2014 NBA Draft: Getting to know Nuggets prospect Zach LaVine out of UCLA

Zach LaVine out of UCLA is a high-flyer and long-bomber. - Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

Zach LaVine impressed with his shooting and wowed with his dunking abilities today at Pepsi Center.


Video courtesy of the King of Thornton, Jeff Morton.

The Denver Nuggets held more predraft workouts today with some prospects that could be considered with their 11th overall pick. In the building was James Young out of Kentucky, Tyler Ennis out of Syracuse, and Zach LaVine out of UCLA. Those three project to go in the first round and it's anyone's guess as to when their names will be called, but none should be left after pick 20 or so.

LaVine is an elite athlete that showed off some tremendous dunks today on the Pepsi Center practice floor (as evidenced by Jeff Morton's video!) and he also impressed with his shooting. He doesn't have the prettiest form on his jumpers, but he also shoots the same way each time and has a nice squared flick of the wrist on his releases. It seems to work for him and I'm not a huge believer that all guys need to shoot like Ray Allen to find NBA success.

The Nuggets coaches ran the guys through various shooting drills, but one that caught my attention was the "elevator doors" play that had each guy run from the corner three-point spot to the middle of the key and then sprint between two screeners to the top of the three-point line and fire off a shot (Brian Shaw gave some instruction on the play, as to how he wanted to see it ran.). LaVine hit said shots with ease. The next drill saw the guys with a two-minute window to make three threes in a row from the five traditional spots on the floor. If they missed, they had to stay at that station until they got three in a row. LaVine's first miss didn't come until he got to the top of the key. He buried six in a row (three from the left corner and three from the left elbow) and got through the drill with a lot of time left on the clock.

Today was the first of the three predraft sessions that saw the prospects get run through the "elevator doors" play and the "make three in a row" from deep drill. Is there something to be said for that? Well, we don't really know as we only get to see a portion of the workouts. Nonetheless, it was very difficult to not come away impressed with LaVine.

The Washington kid played his lone season of college ball at UCLA, where he was both impressive and inconsistent. In 37 games he averaged: 9.4 points on 44.1% shooting (including 37.5% from deep on 3.5 attempts and 69.1% from the foul line on 1.8 attempts per), 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 0.9 steals in 24.4 minutes a night.

Here is LaVine's draft combine interview from Draft Express:


LaVine echoed again today that he models his game after Russell Westbrook (athleticism), Steph Curry (dribbling and shooting), and his friend Jamal Crawford (body type, quickness, able to get shots off from anywhere), but he was cautious in adding that he's not on their level - just players he tries to watch and build his game upon. He also is a big Kobe Bryant fan and loves Kobe's intensity and confidence.

That's Zach LaVine the player, now let's try to get to know a little bit more about him away from the court.

Nate Timmons: What kind of hobbies do you have outside of the game of basketball?

Zach LaVine: I'm a very family oriented person. I like going to movies a lot - eating popcorn, I like playing Call of Duty - even though I'm not very good at it, and I was a baseball player before I played basketball - so I like going out and taking some cuts every now and then.

Timmons: Let's stick with baseball for a second, what positions did you play growing up?

LaVine: I was a center fielder and second basemen. About three weeks ago, I was playing softball with my dad [Paul LaVine] - my dad got drafted by the Phillies and played professional football - hitting softballs at, I think, a college park and I hit a softball 355 [feet] to right. So, I know I still got some cuts in me and I wonder if that was a baseball ... I know I can still hit the ball pretty well. I definitely have fun with it.

Timmons: You're also a movie guy, so who is your favorite actor?

LaVine: Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, or Mark Wahlberg. Those three are my favorites.

Timmons: Give me a favorite Jamie Foxx movie.

LaVine: Django [Unchained], one of the best movies I've ever seen. It was funny, historical. Denzel, one of my favorite ones is Training Day. And Mark Wahlberg, he's had a lot of good ones, I liked Shooter and I know he's coming out in the new Transformers and that's my series, so I got to go see the opening of that one.


Timmons: How about a favorite actress?

LaVine: I have a crush on her, but Meagan Good. Just by the way she looks ... you know she's a good looking woman, so Meagan Good.

Timmons: How about a movie you like that she's in?

LaVine: Stomp the Yard and Think Like a Man.


Timmons: You already hinted at it with the 355 foot homer, but what's another hidden talent that people may not know about you?

LaVine: I think people know I'm fast. I ran like a 4.5 [second] 40 [yard dash] in high school and like an 11 [second] flat 100. What else am I good at ... I used to dance. Other than that, I don't know, I'm a pretty relaxed guy.

Timmons: Who is a go-to artist that you like to listen to?

LaVine: [Without hesitation] Chief Keef is my favorite artist. I like Fabolous, Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla Sign ...


Timmons: Are you a cook at all?

LaVine: I can make a good bowl of cereal.

Timmons: What'd you do for food in college?

LaVine: I got the dorm food, the cafeteria food a little bit, but I'm not the best cook ... I like going out to eat.

Timmons: What could we find you pigging out on on a cheat day?

LaVine: Oh my gosh, 7-11 Slurpees, get some donuts in the morning, Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, some ice cream at night, some candy, I'll go all out if it's my cheat day.

Timmons: Who was one of your favorite players growing up?

LaVine: Kobe Bryant. Kobe and Michael Jordan. I love Kobe's mentality, his killer instinct - he puts a lot of work into the game. I like Jamal Crawford, Tracy McGrady, and Allen Iverson.

Timmons: What's something you love about the game of basketball?

LaVine: What drives me, I want to be the best. I love the competition, I love the challenge, I love the grind - putting in work in the gym and then getting success afterwards. It's exciting, it's my life so I automatically love it.

Timmons: Where do you plan on watching the NBA draft and who do you plan on watching it with?

LaVine: I don't know if I'm going to be in the green room yet or if I'm going to the draft yet, but I know I'm going to be in New York. [I'll watch it with] my mom, my dad, my immediate family, my high school coach, and probably my best friend.

***

A big thanks to Zach for answering my questions. It's easy to see LaVine's talent and it's growing more-and-more difficult to not think that the Nuggets should take him with the 11th overall pick, if he's still on the board. His confidence in his game and his motivation to get better are evident. He carries himself well and when he missed a shot or two in a row during the workout, you could hear a hint of frustration that not every shot was going in - I saw and heard that same thing while watching Danilo Gallinari taking shots last season. That competitive nature can't be taught and it's something, along with instinct, that you want in a player.

The biggest obstacle with LaVine's game is that the team that selects him may have to play the waiting game with his NBA readiness. With the Nuggets wanting to get back to the playoffs, do they have the patience to wait a season or two for LaVine's game to catch up to his explosive talent? Isn't that what the draft is all about? Take the best player available and see what he can do.

Again, if he's on the board at no. 11, it'd be great to hear NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calls his name for the Nuggets on June 26th.


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