NBA Draft 2014: The UCLA Guards

The 2014 draft will be one of the best in years. There will be a lot of good stories, but the most interesting one to follow over the next decade might be the UCLA prospects and how they all turn out. There are 3 Bruins likely to be drafted, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine. Anderson is one of the most unique prospects I’ve seen and a very difficult player to rate. I’ll cover Anderson later, but here I wanted to look at the two UCLA SGs and the interesting contrast in style and scouting opinions that come with each player.

LaVine and Adams represent the polar opposite of scouting. Adams should be the darling of the analytics crowd following two seasons of efficient, productive numbers.  LaVine has become of favorite of scouts because of his athleticism, despite having posted very normal numbers. Looking at the numbers there really isn’t much comparison at this point:

UCLA SGs

2PP

3PP

P40

S40

RSB40

a/to

Jordan Adams Freshman

543

307

19.8

2.9

8.3

1.5

Jordan Adams Sophomore

551

356

22.9

3.5

10.7

1.6

Zach LaVine

494

375

15.3

1.5

5.8

1.5

 

Adams has been the much better player and it hasn’t been very close. He has scored more often and efficiently, defended better and passed about as well. While Adams also has a longer wingspan, LaVine is taller, has a vertical jump that’s a foot higher and better shooting form. The consensus at this point seems to be that Adams is looked at as a good college player with questionable athleticism and a so-so outside shot making him a risk as a draft first round pick. LaVine is a prospect who wowed ‘em at the combine and is considered a potential superstar at PG, even while it is acknowledged that he has a lot of development remaining. Here’s a look at each player.

Jordan Adams, UCLA:  I’ve written a lot about the importance of guard prospects posting strong numbers in rebounds, steals and blocks along with scoring often and efficiently from 2-point range. Here are other freshmen and sophomores who have topped .500 2PP, 20.0 P40, 10.0 RSB40 and 2.5 S40 while playing at least 800 minutes as Adams has this past year:

Prospect

2PP

3PP

P40

R40

S40

B40

A40

TO40

Michael Jordan

550

447

25.9

7.1

2.8

1.0

2.0

2.7

Dwyane Wade

505

346

24.4

9.0

3.4

1.5

4.7

4.1

Doug Christie

509

262

23.5

6.4

2.7

1.4

5.9

5.0

Tyreke Evans

514

274

22.9

7.2

2.8

1.1

5.2

4.8

Jordan Adams

551

356

22.9

7.0

3.5

0.2

3.1

2.0

 

It is a short list. It includes 2 of the 3 best SGs ever and a couple of solid players. This is good company for Adams to be in. One thing to note about the 2 lesser players, Evans and Christie, is the high numbers of turnovers, both pushing or exceeding 5 per 40 minutes. Another thing to note about Christie and Evans is both players were below .300 on 3-point attempts, unlike Jordan and Wade. Adams didn’t have either problem. In fact he’s quite the opposite as far as taking care of the ball, posting a very low TO number, so that has to be considered a positive. I broke down the RSB40 into the 3 components to show where Adams comes up way short of the other 4. Adams’ 0.2 B40 is low even among ordinary SGs. As a freshman Adams posted a more respectable, but still low 0.47 B40.

I haven’t looked real hard at a low number of blocks and SG performance. I always combined them with rebounds and steals to get an idea of how well a prospect played defense and did the big man things. Players who have posted a B40<0.5 who had successful careers include Richard Hamilton, Mitch Richmond, Kerry Kittles, Allan Houston, Ray Allen, James Harden, Reggie Miller, Arron Afflalo and JJ Redick. The flip to that is that a low B40 was posted by some of the most notorious SG busts including Bo Kimble, Harold Miner and Joe Forte. Dennis Hopson, who is probably the biggest SG bust ever posted 0.47 as a junior and 0.66 as a senior, both middling numbers. So we have evidence of both successes and failures among SGs with a low B40. The successful low B40 SGs were mostly good offense/poor defense types.

To be clear, I don’t worry about whether or not Jordan Adams will block shots at the next level. The reason this is a concern is the best SG prospects demonstrate good big man skills in college. It is this athleticism and ability to dominate that males such college players great NBA prospects. Because I’m touting Adams as a great prospect, I have to be sure there aren’t any little stats I missed that would red flag him as a likely bust. The fact that Adams comes up short in blocks might be an indication he lacks the necessary athleticism and is part of the reason he hasn’t risen in the mocks like most players with otherwise similar stats would have by this point in the process. Such a concern knocks him down a notch from the top 3 ranking I’ve had him at most of the year.

