Now that the college basketball season has come to an end, many of the top players from around the country are shifting their focus to June’s NBA draft.
Players with dreams of playing in the NBA are now preparing for the next two-plus months of workouts. As the draft gets closer, players will work out for as many teams as they need to in order to boost their draft stock.
Some players see the pre-draft process as a great opportunity to climb up teams’ draft boards. Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton began the pre-draft process projected to be an early second-round pick, but the point guard dominated workouts and often embarrassed other prospects with terrific plays. He would eventually be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft (and was immediately traded to the Magic).
College prospects have taken notice and many understand that it doesn’t matter if they played at a powerhouse school. They know that having great workouts can be all that’s needed in order to be drafted. Former University of Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez is planning on taking full advantage of his upcoming workouts and is utilizing every opportunity to showcase his game.
That first opportunity comes this week at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia.
“It’s very important [to stay in the moment] because you don’t want to overlook any opportunity that’s given right now,” Rodriguez told Basketball Insiders (watch the full video, with workout clips, above). “The closest thing right now besides workouts is Portsmouth. I got to make sure I do a good job. I got to be consistent because everything matters at this point. There is no tomorrow. This is not college basketball anymore. We’re all trying to become professionals and everything matters.”
The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament brings in 64 of the top seniors in the country. The prospects participate in 12 games designed to show off their skills in front of representatives from every NBA team.
In past years, players like Jimmy Butler, Jeremy Lin, Tim Frazier and Henry Sims (among others) have participated in the tournament.
For a player like Rodriguez, the tournament is a great chance to make a first impression on scouts during this process. He is coming off of his best season as a collegiate player with Miami. He averaged 12.6 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game in 35 games last season. He hit several big shots during his time at Miami, including a game-winning three-pointer against No. 8 Florida in 2014 and a tip-in with 1.4 seconds left against Pittsburgh last season.
Rodriguez played his best basketball of the season when the spotlight was at its brightest. He turned heads during the NCAA Tournament, leading Miami to an appearance in the Sweet 16 by averaging 21.7 points, 5.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and three steals in three tournament games. He shot 54 percent from the field and an excellent 60 percent from three-point range.
His best game of the season was against Wichita State in the second round; he recorded a season-high 28 points as well as five assists, four steals and two rebounds.
For many prospects, keeping things in perspective is a big key during this process. Rodriguez is currently not listed within the top 100 prospects on DraftExpress’ rankings, but Rodriguez believes he can help a team at the next level and is realistic about how he’ll be used.
“I know I’m not going to come in and be an All-Star,” Rodriguez said. “I know I’m not going to come in and plays are going to be ran for me. As long as I know my role, I’ll stick to it and I’ll do a very good job. [What I want] to bring for sure is defense and energy. That’s something you can’t teach. That’s something that not everybody loves – not just in games, but in practice.
“It’s something I know coaches look forward to and something that coaches appreciate. It’s something that, as a team, everybody is going to like because I’m going to help guys get better. I’m not going to let guys have a free lunch. They might score, but they’re going to have to work on it.”
Rodriguez is hoping to follow a similar career path as Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea. Both players are similar in size as Barea is listed at 6’0 and 185 pounds while Rodriguez was listed last season at 5’11 and 180 pounds. Barea began his professional career in Puerto Rico before catching on with the Mavericks in 2006.
Barea played some of his best basketball with the Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs, when he became a key role player during the team’s run to the championship. He has made a career of being a floor general and doing the dirty work during games. Rodriguez mirrored that style of play during his four years in college between his time at Kansas State and Miami.
“I’m a person that’s very confident in myself,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve played against great players in college and guys that are at the pro level right now. I know the capability is there, but the size is always going to be a question. At the end of the day, I just got to be the best that I can be.
“A guy that I look up to is J.J. Barea. I want to be more like a [Patrick] Beverley on the defensive side. I think Barea is a great offensive player, but something I truly take pride on is defense and Pat Beverley is somebody I look up to in that way.”
Following his senior year at Miami, Rodriguez has been working out with several other NBA prospects. In Basketball Insiders’ exclusive look at the workouts with Elite Skills Training in Miami (seen in the video above), Rodriguez was a standout among six other Division I prospects.
He flashed a strong handle, a good shot from three-point range and was a pest on defense in three-on-three drills. He was very vocal during scrimmages, a much needed quality for a point guard in the NBA. His shooting is among the things that he wants to improve the most.
“Obviously, everybody has to get adjusted to the three-point line,” Rodriguez said. “That’s one thing everybody is working at. For myself, I’m trying to become a much better mid-range guy. I want to be a very energetic guy – a guy that comes in and dogs the ball. A guy that comes in and changes the game on defense.”
As Rodriguez continues his preparation ahead of the draft, he hired Pedro Power of YouFirst Sports as his agent. While it remains to be seen if Rodriguez will be drafted, many players have proven that draft position doesn’t matter. They have shown that having strong outings in the Summer League can sometimes be the key to being on a team’s radar – and then it’s all about opportunity and finding the right fit.
Playing a season or two in the D-League or overseas has also become a more common route to the NBA. Sometimes, being an undrafted rookie can be a blessing in disguise since players are able to pick the best situation available to maximize their playing time and opportunities.
Rodriguez leaves for Portsmouth tomorrow in what will be one of the biggest showcases of his playing career with so many professional scouts in attendance. Don’t be surprised if his draft stock rises after leaving Portsmouth.
David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled
David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.
A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.
He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.
He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.
“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”
Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.
He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.
“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”
Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.
He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.
“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”
The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.
“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”
NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next
The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.
The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.
They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.
In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.
Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.
But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.
Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.
In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.
Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.
“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”
Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.
Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.
A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.
All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.
Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.
Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.
Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.
Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.
Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.
“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.
“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”
NBA All-Star Friday Recap
Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.
NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.
Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.
Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.
Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.
NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.
Quavo was named MVP.
BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game
There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.
Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.
However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.
It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.
All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.
The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.
Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.