Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t cause a stir when he took his seat at the back of press row an hour before tip-off Tuesday night at Xfinity Center. It was Kupchak’s first trip back to the Maryland campus since his days as a Washington Bullet playing summer pickup games at Cole Field House.
Yet Kupchak’s presence for No. 7 Maryland’s matchup against Northwestern was an indication of his interest in at least one of the game’s participants. Given where the Lakers might be picking in the 2016 NBA draft, it’s clear that he didn’t fly more than 3,000 miles to scout Wildcats center Alex Olah.
Considering how little Maryland freshman Diamond Stone was on the floor for Maryland’s 62-56 overtime win -- a total of 15 minutes -- Kupchak might have to come back. Considering what Stone did in the overtime, making a three-point play and hitting all three of his free throws -- it might have been enough.
But Stone also showed some of his deficiencies. He didn’t grab a single rebound, and committed two of his first three fouls more than 30 feet from the basket trying to switch on ball screens. Except for the overtime period, it was Stone’s least impressive effort in more than a month -- largely because of the fouls.
Two others that might have attracted Kupchak’s interest, sophomore point guard Melo Trimble and junior forward Robert Carter Jr., both showed positives and negatives. Trimble helped win the game with his passing in overtime, but missed all but one of his six 3-pointers. Carter had 14 rebounds, but also five of Maryland’s 16 turnovers.
Considering where the Lakers expect to draft in the first round, it seems unlikely that any Maryland player aside from Stone will merit that type of consideration.
Currently, the Lakers have the second-worst record in the NBA (9-34) and when the pingpong balls stop moving during the nationally televised draft lottery in May, they will need to have one of the first three picks to hold onto their pick as a part of the 2012 trade for Steve Nash. Otherwise, they must surrender their first-rounder to the Philadelphia 76ers.
As of now, the Lakers have a 55.8 percent chance of staying in the top 3: 19.9 percent chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick (assumed to be LSU forward Ben Simmons), 18.8 percent of selecting second (assumed to be Duke wing Brandon Ingram) and 17.1 percent of going third.
Stone is being mentioned again as a potential lottery pick after his stock dropped last summer. DraftExpress.com had Stone listed at No. 11 last week. On Dec. 18, ESPN had the 6-foot-11, 255-pound freshman at No. 13 overall and the third center behind Utah’s Jakob Poeltl and Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere.
There seems to be some debate about that third pick, given Labissiere’s struggles so far in Lexington, Ky. A number of other freshmen have been mentioned ahead of Stone – Cal’s duo of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in particular – but what the Maryland big man has done in Big Ten Conference games is certainly drawing notice.
Despite coming off the bench as he has done for all but one of the past 12 games, Stone’s impressive numbers in the Big Ten (17.6 points, 6.6 rebounds per game in the first seven contests) have him in the running for the league’s Freshman of the Year and possibly on one of its first two all-league teams.
On an ESPN teleconference to promote Saturday’s College GameDay appearance in East Lansing, Mich. Before the Maryland-Michigan State game, analyst Seth Greenberg said he thinks Stone’s game translates to the NBA despite back-to-the-basket centers “not out of vogue” in a league going to smaller lineups.
“Diamond Stone’s going to make himself a lot of money because he can carve out a space,” Greenberg said Wednesday. “There’s not a lot of guys that are built for that position like [Jahlil] Okafor or Stone or Tyler Davis from Texas A&M are. … If you can do one thing really well, it can be really good and it can really help your team.”
Another performance such as the one he had against Penn State (39 points, 12 rebounds, two blocked shots) or more like the one against Michigan (22 points, 11 rebounds) will keep moving Stone up the draft board.
Another performance such as the one he gave Tuesday -- save for the overtime -- and Kupchak might be coming back.
Maybe even next season.