- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers held another predraft workout with six prospects on Friday, but it was the health of a seventh prospect -- Kansas center Joel Embiid -- that had everybody talking.
Embiid, presumed to be the No. 1 pick for weeks after successfully recovering from a stress fracture in his back that cut his freshman season short, underwent surgery for another stress fracture in his right foot on Friday. Now the Cleveland Cavaliers’ plan at the top of the draft is anybody’s guess.
“I think it makes it a little bit less predictable,” said Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, brought in for a second workout with the Lakers, along with Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton.
The trickle-down process already had begun, with Smart rushing out of the Lakers’ practice facility after the workout to catch a flight to Philadelphia to show his stuff for the 76ers. The Sixers have the No. 3 pick and seemingly had been high on Andrew Wiggins at that spot. But now that Wiggins could go No. 1 to Cleveland with Embiid’s injury potentially scaring the Cavs off, a whole host of possibilities are in play.
Smart isn’t the only one who could see his draft stock skyrocket with Embiid falling because of his foot. Gordon said there was “speculation” he could be heading to Philly to work out prior to next Thursday’s draft, as well.
Regardless of what happens with the six picks prior to L.A.’s selection on draft night, there’s a reason the Lakers brought in the group they did on Friday, which also included Michigan guard Nik Stauskas, former North Carolina turned D-League prospect P.J. Hairston and South Carolina State big man Matthew Hezekiah.
“Another great group of guys. So, the competitive level was at a high,” Smart said. He only has gone through two workouts with one other team, the Orlando Magic, which have the No. 4 pick.
While Gordon and Smart were considered to be top-10 talents ever since the lottery order was revealed last month, Payton has shot up the charts because of strong predraft workouts. He even secured an invite to the green room at the draft next week, which the league usually only extends to prospects it expects will go in the first 10 to 15 picks.
“I always thought I could,” Payton said when asked about his apparent position as a lock to be selected in the lottery. “But, it was a little surprising.”
Also surprising was how much Gordon’s jump shot has steadied in a relatively short amount of time. In his first workout with the Lakers just more than two weeks ago, the combo forward clanked jumper after jumper in the portion of the session that was open to the media. On Friday, he looked much more capable shooting from the outside.
“Obviously, I’ve improved,” Gordon said. “Just improving my game each day, becoming more confident in myself. My game is becoming more and more at peace. That’s all it was. Since I’ve been with the Lakers now and last time, I’ve become a better player.”
Stauskas, who cancelled his initial workout with the Lakers after tweaking his shoulder, also detailed his improvement from his freshman to sophomore seasons with the Wolverines.
“Over last summer was the first time I really lifted weights seriously, so about four to five times a week working with my strength coach at Michigan, I was able to put on 16 pounds of muscle and increase my vertical,” said Stauskas, who jumped 40 inches when measured by the Lakers. “That was a really big part of my game going to the next level this year.”
Stauskas averaged 17.5 points and 3.3 assists in his sophomore season, while shooting 47 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from deep.
“I think I offer a skill set that not many people have: the ability to really shoot it, and then put it on the floor and create for others,” said Stauskas, projected to go No. 13 in Chad Ford’s latest Mock Draft 8.1 for ESPN. “There’s still parts of my game where I’m working on. But offensively, right now I feel like there’s not many people that can do what I can do.”
Hairston, who left UNC in the middle of the season before going on to average 21.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 26 games with the Texas Legends of the D-League, has had an interesting path.
On the plus side, he said playing in the D-League prepared him by putting him against competition with NBA-ready physiques and gave him a taste of the arena experience with music playing during game action. On the flip side, he said, it felt like a pretty small-time atmosphere.
“Sometimes you’d have 6,000 to 7,000 people. Sometimes you’d have five people,” Hairston said. “It was very different. I don’t know about other places, but in Texas you had kid zones where kids would be running around during the game on bouncies [inflatable structures] on the other side of the court. And they were throwing beach balls all over the place.”
From bouncing beach balls, to bouncing lottery balls, all of the prospects are just about ready for the exhaustive predraft process to be over. As are the Lakers.
L.A. will have another private workout session Saturday, which will include a second workout for UCLA guard Zach LaVine, as well as several other undisclosed prospects. Connecticut's Shabazz Napier will be in for a private workout on Sunday. And by this time next week they will have decided who they’ll choose to wear purple and gold next season.
“This only comes around once in a lifetime,” Smart said. “You only get to experience it once. But, definitely, I’ll be glad when it’s all over.”
3dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne