2021 Draft Workouts: Yves Pons

July 20, 2021 - Tennessee forward Yves Pons speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.

Draft Workouts 210720

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2021 Draft Workouts: Yves Pons

July 20, 2021 - Tennessee forward Yves Pons speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 20, 2021  |  02:06

2021 Draft Workouts: Marcus Garrett

July 20, 2021 - Kansas guard Marcus Garrett speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 20, 2021  |  01:22

2021 Draft Workouts: A.J. Lawson

July 20, 2021 - South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 20, 2021  |  01:57

2021 Draft Workouts: Aamir Simms

July 20, 2021 - Clemson forward Aamir Simms speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 20, 2021  |  01:29

2021 Draft Workouts: D.J. Stewart Jr.

July 20, 2021 - Mississippi State guard D.J. Stewart Jr. speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 20, 2021  |  01:24

Pacers Searching for Next Second-Round Steal

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

While most of the attention on the NBA Draft is focused on the top projected picks, what separates the good and the great teams in the league is often which teams are the best at evaluating talent in the later portions of or even after the draft.

The reigning NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, was drafted in the middle of the second round with the 41st overall pick. The Pacers have developed their fair share of second-rounders into quality NBA role players, from Lance Stephenson to Edmond Sumner. Last year's Pacers roster even featured several players that originally went undrafted, but fought their way into the league and played a key role for Indiana last season, including Justin Holiday, T.J. McConnell, and late-season addition Oshae Brissett.

The point is, there is value in all parts of the draft. The trick is just being able to identify the right fit.

None of the five players who participated in Tuesday's pre-draft workout for the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center is likely to hear their name called in the first round of next week's draft. But they all have attributes that could make them worthy of a second-round selection or an undrafted free agent contract. In addition to having the 13th overall pick in the draft, Indiana also owns two selections late in the second round, the 54th and 60th overall picks.

One area where the Pacers hope to improve next season is on the defensive end. Several of the players in Tuesday's workout could provide reinforcements on that end of the floor, particularly Kansas guard Marcus Garrett and Tennessee forward Yves Pons.

Garrett earned numerous accolades for his defense while at Kansas. The 6-5 guard was named the Naismith and ESPN.com Defensive Player of the Year as well as the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2019-20, when he averaged 1.8 steals per game and was a key part of the Jayhawks being ranked number one in the polls before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.

As a senior, Garrett once again was a lock-down defender, averaging 1.6 steals while also improving his scoring average from 9.2 to 11 points per game. He was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team for the third straight season. By the end of his college career, Garrett regularly guarded four positions for the Jayhawks and even took on opposing centers when needed, using his nearly 6-10 wingspan to pester the opposition on the perimeter and in the paint.

Garrett hopes his defensive resume will entice a team to take a chance on him in the draft. He said Tuesday that he envisions himself playing "that defensive stopper" role off the bench at the next level.

Offensively, Garrett's strengths are attacking the paint and creating for others. He averaged 4.6 assists as a junior and 3.7 as a senior. His main focus is developing more consistency with his outside shot after shooting just 30.2 percent from 3-point range during his college career (though he did shoot a career-best 34.8 percent as a senior).

When asked which current players he would like emulate, Garrett named the brother of two current Pacers.

"My favorite player in the NBA is Jrue Holiday," Garrett said. "A guy that defends at an elite, high level and can also go score. I feel like if I keep working that one day my game can be like his."

Pons was also one of the more decorated defenders in college basketball, a two-time SEC All-Defensive team selection and the 2019-20 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Athletically, Pons stacks up with anyone and everyone in this year's draft class. He measured at 6-6 and 206 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a wingspan over 7 feet and just four percent body fat, the lowest percentage of anyone at the combine. Pons also had a 42.5-inch vertical leap, the third-highest measurement in this year's draft class (his Tennessee teammate Keon Johnson was first, setting a new combine record at 48 inches).

After primarily coming off the bench his first two seasons with the Vols, Pons became a full-time starter as a junior, when he averaged 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. His numbers dipped somewhat as a senior after Tennessee added a pair of five-star freshmen in Johnson and Jaden Springer, but he still managed to swat 1.8 shots and tally nearly a steal per game. The highlight of his season came in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament against Florida, when Pons matched a tournament record with nine blocks (including six in the first 16 minutes) in a win over the Gators.

"I've always been defensive-minded, but I really put focus on it when I came to college basketball because that was the way to get minutes and playing time," Pons said Tuesday. "I fixed a goal and I decided to become one of the best defensive players in the country."

Born in Haiti and raised in France, Pons possesses unique talents on and off the court. A true Renaissance man with passions that include playing the saxophone and photography, Pons' shot-blocking prowess with his 6-6 frame gives him some interesting positional versatility. He said Tuesday he envisions himself playing primarily either the small or power forward positions, but it's not hard to envision a team also utilizing him as a small-ball center.

