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Did the Lakers’ Mass Draft Workout Pay Dividends?

The L.A. Lakers worked out 12 players over two workout sessions on Wednesday. Here are some takeaways from the workout.

Jabari Davis

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The Los Angeles Lakers held a multi-session workout on Wednesday that featured a very talented group of 2014 NBA Draft prospects. The Lakers have the seventh overall pick, so they had no problem attracting players to L.A. for this workout.

The first session featured Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Zach LaVine (UCLA), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) and Noah Vonleh (Indiana); while the second session featured Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Doug McDermott (Creighton), James Young (Kentucky), Elfrid Payton (Louisiana Lafayette), Davion Berry (Weber State) and Jerry Evans (Nevada).

Although the roster has a ton of holes to fill, it was clear the front office is looking for backcourt help. While Kobe Bryant is already back on the court and expected to make yet another highly anticipated comeback when teams return to action in late summer, the front office must continue working toward re-establishing the Lakers as a perennial powerhouse. Essentially, they have to actively work on life after Bryant even during what are expected to be the final two seasons of his legendary career.

With uncertainty surrounding the future of both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, it also wasn’t a surprise that the Lakers wanted to see what Vonleh’s skill set looked like in person. The 6’9 power forward appears to have bulked up since the end of the college season, and seems to have intrigued several teams throughout the pre-draft process. It is uncertain whether the team will lean his direction on draft night, but Vonleh’s blend of length and shooting touch for a big man makes him an appealing project for someone in the lottery.

McDermott was another intriguing participant in the workout, as the 6’8 forward has really improved his draft projections with some of his combine and workout results. After leading the nation in scoring (26.7 PPG) and Creighton into the third round of the NCAA Tournament, there were still plenty that questioned just how his game might translate to the next level.

Recent history has proven that simply being a prolific scorer at the college level doesn’t necessarily guarantee NBA success, but McDermott is far from just a shooter and displayed plenty of athleticism throughout the combine drills. When asked what aspects of his game he felt still needed to be improved upon, McDermott was both honest and reflective in response.

“Ballhandling, mainly, and lateral quickness,” McDermott said. “I feel like my jumper will always be there. I just have to work on the in between stuff. I have a long ways to go in that area, but I feel like I’ll improve every day.”

He also made a point to mention a possible advantage over some of the younger prospects, having benefited from playing four years at the collegiate level. McDermott presented the same calm yet confident demeanor before the media swarm as he did throughout his college career. He certainly doesn’t lack for confidence, especially when addressing some of the players he’s been compared to.

“It’s a tough comparison, but guys like [Kyle] Korver,” McDermott said. “I’m really good at coming off screens, I’m a great shooter. I watch a lot of Ray Allen, guys like that. I feel like I can really find a role in this league and maximize that.”

As expected, the somewhat inevitable but  just as relevant “Kobe Bryant” question was addressed by each prospect, and while all were predictably complimentary when it came to the 18-year veteran, Aaron Gordon’s answer was far and away the winner of the day.

“Kobe is psychotic about basketball and I am too,” Gordon told members of the media following the workout. “[Playing with Bryant] would be absolutely incredible… learning from a great. Just the little intricacies of the game, the details. I’d love to see his work ethic. Kobe is the definition of a true pro as well as Steve Nash. Being around those guys would help me tremendously.”

Gordon is a player that – while playing well for Arizona throughout the year – didn’t truly burst onto the national scene until down the stretch of the season and throughout the NCAA tournament. At about 6’8.75, with nearly a 7’0 wingspan, Gordon is a player who has really seemed to impress scouts and draft analysts with his eye-popping athleticism and frame. Although his offensive game and shot (in particular) will take some work before being ready for the next level, Gordon strikes you as precisely the type of player that will do whatever it takes to improve. Unlike other recent players of a similar size and build (such as Derrick Williams or Michael Beasley), Gordon shouldn’t have nearly as much of an issue finding a way to make an impact at the next level. Where others may have found the transition to becoming an NBA-level forward difficult, Gordon’s greatest impact is on the defensive end and through sheer effort in many cases.

With his versatility and athleticism, Gordon is confident that he can defend anyone from point guards to power forwards, which would certainly be a reason teams like the Boston Celtics are also rumored to be interested in Gordon with as early as the sixth pick.

As for the rumors of the Lakers’ willingness to potentially trade down in order to acquire additional picks, GM Mitch Kupchak offered a bit of clarity.

“No, we’d still like to add to our draft selection,” Kupchak said. “Could we move this (No. 7) pick and get multiple picks? Maybe. Could you buy a pick? Or trade a future pick for a present pick? Yeah, that’s possible. I think picks now are more valuable than they were, so I think it’s not as easy as it used to be, but I think that’s still a possibility.”

Kupchak generally plays things about as close-to-the-vest as imaginable, but given the potential 11 roster spots the team may have to fill, it is entirely conceivable the front office could look to acquire additional first-round picks, and possibly even second-round picks as well if the opportunity presented itself.

Given the varied list of guys they chose for their workout and the fact that Kupchak also acknowledged there would be “several more” workouts, this theory could certainly come to fruition by the end of draft night.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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