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.”
With his team in the midst of a potentially embarrassing drubbing versus an undermanned Los Angeles Lakers squad late Monday night at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, former Kansas All-American Frank Mason III got a chance to outshine some of the event’s stars — the more highly regarded first-round picks who went before him in the June draft.
Sacramento’s No. 5 overall pick, De’Aaron Fox tweaked an ankle in the first half, enabling Mason, the 34th pick, to put on a second-half show. Mason nearly helped the Kings rally from a 28-point deficit against L.A. with a game-high 24 points — scoring 20 in the second half. The backup floor general shot 9-for-13 (2-for-3 on 3-pointers) and contributed six assists, five rebounds and two steals in a 95-92 loss.
Predictably humble, Mason downplayed his big night and the comeback that fell short versus a Lakers lineup which did not include Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart or Kyle Kuzma.
“The goal is always to win,” he told reporters afterward. “I’m happy that my team fought pretty hard to make it interesting, but we didn’t come out with the win, so I’m not really happy.”
While Mason’s assertive approach in the second half resembled his senior season at KU, the point guard credited his coaches’ strategy and teammates for getting him open with screens.
“I was pretty much just driving the ball downhill, creating for my teammates and myself,” said Mason, who went 2-for-9 in his first summer exhibition and 2-for-10 in his second outing, leading up to a breakout performance.
The 23-year-old lead guard said his four years of Kansas experience kicked in at some point, and he was able to make a positive impact for his team and get the Kings back in the game. Not that he ever was overly concerned with his slow start in Las Vegas.
“I just made shots in this game,” said Mason, who is now averaging 11.3 points, 3.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds, while shooting .406 from the floor. “The last two games I had pretty good looks; they just didn’t fall.”
Fox’s minor injury set up Mason with more playing time (24 minutes). Instead of subbing in and out, he got to experience a prolonged stay on the court. While Mason admitted that helped him feel comfortable, he also said, “it’s the NBA. No matter when your number is called you’ve got to be ready.”
Even the summer league is a step up for the former Kansas star, which means a new reality: coming off the bench.
“I think I do a pretty good job of accepting my role and giving whatever the team needs from me,” Mason said of entering the league as a backup. “It’s a different feeling, obviously, from the past three years — starting and playing for a lot of minutes throughout the game — to coming here and just getting limited minutes. But I accept my role, whatever it is, and just give my best effort.”
He didn’t enter his latest summer league game expecting a chance to take over, but Mason did just that given the opportunity. The more looks he gets with the Kings, the more the second-rounder will force others around the NBA to take notice.
It wasn’t too long ago that Frank Mason and De’Aaron Fox were battling each other in primetime as the college basketball world watched to see whose team would prevail in a blue blood battle between Kansas and Kentucky.
The two dynamic point guards will now get to resume that clash behind the scenes — potentially for years to come — as teammates with the Sacramento Kings.
For two players who only squared off once, the duo knows each other fairly well. Fox, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, revealed during a recent interview with Sacramento media that Mason actually hosted the speedy floor general when he visited the University of Kansas as a high school recruit. Fox opted for a starring role at Kentucky, instead, and when he next saw Mason, the senior outdid the freshman, leading the Jayhawks to a 79-73 win at UK’s Rupp Arena.
Mason went for 21 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals, while shooting 9-for-18 in a game that featured two of college basketball’s fastest open-court players. On a 5-for-12 night, Fox’s line read: 10 points, two assists, two rebounds, two steals.
“We had a good battle in college. I think it was a really good game. And not only with De’Aaron, I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing against everyone,” Mason said of renewing his matchup with Fox at Kings practices, beginning this week, as the two prepare for their Summer League debuts. “As the point guards of the team, we should always want to compete at a high level and make each other better for the franchise, so that’s what we will do.”
Fox, too, told reporters he looked forward to having Mason as a teammate/challenger.
“It’s going to be different. We played them one time this past year, and now you’re going to see him every day in practice,” Fox said of Mason. “But that’s great for us. We’re going at each other every day in practice and it’s going to do nothing but make us better.”
When Sacramento first added Fox and Mason (second round, 34th pick overall) through the draft, the two were the only point guards on the roster. Although a veteran pick-up was sure to come, the possibility of Mason taking on back-up point guard duties for a young team in full-on rebuild mode seemed like a real possibility. However, the Kings reportedly agreed to a free-agent deal with vet George Hill, who averaged 16.9 points and 4.2 assists this past year with Utah. Hill is so good he might even allow Sacramento to bring Fox along slowly, in a sixth man role, even though the 19-year-old guard is clearly the new face of the franchise.
