After hosting scheduled lottery picks for pre-draft workouts over the past few days, the Pacers held another group practice Wednesday at the Ascension St. Vincent Center, their 10th practice in preparation for the 2022 NBA draft next Thursday .
The six prospects in town for Wednesday’s practice will not be lottery picks but could be options in the second round, in which Indiana has 31st and 58th overall picks.
The group was headlined by two point guards – Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard and Vanderbilt’s Scotty Pippen Jr.
No Division I program has won more games over the past two seasons than Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are brimming with talent, with Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert both drafted in the top 15 in 2021, Chet Holmgren is a serious contender for the number one pick in 2022, and Drew Timme has received All-American honors in each of the past two seasons.
Nembhard has mostly played in the background for all his talent, but his influence on his team’s success cannot be denied. The 6-5 guard has dished out 324 assists in the last two seasons since moving from Florida and maintained an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.2.
Nembhard averaged 11.8 points last season as a senior and ranked 15th in the NCAA with 5.8 assists per game. He shot well from both 3-point range (38.3 percent) and the free-throw line (87.3 percent) while also pulling out 1.6 steals per game defensively.
Ontario native Nembhard prides himself on being “a guy who fits in with other good players,” something he showed at Gonzaga but then assisted at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month. Nembhard dominated a scrimmage there, losing 26 points and 11 assists in just two turnovers.
Nembhard was originally scheduled to practice for the Pacers immediately after the May 23 combine, but was rescheduled and instead attended Indianapolis this week.
Teams know Nembhard is capable of leading teammates to success, but he also believes he can score when challenged, which is something he tried to demonstrate during the pre-draft process.
“In college, how many good players I played around with – I want to win games,” Nembard said. “I’m trying to involve everyone. I think in this process I can show a little bit more of my scoring prowess.”
Nembhard plays comfortably on or off the ball and appears to have all the qualities a team would look for in a backup combo guard. His calm presence on and off the court reminds many of Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, who won Rookie of the Year after being drafted by Milwaukee in 2016 with their 36th pick overall. Nembhard told the media on Wednesday he’s heard the comparison before and sees the resemblance in both the way they play and their demeanor.
Nembhard sees himself as one of the best point guards in this year’s draft class. He’s hoping he’s shown enough for someone to pick him in the first round next week, but no matter what time he hears his name, he’s promised the team that picks him won’t regret it.
“I think they’re getting a mature kid that’s trying to get into the league, but also trying to do something in the league, to keep getting better,” Nembhard said. “I want to prove to everyone that I can persevere. I think you just get a hard worker and someone who loves the game.”
While Nembhard played more of a supporting role in college while surrounded by so much talent, Pippen was asked to carry a heavy offensive load during his time at Vanderbilt.
Pippen averaged over 20.8 points per game as a sophomore in 2020-21 and 20.4 points last season as a junior when he led the SEC and finished 14th in the nation. He became the first SEC player since LSU’s Ronnie Hamilton from 1994–96 to average over 20 points per game in two straight seasons.
After playing at Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles (where he was teammates with current Pacer Duane Washington Jr.), Pippen was a hot recruit for former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse, who had a Vanderbilt program in tatters took over after going 0-18 in the SEC the year before the arrival of Stackhouse and Pippen. The Commodores won just three SEC games each in the duo’s first two seasons in Nashville, but went 19-17 last season and received a NIT bid.
With more talent around him, Pippen is asked to play a different role in the NBA. In addition to his goals, he’s averaged 4.6 assists over the past two seasons. He said Wednesday he sees himself capable of playing the same role as players like Jalen Brunson and Fred VanVleet, who did it after college, initially serving as a backup point guard while gradually taking on more responsibility for the scoring took over.
“That’s what I’m trying to show,” Pippen said. “Just show I can be a playmaker. Everyone knows I can hit the ball. Just go into these training sessions, be a playmaker and show that my game can be implemented.”
Of course, Pippen has lived his entire life in the shadow of his famous father, six-time NBA Champion and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen (the younger Pippen spells his name “Scotty,” which is how it appears on his father’s birth certificate).
Scotty Jr. was just three years old when his father played his last NBA game. Having a father that size has put extra pressure on him at times, but he’s also been something he’s been able to lean on throughout his career.
There aren’t many similarities between Pippen and his father. Scottie Pippen is 6-8 and was an elite defender, while Scotty Jr. is 6-2 and is better known for his offensive talents. The younger Pippen said he never tried to emulate his father’s game.
