3 goals: Svi Mykhailiuk – knock down shots, defend, sharpen decision-making

Svi Mykhailiuk’s calling card is his 3-point shot, but he has a uniquely varied offensive skill set that puts him in the discussion to be a factor for the Pistons in his second NBA season
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Svi Mykhailiuk. Coming Wednesday: Reggie Jackson.)

For those who keep one foot in the college basketball universe and the other in the NBA, it seems like Svi Mykhailiuk should be something other than the youngest player on the Pistons 15-man roster beyond 18-year-old Sekou Doumbouya.

After four years on one of college basketball’s biggest stages at Kansas and a full season in the NBA, Mykhailiuk only turned 22 in June. He was 17 when he first debuted for Kansas in 2014 after arriving from his native Ukraine.

That’s a roundabout way of making the point that Mykhailiuk – younger than Bruce Brown, who spent just two seasons at Miami – is in a different category than the typical four-year college player often viewed as tapped out on potential, though even that narrative is roundly panned by NBA development advocates.

Mykhailiuk lasted until the 47th pick of the 2018 NBA draft for a variety of reasons, but the bias against four-year college players surely factored. There were questions about his athleticism, mostly his foot speed, but his eye-opening success for the Lakers Summer League entry in 2018 quickly elevated his stock.

So when Pistons front-office boss Ed Stefanski went shopping Reggie Bullock’s expiring contract and elite 3-point shooting at last winter’s trade deadline, he ultimately chose the Lakers’ offer of a second-round pick and Mykhailiuk over other offers of multiple seconds because of the known quantity on the table: Mykhailiuk and the potentially elite 3-point shooting in a 6-foot-8 package.

That’s where you start with Mykhailiuk: a gorgeous 3-point stroke and deep, deep range. What he can become on top of that – and, largely, whether he can transfer the effect of that shooting potential into steady efficiency – is what will dictate his impact and his tenure in the NBA.

Dwane Casey’s practice is to present his players with a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Svi Mykhailiuk, those are …

USE YOUR SIZE – There’s an obvious opening for Mykhailiuk in the rotation, but it would be just as easy for Casey to use any number of other players to fill it. Other than Tony Snell, a likely starter, Mykhailiuk is the only player with the size to make small forward his natural position. Luke Kennard, Brown, Khyri Thomas and Langston Galloway all would be challenged in certain defensive matchups at that spot. Doumbouya might be better suited to power forward, though he’s more of a blank canvas at this stage of his development. Mykhailiuk isn’t the defender Brown or Thomas project to be and Galloway won over Casey with his competitiveness even in obvious mismatches last season, so Mykhailiuk would do himself a favor by showing early in training camp that he’ll battle defensively and stick his nose into the fray for rebounds. Casey caught glimpses of that last season and “tough kid” was used a few times to describe Mykhailiuk by those around the Pistons before a hand injury that required surgery ended his season prematurely. Mykhailiuk’s 3-point shot will always be his carrying tool, but showing that he won’t be a liability at the other end has to happen before it can carry him where he’d like to go.

FINE TUNE DECISION-MAKING – While the 3-point shot is the headline with Mykhailiuk, what made him a coveted international recruit and what he displayed more as his college career unfolded was an offensive skill set that went well beyond stand-still 3-point shooting. He has a real flair with the ball, a more than capable ballhandler with outstanding court vision. The Pistons put the ball in his hands quite a bit in Summer League, especially when Brown sat, and Mykhailiuk on several occasions connected on passes out of pick-and-roll sets that a majority of players would not have envisioned. But there were times, as well, that he tried to squeeze too much out of a play. That’s OK, too. It’s what Summer League is designed to do: experiment. With the Pistons, Mykhailiuk will need to be more selective. It’s likely that in the minutes that come to him at this point, he’ll be asked to keep it simple. He won’t be running pick and rolls. Turnovers that result from stepping outside of his bounds probably won’t be met with much tolerance. If Mykhailiuk excels in a limited role, then he’ll be allowed more latitude to push the boundaries of a uniquely varied offensive package.

KNOCK DOWN SHOTS – It wasn’t just the Summer League success that stuck with Stefanski when it came time to pull the trigger with the Lakers on the Bullock trade. There was also Mykhailiuk’s G League outings with the South Bay Lakers. In five games, Mykhailiuk was a prolific (29.2 points a game) and efficient (49 percent shooting, 45 percent from three) scorer whose shot spectrum would surely meet with Casey’s approval. Mykhailiuk took 46 percent of his G League shots from the 3-point line – a healthy number, but not in the 60 or 70 percent range that earns the pure “3-and-D” label and reflective of Mykhailiuk’s varied skill set. Nevertheless, finding playing time with the Pistons will require Mykhailiuk primarily – at the offensive end, at least – to be an above-average to elite 3-point shooter. The sample size isn’t trustworthy, but as a rookie – 39 games with the Lakers, three with the Pistons before the hand injury – Mykhailiuk shot just .326 from the 3-point arc in 440 minutes. He’ll need to show he can acclimate to the speed of the game and bump that percentage above the NBA average of nearly 36 percent in order to become a credible rotation candidate in his second season.

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