Mason will be Sacramento’s No. 3 point guard next season, which isn’t a bad gig. Obviously, Mason would prefer a more involved role because he’s that kind of competitor. But he should get his chances. The Kings, because they are so young (outside of free-agent signings Hill and Zach Randolph) are going to lose a lot of games and be blown out in a decent amount of them in the brutal Western Conference. So Mason figures to, at the very least, get his introduction to the real NBA in the fourth quarters of Kings losses during the 2017-18 season.
But Mason also will move up the depth chart any time Hill or Fox are unavailable. And Hill, now 31, has missed 30-plus games in two of the past three seasons. The Kings have a nice insurance policy in the form of college basketball’s reigning national player of the year.
Beginning Friday at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, Mason will get to show Sacramento’s staff what he’s made of, as he, Fox and many of the Kings’ young big men take on Josh Jackson and Phoenix. Mason told Sacramento media how he plans to complement his new frontcourt teammates.
“Just being a tough guard who gets my teammates involved,” the 23-year-old guard began, “and I feel like I can get them a lot of good touches, lobs, dump-offs to where they can just get easy baskets and finish.”
On a team mostly comprised of players under the age of 25, summer league, practices and every learning opportunity that comes along will be critical for the team’s development. With Fox and Mason in the mix, a downtrodden franchise has two young men capable of resetting the culture.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Fox said of working with Mason. “They drafted two great young point guards and we’re just gonna make each other better every day.”
On an extensive list of ways his life is about to change now that he has reached the NBA, adjusting to a steady diet of losses has to rank near the top for former Kansas point guard Frank Mason III.
During the reigning National Player of the Year’s four seasons at KU, Mason played for Bill Self-coached teams that averaged 29 victories and 7.3 losses.
His role in those wins propelled the 5-foot-11 Mason to near the top of the second round in this year’s NBA Draft, where Sacramento made him the 34th overall pick. The ultra-competitive Petersburg, Va., native, no doubt, will make the best of it, but winning roughly 30 games a year will continue to be the norm for him in the years ahead.
Playing an 82-game schedule, the Kings have won no more than 38 games in any of the previous 11 seasons — a stretch in which they have lost 50 or more games six times (and 49 twice).
While Sacramento’s front office and coaches obviously were thrilled with their four 2017 blueblood-only draft picks — Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Duke’s Harry Giles and Jayhawk Mason — they also were realistic about the state of the franchise at the introductory press conference for the newest Kings.
Head coach Dave Joerger said when he looks at the roster he thinks about how the team will be set up three years from now and how he plans to have the 2017-18 team lay a foundation for the future.
“We’ve got good people and we’ve got good talent to build from,” Joerger said.
Even so, no one expects Sacramento to contend for a playoff berth anytime soon. The Kings very well may end up the worst team in the NBA next season, and that’s because they will most likely be the youngest. As a 23-year-old rookie, Mason is older than six players that project as part of the team’s rotation.
The contracts of veterans Rudy Gay, Tyreke Evans, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson and Ben McLemore officially come off the books when free agency begins this weekend, and it appears the organization, which recently waived 31-year-old Arron Afflalo, is prepared to rebuild around its latest lottery pick, Fox (19 years old). What does the explosive incoming rookie from Kentucky have around him? Fellow newbies Jackson (22), Giles (19) and Mason (23) — and possibly Serbian guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (24) — along with slightly more established second-year players Buddy Hield (23), Malachi Richardson (21), Skal Labissiere (21) and Georgios Papagiannis (19). And don’t forget old head Willie Cauley-Stein (23), grandpa Kosta Koufos (28) and great-grandpa Garrett Temple (31).
All of the challenging seasons ahead for Mason at least should be more tolerable with the knowledge he landed on a team that values him. Sacramento had Mason visit for two pre-draft workouts.
“I think when I first got here for my first workout I was pretty good — could’ve done a lot of things a lot better — but obviously they were impressed by me,” Mason said at the rookies’ introduction. “We got that call that they wanted me to come back for a second workout, I was really excited about that. I came back for the second workout, wasn’t my best again, but, you know, I think I was solid and they were excited about me. And now I’m here.”
Joerger pointed out Mason also showed off his explosiveness after workout No. 2, with “a tremendous dunking show.”
Mason’s new head coach, though, cares much more about what his players do during games. Joerger developed a reputation as a coach who values toughness during his three seasons in Memphis, prior to taking over at Sacramento a year ago.
“I love a coach that’s going to help us get after it, challenge us every day mentally and physically,” Mason told The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones. “I’m just excited about the future.”
The future will feel a lot more real once the season begins four months from now. And it won’t be like anything Mason has experienced previously on a basketball court.
Admitted Joerger: “We’re gonna take our lumps, you know what I mean? So let’s do it with guys who have great work ethic and high character and the talent that’ll come out as they grow into it.”
Some serious culture shock awaits Mason in the NBA. But if we know anything about him, it’s that he’s gutsy enough to fight through it and will do his best to help revitalize the Kings, who haven’t finished with a winning record or reached the playoffs since 2006.