This year’s draft class is one of the best in recent memory not only due to the superior talent at the top, but the amount of quality depth. There is no doubt that there will be multiple players drafted outside the top 14 selections in this year’s NBA Draft who will have an impact in the league next season.
UCLA guard Zach LaVine has been rising and falling on draft boards throughout his entire freshman year with the Bruins. He has elite size and athleticism (6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan) at the point guard position and has some scouts and general mangers drooling over this young potential star. With his outstanding showing at the draft combine, in which he finished in the top five of every category among guards, he has positioned himself to be a late lottery pick. Along with his elite athleticism, he also has a sweet stroke from three-point range, a skill that could have him seeing the court early on in his NBA career.
Although there are many things to love about this kid, some scouts question if he is ready for the NBA level of play. He was inconsistent throughout conference play and had a tendency to take bad/contested shots in traffic. His minuscule performance in the NCAA tournament also sent up some red flags (three games, eight points in 57 minutes).
He is only 19 years old and has a rail-thin like body to go along with it. It’s highly plausible it could take him a season or two to build the strength necessary to be productive in the NBA. Heck, even players with the size like Anthony Davis admitted it took a season for him to build himself up and become comfortable with the physicality of the League.
LaVine would be a natural fit with the Chicago Bulls as a combo guard. He is long and athletic; two things that are important for a defensive minded team like the Bulls. More importantly to the Bulls, however, is his ability to knock down shots from behind the arc.
The Bulls attempted 17.8 three-pointers per game last season, ranking them 27th in attempts. In a league where the three-point shot has become so vital to a team’s success, the Bulls need additional knock down shooters to help spread the defense out. With Derrick Rose coming back healthy (and hopefully staying that way), the more spacing that shooters can give him to drive the lane, the more effective Rose can be.
To me, LaVine looks a lot like New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. A player who can come in off the bench in his first season with a team, and make an impact shooting the basketball. Yes, LaVine wants to be a point guard and he will get that opportunity down the road, but his ability to shoot the ball will take precedent in determining how much playing time he gets next season.
The best scenario for LaVine is that he’s drafted by a team that has an established backcourt in place, in which he can mature both mentally and physically in his first year in the league.
In his one season at UCLA, that saw him primarily come off the bench, LaVine averaged 9.4 points per game and shot 37.5 percent from behind the arc. He’s certainly part of the new generation of point guards with a score first mentality, but he will need time to adjust and improve his game to be productive at the next level.