The cuts and bruises emerging all over Aaron Gordon’s arms told the entire story.
They symbolized the competitiveness surrounding the NBA pre-draft workouts the Lakers hosted Wednesday at their practice facility in El Segundo. The physically battered images revealed how the 12 prospects that worked out believed they had something to prove amid a backdrop that entailed Lakers championship banners and retired jerseys greeting them on the practice facility’s walls. The individual matchups brought out qualities that could not be measured through vertical jumps, bench presses or interviews.
Once it was all over, all of the prospects were left smiling that the Lakers’ pre-draft workout set them up for potential bragging rights. For Gordon, he admired his dinged up arms after going head-to-head against Creighton senior Doug McDermott.
“A little scratches here or there,” Gordon said. “That was a really good player. He was the leading scorer in college for a reason. He knows how to score the basketball.”
Yet, even if McDermott averaged a league-leading 26.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting, he remained highly aware of the knocks on his game surrounding his athleticism. So with Gordon considered one of the country’s best defensive forwards, McDermott found value in proving he could score with relatively similar frequency as he would in Pop-A-Shot.
“He got a little blood,” McDermott said about Gordon with a smile. “It was a good matchup. He’s good player and phenomenal athlete. It was a tough matchup for me, but I think he’ll be a heck of a pro. I think it helped both of us out. He hasn’t gone up against a guy that shoots like me and I haven’t gone up against anyone that is as good and strong as him. I think it was a really good first day for both of us.”
And it was a day that prospects said proved differently than their previous workouts, which mostly entailed individual drills, various agility tests and interviews. There, UCLA guard Zach LaVine sparked buzz by setting the Lakers pre-draft workout with a 46-inch vertical.
The Lakers also adopted those three tenets, while also fitting in games of two-on-two and three-on-three. That format set up a few intriguing matchups. Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart, considered the top backcourt prospect with Australia’s Dante Exum, went up against Syracuse freshman guard Tyler Ennis, who’s expected to be selected in either the middle or late first round.
“That’s definitely a way to show competitiveness, going against other point guards,” Ennis said. “Marcus is one of the top point guards coming out of college. To go against him, it’s a great opportunity for anybody. For some people it’s difficult to see how they can play. But to go out against the best competition, that’s all you can ask for. I think I did well. I showed my game and went out there and tried to defend another point guard. I tried to shoot the ball and stick to my game and make plays for others and see the floor. I think I could see that with the two on two and three on three.”
Smart called the matchup “very competitive” and “fun,” bristling at the thought of avoiding such a scenario. Plenty of draft prospects ask out of such a format considering that could hurt their draft stock. Instead, Smart hoped such a chance would just enhance his.
“I don’t care who I go up against,” Smart said. “I’m a competitor. It’s not going to be that way when you step on the court. I want to go up against Chris Paul. You have to guard them against your position so you may as well get used to playing guys who are high ranked, low ranked or at your level right now. My mindset was whoever is put in front of me, I will go out and compete every day. Tyler is a great point guard. It was a fun matchup for me and him.”
Not everyone felt the same way.
Though Gordon gushed about going against McDermott, Gordon did not play in the same group as Indiana forward Noah Vonleh, who is also considered one of the top forwards in the draft. Meanwhile, Duke guard Rodney Hood and Michigan guard Nik Stauskas canceled their appearance shortly before their workouts started.
“There’s not a whole lot of strategy,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “The representatives will get very involved and are looking out for their clients’ best interest. You try to make everybody happy, but you can’t. At the end of the day we had two cancellations and those changed everything. So I expect to get phone calls from some representatives today that aren’t very happy. But that was out of our control.”
Yet, those developments opened up some possibilities for others.
Weber State guard Davion Berry and Nevada shooting guard Jerry Evans became last-minute additions after not even appearing at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago three weeks ago. With very few expecting either of those players to get drafted, they wasted no time trying to spark attention. For Evans, that entailed blocking Gordon’s shot that even left him gushing praise.
“He’s long athletic and one of the good players, too,” Gordon said. “I was off balance. I tried to jump and he swatted it.”
That play would not have been possible had those players not gone head to head. Yet, amid a workout in which question marks remain unanswered how that will translate into a game, the Lakers at least received some glimpses.
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