freshman.
"When you sit out a year, you actually see the game a lot differently," Okonoboh said. "You get to see things watching film, what you do on film, and what other people do. The game comes a lot slower...I picked up a better IQ for the game. I understand the game more."
If he is able to earn a spot on an NBA team, Okonoboh's biggest impact figures to come on the defensive end. His shot-blocking alone is a coveted skill set and he believes it will be a smooth transition to the NBA game.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense and I feel like that's the best part of my game," Okonoboh said.
But to stick on an NBA roster, Okonoboh will likely need to show an expanded offensive arsenal. His biggest red flag is his free throw shooting: he made just 26-of-77 attempts from the charity stripe (33.8 percent) as a freshman with the Runnin' Rebels.
While it is unlikely he hears his name called on draft night, Okonoboh's size and defensive abilities could be enough to earn him an invite to play on an NBA team's Summer League roster. With some development in the D-League, it is certainly conceivable that he grows into an NBA player.
Note: See below for one-on-one video interviews with all six prospects at Wednesday's pre-draft workout.
Draft Workouts: Kellen Dunham
June 15, 2016 - Butler guard Kellen Dunham speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Draft Workouts 160615
June 15, 2016 - Butler guard Kellen Dunham speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
June 15, 2016 - Maryland center Diamond Stone speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
June 15, 2016 - Baylor forward Taurean Prince stopped by The Fieldhouse for a pre-draft workout with the Pacers. In his senior year at Baylor, Prince averaged 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game.
University of Indianapolis guard Jordan Loyd speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
June 15, 2016 - Kentucky forward Alex Poythress was at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday for a pre-draft workout with the Indiana Pacers. Poythress talked with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss about staying four years with the Wildcats.
June 15, 2016 - UNLV center Goodluck Okonoboh speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.