Just about every NBA front office type will tell the public after a draft concludes that Player X was the best prospect available when it was the team’s turn to pick.
That’s the message Utah general manager Justin Zanik presented after the Jazz made Udoka Azubuike its only 2020 first-round draft pick at No. 27.
And while some Jazz diehards might have preferred a perimeter player with more flash to his game and a greater perceived upside than Azubuike, the 7-footer from Kansas whom many projected as a second-round pick, the traditional center could be good enough in his specific role to actually help Utah win more games immediately.
With Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, the Jazz aspired to be a dark horse contender in the loaded Western Conference this past season. But Utah’s trip to the bubble ended in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. The Jazz blew a 3-1 lead to Denver in a series that came down to the final shot of a Game 7.
Utah’s season wasn’t awful, but a team known for its defense — thanks in large part to 7-1 veteran center Gobert, also known as “The Stifle Tower” — took a noticeable step in the wrong direction. During the 2018-19 season, the Jazz ranked second in the league in defensive rating (105.3), making it three years in a row for the Jazz in the top three in that category. Utah dropped down to 13th (109.8) in the pandemic altered 2019-20 season. And in the playoffs the Jazz’s defensive rating (116.8) ranked 12th.
A fatigued Gobert could be one factor in Utah’s defensive slippage. The two-time defensive player of the year averaged a career-high 34.3 minutes a game in the regular season — and 38.6 minutes in the playoffs.
According to stats from NBA.com, Gobert appeared in seven of Utah’s eight most frequently used lineups this past season. In the two five-man combinations that played most with Gobert as the anchor, Utah’s defensive rating was 102.9 and 103.3.
If the Jazz are right about Azubuike’s potential as an interior defender, head coach Quin Snyder should be able to give Gobert more opportunities to rest and recover without experiencing much of a dropoff in defensive efficiency.
Zanik earlier this week called Azubuike “the most impactful defensive player in the draft,” as The Athletic’s Tony Jones reported.
“He is a terrific rim protector defensively,” Zanik said of the former KU All-American, who blocked 2.6 shots a game as a senior. “He has a great lob radius offensively. He is a unique player, and he comes from a great program, and he’s improved every year.”
The condensed NBA offseason is expected to be a whirlwind of trades and signings in the days ahead, with the start of the regular season less than five weeks away. So Utah’s roster — and its big man rotation — could look different by then.
But it’s worth noting the Jazz don’t have much wiggle room in terms of cap space. Plus, since the organization drafted Azubuike on Wednesday it has traded away its backup center from last season, Tony Bradley, and veteran reserve big man Ed Davis. Those roster moves, as detailed in The Salt Lake Tribune, had more to do with creating some financial flexibility to sign a more desirable lower level free agent.
Unless the Jazz are able to sign an experienced big who is on the market, such as Aron Baynes or Nerlens Noel, Azubuike’s pathway to playing time is clear. All the rookie has to do is continue to give the type of defensive effort he showed as a senior at KU, set screens and catch lobs from Mitchell, Conley and Joe Ingles. If Azubuike can make himself effective in those areas and avoid making too many rookie mistakes, he could be in line to play and contribute even more than Bradley did (4.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 11.4 minutes a game last season) as Gobert’s backup.
And unlike at KU, where the Jayhawks needed their powerhouse center on the floor as often as possible, conditioning should never be a factor for Azubuike with the Jazz. He’s entering the NBA in the best shape of his life and will only need to check in for a few minutes at a time. If Azubuike runs the floor, doesn’t get lost on defense, battles for rebounds and strives to protect the paint, all of the sudden the Jazz have an ideal fill-in for Gobert.
If this ideal version of Azubuike’s rookie year, or something close to it, plays out, it’s feasible that Utah could actually recapture its defensive prowess, too, raising its ceiling in the deep and talented West.
College basketball stars such as Kansas point guard Devon Dotson didn’t get to take advantage of the NCAA Tournament as a showcase in front of potential NBA employers this March. And the way everything is trending, future opportunities between now and the 2020 draft — whenever that happens — could be scarce.
According to a Tuesday report from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA sent a memo to NCAA basketball coaches letting them know players could begin submitting applications to get feedback on their draft stock from the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee.
