2021 Draft Workouts: Corey Kispert

July 21, 2021 - Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.

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2021 Draft Workouts: Corey Kispert

July 21, 2021 - Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 21, 2021  |  02:21

2021 Draft Workouts: Ziaire Williams

July 21, 2021 - Stanford forward Ziaire Williams speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 21, 2021  |  02:24

2021 Draft Workouts: Cam Thomas

July 21, 2021 - LSU guard Cam Thomas speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 21, 2021  |  02:02

2021 Draft Workouts: Chris Duarte

July 21, 2021 - Oregon guard Chris Duarte speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 21, 2021  |  01:24

2021 Draft Workouts: Sam Hauser

July 21, 2021 - Virginia forward Sam Hauser speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 21, 2021  |  01:49

2021 Draft Workouts: McKinley Wright

July 21, 2021 - Colorado guard McKinley Wright speaks with Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
Jul 21, 2021  |  02:03

Wednesday's Workout Filled with First-Round Talent

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Assuming the Pacers keep the 13th overall pick in next week's NBA Draft, there's a pretty decent chance their first-round pick worked out at the Ascension St. Vincent Center on Wednesday. Indiana brought in a loaded group for its seventh pre-draft workout, including four prospects who were among the 20 players invited to the green room at the Barclays Center for the July 29 draft, a general indicator of who the league believes will be selected early.

That quartet included Oregon guard Chris Duarte, Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert, LSU guard Cam Thomas, and Stanford wing Ziaire Williams, each of whom could be viable options for the Pacers with the 13th pick.

"This was probably the most talented group I've been in in my 11 workouts," said Colorado guard McKinley Wright, one of two other participants in Wednesday's workout, along with Virginia forward Sam Hauser.

Each of the prospects that auditioned for the Pacers on Wednesday brings something different to the table, but the consistent theme across the group was their offensive potential.

Kispert is probably the most familiar name to Pacer fans, fresh off a standout senior season at Gonzaga where he was a consensus first-team All-American and led the Bulldogs on a spectacular run, nearly becoming the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to compile an undefeated record before suffering their lone loss of the year to Baylor in the national championship game.

Kispert was not a likely NBA draft pick entering college, but worked his way into the position to potentially go in the lottery thanks to steady improvement over each of his four seasons at Gonzaga. As a senior, he averaged 18.6 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3-point range, and 87.8 percent from the free throw line.

"I feel like my game grew the most as a playmaker," Kispert said. "I came into Gonzaga just kind of a standstill, spot-up guy. But being able to make plays off the dribble and find teammates and make the right reads is something that (I've) drastically improved year over year."

The most obvious fit for Kispert at the next level is in that spot-up role he occupied early in college career. He is arguably the best shooter in the entire draft class (though a few players at Wednesday's workout could stake their own claim to that title), having shot just under 44 percent from beyond the arc on an extremely high volume — nearly 400 attempts — across his final two seasons in Spokane.

But Kispert offers more than just the ability to stretch the floor, as evidenced by his evolution while at Gonzaga. At 6-7, he has good size and athleticism (his vertical was measured at 37.5 inches at the NBA Draft Combine) that also allows him to finish at the rim, whether that's putting the ball on the floor or making timely cuts.

"I'm in really good shape and can move without the ball a ton so I give a lot of room for ball-dominant guys and guys who need the lane to get to the basket," Kispert said.

In many ways, Kispert's skillset is reminiscent of current Pacer Doug McDermott, who thrives both from beyond the arc and finishing at the rim. Kispert could even be a potential replacement for McDermott, who is likely to receive a big payday in free agency this summer coming off a career season. The Pacers and McDermott have expressed mutual interest in a reunion, but if the team feels like they might be outbid, Kispert would offer a younger and more cost-effective option to fill a similar role.

McDermott has thrived the past few years playing alongside Domantas Sabonis, another former Gonzaga star. Kispert said he has developed a good relationship with Sabonis, who visits Spokane each offseason. While the Gonzaga connection makes for a good story, Kispert also seems to have the exact type of game that could be elevated playing alongside Sabonis, one of the league's best-passing big men.

