Erez Buki is a long time reader and commenter under the handle P. Ami. Heading to live in the Bay Area this summer, Erez has had the pleasure of following the Lakers while growing up during the Showtime era in LA, seeing first hand what great team basketball looks like when played by the greatest players. Having lived around the world he learned the game playing street ball all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, the university courts of Beijing, the indoor games of Portland, Oregon and plenty of stops in between. It turns out you can make out the words Lakers, Kobe, Shaq and Magic in all the language groups on this planet. He is currently working on a his degree in Medical Anthropology waiting for the iconic Laker his young kids will grow up loving. This is part II of his series looking at prospects who might be good targets for the Lakers’ later draft picks.
When we last explored players the Lakers could take with the 27th and 34th picks we took a look at players that I favor in Christian Wood, Montrezl Harrell and, George Lucas De Paula. The first two are power forwards, with Wood likely learning to play the small forward. De Paula is a raw point guard with upside that is sliding down the mock draft boards. I like Wood and De Paula due to that long term potential. The Lakers need to develop the best possible talent. On the other hand, the team has some gapping holes at the swing positions. Yes, Kobe is coming back and so is Swaggy P but one more season of Kobe is about all we can hope for and Nick Young could as easily be nicknamed Satisfied P. Neither player is a long term solution at the two or three. The question is, can we find someone in the draft to fill either spot?
What is a team looking for from the swing position? Basically, you want Paul George, Kevin Durant and Kawai Leonard. You want long, explosive players who can shoot from anywhere on the court, finish in traffic, create for others and defend three positions. Oh, and rebound on both ends, come up big in key moments, sell jerseys, be professional, stay loyal, cook, do the laundry and take care of the kids. It is uncommon to find those players late in the first round. What you might find is a player with a few of those skills and the raw tools to develop a few more.
Justin Anderson is a small forward out of Virginia with good size and length. He is 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan. The junior weighs in at 230 pounds and much of that weight is in his upper body. The kid is strong. He uses both his strength and foot speed to contain player on the perimeter while bothering shots and passes with his long arms. Anderson has a bit of a hunched stance on defense and if he uses his legs to get low, rather than his torso, he may become an even better defender. I know there are a few folk on this site who will appreciate that Anderson is a lefty. He is very left hand dominant and needs work on his right. He is not great at creating in the half court but he can finish plays created by others. The kid hit 45% of his threes and took four of them a game. That is a pretty good sample size. He only shot 75% from the line.
Lookout below for some highlights. Justin Anderson comes at you hard.
Advanced analysis shows that Anderson became an elite jump shooter off the catch, nailing 1.322 points per possession on catch and shoot plays. He also improved his shot off the dribble where he got almost .9 points per possession. He had a 61% true shooting percentage in his junior year, which is a nice level of efficiency. Almost all areas of his game improved significantly in the three years spent at Virginia and this provides insight into his work-ethic.
Anderson has been working out in Las Vegas on improving his jumper even more while advancing his ball-handling and footwork. Those three elements may just open up his game in the half court. As is, he would be an excellent 3 and D player at the small forward position. While Kawai Leonard would be the dream, Danny Green is a Spur comparison we can reasonably make to Anderson. I can’t help but think of Jimmy Butler coming out of Marquette too. Anderson is an inch shorter, a few inches longer in the arms and more athletic than Butler. Butler’s floor game was more advanced coming out as a senior and he always played with that motor we see in his game today. I wouldn’t say Anderson has that high revving a motor. If the Lakers are looking to fill the small forward position, Justin Anderson is a good place to find their man.
Rashad Vaughn is a possible pick late in the first round. He is still only eighteen years old and played one season with Christian Wood at UNLV. While he is not an explosive player he does elevate well on his jumpers. He is a capable shooter off the catch, curling around screens to create space. The obvious benefits of working out of the triple-threat position are taught to players early on by any coach worth their title. Being able to shoot, pass or dribble from the triple-threat opens up all the possibilities of the game and a player who can exploit all those skills is a valued baller.
In the following you can see a sequence of three scores that Vaughn produced in a one minute span.
Here is another nice sequence from the same game. Two scores and a deflection on the defensive end.