That’s good news for potential early draft entrants such as Dotson, a sophomore, because they can at least start thinking about their basketball future and preparing for what’s next, just days after the unforeseen early conclusion to the college basketball postseason, due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the ESPN report also included some foreboding details about a potentially unrecognizable new normal for draft hopefuls. Per Givony and Wojnarowski, NBA executives “widely agree” that the typical procedures used to evaluate prospects will be “severely limited, if not lost altogether,” because the idea of players and scouts being able to travel all over the country for workouts, pro days and the NBA combine seems “extremely unlikely” at this juncture.
Amid all this unpredictability, the outcome of Dotson’s looming stay-or-go decision looks far more obvious. A year ago, Dotson took a prolonged look at his draft stock before returning to KU. And from the day he decided to play for the Jayhawks as a sophomore, a spot in the 2020 draft looked inevitable for the 6-foot-2 point guard from Charlotte, N.C.
What’s more, Dotson’s current head coach, Bill Self, was discussing during a media teleconference how to properly commemorate the Jayhawks’ 28-3 season when he all but said Monday — without naming Dotson specifically — that the second-year guard will enter the draft.
“You’ve got a couple players — or three players — that will not be back. Two of them are seniors,” Self said, referencing Udoka Azubuike and Isaiah Moss. "One, I’m sure will declare, even though it hasn’t happened yet and he hasn’t made that decision. But the reality is at today’s time that that would probably happen.”
So when Dotson officially declares for the draft, he and other potential draftees, it seems, might not get to go through the usual pre-draft process, bouncing from city to city for workouts and interviews with coaches and general managers.
The annual NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is scheduled for May 21-24, but as ESPN reported, nothing is certain at this point. The NBA season is on hiatus for the foreseeable future, too, so the league might have to cancel the combine, because Wojnarowski has reported a mid- to late-June return to action for the league is currently considered a “best-case” scenario.
If teams aren’t even back to practicing by late May, there’s no way the NBA would be able to have its combine at that point. Like most everything tied to sports during these unsettled times, pre-draft normalcy looks very much in doubt. Will the draft even take place on June 25, as scheduled? Who knows.
At least Dotson can enter his name into the draft pool — if he so chooses (spoiler alert: he will) — with confidence that what scouts saw from him during the Jayhawks’ season has him in much better position than he was a year ago.
If Dotson was considered a lock as a first-round pick for the 2019 draft after his freshman year, he wouldn’t have returned to KU. He still might not be quite at that level, so that’s where the loss of workouts and a combine could hurt Dotson a little.
ESPN’s list of top 100 prospects currently ranks Dotson No. 31 overall. In a 30-team, two-round draft, that could mean an early second round spot for Dotson, if teams value him the same way ESPN’s draft experts do.
Dotson proved while averaging 18.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.1 steals, and shooting 46.8% from the field and 83% at the foul line during his shortened sophomore season that he’s speedy, strong and a tough finisher inside.
The biggest knock on him has been his 3-point shooting. While both teammates and Self say Dotson is a good shooter or has the potential to be one, he only connected on 30.9% of his 3-point tries (38-for-123) during his 30 games as a sophomore. He was more consistent as a freshman (33-for-91, 36.3%), so maybe this year was an anomaly, but teams would still prefer to see better percentages from a guard.
A strong 3-point shooting display during a deep KU run to the Final Four might have helped Dotson’s draft stock. Now he might not even get opportunities to prove himself as a shooter in pre-draft workouts either.
It’s an unfortunate reality for aspiring NBA players, but one Dotson and other could-be first-rounders now have to contemplate.
Since the Kansas basketball team’s loss to Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks have been steeped in decision season.
Which players would decide to declare for the NBA Draft? Whom among the 2018-19 Jayhawks would elect to transfer? Would five-star prospects such as Matthew Hurt, Precious Achiuwa or R.J. Hampton choose to play at KU? What would the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Reinstatement committee determine about Silvio De Sousa’s appeal?
While it may seem KU head coach Bill Self and his staff have experienced fewer victories during decision season than the program’s rabid fan base would deem acceptable, this all-important portion of the offseason isn’t over yet.
One of the biggest resolutions capable of impacting next season’s roster will be reached by Wednesday night. That’s when the deadline arrives for every college player who entered the NBA’s pre-draft process and attended the combine but hasn’t yet decided whether to keep his name in the draft pool or return the college ranks for at least one more go-round.
