Zach LaVine: One-And-Done at UCLAPosted by Andrew Murawa on March 28th, 2014
Not only did UCLA fall to Florida on Thursday night, but Friday morning the news broke that freshman guard Zach LaVine would be joining sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson in leaving school early. Anderson was a lock to leave all along, as he had a spectacular season and is in the discussion for a lottery pick in this June’s NBA Draft. LaVine, however, was more of a borderline case. He’s clearly not ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA, but his length, athleticism and deep shooting range have intrigued scouts since November when he made a big splash early in the season. He’ll need to get stronger, develop a game off the bounce, and improve his defense, and these things will likely require time in the NBA’s Developmental League. But you can bet that LaVine’s upside will earn the attention of somebody at some point in the first round of this year’s draft, meaning a guaranteed contract and time to develop. Sure, selfishly, we would have liked to see LaVine’s high-flying game take the next step at the collegiate level, but that became a pipe dream over the course of the year.
LaVine’s departure leaves some big questions for UCLA. First, with Anderson and LaVine both gone and with Jordan Adams potentially mulling a similar jump to the NBA, a deep and impactful Bruins backcourt could turn into a weakness next season. Norman Powell will be back for his senior season, and he’s definitely developed into a fine asset for UCLA. Bryce Alford appears to be the point guard in waiting, and he’s a fine player with plenty of upside even if he appears further and further from winning over the UCLA fan base with every game. And four-star combo guard Isaac Hamilton will be eligible next season and figures to have the ball in his hands a lot. Even if Adams doesn’t return, that group of three is solid, even if the Bruins will likely need to go sign another guard for depth. But clearly, the strength of the team will need to shift to the frontcourt, where Tony Parker will return for his junior season and be joined by four incoming freshmen, highlighted by five-star power forward Kevon Looney and a pair of four-star bigs (Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden).
But more concerning for UCLA is this nugget: LaVine was unhappy with the way he was used at UCLA. Now, without arguing with that point, this goes down as the first major strike against the Steve Alford regime in terms of player happiness. With the perception out there already, rightly or wrongly, that Bryce Alford has earned his minutes at the point guard spot solely because his dad is the head coach, the news that LaVine was unhappy with his prospects at UCLA will certainly be something to remember. In the meantime, here’s the near future for LaVine: Some NBA team likely picks him at some point in the first round and he spends much of the next year in the NBDL while his new team tries to determine if he really has point guard skills that are hidden somewhere; if he’s ready to work hard enough to develop his body and his game; and if he’ll live up to the enormous potential he does have. You may forget about him for a couple years, but let’s check back in with LaVine at the age of 21 and see how far he’s come.