“I am my own person,” he said. “It’s my own legacy. I’ve always excelled. We’re both different players. We’ve played in different eras.”
Procida, Travers give the training international flair
The two tallest players at Wednesday’s practice traveled to Indianapolis from opposite corners of the world. 6-7 Gabrielle Procida hails from Como, Italy while 6-8 Luke Travers hails from Perth, Australia.
Both players chose to be drafted this year after playing professionally in their home countries.
Procida, who turned 20 on June 1, averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds per game for Fortitudo Bologna last season. Raised on the idol of Klay Thompson, he sees himself as a great shooting guard, capable of deflecting shots from around the corner.
The Italian shot over 38 percent from 3-point range last season. He’s a good athlete who likes to take turns, as she showed after being invited to the combine and testing well, showing a 35-inch vertical and the fastest time in the three-quarters sprint at 3.07 seconds reached.
“I try to put a lot of energy on the pitch,” Procida said of his style of play. “Play with athletics, make the right decision for my teammates. Take lots of shots (screens). Lots of pull-ups, lots of athletics on the edge.”
Travers, 20, has played three seasons for his hometown Perth Wildcats in Australia’s NBL. He spent his first two seasons as a development player before being promoted to a full-fledged role last season.
Travers averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season before deciding to come to America to pursue his NBA dreams. Admittedly, his jump shot is still a work in progress, but he sees himself poised to grow into a 3D role.
“Unique, versatile,” Travers said of his game. “I like to do a little bit of everything, whether it’s defensive or offensive. I think it’s just a unique kind of style. A bit gritty too.”
The NBL has produced a range of NBA players over the years, from Americans like LaMelo Ball, who chose to spend a year in the league rather than going to college, to homegrown products like Josh Giddey. Other NBA veterans like Andrew Bogut have returned to the NBL for the final years of their careers.
Playing against this competition has given Travers toughness at a young age, something he hopes will show during the preliminary design process. Wednesday was his seventh team training session since coming over from Australia last month.
“I’m going to play harder than everyone else,” Travers vowed. “I think that just comes from Australian basketball. Just gritty. I will surpass the opponent.”
Jackson, Jeffries offer athletics in the backcourt
The last two prospects at Wednesday’s practice were Texas A&M guard Quenton Jackson and Wyoming’s Drake Jeffries.
The two players had fairly similar journeys, as neither started college at the Division I level.
Jackson attended junior college after failing to qualify academically for college after high school, but his hard work on the court and in the classroom over two seasons at the College of Central Florida enabled him to earn a 2019 scholarship to Texas A& to get M.
The 6-4 Jackson played a variety of roles for coach Buzz Williams over his three seasons with the Aggies, playing four positions and playing both off and off the bench.
Jackson only started 15 of 40 games last season, but he still made a significant contribution, leading Texas A&M in scoring (14.8 points per game) and steals (1.8). He helped the Aggies close out the year in runs to the finals of both the SEC tournament and the NIT, averaging 15.6 points and 2 steals per game over that span.
After his initial struggles getting into college, Jackson also earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M and was pursuing a degree last year.
“Everything that happened at Texas A&M towards the end of this season was not only great for me, it was great for my team, great for Texas A&M as a school,” Jackson said. “I was just trying to ride that wave all the time and make a difference for myself.”
Jeffries spent two seasons at Division II Minot State and an additional year at Indian Hills Community College before enrolling in Wyoming in 2020. The 6-5 guard established himself as the 3-point specialist for the Cowboys, shooting 39.4 percent from beyond the arc over the past two seasons and 40.9 percent last season on nearly seven attempts per game.
He set a school and conference record by winning 11-17 from a 3-point range in a win over Hastings College on November 26.
Jeffries lived outside the Arc in Wyoming. Remarkably, only 16 of his 246 shots landed within the 3-point line last season.
Still, Jeffries believes he can be more than just a next-level shooter. He has a 40-inch vertical and has learned to use that athleticism more defensively.
Jeffries joins the draft hoping to pass on some of the lessons he learned in Wyoming.
“Every day you have to go in like it’s your last and you have to have that advantage, that chip on your shoulder,” he said. “I think that’s something that we all kind of had that led us to 25 wins and a free offer at the NCAA tournament.”