Behind the Buck Pass editor Nick Whalen and staff writer Behind the Buck Pass editor Nick Whalen and staff writer

NBA Draft Conversation: Zach LaVine, P.J. Hairston And The Other Antetokounmpo


Behind the Buck Pass editor Nick Whalen and staff writer Alex Skov talk power forwards, Zach LaVine, the Adriatic League and much, much more.

Nick Whalen: So first of all, the biggest “news” on the NBA Draft front today was probably Zach LaVine showcasing his 46-inch vertical leap today during a workout for the Lakers. FORTY-SIX INCHES

Alex Skov: That’s a lot of inches.

Nick: Many, many inches. For comparison sake, that photo of Wiggins that circulated about a month ago was allegedly 44 inches. My question is: does this really affect his draft stock? Obviously it doesn’t hurt it, but how far can a measurement like this go for him?

Alex: In all reality, it shouldn’t do much to affect his draft stock. The stat is eye-popping, without a doubt, but he was already hovering around the middle of the first round on draft boards as a player whose open court athleticism complemented his shooting stroke. If a singular measurement was going to have significant impact on his stock, I would look more at the 2-3/4″ growth spurt between 2012 and the middle of last month. Teams in search of a youth movement could do worse than adding LaVine.

Nick: Agreed. One thing that’s interesting, though, is LaVine’s vertical jumped nearly five inches between the combine and today’s workout. His combine vertical was only 41.5 inches. It’s tough to believe he increased his leaping ability that significantly in a matter of weeks. Probably just a bad takeoff at the combine. Either way, like you said, teams in search of an athletic young guard are in luck. In what range do you project LaVine going right now?

Alex: Lavine’s been slotted as high as No. 14 to the Suns, whose next pick comes at No. 18. Those two bookend his range for me, as I think Phoenix could look to: A) work him into their bench as the No. 14 pick if Eric Bledsoe is traded before the draft and Gerald Green becomes the starting two-guard or B) develop him on the bench during the final year of Green’s contract if they intend to let the journeyman walk in the summer of 2015.

Alex: Where would you place LaVine on your personal draft board? Since he only played one year at UCLA, how much of this is dependent on upside?

Nick: It’s almost entirely upside at this point. He had a solid year at UCLA but he didn’t provide consistent production to really build a profile upon. I think 14 to the Suns sounds about right, but I could see him going as high as No. 8 to Sacramento or No. 9 to Charlotte.

Let’s try something new here: I’ll give you names of three guys, and you rank them 1-3 in terms of preference.

Alex: Go for it.

Nick: We’ll start with some of the big-name forwards: Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon.

Alex: 1. Vonleh 2. Gordon 3. Randle. Vonleh can work inside and out, plus he’s an excellent rebounder. His sheer physical measurements are ideal for an NBA big, even if his height (6-9) means he’ll play more power forward than center in the NBA. As for Gordon over Randle, I’m a sucker for his athleticism/basketball IQ combination.

Make your picks: Gordon, Randle and Vonleh.

Nick: 1. Gordon 2. Randle 3. Vonleh

I’m surprised you went Vonleh No. 1. He’s the riskiest pick in my eyes; just didn’t show enough in his one season at Indiana. If there is a bust among the top 10 prospects, I think it could be Vonleh. Speaking of which, what current lottery-projected player, if any, do you believe has the most bust potential?

Alex: This is ignorant because I haven’t watched any video on him (not that much is available), but Jusuf Nurkic‘s major selling point is that he is an ENORMOUS human being. He’s 6-11 in shoes with a wingspan (7-2) that doesn’t blow you away for someone that tall, and he weighs in around 280 pounds. Conditioning is a worry and partially explains why he’s only logging 16 minutes per game in the Adriatic League.

Nick: The Adriatic League is a real thing?

Alex: Exactly, and he’s currently graded as the No. 11 pick by DraftExpress

Can we dip into the second round for a moment? I had a dream that the Bucks would take Stanford’s Dwight Powell with the 48th pick. Is this a legitimate option or just subconscious logic? He came to the forefront when he helped the Cardinal overcome Wiggins, Embiid and Co. in the NCAA tournament, but otherwise his attention seemed relegated Pac 12 fans.

Nick: I mean, if a Pac 12 role player is coming to you in your dreams, it has to mean something, right? But Milwaukee does have three second-round picks, so a ton of players are really in play. They’ve been featuring second-rounders almost exclusively in workouts so far, so they’re definitely doing their homework outside of the No. 2 pick. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if they grabbed Powell, but it’s way too early to project any of that with all of the prospects in play.

Speaking of the second round, the Bucks brought in Thanasis Antetokounmpo for a workout recently. Does that name sound familiar to you?

