There is a very realistic chance that Zach LaVine goes to the pros after this season. And I believe there are a variety of reasons why that is so.
First, Lavine is a player with tremendous talent and rapidly developing skills, though at this point he's more talent with upside than a mature, refined player. So, it's completely understandable that LaVine would attract the attention of professional scouts - or at least he did when pro scouts actually felt comfortable getting into Pauley Pavilion. (see Tydides' "NBA Scouts Sour on Guerrero/Alford's Third Rate Program.") Athletically, I'm tempted to say that Lavine is "off the charts" but if the chart includes Russell Westbrook than LaVine has to be on it somewhere. We can at least agree that he's much closer to Westbrook on that chart than, say, Travis Wear. LaVine shoots well, is able to finish on the drive and has a nice handle and is a decent passer. He's not Arron Afflalo on the defensive end, but few are. With work, he has all the natural tools to play on that end of the court. In short, he's a prospect.
While it's way too early to pay much attention to draft predictions, it's worth a glance for the purposes of the post, to at least prove that Lavine is already in the first round conversation.
CBS' Gary Parrish has LaVine at number 28. (There are 30 NBA teams, so anything under 31 is a first round projection.) NBAdraft.net has LaVine at number 10. HoopsHype has LaVine at #9. You get the idea. Again, none of these sites has a reputation for real expertise, but for lack of any real sources, they serve to demonstrate that LaVine is at least in the conversation.
Speaking of conversation, things heated up in the Bruin cyber-world in the last few weeks regarding the possibility that Lavine go pro. Just as the paid sites were speculating, I happened across some very reliable information that LaVine is at least considering making the jump. (I mention that both to make real the possibility, but also to reassure folks that I'm not "borrowing" premium material.)
Reaction to the news was fairly predictable, it manifested mostly as rants against the NBA and its controversial "one and done" rule. The feeling by most was that LaVine was merely being tempted by dollars and draftnik predictions.
But I feel that those lamenting the good ol' days when Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor, not to mention Ed O'Bannon, stayed through their senior seasons were missing a big part of the point.
See, LaVine is a classic case of a guy who might get selected, but would probably really benefit from playing 30 minutes a night in college instead of 10 minutes a night in the pros. Money is money, sure, but the money is better in the lottery than the back of the first round - or if you happen to slip to the second.
But LaVine must be wondering exactly where he stands on this team and that has to, must be, impacting his thought process.
It's not just a matter of minutes, LaVine is actually third on the team in minutes. It's more about the role he's playing. Anyone watching this team knows that LaVine should be playing the point guard position whenever Kyle Anderson isn't out there. And this team's most athletic, best defensive line-up is LaVine and Anderson, with Norman Powell,Tony Parker and Jordan Adams. But we don't see that combination as much as we should.
Look, I'll cut to the chase: What's on LaVine's mind, at least in part, must be the same thing that's on the mind of all the top point guard recruits out there who are avoiding UCLA's advances: Bryce Alford, the coach's son, has already been anointed as the successor to Kyle Anderson at the point guard position and that over-assessment of the younger Alford's abilities is wreaking havoc on this season's rotation and next season's potential rotation.
Think about it: If we only lose the twins and KA, there is no guarantee that Lavine even starts for us next season. Our starting line-up next year could be Alford, Powell, Adams, Parker and incoming freshman/5-star power forward Kevon Looney. We could have an NBA first round pick coming off the bench while the coach's son runs the offense.
Many of you older BNers might remember the late Al McGuire. McGuire was a longtime broadcaster, sure, but he's in the Hall of Fame as a coach due to his successful run at Marquette, which included a national title. McGuire coached his son, Allie, at Marquette. And while I forget the exact quote (use Google if you care) he basically told one of his players that he had to be obviously better than Allie, otherwise he was going to play Allie. "He's my son," explained McGuire.
I actually get that. You like your players, you love your own son. At least McGuire was honest about it. But in UCLA's case, LaVine is obviously better than Alford. If they were of equal ability, Zach would have to realize that blood is thicker than Powerade. But in this case it's not even close.
And that failure to play the better player and to consistently put the best line-up on the court is likely a major reason why we might lose Zach LaVine to the pros before he really wants to go and before we've had the opportunity to really see what he could do.