This is the 21st in a daily look at the top prospects in the NBA Draft: Their strengths, their weaknesses, and whether or not they're a fit for the Celtics. Today's prospect: Zack LaVine.
ZACK LaVINE, UCLA
6-foot-6, 181 pounds
HIS STORY: Zach LaVine epitomizes what the NBA draft is now about: potential and athleticism. In his one season at UCLA, he was not a starter. He came off the bench, playing only 24.4 minutes per game while averaging 9.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. Now, he wasn’t the run-of-the-mill sub; he could provide a monster spark with his ability to get out in transition and electrify the crowd with highlight-reel dunks. Despite Steve Alford not playing LaVine a lot on an eventual NCAA Sweet 16 team (which had other future pros on the roster, notably Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams), his draft stock continued to rise.
HIS STRENGTHS: Besides Andrew Wiggins, LaVine is the best athlete in this draft. At times it looks like his 6-foot-6 frame isn’t going to stop rising (41” standing vertical, 46” running vertical at recent Lakers workout). He glides through the air but also across the court with his gazelle-like strides in transition. He has a good wingspan at 6-foot-8 and great lateral quickness on the defensive end. In addition to his physical tools, he is a good slasher to the rim. He’s explosive off the catch or the bounce to get by defenders. Last year, he displayed a serviceable jumper from 3-point range at 37.5 percent.
HIS WEAKNESSES: He’s just so raw. Athletically he’s a pro, but from a skill, physical maturity, and basketball IQ perspective, he’s a freshman in college who needs another year (or two, for that matter) in school. While his stand-still jump shot is okay, everything else in his offensive skill set needs work. He doesn't handle the ball well or have moves off the dribble to create for himself or his teammates at the NBA level. Some people who evaluate him think he can play as a combo shooting/point guard, but there's no chance he can do that now. To play as a PG, his handle needs to be much tighter and he has to learn to make much better decisions with the ball. His slight frame seems like he can add muscle mass and not lose athleticism, and he’ll need to do that. Last year he struggled to finish at the rim or play through contact. He’ll need to build muscle and learn to play stronger on both ends in the NBA. Lastly, while he’s got all the tools to be a great defender and rebounder, he doesn't make a consistent enough effort -- he averaged only 2.5 rebounds per game last year -- to make a difference in those areas.
IS HE A FIT FOR THE CELTICS? He’s the definition of a project, and the Celtics are not in position to wait for a player with big upside to develop. General managers are enamored with his athleticism and upside, but every aspect of his game needs significant development and it'll take three-to-five years for him to become an impact guy. He could eventually be a very high level player but the Celtics need impact guys now . . . and those types of players are in this draft. But the draft has become about potential and athleticism, and because of that I think LaVine will be taken after the Celtics 6th pick but before their 17th.
COMING ON TUESDAY: Gary Harris of Michigan State