That concern being out there, I still like Adams quite a bit as a prospect. Players who do as many things as well as Adams has in his first two college seasons have always fared well as pros. The low blocks are a concern, but not enough that I wouldn’t take a chance on him in the top 10 or even higher. I see him as a potential future NBA all-star at SG and if, as the mocks currently have it, he slips into the late first round, some team is going to be very happy to draft him there.

Zach LaVine, UCLA: LaVine is the athlete of the UCLA pair. He has the type of skills that make scouts swoon, drool and gush about things like potential, upside and limitless ceilings. He’s long, athletic, has a sweet shot and can jump out of the gym. The only problem is his numbers come up way short of what is generally expected of a top prospect.

LaVine burst on the scene last fall with some great performances that were more showy than productive. Typically a freshman in his situation would come back for another season after having spent the year in relative anonymity playing behind a couple of likely first round draft picks, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. But LaVine caught the eye of several scouts and his stock catapulted into the lottery. So he’s coming out when he’s a hot commodity, which makes perfect business sense.

It isn’t uncommon for a freshman to be an unfinished player. It just isn’t anywhere near as common as it used to be. Before the one-and-done era and the straight-from-preps era that preceded it, all but the best prospects stayed in school for at least a couple of years, often longer. The list of freshmen SGs who went on to NBA success after coming in with something less than a bang is going to consist mainly of players from the 80s and 90s:

NCAA Freshmen

2PP

3PP

P40

S40

A/TO

RSB40

Michael Jordan

534

NA

17.1

1.5

1.1

7.3

Reggie Miller

509

NA

13.5

0.8

0.8

5.4

Michael Finley

484

361

16.6

1.2

1.0

8.8

Eddie Jones

517

351

17.4

3.0

1.0

10.2

Latrell Sprewell

541

417

13.6

1.6

1.2

10.0

Kerry Kittles

519

432

13.4

2.2

1.5

7.0

Gary Harris

497

411

17.6

1.8

0.9

5.5

Zach LaVine

494

375

15.3

1.5

1.6

5.8

 

I went with players who were at less than 18.0 P40. I don’t mean to imply that MJ came in as a freshman with something less than a bang. He hit the championship-clinching shot that year. I just want to show that a lot of improvement can happen after a prospect’s freshman year. The one caveat about the numbers of players other than Harris and LaVine are they haven’t been pace adjusted. Jordan’s numbers are pre-shot clock and those North Carolina teams were notorious for their 4-corners offense which could result in the ball being held for minutes at a time without a FG attempt.  For that reason it is possible and even likely that Jordan’s freshman numbers were drastically suppressed due to a slow pace. Reggie Miller is another player who needs to be mentioned. Reggie played only 384 minutes as a UCLA freshman and I usually don’t include low-minute players in these analyses. I thought it was important here though, because it shows that a freshman with low defensive numbers has succeeded. Reggie’s freshman year was 1984, which also came before the shot clock.

The main thing to take from this is that most of the players who succeeded in the NBA after low scoring freshmen years were better players as freshmen than Zach LaVine. As a group they scored more efficiently and they posted much better defensive numbers.

I included likely lottery pick Gary Harris (who I will cover in a later piece) because his numbers from last year have the same so-so efficiency and low defensive totals that LaVine’s had this year. Harris improved his game a lot this year as a soph, providing another example of it why it would be foolish to completely write off LaVine after a statistically weak freshman year.

On LaVine’s ability to play the point, I have no idea on that. He played there in High School, but got most of his minutes on the wing at UCLA. He did take care of the ball well with a low TO rate, but he was 4th on the team in both assists per game and A40. His potential at the point is intriguing and boosts his stock as a prospect, but he has yet to prove he can play the position at the college level. This of course is much different than saying he failed to play the position well at the college level, because he never got the opportunity.

There is a lot to consider with LaVine.  His numbers aren’t very good for a prospect, but they aren’t so poor that he could be dismissed as a prospect likely to be yet another great athlete who wasn’t able to turn all that talent into production on the court.

I would not draft Zach LaVine in the lottery. There is no doubting his athleticism, but until that turns into high level production, I’m skeptical that any such prospect is special. In addition the great overall depth of the 2014 draft makes it likely any team drafting LaVine will be passing on some prospects who will turn into pretty good players. Even if he does reach his potential it will be a 3-4 year process, meaning it may not even happen with the team that drafts him.

1 comment for “NBA Draft 2014: The UCLA Guards

  1. Jacob
    June 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Just out of curiosity – do you see any parallel between LaVine and that other uber-athletic UCLA SG turned NBA PG, Mr. Russell Westbrook? I was surprised he was picked 4th that year, but his upside quickly proved to be real.

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