Futures market: Nobody ran with opportunity Pistons injuries created more than Svi
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
(EDITOR’S NOTE: During the suspension of the NBA’s season due to COVID-19, Pistons.com is looking at nine young players who either filled larger roles than anticipated or got their first NBA exposure this year, all of it as a result of the wave of injuries that struck the Pistons and led to an organizational decision to rebuild. So far we’ve examined Bruce Brown, Jordan Bone and Sekou Doumbouya. Next up: Svi Mykhailiuk.)
Svi Mykhailiuk spent four years at Kansas and was 20 when his senior season ended. That made him a thoroughly unique draft prospect – barely older than the one-and-done college freshmen who dominated the draft yet afflicted with the bias attached to those who lose their prospect shine by not leaving for the NBA as soon as eligible.
A native of Ukraine, Mykhailiuk’s calling card is his jump shot. But the potential for much more than that exists. That’s what Ed Stefanski saw as he looked for the best return when shopping pending free agent Reggie Bullock at the 2019 NBA trade deadline. Against offers of two second-round picks from other trade partners, Stefanski preferred what the Los Angeles Lakers proposed – one future second-rounder plus Mykhailiuk, then amid a rookie season notable mostly for his G League shooting exploits.
Here’s a look at Mykhailiuk, now in his second season and solidly in the mix of young players the Pistons hope can help bridge their transition to a bright future.
PAST – Mykhailiuk turned pro at 15 in his native Ukraine and opened eyes at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit, a showcase for the best rising prospects in the United States and internationally. Intent on playing American college basketball, Mykhailiuk chose Kansas over Oregon and others, playing his freshman season at 17.
It took Mykhailiuk two seasons to get traction in Lawrence, playing less than 15 minutes a game in his freshman and sophomore seasons and mostly serving as a 3-point threat.
Mykhailiuk started as a junior and senior, spending most of his time at power forward on a perimeter-oriented team that featured senior Devonte Graham at point guard and two highly recruited backcourt players, Malik Newman and LaGerald Vick. Mykhailiuk finished second in scoring (14.6) and minutes played (34.5) to Graham, the Big 12 Player of the Year, while shooting 44.4 percent from the 3-point arc on 6.6 attempts per game.
The NBA draft combine in May 2018 underscored the scouting dichotomy Mykhailiuk presented to front offices. He was a standout in scrimmages yet gave pause when his wingspan measured at 6-foot-4¾, 2 inches less than Mykhailiuk measured without shoes and 3 inches less than in shoes, where he stood 6-foot-7¾. Wingspans of several inches above measured height aren’t unusual, but to have a negative differential is a red flag, an indicator that a player could be challenged defensively and unable to disrupt passing lanes.
Mykhailiuk wound up the 47th pick of the Lakers, then the next month created a stir with his showing in the Las Vegas Summer League. Over six games, Mykhailiuk averaged 17.7 points and hit 43 percent from the 3-point arc, earning second-team Summer League honors.
He was even better in five G League games with the South Bay Lakers in 2018-19, averaging 29.2 points and hitting 45 percent of his triples. Stefanski cited both Mykhailiuk’s Summer League and G League showings after completing the Bullock trade.
A hand injury limited Mykhailiuk to 20 minutes over three games with the Pistons to finish his rookie season, but a strong summer in 2019 had him in line to challenge for a rotation spot – minutes at small forward behind Tony Snell – as training camp approached.
PRESENT – Mykhailiuk’s summer momentum carried over into camp. In a fight for limited roles among the three second-year perimeter players – Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas and Mykhailiuk – Brown was firmly established based on his defensive value but Mykhailiuk moved ahead of Thomas for what minutes remained.
But when Mykhailiuk’s production in camp didn’t translate to preseason games, he began the regular season outside the rotation, appearing in only one of the first six games. Mykhailiuk became a rotation staple in early November after Reggie Jackson’s back injury converted Brown into a full-time point guard.
What really opened the door for greater opportunity for Mykhailiuk was the sidelining of Luke Kennard with tendinitis in both knees in late December. Over the 28 games between Dec. 30 and the mid-March suspension of the NBA season in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mykhailiuk averaged 12.0 points in 28 minutes a game while shooting 39 percent on 6.5 3-point attempts.
Over that time, Casey frequently cited strides Mykhailiuk had made defensively as even more encouraging to him. There were similar gains made in areas apart from Mykhailiuk’s 3-point foundational value – rebounding and playmaking on offense and opportunism defensively. Over Mykhailiuk’s six most recent games, he finished with five or more rebounds three times, four or more assists five times and two or more steals three times.
FUTURE – Mykhailiuk bristles at the perception that he’s just a 3-point shooter and his late-season arc suggests there’s a case to be made. There are similarities in Mykhailiuk and Kennard’s games in the versatility they exhibit offensively. When the Pistons situation at point guard turned dire with injuries at various times to Jackson, Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight, Mykhailiuk functioned as a primary ballhandler in the half court and shows promise in pick-and-roll sets.
Athletically, Mykhailiuk is well beyond the perception. At the 2018 combine, his speed testing numbers were above average and better than Brown’s in two of the three drills; he tied Thomas in one test, beat him in another and finished narrowly behind him in the third. His vertical leap of 37 inches was 1 inch less than Brown’s mark but 2 inches better than Thomas’. Mykhailiuk’s keen instincts allow him to overcome some of his lack of length defensively.
The Pistons have a team option on Mykhailiuk’s contract for the 2020-21 season and there is little question that they’ll exercise it. He’s got enough size to play anywhere on the perimeter and even guard power forwards in small-ball lineups. His ability off the dribble makes him a great fit in Casey’s offense.
The crush of injuries that overwhelmed the Pistons in 2019-20 opened the door for playing time for a number of young players and no one benefited more than Mykhailiuk. Still only 22 – youngest player on the 15-man roster other than Sekou Doumbouya, the NBA’s youngest – Mykhailiuk at minimum has established himself as a solid NBA rotation player with the potential to be a key piece of the Pistons not only during their transition phase but well beyond.