And that’s when Self and the Jayhawks will find out whether high-speed point guard Devon Dotson will be blurring up and down the court at Allen Fieldhouse this coming season or embarking on his professional career.
The verdict is one Dotson will reach with his family, and they will do so from a well informed position now that the 6-foot-2 (in shoes) point guard has spent the past several weeks working out in front of and receiving feedback from NBA executives, coaches and scouts.
While it seems Dotson improved his stock through this process, his NBA future remains no sure thing. Unless there is some franchise who fell in love with Dotson and assured him he will be picked at the end of the first round or beginning of the second, it appears he could add further value to his draftability by returning for his sophomore season. As of Tuesday morning, ESPN’s list of best prospects available ranks Dotson 59th overall for the 60-pick draft. Quentin Grimes, who also has yet to announce his staying or going status, ranked 73rd on the list, while Dedric Lawson was 67th.
Self will find a way to get by without Dotson if the point guard’s ultimate choice is to remain in the draft. But Dotson resolving to come back to KU would qualify as a massive decision season win for the Jayhawks.
If Dotson announces he’s sticking around, it helps lessen the blow felt by Hampton’s Tuesday announcement that he’ll play professionally in New Zealand, as well as his subsequent declaration on “The Yak” radio show that he would’ve chosen KU had he decided to play college basketball.
Much more importantly, though, Dotson choosing the known of starring at Kansas over a murkier immediate future likely involving a lot of time next season in the G League would solidify KU’s standing as one of college basketball’s top teams in 2019-20.
More decisions that will impact KU’s next roster will come, including one from four-star forward Jalen Wilson, set to visit later this week.
But no conceivable conclusion at this juncture can do for the Jayhawks’ 2020 Final Four chances what Dotson could by deciding to run it back in a KU uniform.
As Dedric Lawson’s pre-draft workout tour picks up steam following this past week’s excursion to the NBA Draft Combine, a trip to the southeast this week provided Lawson with a University of Kansas reunion.
A day after Lawson, as well as Jayhawks Quentin Grimes and Silvio De Sousa, worked out for the Bulls in Chicago on Monday, Lawson was in Charlotte, N.C., the current home of his former KU roommate, Devonte’ Graham.
During a post-workout interview, Lawson said a year ago around this time he talked to Graham on quite a few occasions just to see how life on the pre-draft circuit was going for the point guard.
“He always said, ‘Man, I’m working. It’s a lot of workouts, it’s a lot of grinding,’” Lawson recalled.
Lawson said he and Graham were able to reconnect before the Hornets workout at the team’s practice facility. It was there that Graham reminded Lawson he worked out for about 15 franchises before becoming a second-round draft pick of Charlotte in 2018.
According to the KU forward who is hoping to follow in his one-time roommate’s footsteps as a draftee, Graham’s advice for the whole process was, “Just do you.”
“That’s something that got him to the point he’s at,” Lawson said. “We’ve been through tough times at Kansas in practices and things like that. So he definitely knows what I’m capable of and he knows I’m ready for the moment.”
Lawson described his session with the Hornets as both “fun” and competitive. The workout also featured Iowa State’s Marial Shayok, Seton Hall’s Myles Powell and Georgetown’s Jessie Govan, among others.
After competing against other draft hopefuls, and trying to turn that work into a job in the NBA, Lawson described what he thought he was able to showcase in front of Hornets coaches and decision makers.
“I was able to show that I can make the NBA 3, make plays for others and play defense on smaller guys, as well,” Lawson related. “So I think it was an overall pretty good day.”
Lawson, who measured out at the combine as 6-foot-8.5 in shoes and 233 pounds, led the Big 12 in scoring (19.4 points per game) and rebounding (10.3 boards a game) during his debut season with the Jayhawks this past year.
He said he interviewed with some members of the Hornets’ front office at the combine, as well, and called it a “blessing” to be in Charlotte for the workout.
“(Graham) always tells me how great the city is and stuff like that,” Lawson shared, “so I’m glad to be here.”
In a mock draft from Michael Scotto of The Athletic, Lawson projects as the 57th pick, which currently belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Hornets possess two second-round picks in the June 20 draft: No. 36 and No. 52 overall.