Offensively, Pons described himself as "the type of guy that doesn't need the ball in my hands." With his athleticism, he's a threat to throw down while running the floor or crash the offensive glass, but displaying more consistency with his left-handed shooting stroke (he shot just 27.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior) would go a long ways in bolstering his draft stock.

A.J. Lawson, Aamir Simms, D.J. Stewart Jr.

South Carolina's A.J. Lawson (left), Clemson's Aamir Sims (middle), and Mississippi State's D.J. Stewart Jr. (right) all auditioned for the Pacers at Tuesday's pre-draft workout. (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)

Pons saw some familiar faces at Tuesday's pre-draft workout, which featured two more SEC players in South Carolina's A.J. Lawson and Mississippi State's D.J. Stewart Jr. Tuesday's workout was originally scheduled to include a fourth SEC star in Alabama guard John Petty Jr., but he did not attend after a late scheduling change.

"It kind of surprised me to see that many," Stewart said of the number of SEC players scheduled to take part in the workout. "But that's a good thing for the SEC."

Lawson's stock appears on the rise after strong performances at the combines held last month in Chicago. The 6-6 wing was originally invited to the G League Elite Camp, where he performed well in a pair of scrimmages, averaging 12.5 points and 8 rebounds while going 4-for-10 from 3-point range. That performance was good enough for Lawson to be one of a select few prospects at the camp to earn an invite to the more exclusive NBA Draft Combine.

At the combine, Lawson again rose to the occasion. In his second scrimmage at the combine, he stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points on 4-of-10 3-point shooting, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.

"I locked in before," Lawson said of his performance in Chicago. "I did what I wanted to do. Just high energy, going out there playing hard, competing at the highest level that I can compete. That just shows the effort that I gave out...I got invited to the combine, I feel like I did well at the combine, and I got a lot of workouts after that."

Lawson led South Carolina in scoring in each of the past two seasons and averaged a career-high 16.6 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals last season as a junior. He did most of his work from beyond the arc with the Gamecocks, with eight of his 14 attempts per game last season coming from 3-point range (despite the high volume, he managed to convert at a 35-percent clip).

The Toronto native is following the recent Canadian pipeline to the NBA, as several players from north of the border have earned roster spots in the league in recent years. The Pacers have had one Canadian on their roster each of the past four seasons between Cory Joseph, Naz Mitrou-Long, and Brissett.

Lawson said he believes he can follow in their footsteps by doing the little things, while also continuing to develop.

"Right now, just coming in, defending hard, being able to knock down an open shot, thrive in transition, and defend from one to three," he said. "And then later down the line, I feel like I could be a great player, a potential ballhandler if need be, and making plays with the ball in my hands and off the ball."

Stewart turned pro after taking a major lead in his sophomore season at Mississippi State. The 6-6 wing improved his averages from 8.5 points, 1.6 assists, and 1 steal per game as a freshman to 16 points, 3.1 assists, and 1.4 steals last season.

"Just learning how to run the team," Stewart said of his biggest area of growth over the past year. "From being a freshman to a sophomore, I had a (bigger) role of being on the ball a lot more."

Another rangy player with a 7-foot wingspan, Stewart projects to be a strong defender at the next level. He said his biggest goal is to show improvement as a 3-point shooter. He converted 34.4 percent of his attempts from long distance last season, but his .806 free throw percentage suggests he is capable of growth.

The final player at Tuesday's workout was Clemson forward Aamir Sims, an impressive physical specimen at 6-8 and 235 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan and just 5.3 percent body fat.

Simms averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists as a senior for the Tigers. His biggest area of growth while in college came with his outside shooting. After hitting less than a third of his 3-point attempts in his first two seasons on campus, Simms shot 40 percent from 3-point range in both his junior and senior seasons.

"I actually came in there a pretty unorthodox shooter," he said. "I worked with my coaching staff and our player development coaches and kind of transformed my jump shot and fixed my mechanics. That's why as of my last two years that's why I've been shooting consistent."

Simms has the kind of versatile skillset that could allow him to thrive in the modern NBA. While he played primarily in the post, he has the ability spread the floor and also demonstrated skill as a passer in his final two seasons in college.

Defensively, Simms believes he has the versatility to guard multiple positions, but said the lateral quickness of NBA players is the biggest challenge in adjusting to the pro game. As for players he hopes to emulate, Simms highlighted two key role players on two of the Western Conference's top teams.

"I really like (Nuggets forward) Paul Millsap, just his versatility on all three levels," Simms said. "And a guy like (Suns forward) Jae Crowder who can shoot and defend on all three levels as well. I think those are two guys that I compare to really well."

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