Okpala Provides Intriguing Possibility with Versatility – Pacers.com


Simply three days earlier than the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pacers held their ninth and last pre-draft exercise on Monday on the St. Vincent Heart.

All instructed, 49 prospects visited Indiana over the past month, with 48 taking part in exercises (LSU guard Tremont Waters interviewed with staff executives however was unable to work out after spraining his proper ankle on the NBA Draft Mix).

Only a handful of these prospects are prone to go within the first spherical of the draft, the place the Pacers at present personal the 18th general choice. Two of these gamers labored out for the Blue & Gold on Monday: Virginia Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (who Mark Montieth profiled right here, together with Alexander-Walker’s faculty teammate Justin Robinson) and Stanford ahead KZ Okpala.

2019 DRAFT CENTRAL: Full Protection at Pacers.com/Draft »

Okpala appears the a part of a first-round decide. He measured at 6-9 half of with a wingspan slightly below 7-2 and a 37-inch vertical leap on the Mix final month.

On the courtroom, he demonstrated marked enchancment in his sophomore season at Stanford.

Okpala was okay as a freshman, averaging 10 factors and three.7 rebounds per recreation however struggling together with his shot, posting a paltry .226 Three-point proportion.

However he improved throughout the board in his second 12 months in Palo Alto, averaging 16.Eight factors, 5.7 rebounds, and a couple of.zero assists final season for the Cardinal whereas pulling down 36.Eight % of his Three-point makes an attempt, and was named to the All-Pac-12 first staff.

The mixture of Okpala’s athleticism and his improvement, collectively together with his age (he did not flip 20 till the tip of April), make him an intriguing prospect with an excellent probability of listening to his identify known as within the first spherical on Thursday evening.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has Okpala going 21st general to Oklahoma Metropolis in his final mock draft, ESPN.com’s Jonathan Givony has Okpala going 23rd to Utah in his newest mock, whereas NBADraft.internet tasks for him to finish up in Golden State with the 28th general choice.

Okpala prides himself on his versatility. He was a 5-10 guard coming into highschool earlier than hitting his progress spurt and nonetheless has the flexibility to deal with the ball and provoke offense.

“I can convey it up,” Okpala stated Monday. “I like getting rebounds and after I get the rebound, (I can) simply push it up. I can play-make, I’ve a extremely good first step and might get within the center and discover guys.”

Along with his dimension and size, Okpala can guard a number of positions, an enviable asset within the trendy NBA the place switching is turning into an increasing number of commonplace. Offensively, he has the ability set to play wherever from capturing guard to energy ahead and stated on Monday that he believes he may even play level guard if wanted.

With quite a lot of gamers set to enter free company — together with capturing guard Wesley Matthews, small ahead Bojan Bogdanovic, and energy ahead Thaddeus Younger — Okpala may fill quite a lot of potential voids on the Pacers’ roster.

It may very well be an excellent match on each ends.

“Simply the tradition round right here, everybody performs laborious,” Okpala stated. “Victor Oladipo is a good man, he performs actually laborious. I feel I can match right here simply because I am gritty. I wish to get soiled, defensively, offensively, no matter. No matter coach wants me to do.”

Okpala nonetheless has loads of room for enchancment, whether or not it is persevering with to work on his soar shot or just popping out of his shell (the 20-year-old is a particular introvert and quieter by nature). However groups can level to his improved Three-point proportion, the tip product of summer season spent revamping his shot to take away a hitch in his launch, as proof that he’s prepared to place within the work to get higher on the subsequent degree.

Whether or not it is with the Pacers or elsewhere, Okpala will notice a lifelong dream on Thursday evening.

“Simply so excited,” he stated on Monday. “It is the whole lot I’ve all the time wished.”

Villanova’s Phil Sales space (left), UNLV’s Kris Clyburn (heart), and Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney (proper) all introduced years of expertise to Monday’s pre-draft exercise. (Picture Credit score: @Pacers)

Battle-Examined Guards Hope to Use Expertise to Earn a Roster Spot

Along with potential first-round picks Alexander-Walker and Okpala, Monday’s exercise additionally featured quite a lot of veteran guards, together with Robinson, Villanova’s Phil Sales space, Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney, and UNLV’s Kris Clyburn.

Sales space ended his faculty profession with fairly the resume and two nationwide championship rings.

He was the sixth man for the Wildcats as a sophomore and got here up enormous within the 2016 nationwide title recreation in opposition to North Carolina, scoring a team-high (and season-high) 20 factors off the bench. A knee difficulty three video games into the subsequent season pressured Sales space to redshirt, however he was again and within the beginning backcourt for the Wildcats throughout their run to the 2018 nationwide championship, averaging 10 factors per recreation in a supporting position.