Kispert tested the draft waters a year ago before ultimately deciding to return for his senior season. During the interview process, teams told him they wanted to see him improve defensively, particularly his lateral quickness, and do more with the ball in his hands. While he still has room to grow, particularly on the defensive end, Kispert's improvement in those areas have solidified his status as a first-round pick.

Duarte is one of the players who could give Kispert a run for his money in a shooting contest. The 6-6 guard shot 42.4 percent from 3-point range as a senior at Oregon, where he was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and an All-American after averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.9 steals.

Equally skilled spotting up or shooting off the bounce, Duarte offers significant potential as a shooter, but it's his grit and hustle that may be the most attractive to teams.

The Dominican Republic native came to the United States in high school and spent two years in junior college before joining the Ducks in 2019. While at Oregon, he displayed a willingness to put his body on the line on both ends of the floor, whether that was crashing the glass on jumping in passing lanes. Duarte led Oregon in both steals and blocks as a senior and was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.

As Duarte quipped on Wednesday, "the work never stops," a phrase that could effectively be his mantra.

Duarte said he hopes to show teams that he is a capable defender even against the NBA's better athletes and someone that can thrive both with the ball in his hands and playing off the ball.

The biggest knock against Duarte is something he can't do anything about — his age. Duarte turned 24 on June 13, making him the same age as Pacers guard Aaron Holiday, a player who spent three years in college and is now entering his fourth NBA season.

But even still, Duarte has clearly impressed teams enough to earn an invite to the green room, signaling a virtual certainty that he will be drafted in the first round. Given his journey, receiving that invitation was an emotional moment.

"It means a lot," Duarte said. "As a kid coming from the Dominican Republic, not a lot of kids make it out from there. It means a lot for me and my family and my people back home."

Cam Thomas, Ziaire Williams

After one-and-done seasons, LSU's Cam Thomas (left) and Stanford's Ziaire Williams (right) both were invited to the green room at next week's 2021 NBA Draft. (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)

When it comes to pure scorers, you might not find a better player in this draft class than Thomas. The 6-4 guard led the SEC and ranked fourth in the nation in scoring as a freshman last season at LSU. Thomas averaged 23 points per game, an average that would have been nearly a point higher if not for a scoreless outing at Ole Miss on Jan. 9, when he exited early after injuring his ankle in the opening minutes of the game.

Thomas was a sensational scorer from start to finish in his lone college season. He dropped 32 points while going 5-for-11 from 3-point range in his first conference game against Texas A&M and played all 40 minutes and tallied 30 points in a narrow NCAA Tournament loss against Michigan.

Though he shot just 32.5 percent from 3-point range, Thomas' percentage was somewhat skewed by his high volume of shots (over seven attempts per game). He has the range and confidence to pull up from everywhere and projects to be an above-average shooter on a team where he isn't asked to carry as heavy a scoring load as he did at LSU.

Thomas' scoring isn't just limited to beyond the arc, as he has the ability to finish at all three levels. He showed a particular knack for getting to the free throw line in college, attempting nearly eight attempts per game and converting them at an 88.2-percent clip, another indicator of his true abilities as a shooter.

"The NBA is all about shotmaking now," Thomas said. "You saw in the NBA Finals, shotmaking was at a premium."

Thomas envisions himself initially coming off the bench and providing a scoring punch to the offensive unit. But like most score-first guards, he will need to prove his ability to contribute in other ways, particularly as a passer and defender.

Williams is the most raw of the four likely first-rounders at Wednesday's workout, but he also could have the highest potential ceiling. Measuring at nearly 6-10 in shoes, the lanky 19-year-old started 14 of 20 games in his lone season at Stanford, averaging 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists.

Williams is an exceptional ballhandler, a particularly valuable skill for a player of his size, and a strong defender capable of making a significant two-way impact.

"I can play one through four," Williams said. "I'm a high IQ player, a guy that's always going to play for his team. And I'm just very versatile so I feel like wherever you put me on the court, I could be a threat."

Williams shot just 29.1 percent from 3-point range at Stanford, but with a few tweaks could develop into a threat from beyond the arc. He shot nearly 80 percent from the free throw line, suggesting that there is at least the potential to grow more comfortable from long distance.