A longterm reunion for Jayhawks Lawson and Graham in the Queen City, Lawson said, would be great.
“I never got the chance to play with him on the court,” Lawson said of redshirting during Graham’s senior season in Lawrence. “I loved playing with him at practice. He’s a great human being to be around, a great personality, high IQ for the game. And I think he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around, even though I didn’t even play with him.”
Some around the NBA may have found themselves caught a little off guard the past couple of weeks by the summer success of Los Angels Lakers second-round pick Svi Mykhailiuk.
L.A. assistant coach Miles Simon is not one of those people.
After Mykhailiuk scored 15 points and the Lakers improved to 4-0 at the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday night, Simon, the team’s summer head coach, said “nothing” the rookie out of Kansas does falls within the realm of unexpected for him.
“I worked in TV nine or 10 years. The last four or five I worked in the Big 12 Conference. I’ve seen Svi since he was a freshman — seen him in practice, seen him in games,” Simon said of the 21-year-old Mykhailiuk, while speaking with reporters. “It’s not a surprise that he puts the ball on the floor. He’s a smooth athlete. He moves up and down really fluidly on the offensive end. He has a good handle, he can create his own shot. I’ve been seeing those things before he got to the pros and now he’s just going to show everybody else what he can do.”
The Ukrainian guard’s offensive versatility became a popular topic following the Lakers’ win over the Clippers, which included a third-quarter step-back jumper he drained after twice crossing over his defender, Thomas Wimbush.
A video of the smooth highlight posted on the Lakers’ Instagram account garnered a like from Mykhailiuk’s most influential teammate, LeBron James, and the following assessment from a Laker who witnessed it in person, Josh Hart.
“Oh it was nasty,” said Hart, a second-year guard with L.A. “He had a lot of sauce on that one. I was out there on the wing, like, ‘What the hell? OK!’”
As those who followed Mykhailiuk closely at KU might have guessed, he didn’t sound even a smidge braggadocious while describing his highlight.
“I handled the ball and the guy just started pushing me, so I had to put on a couple moves and just score,” Mykhailiuk plainly stated, a couple days after signing his rookie contract, reportedly for three years and $4.6 million.
Hart (22.5 points per game) and Mykhailiuk (14.0 points) have carried the Lakers’ offense in Las Vegas. The rookie from Kansas, again predictably, downplayed his recent showings and any personal expectations he had for the summer league stage.
“Just play basketball and whatever happens happens. I never thought about anything,” Mykhailiuk said. “I just come on the court and play.”
The No. 47 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mykhailiuk hasn’t been flawless in Las Vegas, but he is making people notice his potential to stick in the NBA. Thus far he has scored at least 15 points in three of his team’s four games:
• July 7 vs. Philadelphia: 17 points, 6 of 11 FGs, 4 of 8 3-pointers, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 0 turnovers in 23 minutes
• July 8 vs. Chicago: 15 points, 6 of 12 FGs, 2 of 6 3-pointers, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 turnover in 22 minutes
• July 10 vs. New York: 9 points, 3 of 12 FGs, 3 of 9 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 turnover in 25 minutes
• July 12 vs. L.A. Clippers: 15 points, 5 of 7 FGs, 1 of 3 3-pointers, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 0 turnovers in 24 minutes
Simon said he doesn’t even know why Mykhailiuk was still available so late in the second round, especially after what the four-year Jayhawk showed the Lakers during the pre-draft process.
“Svi just came out and impressed in the draft workouts and he positioned himself,” Simon said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
It’s difficult to foresee at this point just how significant a role Mykhailiuk will play for the Lakers when the regular season arrives. The team loaded up on veterans upon winning the NBA summer with its signing of James, and L.A. already had talented young guards in place. More roster moves could come, but right now Mykhailiuk would likely play behind shooting guards Kyle Kuzma and Hart, and perhaps Lance Stephenson, too.
Asked what type of impact he envisions for his first year, Mykhailiuk didn’t seem particularly worried about his status.
“It’s far from now. I’m not trying to think about it,” he said. “I’m just thinking bout summer league right now.”
By the time the actual season opens in October, Mykhailiuk said he wants to improve at “literally everything” as a basketball player.
“Just try to become a better all-around player, improve my handles, shot, creating,” he shared. “Just everything.”
