Marcus Paige
Marcus Paige, the would-be hero of the 2016 national championship game, is trying to prove he belongs in the NBA.
Celeste Ballou - Pacers.com

Paige Poised for Transition to the Pros

Other Workout Participants Thursday Included Maryland's Robert Carter and Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead
by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Marcus Paige can't escape that one night in April. You know the one.

He was supposed to be the hero. The senior point guard was the catalyst in North Carolina's furious rally in the closing minutes of the NCAA national championship game. He scored eight of Carolina's final 10 points, including a shot that seemed destined to end up side-by-side in Tar Heel lore with Michael Jordan's game-winner in the 1982 title game: an improbably majestic floating 3-pointer that tied the contest at 74 with 4.7 seconds remaining.

But the fates had other plans. Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beating three on the other end squashed the Tar Heels' title hopes and rendered Paige's heroics moot.

After a decorated college career, Paige is ready to move on to the next chapter of his career, which he hopes will take place in the NBA. But there is no moving on from that one night in April. Every time he logs on to social media, his mentions are littered with photos, videos, and GIFs of the closing seconds. At each and every pre-draft workout, the media peppers him with questions about the game. Even just two days ago, President Barack Obama brought up Paige's remarkable shot when honoring Villanova's national championship team at the White House.

"You can take a lot from it," Paige said following Thursday's pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "Learning how to handle adversity, how do you channel what just happened that you can't change and use that to motivate yourself moving forward? I didn't get a championship that I wanted and I can't do anything about it. But at the same time, I can learn from that and I know that I responded at a big time level at the biggest stage in college."

"...But honestly right now, it's still in that time frame where it's just tough to talk about."

Paige is a mostly proven commodity to NBA scouts. He played nearly 30 minutes per game as a freshman at Carolina and stayed for all four years of college. Statistically, his best production came during his sophomore season, when he averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and just under 39 percent from 3-point range.

His production dropped off slightly over his final two seasons in college as he dealt with a couple foot injuries as a junior and then a broken hand that kept him sidelined for the first month of his senior season.

Still, Paige was a dependable player for his entire career. He played both on and off the ball for Carolina and was a rock-steady presence in the backcourt. His senior season he committed just 42 turnovers in 1075 minutes, going more than 25 minutes on average between giveaways.

Paige's shooting percentages dropped significantly in his final college season. He battled through a season-long slump both beyond the arc and at the charity stripe, where his free throw percentage dipped from around 87 percent in his previous two seasons to 77.4 percent in his final year on campus.

But the lefty rediscovered his stroke at the right time. He had a .323 3-point percentage for the season entering the NCAA Tournament, but went 20-for-41 (48.8 percent) from beyond the arc in six tournament games. He followed that up by going 5-for-9 from long distance in a pair of scrimmages at last month's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago and displayed a smooth stroke once again during shooting drills at the end of Thursday's workout.

"I've been shooting the ball fantastic in workouts," Paige said. "And I have two years prior to my senior year worth of shooting the ball at a high clip. My overall body of work shows that I can shoot. I hit a rough stretch coming off a broken hand my senior year."

In fact, Paige maintains that his game is better suited for the NBA level. While the longer 3-point line is a challenge for many prospects, Paige said he feels comfortable with the longer line because he used to always shoot from the NBA distance in workouts at North Carolina, believing it would feel easier when he moved back to the college line in game settings.

And as a point guard, the added space the NBA presents allows for more room for Paige to operate in the pick-and-roll, something he wasn't asked to do a lot in college but thinks is one of his strengths.

"I think I just make good reads and make good quick decisions," Paige said. "When you set a pick-and-roll, you're automatically putting the defense in rotations and putting the offense at an advantage. So then you just have to make the right decision, make the right choice, and be able to make the defense pay. And I think that's where I excel, more so than in an isolation situation."

Paige is just 6-2 and won't blow anyone away with his athleticism at the next level (though he did show good agility at the Combine, where he had the second-fastest time in the shuttle run and third-fastest in the three-quarter court sprint). That, combined with his age makes him unlikely to go before the second round of the draft.

But Paige's poise, coupled with a high basketball IQ (he was a three-time Academic All-American in college), would seemingly give him a good chance of landing somewhere in the NBA as a backup point guard.

Could he be a fit in Indiana? Pacers President Larry Bird has said the team could be in the market for a point guard and they've brought in a lot of prospects at that position during the past few weeks, including Paige, Gary Payton II (who Pacers.com's Mark Montieth wrote about), and Julian Jacobs on Thursday.

"I think it's a great fit," Paige said about the possibility of playing for the Pacers. "It's a place that has a point guard position of need, which is good to hear for me, getting a chance to maybe have an opportunity to prove myself."

Big Robert Carter Proving He Can Keep Up on the Perimeter

Former Maryland forward Robert Carter, Jr. found himself in an unusual situation on Thursday. The 6-9, 250-pound big man was the only true post player among the six prospects working out for the Pacers (Dayton forward Dyshawn Pierre is listed at 6-8 but projects as a wing in the NBA).

"It was surprising," Carter said. "I didn't know who I was working out with, but I got here and I noticed it was all guards pretty much. So it was a little different. Usually they have somebody my size that I match up with."

Carter, however, wasn't phased by being the only big man at the workout, which Paige said consisted of lots of competitive three-on-three action.

"I used it as a challenge because I know one thing I have to get better at is defending smaller guys," Carter said. "It was a perfect opportunity to come in here and move my feet and show the Indiana Pacers that I am getting better at defending smaller guys."

Defense might be a question mark for Carter at the next level, but there's no questioning his offensive ability. He demonstrated an ability to score the ball in a variety of ways in college, whether it's posting up on the block or stretching defenses out to the 3-point line.

After transferring to Maryland following two seasons at Georgia Tech, Carter put up solid numbers as a junior on a Terrapins squad filled with NBA-caliber players. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting an efficient 55.4 percent from the field before electing to enter the draft.

His 3-point percentage wasn't stellar at 33.3 percent, but he was enough of a threat from beyond the arc to keep defenses honest and has solid mechanics. For what it's worth, Carter looked good in shooting drills at the end of Thursday's workout, at one point hitting all five threes from the left corner and then going 4-for-5 from both the left wing and the top of the key.

Carter's well-rounded offensive game and his 7-3 wingspan makes him an intriguing prospect (he's currently ranked as the 44th-best prospect in this year's draft class by DraftExpress and 45th by ESPN.com's Chad Ford). But there are two main concerns with Carter's game: his defense and his conditioning.

The makeup of Thursday's workout gave him a chance to respond to the first criticism and he also believes he's done a lot to assuage concerns about the second. While still on the bulkier side, Carter has shed significant weight since his days at Georgia Tech. He claimed that his body fat has gone from 21 percent all the way down to 11 percent, which is what he said the Pacers measured him at on Thursday morning.

Carter's stock has seemingly been on the rise ever since a strong performance at the Combine. He scored 19 points in the first half of his first scrimmage in Chicago and finished the contest with 22 points, seven rebounds, and four steals while going 2-for-3 from 3-point range.

"I think the NBA game is becoming a positionless league and you've got to be able to do numerous things," Carter said. "I feel like I'm one of the few guys in this draft that is able to shoot the ball, able to post the ball, able to make plays off the dribble. I feel like my versatility is really going to impact this league."

Like Mentor Stephenson, Whitehead Searching for Consistency

Isaiah Whitehead knows that the comparisons to Lance Stephenson are inevitable. Whitehead starred at Brooklyn's Lincoln High School, where just a few years earlier, Stephenson set the New York state scoring record. Other Lincoln alums include Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, so every star guard that walks its hall has big shoes to fill.

"They all were great players in their own way," Whitehead said on Thursday. "But I think we all just have that Brooklyn mentality, that's why people compare us."

Whitehead is no slouch himself. He was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection as a sophomore at Seton Hall, where he averaged 18.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game. He was even better in conference play, averaging 20 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 42.6-percent from 3-point range.

But just like Stephenson — whom Whitehead considers a mentor — he can follow flashes of brilliance with stretches of head-scratching play.

Look no further than his uneven play this past postseason. Whitehead was the MVP of the Big East Tournament, where he led Seton Hall to its first title in 23 seasons. He had 26 points in the title game against eventual national champion Villanova, making enough big plays to outweigh his eight turnovers.

But he struggled mightily a few days later in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Gonzaga. The 6-5 combo guard went 4-for-24 from the field and 0-for-10 from 3-point range in the Pirates' 16-point loss.

Whitehead has all the tools to be an NBA player. It's just a question of if he can put it all together for extended periods of time. He certainly will need to be more efficient at the next level after posting sub-.380 field goal percentages in both of his two years in college.

