Is a confident combo guard with athleticism for days and a funny-looking shot a good fit for the Suns in the first round? Bro, do you even McDonough?
School: University of California - Los Angeles
Position: Shooting Guard
Data courtesy of Draft Express
- Height: 6'4" without shoes, 6'5.75" in shoes
- Weight: 181 pounds
- Wingspan: 6'8.25"
- Standing Reach: 8'4"
- Max Vertical Leap: 41.5"
- Lane Agility: 10.42 seconds
- 3/4 Court Sprint: 3.19 seconds
- Shuttle Drill: 2.8 seconds
Zach Lavine was arguably the most athletically gifted prospect at the NBA Draft Combine. He posted the best time in the lane agility drill, the 2nd best time in the shuttle run, the 3rd highest maximum vertical leap and 9th best 3/4 court sprint. There is no doubt he has the physical tools to run the court in the National Basketball League.
In college, that athleticism translated into a strong transition game. His speed makes him an effective leaker on fast breaks and his leaping ability allows him to finish well above the rim for a player his size.
All that speed and verticality comes with a price however. At 19, LaVine is still growing. All that punch is packed into a slight frame that will undoubtedly take loads of abuse among the grown-ass men of the NBA.
LaVine has an odd but effective shooting stroke. It reminds me of Shawn Marion in that it looks somewhat broken, yet LaVine's balls find the bucket (Phrasing!). He was a 49.4% 2-point shooter and 37.5% 3-point shooter in his only year at UCLA. His 3-point accuracy definitely has some question marks to it as he started the season blazing hot, but only made 6 of his last 31 3-point attempts. He's demonstrated great range, but will the real Zach LaVine please stand up?
His free throw shooting leaves a lot to be desired, as 69.1% is low for a guard, which is mitigated by the fact that he only got to the line 1.8 times per game. However, that is also low for a guard of his skillset. Perhaps due to his slight frame, perhaps due a lack of aggression, LaVine avoids contact like the plague. Goran Dragi? plays in a similar fashion, but even the Dragon doesn't have the hops or height of LaVine. One hopes that as he grows into his 6'5" frame, he also starts drawing some and-1s.
If any of these shooting numbers strike you as red flags, remember that Jeff Hornacek is a shooting wizard and one of the most fixable aspects of a young player's game.
Point Guard Skills
LaVine played the vast majority of his minutes at shooting guard in college, but insists he is a point guard. At the NBA Draft Combine, he worked out with the point guards. In fact, once he got to the combine, he wasn't too shy about airing his frustrations with his usage at UCLA. So what do we know so far about the man would be a 1 in the NBA?
LaVine has a great handle and is capable of using his speed to take his man off the dribble. He did not do a lot of passing in college, averaging a meager 1.8 assists per game. Knowing that, it makes is 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio a lot more palatable.
Unsurprisingly for such a young prospect, his decision-making leaves a little bit to be desired. He has the physical tools to be a nightmare on defense, but was not known for his prowess on that end of the floor. Despite fast hands and excellent lateral movement, he only averaged .9 steals per game.
Similarly, he has yet to display the passing acumen required of an NBA point guard. He was also prone to jacking up ill-advised shots and occasionally setting for long 2s. He described his college role as a "J.R. Smith type... a spark plug coming off the bench to provide instant offense" and he seems to have embraced that role a little too fully.
All this said, it's important to remember he will do a lot of maturing between now and when he finds himself in an NBA rotation. None of these flaws threaten to derail his fast track to the first round.
Overview and Fit in Phoenix
While not yet a physical specimen per se, Zach LaVine is definitely a physical wonder. He oozes the kind of upside that make general managers want to reach for and mold. And at the tender age of 19, he is definitely moldable. Furthermore, if you watch his interviews, he is saying all the right things and appears to be very coachable. Despite putting his college coach on blast, it's clear he played the game he was asked to play at UCLA and there's no reason to think he won't make the same effort at the next level.
That coachability will be key because oozing upside generally is synonymous with oozing rawness. Despite his shooting efficacy in the Pac-12, that stroke is U-G-L-Y. Also, if he aspires to being more than J.R. Smith (and he definitely does, repeatedly mentioning that he wants his game to combine the best aspects of Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and Jamal Crawford), he will need to become at least a competent defender and an above average passer.
Rajon Rondo and Archie Goodwin were both raw guards with incredible athleticism and less than incredible shooting strokes. They were also both Ryan McDonough draft picks. Will Zach LaVine join those two as the Phoenix Suns' general manager plans his second draft in Phoenix? He certainly has a type.
With a pair of athletically gifted combo guards already manning the 1 and 2 in Phoenix and whippersnapper Archie Goodwin waiting in the wings, I think LaVine's chances of landing in Phoenix are unlikely. After the Suns' success last season, it stands to reason that another project on the roster might be asking for more patience than this team has right now.
There is no doubt that Zach LaVine is hot prospect who, with the right mentoring and development, could end up being an elite NBA scorer a la Monta Ellis. He could very well be off the board by the time the Suns pick at 14 but might be a nice get at 18. If the Suns do draft him, I have a feeling he'll spend a lot more time in Bakersfield than he does in Phoenix.