- Measurables: 6-foot-5, 180 lbs, freshman point guard from UCLA
- Key Stats: 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 turnovers per game, 44 FG%, 37 3pt% and 69 FT%
- Projected: Top 15-20
Matters to No One But Me …
I watch college basketball because I am way too into basketball, basically. But my dislike the NCAA coupled with my dislike the college game in general — it’s officiated terribly inconsistently, teams run awful iso systems that choke the life out of the ball and the way the game is played is set up to limit the impact of the most athletic, physically gifted players on the court by allowing teams to play gimmicky defenses, double and triple team players without the ball, pack guys in the lane and never move them and just generally make the beautiful sport into a brutish cluster. OK, rant over. That’s basically my way of saying I watch college basketball with some self-hatred for supporting a product I’m not a huge fan of.
Anyway, that’s some context for why I am a big Zach LaVine fan. From Yahoo!’s Jeff Eisenberg:
Paul LaVine told the Los Angeles Daily News late Thursday night that his son will declare for the NBA draft because the family thinks LaVine will be a first-round pick and because they aren’t happy with how UCLA has used him. UCLA coach Steve Alford has played LaVine almost exclusively off ball, handing the starting point guard job to all-conference Kyle Anderson and giving backup responsibilities to his son, Bryce Alford.
Love that. “Oh, you’re not going to play me and let me develop where I’m most comfortable while you find minutes for your son? OK, well I will just go to the NBA and get paid then. We’re done here.”
I also loved that the immediate reaction to LaVine leaving from NCAA media was, “He’s not ready for the NBA!” (see Eisenberg’s analysis in the link above), but the immediate reaction from Chad Ford, for example, was, “he’s a top 15 player in this draft!“
Fits with the Pistons because …
The last time UCLA had a prospect entering the draft who was super athletic and whose NBA position was somewhat of a question, things worked out pretty well for Russell Westbrook. LaVine doesn’t have Westbrook’s massive build, but he can jump out of the gym and finish like Westbrook, and he has the added bonus of having a better 3-point shooting touch.
He was right to want to play more point guard at UCLA. If he can learn to play the position, at his size, with his athleticism, that significantly enhances his NBA value as he’d be among a select few PGs in the league with those physical tools. If he turns out to be more of a shooting guard, his size and athleticism are a bit more average among NBA wings. That’s why the Pistons tried so hard for many years to make Rodney Stuckey into a full-time point guard. Obviously that didn’t work out as intended, but the thinking behind attempting to make him learn the position was sound.
The Pistons still need a point guard and they also need shooting. I’m not convinced LaVine can come in and be a full-time point guard from day one, but his shooting would be enough to earn him minutes on a team like the Pistons, his athleticism would be a fun addition to the lineup and his passing ability would certainly be enhanced by the fact that the Pistons have strong finishers like Andre Drummond and Josh Smith on the roster and good cutters like Drummond, Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko. LaVine is likely a project, but at the back of the lottery where the most likely prospects available are bigs like Noah Vonleh or Aaron Gordon, where guards like Gary Harris or Nik Stauskas might be a bit of a reach, taking a high upside player like LaVine who could pay off with Westbrook-like improvements is an intriguing option.
LaVine’s long arms and quickness also make him an intriguing perimeter defender. He could create a lot of steals and bother a lot of shots against opposing guards, which would be a major upgrade over the Brandon Jennings/Will Bynum combination, which might be the worst defensive point guard duo ever assembled.
Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …
If Tom Gores continues his “win right now here’s all my money spend it on whoever” mantra, taking a project like LaVine over a player who more immediately addresses Detroit’s deficiencies on the wing and shooting the ball is probably not preferable. LaVine also struggled down the stretch of the season, either out of frustrations with his diminishing role or possibly just fatigue (he is young, after all). He also needs to add strength.
The biggest issue is that, as mentioned above, the Pistons already know what happens when you take a prospect with insane physical tools but no real defined position and said player doesn’t turn into Russell Westbrook. Not that Stuckey is a useless player by any stretch, but the Pistons need production. Stuckey is a free agent, Chauncey Billups looks like the end is near, Peyton Siva hasn’t shown in a late season audition that he can be counted on as a rotation player, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn’t been a major contributor and Kyle Singler playing any minutes at shooting guard for a third straight season is something no one, Singler included probably, wants to see. If LaVine needs time to develop, that’s completely fine, but it also might put him off the Pistons’ radar as they search for more immediate contributions.
From the Experts
LaVine is still a controversial prospect. Some NBA GMs and scouts love him, thanks to his upside (he’s an explosive athlete with good size for his position who can really shoot the rock). Others point to his frail body, poor shot selection and inconsistent play in Pac-12 competition as they question how ready he is for the NBA. He’s not. But that hasn’t stopped teams in the past from drafting players almost exclusively on upside. His draft stock is all over the place, but I continue to hear that teams in the late lottery are looking at him hard.
The appeal around LaVine revolves heavily around his tremendous athleticism, as he’s one of the most explosive open court dunkers in college basketball. He’s an amazing leaper off one foot, and also possesses a dynamic first step and great quickness in the open floor. LaVine will likely test about as well as any player athletically at the NBA Combine, which undoubtedly gives him significant potential to continue to improve as his career moves on.
LaVine is also an impressive shot-maker, sporting unorthodox mechanics but looking very confident in his shooting stroke, be it with his feet set, pulling up off the dribble, or even coming off screens. The ball comes out of his hand very smoothly and he has deep range and a quick release on his jumper. LaVine started off the season in very impressive fashion, making 42 of his 97 3-point attempts (43%) in the first three and a half months, but then tallied off quite a bit in his final month in college, making just 6 of his last 31 attempts (19%), which brought down his season percentage to a still decent 37.5%.