Grind ’til you shine. It’s a common phrase used amongst today’s basketball players. In the 2014 NBA Draft though, many of the players who will be selected in the top half of the draft have been “shining” since early in their high school careers. Zach LaVine is not one of those guys.
Coming from Bellevue, WA, LaVine wasn’t exactly raised in a basketball hotbed. It’s the biggest suburb of Seattle yet until his junior year of high school, Zach went under the national radar. He gained some notoriety going into his Mr. Basketball winning senior campaign and while he ultimately wound up being a consensus top-50 guy, the vast majority of scouts thought he’d be in Westwood for more than one year. Wrong. Even though things are going a little faster than expected, LaVine is nowhere near content.
“First and foremost, I want to be an NBA player and I ain’t reached that goal yet,” LaVine told our SLAM last month. “I have to keep working hard until I reach that goal. I want to be a great NBA player.”
Reaching that goal took him to Santa Barbara, where he went under the tutelage of Drew Hanlen. The STL-based trainer, who runs Pure Sweat Basketball, took his talents to the left coast to work with all of the BDA Sports Draft class. We caught up with Hanlen and LaVine during the BDA pro day, where he showcased his stuff in front of over 100 NBA executives.
The one-on-none workout certainly catered towards LaVine’s strengths, but also showed how immensely talented the 19-year-old is. He shot the ball effortless from the NBA three point line, both with his feet set and off of the bounce. Hanlen worked to clean up the mechanics of his prized student, and the results were evident. The UCLA freshman’s handle was also looking a lot more crisp and tight, leading some to believe there is some combo guard potential there down the road.
“The biggest thing that is just becoming a point guard. We’re doing a lot of pick-and-roll reads. How to handle pressure, get to the screen, then lose his defender,” Hanlen said. “From there, how to read the back line guys. So many people focus on how to get to the screen, but forget about the other defenders. We’re kind of working on him being a point guard who can make the right plays instead of being a straight scoring point guard like you see so much today.”
One of the things LaVine is certainly not lacking is the athleticism to play the position. He recently tested out with an absurd 46-inch vertical leap at a workout with the Lakers and was known as the “eastbay king” during his high school days. He is learning to translate that athleticism to game play, too. Zach created an insane amount of separation with his step-back jumper, leading a number of NBA GM’s to hit up Hanlen the next day to tell him they thought he was teaching his guy a travel. He wasn’t. LaVine just got that much space. The two capped off the workout with a few full-court simulated pick and rolls, where he shut the gym down with this series of dunks.
Serving its purpose to the fullest extent, the BDA Sports pro day showed teams exactly what they knew Zach could do and a few of the things that were maybe masked in UCLA’s system. He firmly supplanted himself in the lottery mix for this month’s Draft and if he keeps killing workouts like this, could lock up a spot. If a team has faith that LaVine can fully transition over to a lead guard too, expect him to blow up even more. And based on what we’re hearing, he’s going to get there.
“He is a big film geek now. We have actually watched every single possession of Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. He’s watched a lot of Jamal Crawford, too,” Hanlen said of his time spent in his personal point guard U with LaVine. “The kind that is surprising me is that he has made more jumps than anyone I’ve ever worked with in a month and a half period. I will be very surprised if he does not make an impact next season.”