After Villanova misplaced 4 gamers to the draft final June, Sales space transitioned into a distinct position as a redshirt senior, turning into his staff’s main scorer and playmaker. He was glorious in that new position, averaging 18.6 factors, Three.9 rebounds, and three.Eight assists and incomes quite a lot of particular person accolades, together with unanimous choice to All-Large East first staff, Most Excellent Participant on the Large East Event, and Large 5 Participant of the 12 months.

“It made me be much more of a choice maker,” Sales space stated about his better offensive position. “It made me discover ways to management a staff (and) run a staff, know when to attain and know when to go.”

At 6-Three, Sales space is a combo guard who can play on or off the ball. As a fifth-year senior, he’s unlikely to listen to his identify early (if in any respect) on draft evening, however his expertise enjoying for Villanova coach Jay Wright — who has produced quite a few NBA guards from Kyle Lowry to Josh Hart to Jalen Brunson — must be one factor that intrigues NBA scouts.

“Coach forces you to play each ends of the ground and be the most effective participant you might be on each ends of the ground,” Sales space stated. “He forces you to be an excellent defender, ball-handler, choice maker, rebounder, no matter it’s on the courtroom. He would not need you to have any weaknesses.”

Mooney very almost skilled the identical thrill as Sales space, serving to lead Texas Tech on a magical run to the nationwide championship recreation, the place they fell in time beyond regulation to Virginia.

Mooney’s faculty profession was a singular journey that included stints at three completely different faculties. The Wauconda, Unwell. native started his profession on the Air Pressure Academy, however transferred after his freshman season to South Dakota. After sitting out a 12 months, he had two extremely productive seasons for the Coyotes, averaging 18.6 factors per recreation as a sophomore and 18.7 as a junior. He then moved to Texas Tech final season as graduate switch and thrived in his first 12 months in energy convention basketball.

In his lone season in Lubbock, Mooney averaged 11.Three factors, Three.1 rebounds, Three.Three assists, and 1.Eight steals and shot 38.6 % from Three-point vary. He was named to the All-Large 12 second staff and all-defensive staff.

“I feel enjoying at three completely different colleges helped me alter,” Mooney stated. “You go to play for a brand new staff, you have to alter to that new model and new gamers. I performed on the mid-major degree at Air Pressure and South Dakota after which I performed my final 12 months at Texas Tech and I made a soar to a better degree and nonetheless was capable of play effectively and alter.

“I feel that helped me now making my transition to the NBA, the place I will have to regulate to a quicker paced recreation and a few greater guys. It helps me be prepared for that second.”

Protection and capturing may very well be Mooney’s ticket to the professionals. The 6-Three, 200-pound guard makes use of his stocky body to get into gamers and thrived in Chris Beard’s defensive-oriented system at Texas Tech.

Mooney had quite a lot of sturdy performances throughout Texas Tech’s match run. He tallied 17 factors, 5 rebounds, and three steals in an Elite Eight win over Gonzaga, then scored 22 factors and went Four-for-Eight from Three-point vary in a Ultimate 4 victory over Michigan State.

Mooney stated Monday that have will help him now as he auditions for the NBA.

“That match run we made, enjoying on that stage — in all probability the most important stage in basketball apart from possibly the Finals — enjoying in entrance of 70,000 is loopy, it is an important expertise,” he stated.

“However then I come into exercises like this and I simply keep in mind I performed on a giant stage. It helps me keep calm and do not forget that I am doing what I like and to play laborious and provides it the whole lot and not likely fear about who’s watching.”

Clyburn is a 6-6 guard who spent three seasons at UNLV after starting his profession in junior faculty. The Detroit-area native averaged 7.Three factors per recreation in every of his first two seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels earlier than breaking by as a senior, when he averaged 14.1 factors and 5.Three rebounds per recreation.

Whereas his offensive output elevated significantly, Clyburn was nonetheless greatest recognized for his protection whereas at UNLV, incomes Mountain West All-Defensive staff honors as a senior. That may very well be his greatest probability of incomes an NBA roster spot.

“That is one of many main issues within the league or wherever,” Clyburn stated. “Taking part in protection, that retains you on the ground.”

Clyburn is hoping to indicate groups he might be extra of a playmaker than he was capable of present in faculty. Whereas he has the scale to play capturing guard, he additionally needs groups to see him deal with the ball and make selections within the pick-and-roll.

He has a mentor in older brother Will, who really additionally labored out for the Pacers in 2013 after finishing his faculty profession at Iowa State.

The older Clyburn has not performed within the NBA, however has carved out an important profession abroad. He led Russian membership CSKA Moscow to the EuroLeague championship in Might, incomes Ultimate 4 MVP honors.

“He is a giant affect,” Kris Clyburn stated of his older brother. “We’re six years aside, however we nonetheless get after it like we’re the identical age each time he comes house in the summertime.”

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