Zach LaVine, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, UCLA
2013-14 stats: 9.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG .441 FG%, .375 3P%
The ultimate upside prospect, LaVine experienced a stretch of play during his lone college season that sufficiently intrigued NBA personnel to justify him entering the draft. Conversely, the youngster came off the bench for the Bruins and also dealt with severe inconsistency, with his physical development, position and decision-making ability all under heavy scrutiny. Nevertheless, LaVine’s physical tools and potential can’t be ignored, and given his explosiveness, scoring instincts and overall talent level, he’s one of the more intriguing players on the board.
Career highlights: LaVine came off the bench for UCLA, averaging 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24.4 minutes per game, while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. His stats don’t tell the whole story, as LaVine got off to a blazing start to the campaign, scoring double figures in nine out of his first 10 contests, then struggled with both minutes and production in the remainder of the season. Still, the Seattle-area native had several impressive outings, including a career-high 21-point game against Nevada and an 18-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance against Oregon, which helped him make the Pac-12’s all-freshman team.
Strengths: When it comes to explosiveness, few in the draft can match LaVine, as evidenced by not only the viral video of his vertical jump during a workout for the Lakers, but the athleticism he displayed in transition and when slashing to the basket during the season. Equipped with great size and length for either backcourt position, LaVine believes he’s a point guard on the next level and while his decision-making and feel have to improve, his handle and quickness are intriguing. Where he already has a niche is as an instant-offense scorer, as LaVine has the ability to create his own shot, finish at the rim and knock down shots from deep range.
Weaknesses: Adding strength will be vital for LaVine’s success, as his frame isn’t presently equipped for the rigors of the more physical professional ranks, putting him at a disadvantage at both ends of the floor. Shot selection, understanding of the game and simply gaining experience are also crucial to his development, as is learning how to contribute in short minutes and when he doesn’t have a major offensive role. On the defensive end, given his physical tools, it’s a matter of both technique and effort for LaVine, as he didn’t display much of a desire to be engaged on that side of the ball while in college.
Draft projection: Due to his youth and upside, LaVine has been soaring up the draft boards and being well suited to the workout process, he could be selected anywhere from the late lottery to the mid-teens. LaVine should be brought along slowly and the early stages of his career should be regarded as more about his development than production, as he defines his game and position, finds his niche in the league and gets stronger physically. Down the road, however, he has the potential to utilize his instinctive scoring, great size and explosiveness to join the NBA’s current crop of big, athletic guards with the ability to put points on the board in a hurry.