The Lakers and Mykhailiuk will play in the Vegas quarterfinals Sunday.
Early one morning this past March, Rob Pelinka’s phone rang. The Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager knew whose voice to expect when he accepted the call.
As usual, it was Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. His thoughts on a player the organization had monitored closely since the previous year’s NBA Draft Combine couldn’t wait.
Both Johnson and Pelinka knew of University of Kansas guard Svi Mykhailiuk’s 3-point stroke. But Johnson needed to revisit the 2018 draft prospect with his colleague again, upon seeing the job Mykhailiuk did defending ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley III in the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight victory over Duke.
“At five in the morning, he called me and said, ‘That showed me a lot about him — his toughness, his mentality,’” Pelinka recalled Tuesday, as Johnson fist-bumped Mykhailiuk during the Lakers’ introductory press conference for the Ukrainian guard and Moe Wagner, first-round pick out of Michigan.
Bagley went on to become the No. 2 overall pick in last week’s draft. And although the Lakers were able to wait until the 47th pick to snag Mykhailiuk, it became clear the four-year guard from KU solidified himself as a draftee in the Lakers’ eyes with his overall efforts against Duke — a game in which Mykhailiuk also hit a 3 that sent it to overtime.
“We have some core principles of how we want to build this team,” Pelinka said. “And it’s guys that are tough, guys that have a high basketball IQ, love the game, love to compete, that can shoot, that are skilled. (Johnson) saw that in that game with Svi, and our scouting department saw that, as well.”
Now a 21-year-old rookie with the Lakers, Mykhailiuk sat in between Johnson and Wagner wearing a gray suit and black tie as one of the most famous and successful basketball players in history described his potential.
Johnson revealed that L.A. interviewed both Mykhailiuk and Wagner (the 25th overall pick) at the 2017 combine, before both players decided to return to college for another year.
“We felt both of them got better, got stronger,” Johnson said, adding selecting each was a “no-brainer.”
The Lakers finished next-to-last in the NBA in 3-point shooting (34.5 percent) and worst in free-throw shooting (71.4 percent) during this past season, stats referenced by Johnson while lauding the value of the organization’s newest players.
“But today is a big upgrade. We set out to get shooters in this draft and guys that could stretch the floor, guys who have high basketball IQ, guys that were competitors and tough-minded. Both of them come from extremely successful programs in college,” Johnson added, crediting KU’s Bill Self and Michigan’s John Beilein for molding the incoming rookies. “We felt when we looked at both of them, they could add to our team what was missing.”
As his parents, Inna and Iurri watched, Mykhailiuk told reporters in L.A. why he decided to leave Ukraine as a 16-year-old. He remembered watching a college basketball game on TV and thinking it looked “fun.”
“Also, I was trying to go to the NBA, and for me it was going to be better to go through college,” he explained, adding he picked KU because it’s “one of the greatest schools, and I think it was a good choice for me.”
Plenty of obstacles await the 6-foot-8 rookie guard now that he has achieved his childhood goal. Mykhailiuk said, though, playing within L.A.’s switching defensive scheme should not be as challenging, because he spent his final season at KU defending spots one through four on the floor.
“We had a lot of good guards and kind of short on bigs, so I had to switch a lot,” Mykhailuk said, with his new, gold No. 19 Lakers jersey sitting on the table in front of him. “So for me, I think it’s going to be pretty easy, because I used to play it a lot.”
A new Laker and L.A. resident, Mykhailiuk still is learning the ins and outs of his first job as a college graduate. Before concluding the press conference by posing for photos, including one with his parents, Mykhailiuk said he knows the coming days, weeks and months will be filled with adjustments.
“I would say just figuring out my routine,” he predicted of his adaptation process. “How to be a pro. Just figure out our lifestyle.”
If NBA prospects carried business cards with them to pre-draft workouts, Svi Mykhailiuk’s would include the phrase “not just a shooter” somewhere adjacent to his unique name.
That’s the message the … well, how should we put this … 3-point shooter from Kansas is pushing as he meets with organizations.
Since Mykhailiuk began touring the country to meet with various NBA coaches and front office members, he hasn’t abandoned the skill that makes him a draft-able prospect. The 6-foot-7.75 Ukrainian guard just doesn’t want any potential employer thinking his long-range accuracy is all he has to offer.
