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Zach LaVine Ready For The Leap To The NBA

Zach LaVine may have played limited minutes at UCLA, but his pre-draft showing could vault him up draft boards.

Jabari Davis

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Although not as celebrated as the NFL’s annual draft combine, last week’s 2014 NBA combine was a great opportunity for scouts and executives to measure and compare some of the draft’s top prospects (those that bother to even attend) against one another. Also like the NFL, while some of the presumed top names make appearances and are available in at least a limited capacity, the event provides the perfect platform for players like UCLA’s Zach LaVine to either elevate their draft stock and place themselves on the radar of executives that may not have otherwise been considering going in his direction.

“I don’t get nervous,” LaVine said at the combine. “I’m very confident about my talents. I’m a competitor. I’m not scared of competition.”

After just one season of playing with a talented group at UCLA, LaVine could certainly use the additional spotlight. Many analysts were somewhat surprised by his decision to enter the draft after just his freshman season, but LaVine absolutely beams with the type of self-assuredness that can’t necessarily be coached or developed at this point.

“I’ve been taking interviews from my dad in the car when I was young to be prepared for this day,” LaVine said. “So I feel like I am fully prepared for interviews. I’m not camera or media shy or anything like that – so I feel like I’m very well-prepared… My dad would give me a lot of different questions to see how I would answer them, and then correct me on them.”

When your father is preparing you for pre-draft interview questions at the age of six, it’s no wonder LaVine feels ready for the challenge of competing at the highest level of basketball.

While we may hear of some of these young prospects along the way, especially in an age where every phenom seems to have multiple Vine highlight reels and YouTube mixtapes, as fans and consumers we don’t always get a true sense of just how long of a journey it has been for these players.

Not that LaVine didn’t show flashes of brilliance in his lone freshman campaign, as the supremely athletic combo guard had several head-turning performances before trailing off down the stretch. Just the same, scouts and executives couldn’t possibly be faulted for any hesitance when LaVine tapered off so mightily that he struggled to score just 11 total points over the final five games. Having split time (24.4 MPG) and responsibilities in a crowded backcourt with the Bruins, he also needed to find a way to distance himself from the rest of the pack, and he certainly did. Not only did he post the fastest overall lane agility time (10.42 seconds), but he grabbed some attention after posting the third-highest leap on the max vertical (41.5 inches).

“I’m comfortable with everything,” LaVine said. “If [a coach] wants me to go out there and get the offense ready – drive and kick – get other dudes involved. If [a coach] wants me to come off the pick-and-roll, and look to take the big guy and get him a mismatch or something like that. Or even if he just wants me to be a straight [point] or [shooting] guard, I’ll do that. I’ll do whatever a coach needs me to do, to the best of my ability… I’m selling myself as a player. We’re all players out here.”

At just about 6’6 in shoes, LaVine has both the size and athleticism to play either backcourt position, and makes it clear that he’s up for whatever challenge is placed before him. He shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc and possesses NBA range. In playing the role of a scorer off the bench for much of his time at UCLA, the question remains whether LaVine possesses the ball-handling and playmaking ability to face the level of competition he’ll square off against on a nightly basis at the next level.

The positive combine results may have moved his name up a few lists, but LaVine’s work between now and draft night on June 26 is far from done. He now has the opportunity to truly establish himself during the pre-draft workout process. Having reportedly met with the Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors (among others) with several to come, it is clear there are plenty of teams within that range that at least have an interest in LaVine.

As you can see from our latest Consensus Mock Draft, many analysts currently have LaVine slated to go somewhere throughout the 20s in the upcoming draft, but his stock could conceivably even rise into the teens (or beyond) with a positive showing in the workouts.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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