After a meteoric rise from fringe first-round prospect all the way to the lottery, Zach LaVine is headed to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota selected him with the No. 13 overall selection in Thursday night's first round, a pick that has perhaps the highest risk-reward quotient of the entire draft.
LaVine, 19, slogged through just one up-and-down season at UCLA. He averaged 9.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game on 44.1 percent shooting from the field, spending most of the campaign as the Bruins' sixth man. Expected by many to return for his sophomore season to improve his draft stock, LaVine shocked some by forgoing his final three years of eligibility.
The draft process proved LaVine correct.
A tantalizing combination of size, athleticism and shooting ability, LaVine is the type of player built to excel in the draft process. He measured nearly 6'6" in shoes—well above-average for a player many consider a combo guard—and had a maximum vertical leap of 41.5 inches, tied for the third highest among players at the combine.
LaVine also wowed scouts by turning in the fastest lane agility drill by more than 0.3 of a second and finishing near the top in both the shuttle run and three-quarter court sprint. Andrew Wiggins is arguably the only player who can match up with LaVine aesthetically in this class.
More critically, LaVine also impressed in shooting drills. He knocked down 14 of his 25 shots from NBA three-point range, flashed a surprising consistency off the dribble and was among the best all-around performers of the day.
Those solid shooting splits jibed with what shows up on film. LaVine has a fundamentally sound shooting stroke that lacks any noticeable hitches, and he gets good lift from his legs when shooting over outstretched arms. In many ways, he hearkens memories of Bradley Beal. The Wizards guard had a gorgeous fundamental stroke but was only a 33.9 percent three-point shooter his one season at Florida.
LaVine was more consistent as a shooter, hitting 36.9 percent of his jumpers, including a 37.5 percent clip from beyond the arc. Projecting forward, there is little reason to think LaVine won't wind up near the 40 percent clip that typically denotes an elite three-point shooter.
The excitement about Zach LaVine, point guard, is a little more up in the air. His camp had him work out with the point guards in Chicago and some sites list him as a point guard first, but he'll need development time to realize that potential. He has some nifty scoring moves off the dribble and projects more as a strong secondary ball-handler.
There isn't enough film of him being a strong passer or exhibiting above-average court vision to engender faith he can have a Russell Westbrook-like change. Even if he's not billed as such, LaVine's best position out of the gate will be shooting guard.
LaVine also has a slight frame that could keep him on the bench early in his career. He'll need to add weight early or risk being bullied by even average-sized NBA shooting guards. Having just turned 19, there is plenty of reason for faith that LaVine will grow into his body, and teammates rave about his work ethic.
"He was in the gyms every single night," Bruins teammate Kyle Anderson told reporters at the combine. "He'd be down there at his hoop and I'd be down there at my hoop. He'd be in that gym every single day, every single night…I think he's going to be unguardable in about 2-3 years. He's very good now, but once the physicality part catches up with him, I think he's going to be unstoppable."
The weight issue will hurt his initial ceiling as a defender, as will his general rawness. Team defense concepts are still largely foreign. LaVine was able to make defensive plays at UCLA largely because he was just quicker and more athletic than everyone who came his way. That won't entirely translate to the next level, but LaVine could be a two-way force if the coaching staff in Minnesota gets him to buy in.
Could is the operative word. It's incredibly difficult to project forward a player like LaVine. He got less playing time as his first college season went along—not more. There are innumerable players in the past who have been seemingly placed on this planet to play basketball, only to flame out early.
LaVine might be next on that list. Or maybe he's the steal of the draft. The only thing that's clear about him is there's very little room in-between. Amid a postseason drought and the Kevin Love trade saga, LaVine is a breath of fresh air for a Minnesota fanbase desperate to get back to the playoffs.
Combine stats via NBA.com.
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