Asked earlier this week following a workout in El Segundo, Calif., what he wanted to show the Los Angeles Lakers, Mykhailiuk turned to his go-to pitch.
“That I can do more than shoot, because everybody knows I’m a shooter,” said Mykhailiuk, who connected on 44.4% of his 3-pointers, making 2.9 a game as a KU senior this past season. “I think I can do way more than shoot and I think I showed it today.”
The 20-year-old Ukrainian prospect said he envisions himself as a combo guard once he gets to the NBA.
“I think I can handle the ball. Nobody really knew I can handle the ball,” Mykhailiuk identified as one attribute that might surprise evaluators. “Sometimes I used to play point guard (for Ukraine’s national program), so I think I have ball-handling skills.”
After testing the draft waters without an agent in 2017, Mykhailiuk worked on his defensive approach upon returning to Kansas for his final season of college basketball.
“I just had to step up,” he told ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony. “I think I had a bigger role and I needed to embrace it.”
As a shooting guard asked to defend opposing power forwards in KU’s four-guard lineup this past season, Mykhailiuk described how head coach Bill Self basically forced him to take his defensive responsibilities personally and play with more toughness while often trying to stop larger, stronger players.
“Defense is not about physical ability. It’s all about thinking,” Mykhailiuk said. “If you start in the right position it’s going to be easier to defend.”
He’s certain playing four years at KU made him a more complete player entering the professional ranks and Mykhailiuk expects to continue that development in the years to come.
“I’m still 20 years old, and I think I have a lot of room to grow,” he said, while also telling Givony whichever franchise takes him will get “way more than a shooter.”
In the upside-obsessed NBA, Mykhailiuk’s potential to be molded into a more effective player should help his stock. In a new mock draft published by Givony at ESPN.com on Thursday, Mykhailiuk is slotted at No. 56 in the 60-pick draft. The Ringer’s mock draft doesn’t include him, but SI.com predicts Mykhailiuk will go 58th.
“Nobody knows, man.” the former KU guard told reporters in El Segundo, when asked if he had heard about where he might land. “There’s no way to really tell where you’re gonna go, so I guess we’re gonna see.”
The projected late second-rounder experienced his eighth pre-draft workout Wednesday, with Sacramento.
Although he admitted to feeling “a little” worn out by all the traveling, Mykhailiuk asserted he found the process enjoyable, because there are “no distractions.” Right now, his life is just about basketball and not much else.
That focus helped him at his previous stop, with the Lakers. Near the end of a workout, prospects are put through what L.A. calls its “mentality drill.” A player is asked to dribble up and down the floor and make as many shots as possible in 90 seconds. You get one point for a layup, two for a jumper and three for a shot from beyond the arc.
The Lakers told the soon-to-be 21-year-old after the fact he finished one point shy of the best performance they had seen.
“I didn’t know the record so I kept shooting 3’s,” Mykhailiuk said, grinning. “I should’ve got two layups.”
The truest and most effective 3-point shooters don’t allow recent misses to turn into second-guesses.
It’s a quality sharpened over time and one Svi Mykhailiuk brings with him into every pre-draft workout.
During his four seasons playing at the University of Kansas, Mykhailiuk drained 237 shots from beyond the arc. But none of the other makes will be remembered as fondly or clearly as the 3 the 6-foot-7 guard hit in the 2018 Elite Eight, tying the game with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and paving the way for KU to defeat Duke in overtime en route to the Final Four.
Mykhailiuk delivered that crucial basket on a day when many of his 3-pointers weren’t falling. But the NBA prospect from Ukraine displayed no hesitation — only confidence — on his game-tying release.
Appearing on “Off The Bench,” a podcast for the Wizards’ website, following his workout with Washington this past week, Mykhailiuk, who shot 3-for-9 against Duke this past March, explained what enabled him to connect on the biggest shot of his college career.
“I know I’m a pretty good shooter and I know my teammates believe in me. That’s why they wanted me to shoot,” Mykhailiuk said. “At that time, I didn’t really know what time was on the clock and (Devonte’ Graham) passed me the ball and I felt confident in my shot. I just stepped to it and just shot it. I got lucky it went in,” he added, with a self-deprecating laugh.
