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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