Alex: He was in the D-League dunk contest, right? I had a lot of free time over All-Star Weekend. Thanasis’ game almost seems to similar too Giannis’ for him to seem like a legitimate addition to the Bucks’ roster, but if the younger sibling keeps growing at the rate he already is so that Thansis couldn’t hypothetically be his back-up, I could see this happening.

Nick: I think some people think Milwaukee is a lock to take Thanasis in the second round just because of the family connection.

Alex: Agreed. One hundred percent.

Nick: And while I think that obviously could play a major role, it’s far from a “lock” that he’ll end up in Milwaukee. Thanasis is more than just Giannis’ little brother. He’s a legitimate prospect. And if he doesn’t end up a Buck, it’ll be because another team grabs him before Milwaukee can. That said, two Antetokounmpos in Milwaukee next season would be a ton of fun. I’m sure the Bucks PR department is salivating just thinking about it.

Alex: After Giannis became the darling of the rookie class? Definitely. The marketing potential is through the roof.

On another note, on which side of the first round/second round line do you have Mitch McGary being selected? He could very well have been the top overall pick if he had declared last season, but he stuck around Michigan in the wake of a back injury.

Nick: Just reading that last sentence, I started shaking my head at the notion of McGary going No. 1 overall last year. But you might actually have a case there. Especially in hindsight. I’ve never been a fan of McGary’s, though. He’s not enough of a complete player to warrant a first round pick, and I probably wouldn’t chance it on him until the mid-to-late second round. The marijuana issue is not a concern to me, whatsoever, I just don’t think he’ll be a very good NBA player.

Alex: The buzz around his game had so much to do with the weak 2013 draft class, it isn’t even funny.

Where do you think K.J. McDaniels will ultimately end up on draft night, be it because of outright selection or a trade? He was a do-it-all player at Clemson with the exception of three-point percentage.

Nick: I think he’s firmly on the borderline between the end of the first and beginning of the second round; kind of reminds me of Reggie Bullock from last year’s draft. Depending on which team he goes to, he could end up playing a major bench role as a rookie. Or, he could see time in the D-League.

Another guy who’s in a similar position, it seems, to McDaniels is P.J. Hairston. Now I’ve been forthright in declaring my love for the Tar Heel-turned-D-Leauger, but I want to get your opinion on him.

Alex: I really like his game as a scorer and think he’s like Cleanthony Early in that the more often his number is called on offense, the more he’s defense he’s going to supply wherever he goes. A team with a defensive-minded coach or an established system, like a Memphis or San Antonio, probably has the best shot at getting the most out of Hairston early in his NBA career.

Nick: I think he could really thrive in an uptempo system that allows him to play his game, which is predicated on hitting threes. He’s a poor-man’s James Harden, in some respects, and I think playing in the D-League for half of last season only prepared him for the NBA. Even though they’re not exactly an “uptempo” team, I’d like to see Charlotte take a chance on him at No. 24. Gerald Henderson would probably still be the starter, but Hariston would give him a run for his money.

Alex: Charlotte seems like a great fit to me, too.

Shabazz Napier has been all over draft boards, from a fringe lottery guy directly after he led Connecticut to the national title, to the middle of the second round. What’s a realistic expectation for him as a pro?

Nick: He can step in and be Mario Chalmers for a good team, I think. I don’t think I’d want him being the first or second option on my team, but he’ll be a solid pro. Obviously he’s undersized, but you can’t measure the type of big-game ability he showcased so many times at UConn. He’ll probably go in the 18-26 range, which is ideal, considering that likely places him on a playoff team where he can develop at his own pace.

Alex: The Mario Chalmers parallel for Napier is interesting. Another guard that will likely hear his name called in the 18-26 range is Elfrid Payton, who is Napier’s exact opposite in terms of big game experience. Payton didn’t see action against top-tier opponents while playing at Louisiana Lafayette, but small college point guards are benefiting from the success of mid-major products like Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry. Are you buying the hype around Payton?

Nick: Payton is one of the draft’s biggest mystery men. It’s so difficult to evaluate these types of players because, like you said, the experience against strong competition just isn’t there. That said, I think a team will take a chance on him at the end of the first round. But I see him following more of a Norris Cole-like path, rather than Lillard or Curry.

Alex: Cleveland State represent.

Nick: What the latter two bring to the table is an ability to get into the lane AND shoot at elite levels. Payton can score, we know that, but his shooting numbers are abysmal. 26 percent from three and 59 percent from the line aren’t going to cut it It’s tough to work your way into a rotation, especially as a later pick, when you have to have the ball in your hands to be effective.

Alex: Great point. Being ball-dominant isn’t conducive to gaining minutes that would otherwise go to more established players, and that’s exactly what Payton is facing.