Vaughn has the ability to pump-fake, pump-fake again and then rise up to drill a three pointer.This is not an easy skill. He can set up his shot with jab steps and dances with the ball in his hands. He is also very good at using the pick and roll but tends to use it to score himself rather than as a passer. He gets a little tunnel visioned and will force up shots. I was a little concerned watching him when defended by Arizona as they had two NBA-caliber defenders in Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Both gave him problems. In spite of this, Vaughn had a good game with 21 points (in 21 shots) a block, three steals, three assists and five rebounds while covered primarily by TJ McConnell. McConnell will not be invited to the green room in New York on draft day. I’m not sure the color of his room on draft day. Hopefully its a room with colors to help him concentrate while studying for the GMATS. I do expect that both forwards, especially Hollis-Jefferson, will give NBA players problems and be lock down defenders. It should be expected that an 18 year old shooting guard will need more time to develop his game against the top defenders in the league.
Vaughn did shoot 38% from behind the line for the season. He hit less than 70% of his free throws but was close to 50% on his two point shots. He is very strong, can finish through contact and uses his strength on defense. I would expect a player to be able to improve their free throw shooting and become an even more efficient scorer. Especially with Vaughn’s willingness to attack the rim, he should be able to use the free-throw line as a weapon. One would like a larger sample size for his game but a tear of the meniscus, and subsequent surgery, limited him to 22 games played. Obviously, knee surgery is a red flag.
Vaughn is a talented scorer who has an offensive game he can use anywhere on the court. From finishing at the rim, nice floaters, midrange jumpers, and long range bombs he is a scoring guard. He has strength and touch. He can defend but had problems with his defensive discipline. I would not explain away this problem with noting that UNLV’s whole team was defensively undisciplined, but then again he is still very young and a good coach can do wonders. This project may well be one Byron Scott is suited for. There is very little not to like about Rashad Vaughn.
Interestingly, Draft Express and Chad Ford both had Vaughn going to the Lakers with that #27 pick in an early June version of their mock drafts. I would rather have Justin Anderson as his defensive potential is slightly higher. He is the better athlete, if less of a natural scorer. Anderson has been coached better, has had more success and his game has shown improvement over the his three seasons at Virginia. I’m also weary of guys who have already had a blow out in their knee. I will continue to assess some swing players in future posts but I do want to talk a little about another big.
I do mean a big man. At seven-foot, two hundred and fifty-eight pounds, seven foot 5.5 inch wingspan, and a standing reach of nine foot and five inches, Robert Upshaw is humongous. If you were just to look at his game you might see him as a very good prospect. He rebounds at a high rate with over 8 per game. He averaged 4.5 blocks. He finished three quarters of his shots around the rim and shot 60% in general. Then he was dismissed from the University of Washington’s basketball team after 19 games. This was his second dismissal from a college team as his time at Fresno State ended similarly. There has been talk about substance abuse. Upshaw himself blames immaturity. He seems committed to working hard at P3 training camps in Santa Barbara. Lets just say, most of us would memorize the same message about hard work and maturity if we had a few million dollars hanging on our ability to convince a team to pick us.
It is the ability you see in the video below that has maintained some viability for Upshaw’s draft prospects in spite of some concerns.
While Upshaw would normally be a lottery pick, there are more red flags to consider. His defensive fundamentals are not great. He lets smaller, weaker players get deep position on him. He does not hold an athletic stance through out full possessions. He relies on his strength and length to get his blocks and rebounds, not footwork and smarts. He turns the ball over quite a lot and while he gets fouled at a very high rate he does not make teams pay at the line, making only 43% of his free throws. There was also an undisclosed issue with his heart that came up from the NBA physical. Supposedly this is not an issue.
Upshaw can cover a good amount of space but often does not put in the effort to do so. He is working on his body. There is footage of him from Draft Express showing his work on his core strength and legs. The footage from Santa Barbara shows him hitting turn around jumpers, three pointers and up and under moves. Is this an indication of a growing skill set or is it the weak effort of his competition at the scrimmage? We have seen players like Dwight, DeAndre, Marc Gasol and others learn to play defense in the league. Upshaw is not the athlete that Dwight and DeAndre are and he is not the well adjusted prospect that Marc was. As fans of the Lakers we have seen Kareem, Vlade, Shaq, Pau and even Bynum make their mark in the league. I suppose some of us saw Wilt too.
The front office has seen how profoundly a big man can change the course of the franchise. While our wing players, like Jerry West, Magic and Kobe have fronted the franchise, our centers are what place the Lakers’ head above the rest of the league. This was the basketball orthodoxy and franchise self-image in play when we went out and got Dwight. Upshaw is not as skilled as the above listed Lakers greats but if everything falls in place with him, he could become a center that warps the defensive end of the court and gives solid contributions on the offensive end. I would not take a chance on him with the 27th pick but I would be interested to see what a franchise that built 16 championship teams around big men decides to do if Upshaw is available.