The NBA playoffs may be in full swing, but scouts and GM’s are already filling out their draft boards and keeping an eye on the next big thing. Zach LaVine, the 6’6” combo guard from UCLA showcased his impressive hops and athletic ability recently during an NBA draft workout, throwing down a series of windmill jams. While his athleticism is as impressive as just about anyone entering this year’s draft, his crazy hops alone will not be enough for him to make it in the NBA.
There is no questioning LaVine’s potential, however, his inability to adjust to a specific role within a team system could be the downfall for the probable first round pick. While a member of the Bruins, LaVine made a name for himself early in the 2013-14 college hoops season, knocking down an impressive 42 of his first 93 three-point attempts. Immediately, he impressed scouts and GM’s with his long range shots, and ability to get out in the open and finish with highlight reel dunks. During the first month of the season, he looked raw, with many holes in his game, but still managed to put up 14.2 ppg. He was on a roll, and looked to stand out with some of the best of the best in the Pac 12.
Following the first month of the season, things went south for the freshman guard, as he became dissatisfied with his role under head coach, Steve Alford, and money signs and visions of the NBA must have been swirling in his head. Along with Zach’s belief that he should have been one of the primary ball handlers for the Bruins, his father, Paul LaVine also voiced frustrations with Alford. Clearly unhappy with his role, LaVine’s self-worth appeared to skyrocket high into a non-existent galaxy, while his overall numbers plummeted. His high-flying dunks and impressive hops may have landed him on a series of extended highlight reels, however, the true story should have been his numbers, and his lack of progress.
In the last 18 games of the season, LaVine failed to register double-digit figures in 14 of them. In the last five games of the season, including UCLA’s run to the Sweet 16, he managed just 11 points on 4-19 attempts. He disappeared, and failed to work himself into a team system, and instead chose to show his true colors when his team needed him the most. He ended the season averaging 9.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.8 assists, and shot 44.1 percent from the field.
Currently, he is a possible first round pick, but to say that his skills at this moment are undeveloped would be one of the great understatements of this NBA draft season. His decision making is poor, his ball-handling is still weak, he does not finish well after contact, and he already shows signs of being unable to adapt, or take any type of constructive criticism from coaches. In no way is Zach LaVine NBA ready at this time, and it is unfortunate that even his own family recognizes this, yet is not willing to let him develop further in college. Show me the money now, or get out of the way seems to be their philosophy. He might have killer hops and can throw it down with some of the best in college basketball, but the NBA requires more than a slam dunk champion to have a successful career. Once again, players and family members are seeing money signs and are looking to get rich quick, instead of taking their time to let skills develop. Chances are, the LaVine’s may have a rude awakening when Zach ends of riding the pine in the D-League, when he could have been improving his game for the Bruins.
Commentary by Johnny Caito