A number of NBA mock drafts following the lottery tabbed the Phoenix Suns to select Zach LaVine. Is he a possibility?
The UCLA Bruins product is the latest player who used what’s believed to be a relatively insignificant draft combine to push his way toward the lottery. LaVine labels himself a point guard, but he measures out like a lanky and long shooting guard. Like former UCLA combo guard Russell Westbrook, his freshman season was spent mostly off the bench, where at the beginning of the season he found great success. He finished averaging nine points, three rebounds and two assists per game and in flashes under coach Steve Alford displayed freakish leaping ability, a silky jumper that saw him shoot 38 percent from three and natural play-making skills.
While LaVine calls himself a point guard, he largely played off the ball at UCLA and even then struggled with his decision-making. He didn’t have a feel for the flow of the game, sometimes taking bad shots and other times making questionable plays trying to set up teammates. LaVine’s lack of experience — and playing time — might make NBA teams wonder if there are too many question marks about his game, as he didn’t produce enough lengthy game tape sans a double-overtime game against Oregon in Pac-12 play where UCLA’s starters in Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson were suspended.
It’s hard to grasp how NBA scouts view LaVine. Clearly, he wouldn’t be a borderline lottery pick if they didn’t think he had great upside, but he left UCLA with his family taking subtle shots at Alford for refusing to play him at point guard — Alford took a lot of heat for playing his own son there, some of which was warranted and some of which wasn’t. LaVine’s 181 pound frame is a concern in the short-term but his potential as anything more than an athletic, J.R. Smith-type gunner will have to be considered relative to other players on the board.
How he would fit with the Suns
The question will be brought up quite a bit in a draft where the wing talent is greater than the big talent: Why would the Suns draft Zach LaVine? That’s fair because Ryan McDonough has noted he doesn’t like doubling up young players at certain positions, and doubling up at combo guard could stunt both LaVine and Archie Goodwin’s growth.
But Phoenix could draft a point guard as insurance for either of Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe leaving in the next 14 months, making enough room for both Goodwin and LaVine. With the D-League affiliation in Bakersfield, the Suns could stash LaVine for the season and make him learn how to run the point. The question there is if the Suns would want to draft a first-round pick who would be paid a first-round guaranteed deal to spend most of his time as a rookie in the D-League, thereby cutting into the salary cap.
Down the road, LaVine could work his way onto a roster that could look quite different. For now, he’s a project the Suns might be willing to take a chance on considering their guard rotation seems to be in fine shape.