Though he could have likely helped his draft stock with another year in school, Whitehead decided he was ready to try to make it in the NBA.

"I just thought it was time for me to go," he said about his decision. "What else can I do on the college level? I brought Seton Hall back to being relevant again. (They) had a great recruiting class, so I knew I wasn't leaving them with nothing."

The Pacers took a gamble on Stephenson with the 40th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and got a few productive years out of him. He turned into a productive starter on the teams that went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals, but has struggled to find a consistent role since bolting in free agency in the summer of 2014, bouncing between three teams over the last two seasons.

Whoever takes Whitehead on draft night will be making a similar gamble. Whether it pays off as well as it did for the Pacers with Stephenson, only time will tell.

Jacobs, Pierre Hoping to Impress

The final two participants in Thursday's workout, USC point guard Julian Jacobs and Dayton forward Dyshawn Pierre, are unlikely to hear their names called on draft night. Still, these workouts present plenty of opportunity for players of their ilk to impress a team enough to earn an invitation to Summer League.

With so many talented guards in town, Thursday's workout was an especially good opportunity for Jacobs. It was the first workout for Jacobs, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season as junior.

"It was awesome to be on the same court as these guys and really just see where you stand," Jacobs said.

Jacobs has good size at 6-4 and put up respectable numbers in his final season for the Trojans. He averaged 11.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. He's a good athlete and thrives when attacking the rim, but needs to improve his outside shot (he shot under 33 percent from 3-point range in all three years in college).

Still, Jacobs elected to enter the draft this year rather than return for his senior season. While he isn't ranked highly in most draft class rankings, he would seem to have the tools of a player that could excel in the D-League and maybe use that as a springboard to eventually earn a spot on an NBA roster.

"I think as long as I approach this thing 110 percent, somebody will fall in love with me," Jacobs said.

Pierre was a key cog for the Dayton Flyers teams that made the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons, including a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight in 2014.

Pierre was a double-figure scorer in all three of those seasons and grabbed 8.5 rebounds per game as senior. He has solid size for an NBA wing, measuring out at just under 6-8 in shoes at the Portsmouth Invitational, though he could stand to put on a little more weight.

Perhaps the best attribute for Pierre, who said he sees himself as a small forward at the next level, is his shooting. He shot 46 percent from 3-point range as a freshman in college and 41 percent as a sophomore. His percentages dropped a little bit in his final two seasons on campus, but he was an 85-percent foul shooter as a senior.

Pierre put on a shooting clinic at the end of Thursday's workout, burying nine of his final 10 shots from the top of the 3-point arc. If he continues shooting like that, he'll draw more attention from NBA scouts. At the very least, he figures to get an invite to Summer League.

Check out one-on-one interviews with all six prospects at Thursday's pre-draft workout in the video player below.

Draft Workouts: Gary Payton II

June 2, 2016 - After his pre-draft workout, Gary Payton II talked with Pacers.com about what he's trying to prove during his workouts. In his sophomore season at Oregon State, Payton II averaged 16 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.

Draft Workouts 160602

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Draft Workouts: Gary Payton II

June 2, 2016 - After his pre-draft workout, Gary Payton II talked with Pacers.com about what he's trying to prove during his workouts. In his sophomore season at Oregon State, Payton II averaged 16 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.
Jun 2, 2016  |  01:45

Draft Workouts: Marcus Paige

June 2, 2016 - North Carolina guard Marcus Paige speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday afternoon.
Jun 2, 2016  |  03:10

Draft Workouts: Robert Carter

June 2, 2016 - Maryland forward Robert Carter speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jun 2, 2016  |  02:40

Draft Workouts: Isaiah Whitehead

June 2, 2016 - Pacers.com caught up with Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead after his pre-draft workout. In his final season as Seton Hall, Whitehead averaged 18.2 points and 5.1 assists per game.
Jun 2, 2016  |  02:17

Draft Workouts: Julian Jacobs

June 2, 2016 - USC point guard Julian Jacobs speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss after his pre-draft workout for the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jun 2, 2016  |  02:05

Draft Workouts: Dyshawn Pierre

June 2, 2016 - Dayton forward Dyshawn Pierre stopped by for a pre-draft workout with the Pacers on Thursday, and talked about what he is trying to showcase for NBA teams. In his final season with the Flyers, Pierre averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Jun 2, 2016  |  01:22
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