Taking a Look at the Freshmen

by Trevor Wong
Lakers.com Contributor

Among the 12 prospects that worked out at the Lakers facility on June 4 were eight underclassmen and four upperclassmen. Of the potential draftees, five were freshman - part of a group that has been heralded as one of the strongest draft classes in recent memory.

But weighing the potential or upside of an 18- or 19-year old versus someone who can come in and contribute right away is one factor among many in the Lakers decision as to who they will select come June 26.

"I still think we’ll get a good player," Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. "Hopefully we pick the right player. But there’s a lot of talent. Some of the talent is young and (takes) a couple years (to develop). Based on the player, yeah, you might wait."

Freshmen Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Zach LaVine (UCLA), Noah Vonleh (Indiana) and James Young (Kentucky) all played key roles in their program's success during the last year.

Gordon and LaVine, in particular, impressed athletically at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as well as in individual workouts with prospective teams selecting in the lottery.

Gordon showed a 39-inch vertical (two step lead-in) at the Draft Combine, third highest recorded for a power forward/center behind Miles Plumlee and Tyrus Thomas. In front of Lakers brass, the 6-foot-8 forward leaped 43 inches (four or five step lead-in).

"I think I just have to show people that I’m not losing what got me here, which is my athleticism, my motor and my intangibles," he said. "Everything else is just icing on the cake. I’m shooting the ball a little bit better and people are finally seeing how well I can dribble the ball and how well I can pass the ball."

LaVine, meanwhile, topped out at 46 inches - the highest vertical jump recorded for a Lakers workout. The 6-foot-5 guard was also the only prospect to test in the top five of every strength and agility drill - lane agility time, shuttle run, three quarter sprint, standing vertical jump and max vertical jump - in Chicago. The Washington native played in all 37 games at UCLA, but tapered off during the latter half of the year. He's out to prove there's more to his game than just his sheer athleticism.

"People haven’t really seen me play the point guard position that much or handle the ball," LaVine said. "They know I can score, jump and run. But for me, showing my facilitating abilities and being able to create will definitely help me a lot."

Ennis is one prospect who showed he can facilitate and lead a team as point guard for a Syracuse team that started off 25-0. The Canada native also led the ACC in assists (5.6) and steals (2.1). He also ranked ninth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.24). What Ennis wants to show comes from the defensive end, as well as fine tuning some offensive skills.

"Personally, coming from Syracuse, it’s tough to see how you can play 1-on-1 defense so I’m trying to show I can defend another point guard, and show I can shoot the NBA three," he said. "They haven’t seen us shoot from NBA range in college so coming out and being able to shoot the ball and sticking to what I do best, make plays for others, work off the pick-and-roll, work off isolation and just sticking to my game."

Vonleh, who can play both inside and outside, has a unique skill set coveted in the NBA today. He led the Big 10 Conference in rebounding (9.0), but also shot 48.5 percent from the three-point line (16 for 33).

"I’m trying to show my versatility, showing I can take guys off the dribble, finishing above the rim, footwork in the post when I have a smaller guy, showing I can rebound and things like that," Vonleh said.

Aside from his versatility, Vonleh's measurements at the Draft Combine also turned heads, as he boasted the largest height-to-wingspan differential (8 feet, 0.25 inches) and measured the biggest hands in terms of length (9 feet, 0.75 inches) and width (11 inches, 0.75 inches). His hand width was second best all-time behind Greg Smith, who measured 12 inches.

Young, a sharpshooter, made 82 three-pointers during his freshman campaign at Kentucky - second most in a single season by a UK freshman. According to ESPN Insider Chad Ford, scouts see a lot of potential in Young with his youth, size, athleticism and shooting touch.

There are a number of possibilities for draft prospects that will be available at No. 7. We'll find out soon enough whether the Lakers pick youth and upside or experience.

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