A California native who graduated from the same high school (Sierra Canyon) as 2020 Pacers draft pick Cassius Stanley, Williams said he has followed the Pacers closely since the days of Paul George and would love to be selected by Indiana.

"I know it's a super-close franchise, all about the right things," he said. "We play together, we're going to play hard and play to win. It would be an honor to step into these gyms and these doors every day and be developed at a high level with the training staff, the coaches. It would be dope to be here."

For each of the four players who have been invited to the draft, excitement is starting to build.

"It's getting real, you know," Williams said. "Every day it's like, 'Damn, it's nine days away, eight days away?' I'm super honored to be in this position honestly. I never thought this would happen like this. But I've still got to finish out these workouts strong. It's not over yet. The 29th is going to be a special day, but you know that's where it all starts."

"It's going to mean the world," Thomas said about hearing his name called on draft night. "It's a dream turned into a reality. You watch them on TV so much and you're like that's going to be me. Now I'm really living it."

Sam Hauser, McKinley Wright

Virginia's Sam Hauser (left) and Colorado's McKinley Wright (right) are hoping to stick in the NBA after accomplished college careers. (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)

Hauser, Wright Hoping to Carve Out Niche

Hauser and Wright, the final two prospects at Wednesday's workout, are legitimate prospects themselves. Each earned invites to the NBA Draft Combine after decorated college careers.

The 6-8 Hauser may be Kispert's biggest competition as a shooter. He shot 43.9 percent from beyond the arc for his career and is the rare player who can say that he shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc all four years he played in college (three at Marquette from 2016-19, the final season last year after transferring to Virginia).

"To do it four times in a row from behind the arc is pretty special," Hauser said. "I hope it can carry over to my NBA career."

Hauser was named to the All-ACC first team last season, when he led the Cavaliers in scoring at 16 points per game and also pulled down six rebounds. He narrowly missed out on the exclusive 50/40/90 club, posting a .503 field goal percentage, .417 3-point percentage, and .896 free throw percentage.

At the NBA, his shooting prowess alone could be enough to entice a team to select him, but he has focused on demonstrating good effort on the defensive end in pre-draft workouts to prove that he's not a liability on that end of the floor.

Though he spent just two years and played one season at Virginia, Hauser said he owes a great debt to Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett, who, like Hauser, grew up in Stevens Point, Wisc.

"He's a pretty well-known name in the state of Wisconsin and in my area," Hauser said. "When I was in the transfer portal, when he reached out, it was really awesome to hear from him. I'm glad I went to Virginia and got to play under him. He's definitely made a big influence on my life and will continue as I get older."

Wright, a 6-foot guard, left Colorado as one of the most decorated players in program history. A three-time first-team All-Pac 12 selection, Wright holds school records for assists and double-digit scoring games.

A four-year starter, Wright averaged 15.7 points and 5.7 assists per game as a senior, both career highs. He also significantly cut back on his turnovers from 3 per game as a junior to a career-low 2.1 as a senior, something NBA teams told him he needed to do when he went through the pre-draft process a year ago.

After receiving that feedback, Wright took a unique approach, asking Director of Operations Bill Cartun to clip together all his turnovers from his junior season and he watched the footage frequently throughout the year to try to learn from and limit his mistakes.

"I got the feedback from a lot of NBA teams," Wright said. "They knew how well I could play and they wanted to see me cut down on my turnovers. In this league you can't have high turnovers. That was my focus. I really wanted to focus on taking care of the ball."

Wright said his biggest emphasis this time around is demonstrating growth as a shooter. He shot under 33 percent from 3-point range over his four years in college, but believes he has made significant strides over the past few months.

Knowing the role he would be asked to play, Wright has studied other undersized guards like Ish Smith and believes he could have a similar impact. The 6-foot Smith went undrafted in 2010, but has played 654 games over 11 seasons in the league.

"I think I can come in and help a team right away," Wright said. "Be that true point guard, be that guy that can create shots for others. Being a great locker room guy, defending at a high level, just being that high energy guy day in and day out."

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