Diamond Stone stood about 18 feet from the basket and, without moving, swished four straight shots.
He was one of the only Clippers working out before practice and, despite his 6-foot-11 frame and reputation as a back-to-the-basket scorer, was going nowhere near the paint. A smile crept at the sides of his mouth as his jumpers poured through the rim. He slowly gravitated to behind the right elbow for more of the same.
Swish. Swish. Swish.
“I think they all would be really surprised,” Stone said. “The people who saw me in college, they don’t really know that I can shoot and do all these things. But I can.”
Stone was tethered to the low post in his one season at Maryland, giving him the reputation of being a bruising big man: Drop steps, dunks and jump hooks. But the 19-year-old rookie has displayed much versatility since joining the Clippers. The second-round pick regularly wins shooting games in practice. During training camp, Coach Doc Rivers likened him to first-round pick Brice Johnson, who is known for his athleticism and midrange game.
None of this means Stone will get regular minutes this season, as he is still a teenager on a roster of veteran stretch forwards. Stone has the opportunity to stay on an accelerated track while shaking the labels that have been placed on him.
“I can really put the ball on the floor, I have a great touch,” Stone said. “I think this system will really be able to expose the good parts of my game.”
Unlike many NBA draft picks, Stone wasn’t tabbed as a potential professional player from a young age. He actually wasn’t even tabbed as a recreation-league starter.
When his parents searched for a trainer a decade ago, they just wanted their son to get on the court.
“He wasn’t playing, like at all,” said DeShawn Curtis, who started training Stone at 9 years old. “He was towering over his fourth-grade classmates, but he couldn’t get in games. They just wanted him to have a chance to play.”
At the time, Curtis worked full time in finance and was a part-time basketball coach. He met Stone and his father, Robert, at an outdoor court in Milwaukee in the summer. Robert put Curtis through an extensive interview, and then had Curtis show him the kind of workouts he’d do with Diamond.
Curtis, who came straight from his office, sweated through his full suit while running Diamond through a series of drills. Robert wanted his son to be developed as a low-post scorer. Curtis, looking at the kid’s long arms, agreed, but also wanted to make him well-rounded.
That was the plan when Stone started working out with Curtis four times a week. Before they got to post moves and jump shots, Curtis taught Stone how to move. Curtis noticed that Stone dragged his feet when he ran, so he put a series of hurdles on the side of the court.
Whenever Stone started to slow down, Curtis blew the whistle and told him to start jumping.
“For about two months all he did was go over those hurdles,” Curtis said. “He really didn’t like coming to work out with me, I can tell you that.”
It slowly worked, and Stone’s conditioning was eventually paired with attractive inside-out skills. He committed to Maryland as the second-best center in the 2015 recruiting class, and was immediately put in the paint when he got there.
The Terrapins were loaded with shooters, including two perimeter power forwards in Jake Layman and Robert Carter Jr. That narrowed Stone’s role to one of a traditional center, but didn’t stop him from working on the other parts of his game.
“I always made sure to get shots up, to go off the dribble, all of those things,” Stone said. “It would usually be before practice, or late after practice, but that was something I focused on because I knew I’d need those tools at the next level.”
The Clippers’ power forward group is full of floor spacers. Blake Griffin is continuing to expand his range beyond the three-point line. Veterans Brandon Bass and Marreese Speights have built careers on their midrange jumpers. Rivers has even said Paul Pierce could play the position in small lineups.
But Stone’s foresight was still correct. If he is to earn minutes, it will be with his soft shooting touch, physical defense and an unforeseen passing ability.
“Sometimes you actually have to give the guy the ball to make a pass to find out if he can actually pass,” Rivers said. “He didn’t do any passing in college because he wasn’t in that position. Now we’re putting him in a pass position and what we’ve found is he’s got passing instincts better than half the veterans.”
After working his way around the arc before practice, Stone started a one-on-one drill with Pierce.
Pierce, the 18-year veteran who plans to retire after this season, frequently works with Stone. They went at it on the wing, banging into each other in games up to three points.
“That’s not his range! That’s not his range!” Pierce barked, pulling at Stone’s hair, as the rookie set up just inside the three-point line. “I’m telling you, that’s not his range!”
He leaned his body into Pierce, took one step back and knocked down a 20-foot jump shot. Pierce looked at Stone, then at the basket, then back at Stone. Having heard those words before, Stone smirked before calling for the ball again.
“Wow,” Pierce said, lowering his voice to a near whisper. “Damn, this kid really can shoot.”