A 44.4% 3-point shooter as a 20-year-old senior at KU, Mykhailiuk possesses a defining, if not elite-level, skill — a claim many draft hopefuls can’t make. He’s attempting to model his game after one of the NBA’s greatest shooters, Klay Thompson, as he embarks on his professional career. But he also aims to prove to coaches and executives in the coming weeks he has more to offer.
“I’m a very versatile guy, can guard from 1 to 4 and I just know my role and know how to do the little things,” Mykhailiuk said of what he tries to display during workouts.
In Washington, he shared court time with, among others, Michigan’s Mo Wagner, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. But Mykhailiuk was far more pleased to see good friend and fellow Jayhawk Graham at the workout. It marked the second time the KU duo ended up at the same evaluation session for a team (Chicago being the other).
“It’s definitely cool coming to the same workout with a guy who was with you for four years, best friends,” Mykhailiuk said. “Just kind of makes you relaxed and do better during the workout. We help each other, which is great.”
At times during their trip to D.C., the prospects from Kansas had to square off. Mykhailiuk said neither minded, though, because it wasn’t their first time battling.
“We like to have fun and go one-on-one and it usually gets competitive. We know each other, we know our strong and weak sides and each other’s moves,” he shared, “so it’s kind of hard for us to score against each other.”
Mykhailiuk worked out for Phoenix on Monday.
ESPN’s current mock draft projects the Ukrainian shooting guard as the No. 51 choice in the 60-pick draft. Sports Illustrated’s predictions have Mykhailiuk going 60th, while The Ringer currently expects him to go undrafted.
The NBA Draft is June 21, in Brooklyn.
If you’re looking for Devonte’ Graham these days, he’s most likely inside an NBA practice facility, at an airport, on a plane or somewhere in between.
The four-year point guard from Kansas finds himself bouncing from coast to coast on what amounts to a debunking tour. Graham’s out on a mission to prove to every franchise willing to look at him that it’s OK to draft a proven college graduate over a less experienced prospect who may — or may not — have upside.
After working out for Washington in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Graham, a 23-year-old prospect in a draft class full of younger players, challenged the notion that college basketball veterans have peaked before they even arrive in the NBA.
“I feel like every year in the league people develop,” Graham told a group of reporters. “Like LeBron’s playing his best game right now in his 15th year in the league. So I don’t think (age) has anything to do with it.”
The All-American from KU pointed to the 30th overall pick in the 2017 draft, four-year Villanova standout Josh Hart, as a recent example of a seasoned college player helping a team immediately. Hart shot 46.9% from the floor, 39.6% on 3-pointers and averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“You can always develop your game and get better,” Graham said. “No matter how long you was in college.”
On ESPN’s most recent mock draft, Graham, projected as the No. 43 overall pick, is the second-oldest player listed — younger than only TCU forward Kenrich Williams, by a couple of months. ESPN’s top 100 list includes just two other players older than Graham: Colorado’s George King (24) and Cincinnati’s Gary Clark (born 3 months before Graham).
With those few extra years of basketball and life experience comes wisdom. Graham didn’t bring up his 3-point shooting (40.6% as a senior) or passing (7.2 assists per game while leading KU to the Final Four) when discussing what he tries to prove to NBA coaches and executives during workouts.
“Just be aggressive, show I can compete, defend,” Graham explained of his strategy. “A lot of teams know what you can do offensively. So I just try to show them the little things that help a team win.”
Playing four years for Bill Self helped Graham’s confidence, too, which ultimately allowed him to enter the pre-draft process at his best.
“I could just see him believing in me, so I believed in myself a lot more,” Graham related, while getting into what molded him into the player he has become. “Just having that chip on my shoulder like I have something to prove. Because I was supposed to be at Appalachian State. So I just carried that with me and took it to the gym every day.”
Self, Graham added, “definitely” required much from him as a point guard.
“But he felt like I was one of the best leaders, so he demanded a lot more out of me,” Graham added.
KU’s most recent Big 12 Player of the Year called upon his predecessor, Frank Mason III, for advice before embarking on his workout and interview journey. Like Mason, who became the 34th pick in the 2017 draft, Graham will have to take care of his body in the weeks ahead while jetting to and from a long list of destinations.
Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday and the Wizards on Wednesday, and will do the same with Phoenix Friday. Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and many other teams remain on his docket.
