Well the ping pong balls have spoken, and the Washington Wizards are anxiously awaiting the beginning of the John Wall era. That means NBA draft season is officially upon us. Truth be told I really only care about two things in the NBA draft: Who the Milwaukee Bucks pick, and if any Marquette guys will get picked. And as Todd Rosiak tells us, Lazar Hayward is out on the workout trail trying to be the next Golden Eagle to make it in "The Association".
A few years ago I had the opportunity to watch one of the Bucks' pre-draft workouts. Basically how it works is there are 1 or 2 players on hand that are legitimate draft prospects and a couple of also-rans that are thrown in to play against the legit guys. In the workout I got to see the headliners were Al Horford and Corey Brewer from Florida. The two Gators were about what I expected. Brewer didn't impress me quite like I thought he would, but I would have loved to have seen the Bucks land either of those two guys. (They ended up with Yi Jianlian at #6, one spot before Brewer went to Minnesota. But that's an entirely different rant). But it was Carl Landry, one of the throw-in players, that most impressed me. Landry had a pretty decent college career, but wasn't really a superstar by any means. He may have only been brought in by the Bucks as a courtesy, because he was a Milwaukee kid. (That was definitely the reason that former Racine St. Catherine's and University of Hawaii star, Matt Lojeski was at that workout.) But in the Cousins Center that afternoon, Carl Landry played like an NBA player. He was all over the place. Showed an amazing motor, a better shot than I thought he had, he out hustled everyone in the gym and just looked like he wanted it more when matched up against the future lottery pick Brewer. Apparently I wasn't the only one that saw this. Landry went from being a guy that I would have never thought of as an NBA prospect, to being the #1 pick of the 2nd round. So that got me to thinking about Lazar. I have been dismissive of Lazar's NBA potential in the past. But guys like Landry, and more recently our own Wesley Matthews, have shown that just because people don't think you're an NBA caliber player, it doesn't mean you aren't. So what does Lazar have going for him, what's working against him and what does he need to do in his quest to get some team to give him a shot in the NBA?
First the things working against ‘Zar:
I really only see two, but unfortunately they're big ones: A) Height and B) Position. Those two are kind of intertwined. Lazar's skill set projects best to a 4 or maybe a 3. Unfortunately his size is more suited to a 2 guard. If he's a legit 6'8", we're not even having this discussion. I tried to find forwards 6'5" or shorter that played in the NBA this season on basketballreference.com. It returned no results. It took me like 15 minutes to realize that I wasn't entering the information wrong and the search engine wasn't broken. The site was giving me no results because there were NO RESULTS. No player, with a primary position of forward, under 6'5", logged any time in the NBA this season. Because Lazar is technically listed at 6'6", I expanded my search to 6'6" and found 14 players. A lot of those guys (Paul Pierce, Brandon Rush, etc.) are really more of 2 guards that are just playing the 3. There are questions about his athleticism, his ability to handle the ball and defend well enough to be considered a possibility at the 3 in the NBA. I don't worry about so much about his defense. Over his career he's shown he can guard everyone from 7 foot centers down to point guards. I think he will surprise people with his defense in pre-draft workouts. I don't worry about athleticism either. In case you need any evidence:
But I do worry about his handle. Unless he's put in a tremendous amount of work on that aspect of his game, I fear that could be his Achilles heel. We've all, at some point during this past season, said to those around us (or to no one in particular) "Lazar, don't dribble so much!" If you've got Ron Artest or Corey Maggette in front of you, the last thing you want to be is sloppy with the dribble.
What ‘Zar has going for him:
I don't know that many teams put a premium on intangibles in the NBA, but if they do Lazar will definitely turn heads. No one can question this guy's toughness, his dedication, his leadership, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Lesser players would have looked at their situation at MU and said, "Eff this, if I want to make it in the league I need to be playing 2 guard. I'm out." Lazar did whatever was asked of him at Marquette and did it well. Coaches love players like this, but GMs who make the picks are generally more interested in wingspan and "upside potential". But all it takes is one coach to pick up on these traits, and that can lead to an opportunity. Isn't that right Wesley?
Lazar also has the ability to surprise people in workouts. If people aren't expecting much, or don't know what to expect, he may really enlighten them on the pre-draft circuit. Like I said, I think his ability to defend multiple positions is really going open some eyes.
And last, but certainly not least, 3-point range. In my opinion, this is the key component to Lazar's NBA chances. He will have to show NBA teams that he can be a serious threat from 3 point land if he hopes to hear his name called on June 24th. Teams are always looking for shooters. There are players that have made careers out of nothing more than the ability to stroke the 3. Does Kyle Korver really have a position? Can he guard anyone? Not really. But that dude can shoot the trey, and there will always be a place in the league for him. Lazar doesn't need to be the shooter that Korver is (53.6% this season, that's just silly), but he has to prove that he can be consistent enough to make a defender respect him out there and spread the floor. So 'Zar, if you're going to do one thing well in this whole process, I suggest you shoot it and shoot it well.
If Lazar can answer the questions that personnel people might have about his game, and shoot like Marquette fans know he's capable, then you never know what might happen. I think he is the kind of player that can come into a pre-draft workout and totally steal the show. And if that isn't enough to get his name called on draft night, he could definitely play his way on to a roster in the summer league. One thing is for sure, after watching this guy play for the past 4 years, I wouldn't bet against him.
In case you need a little more Lazar Hayward fix here's some highlights from the NABC All-Star Game, where he led all scorers and was named MOP for his team.