It doesn’t take long to understand why Zach LaVine is an enticing prospect. Almost 6’6 in shoes with an 8’4 standing reach and an effortless 41.5 inch max vertical leap, Lavine certainly has the build and explosiveness of an elite-level wing. Add to that surprising ball-handling ability and some solid, if not perfect, jump shooting mechanics and there’s a lot to love. On the phyisical side, he’s got all the tools. But can he play?
A more relevant question is, now that he’s a pro, how does he play? Is he a point guard? Will he be a 3&D wing, a featured scorer using pin downs and curls, or even a combination of all of those things? Right now, nobody knows. Least of all LaVine. Therein lies the problem, by any reasonable calculus, Zach LaVine the basketball player would have been better off with another year of play before he coming to the NBA.
Given the somewhat odd situation he faced in college (losing playing time to the coach’s son), not to mention the abject immorality of the NCAA system of amateurism for the athletes and extreme profits for administrators, maybe he wouldn’t be best served by doing that extra season at UCLA. However, he needs it somewhere, because he’s coming into the NBA (thrown to the Wolves, if you will) with no game to speak of.
Watching him play is an experience akin to listening to a singer who can hit all the notes, but has no idea how one relates to the next. The pieces all individually make sense, but they are arranged in such a way as to be collective nonsense.
In this way, LaVine is the archetype of the player left out of the age-limit debate. So much of the time is spent on the manifest unfairness of subjecting can’t miss prospects to injury for no pay that the rest of the NBA hopefuls are forgotten. For players of the profile of Emmanuel Mudiay, a likely top-5 prospect, the rules for draft eligibiliy don’t much matter. They’ll be fine almost regardless, especially considering the insurance usually held by top prospects to protect themselves financially from career ending injuries.
These players are the minority. For the majority of pro hopefuls, projecting which 17-year old will be the best player by 25 is daunting to the point of impossibility. Teams are operating with even more imperfect information than usual.
Players with less raw “talent” (however defined) and more game are at a disadvantage as well. Every year, there are players who “should have come out earlier” because their draft stock fell as their games did not develop. Is there any reason to think a James Michael McAdoo wouldn’t have been another disappointing bust who “never developed” had he entered the draft after his freshman year at UNC?
Even from the standpoint of LaVine, is his career best served by having to sink or swim now? Sure, two years of guaranteed millions is nice. Wouldn’t it be better for him to have had that year to work on constructing a rhythm and melody than to throw him on stage now only to be booed off?