Scouting the Pac: On UCLA and Colorado’s NBA ProspectsPosted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 17th, 2014
When UCLA knocked off Colorado at the Coors Events Center on Thursday night, there were pretty clearly five future pros on the court. Unfortunately, one of those five – Spencer Dinwiddie – was reduced to assistant coach, forced to the bench by an ACL torn on Sunday afternoon. Below, we’ll break down the games of all five of these guys, including Dinwiddie and his upcoming NBA decision.
Zach LaVine, UCLA – While Joel Embiid has gone from a projected first-round pick in the preseason to now being in the discussion (if not atop the heap) for the first pick in the draft, it is UCLA’s freshman wing who has skyrocketed the furthest. While it was clear LaVine was talented, he’s gone from off the NBA radar to seemingly everybody’s pet pick as an NBA Lottery Pick, as soon as the 2014 Draft. Yeah, in a draft as loaded as this year’s, this guy has come out of nowhere to be mentioned right up there with stars like Marcus Smart and Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Gordon. And, it isn’t hard to see why. He’s got ridiculous athletic ability. He’s a 6’5” guy with some point guard past. And he is filling it up from deep this year, stroking 48.3 percent from three through Thursday night’s win at Colorado. He’s terrific running off a screen, catching a pass, squaring up and drilling a three; given his size and leaping ability, there are very few defenders who can challenge such a shot. And yeah, his jumper is nowhere near textbook, but he’s certainly knocking them down. All that said, his game still has plenty of room for improvement. His handle is weak; he doesn’t have much of a game off the bounce; he hasn’t shown the ability to go get his own; he doesn’t show much interest in defending; and at 6’5” and 180 pounds, he gets pushed around by a stiff breeze. But, consider that all of those issues are eminently fixable. And further consider that even without those things, to this point he’s been really impressive. I’ve been very slow to come around to the idea that he’s got lottery potential after his freshman season (in part because it is much more likely for players to patch up the blatant holes in their games while in college than in the NBA), but considering his upside, you can bet that – provided his production continues near this pace – there is some NBA GM who will promise him a lottery pick. In other words, UCLA fans, soak in all you can of LaVine over the next couple months, because this is it.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA – Why is everyone so afraid to make the best player comparison for SloMo? It’s not Jalen Rose, to whom Anderson is so often compared – their games are nothing alike. It is Magic Johnson. Now, just comparing a player to another does not mean that player A is as good as player B (and let’s get this out of the way right quick – Magic is among the very best players ever, and Anderson is not), but if the two players have similar skill sets, why not compare them? They’re both 6’9” point guards with versatile abilities and an unorthodox game. Neither is a pure shooter. Neither is terrific defensively, though both use the bodies they do have to their best advantage. Both are excellent rebounders with an innate feel for where the ball is going and a desire to grab it. You always heard about how slow Magic was; same with Anderson, but then you look up and both guys have gone by their quicker, more athletic defenders. Both have a terrific feel for the game and a great floor sense, able to find their teammates in their favorite spots as soon as they get open. Both run the fastbreak in highly unusual, yet generally effective ways (although here Anderson has the most catching up to do), with each possessing the ability to grab a defensive rebound and then immediately look up and try to push the ball ahead to a teammate on the break. Again, simply saying that Anderson’s game has similar components to Magic’s is not in any way comparing Anderson’s overall effectiveness to Magic’s, but if you’ve got an apple and an orange, why try to force comparing the orange to a cheeseburger, just because you greatly prefer apples to oranges.
Jordan Adams, UCLA – You know about the shooting ability; he’s pure and really barely scratching the surface of the types of percentages he can shoot. But what makes Adams special isn’t necessarily his shooting ability so much as his energy. While there are times that other players in the UCLA program over the last couple years seem(ed) like they were just trying to show off for NBA scouts, Adams has clearly been the heart of this team. Perhaps the prime example of this was his first game as a Bruin when he came off the bench early, got after it on the glass, jumped passing lanes, dove for loose balls and drove the ball in search of contact to spark the previously bored-looking Bruins to a blowout win. Within a month, he was in the starting lineup for good. He’s the Bruins’ sparkplug, but can you create a game on energy alone? Is this a guy you can count on to go get his own? While he gets steals by cheating into passing lanes, he’s by no means a great man-up defender. Most of his makes come off assists and he’s been very fortunate to spend his first couple years in school with very good college point guards. Credit where credit is due, he’s made good on the setups his point guards have provided, he clearly cares, always bringing his A-game and significantly improving his body over the offseason, but at this point Adams appears to be a very good complementary part, rather than a go-to killer.
Josh Scott, Colorado – As Adam Butler will attest, there were times last year when the Colorado big man was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as “soft.” Last night against UCLA, in a losing effort, Scott hopefully put to bed those accusations forever. Minus their floor general, Scott put the team on his back. Normally reliant on his teammates to find him in position to score, at times Scott took it upon himself, grabbing a rebound, heading upcourt, showing off underrated ballhandling skills and going to get his own. Now, of course, that’s not something you want the 6’10” center to do on a regular basis, but isn’t it nice to know he’s got that in his back pocket. While last year Scott was little more than a post-up guy, a high-post jump-shooter, an offensive rebounder, a screener and a solid hand-in-your-face defender, he’s added to his game this year. He’s expanded that pick-and-pop ability out a few steps further, he’s more comfortable stepping out along the baseline and drilling a 16-footer, he’ll gladly take a defender off the bounce in short, bursty drives and he’s now really committed himself to cleaning the glass on the defensive end. And, while he may have shied away from contact at times as a freshman, he’s learning to become more accepting of a physical style of game. He can definitely use more time to develop his post moves and extend his jumper out a couple more steps, but this guy is legit. And if you’re worried about how these Buffaloes will fare minus Spencer Dinwiddie, Scott went a long way towards trying to ease your fears.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado – Most of the big national NBA mock draft/big boards had Spencer Dinwiddie on the cusp of late first-round/early second-round prior to Sunday’s depressing injury. And it is easy to see why. A calm, cool and collected 6’6” point guard who shoots it ridiculously well (41.3% from three, 51.5% from two, 87.2% from one), runs a half-court offense with precision, is sneakily athletic enough to go by solid defenders and get to the line and a terrific defensive presence, both in preventing penetration, challenging perimeter jumpers and providing help defense. He’s probably not the type of lightning-fast, rim-rattling slasher who has a string of NBA All-Star games in his future, but you can easily imagine “The Mayor” as a 10-year NBA vet who has been a contributor on a string of NBA playoff teams. The expectation was, prior to Sunday afternoon, that this would be his last season in Boulder. But now what? The argument has been made that, given the injury and that given a second similar injury next season could go a long way towards destroying his draft stock, he might be wise to still declare for the NBA draft following this season. It’s an understandable sentiment and certainly Dinwiddie’s pro prospects are part of the factor that make this injury so tragic. But, already a borderline first-round guy and without the ability to be anywhere near full-strength for NBA workouts, there is the possibility (if not probability) that his draft stock will slip more towards the back of the second round. Regardless of the decision he makes, you can bet just about everyone is hoping for the best outcome, but if I were advising him, a return for a senior campaign would be the suggestion. Not only would he have the chance to prove his health and remove those questions to ensure a first-round selection, but, you know, college can be sorta fun. And a degree in hand is always worth it.