“I’ve got like 13, 14 workouts,” Graham said with a shrug, “so I’ve got a good amount.”
Washington owns the 44th pick in the draft, a spot where Sports Illustrated’s mock draft predicts Graham could end up.
“I like the way they play,” Graham said of the Wizards, a team led by star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. “That’s the way we tried to play at Kansas. Fast. They’ve got good guards that can handle it, pass it, shoot it. I feel like I can do that pretty well. Just come off the bench and do my role.”
If you call yourself a shooter, there’s no reason to aim for average. You might as well go ahead and model yourself after one of the best.
That’s the approach four-year Kansas marksman Svi Mykhailiuk carries with him as he prepares for the NBA Draft.
This past week at the league’s combine for potential incoming rookies, Mykhailiuk, of course, showed off his 3-point precision. But the 20-year-old from Ukraine also made it clear he’s holding himself to a high standard while attempting to prove himself worthy of some team’s draft pick.
Mykhailiuk’s eyes lit up during a media interview at the combine when asked what part of his game translates best to the NBA level.
“Definitely shooting,” KU’s all-time leader for 3-point makes in a season (115) replied. “In the NBA everybody needs shooting. Everybody needs to stretch the floor. And everybody needs a guy who can create. So I think I’m one of them guys.”
At this juncture at least, Mykhailiuk isn’t considered a lock to hear his name called over the course of the two-round draft on June 21, in Brooklyn. ESPN’s mock draft lists him at No. 51, Sports Illustrated slots the 6-foot-7 shooter as the 60th and final pick of the draft and The Ringer projects him as undrafted.
Undaunted, Mykhailiuk didn’t think twice when asked whether he tries to model his game after any current NBA players.
“Definitely. I watch a lot of Klay Thompson,” Mykhailiuk said of the Golden State shooting guard, already a a four-time all-star. “I think we’re similar. We have the same height. And I think I can play at that level.”
Since the Warriors made Thompson their late-lottery selection (11th overall) in 2011, the 6-7 guard from Washington State has drilled 1,557 3-pointers, hitting 42.2% of his attempts over the course of seven regular seasons. Thompson already ranks 24th all-time in career NBA 3-pointers made and has finished in the top 10 in 3-point percentage in five different seasons.
So Mykhailiuk wasn’t fooling around when he chose a 3-point shooting role model.
No one expects the Jayhawks’ most recent long-range specialist to go down as one of the NBA’s all-time sharpshooters, which is the trajectory for Thompson. Still, it’s worth noting they experienced similar success at the college level.
Thompson — who turned 21 in February of his final collegiate season — shot 39.8% from 3-point range as a junior before leaving WSU early to enter the draft. That’s the same percentage Mykhailiuk — who will turn 21 in June — put up his junior season, before nailing 44.4% from beyond the arc as a senior.
Obviously Svi’s shooting spirit animal had much more to offer as a prospect in 2011. The son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, Klay averaged 21.6 points as a WSU junior and attacked his way to the free-throw line for 5.4 attempts a game. Mykhailiuk, as a senior, averaged 14.6 points and attempted 1.4 free throws while playing alongside All-American point guard Devonte’ Graham at KU.
While Thompson then — like Mykhailiuk now — navigated the pre-draft process facing questions about his defense and athleticism, he did have a 6-9 wingspan and 8-7.5 standing reach working in his favor. A starter with the Warriors as a rookie, Thompson eventually proved skeptics wrong.
Mykhailiuk’s wingspan measured at 6-4.75 with a standing reach of 8-4 at this year’s combine. Who knows if any team will ever see him as a rotation player, let alone a starter.
Regardless of where his professional career begins or ends up, Mykhailiuk is appreciative to have teams considering him for the draft. And he’s trying to prove there’s more to him than his specialty.
Asked what area of his game improved the most during his senior year, Mykhailiuk responded with “literally everything.”
“Dribbling, penetration, shooting, passing,” he added. “I’m trying to show everything.”
If an organization does draft Mykhailiuk, though, it will be primarily for his 3-point shooting, and because he demands so much of himself in that category.
Both Mykhailiuk and Graham worked out for Chicago on Monday, and the KU duo will again be on the same practice court Wednesday, when they put their games on display for Washington.