By the standard per-game stats, Zach LaVine looks like a promising young guard with tons of potential, but the analytics tell a completely different story.
Among rookies this year, LaVine ranked fifth in points per game (10.1), seventh in minutes per game (24.7) and fifth in double doubles (4). After looking at these numbers and remembering he’s only 19 years old, it’s understandable to think LaVine could one day become a top-tier offensive guard. However, per-game stats can be deceiving. These numbers tell us a player’s value in quantity but not in quality.
A few years ago, we would look at his stat line and categorize the rookie as a future up and comer, but now, in the age of analytics, we know these numbers are misleading. Many of his numbers are inflated because the Wolves had several injuries and little to any scoring punch; which means LaVine simply looted stats on an offensively inept team.
Courtesy of Vorped.com
According to LaVine’s shot chart, he’s basically shooting below the league average everywhere on the court besides right under the rim. He may be the best dunker in the league and possibly NBA history, but outside of leaping unfathomably high, LaVine’s game is extremely limited.
According to ESPN, LaVine ranked dead last among all 84 NBA point guards in Real Plus or Minus (-6.89) and Wins Above Replacement (-5.36). Some might blame LaVine’s low numbers on his untalented supporting cast, but according to 82games.com, the Wolves are actually 11.4 points worse with LaVine on the court. LaVine’s net rating is the lowest on the Wolves roster. To sum it up, LaVine, by these numbers, was the worst player on the worst team in basketball. Yikes.
Apr. 08, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine (8) drives to the basket on Portland Trail Blazers centerChris Kaman
(35) and forwardLaMarcus Aldridge
(12) during the third quarter of the game at the Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 116-91. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
However, Wolves fans do not have to give up hope just yet. LaVine’s advanced statistics may be ugly, but he did show a few redeeming qualities. After getting off to a slow start, LaVine proved to be a quality three-point shooter (34.1 %). If he can continue to improve his outside game, LaVine’s combination of athleticism and long-range shooting could be enough to land him a starting role.
LaVine has also shown big-game potential. In April, LaVine averaged 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists all while shooting an efficient 47 percent from the floor. The key difference for LaVine in April was playing on the wing rather than running the point. Not to pat myself on the back, but I mentioned previous to this season, that LaVine’s ability to catch and shoot, and his inability to run the pick and roll, proves he may be better suited as a 2-guard.
Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress, wrote something very similar prior to the 2014 NBA Draft:
"“Using 9.7 possessions per-game, he ranks as the lowest usage player in this group, and as the least efficient scorer in both one-on-one and pick and roll situations. On the positive side, LaVine’s athleticism shows here, as 32.1% of his possessions came in transition, more than any other player, and while he scored an above average 1.148 points per-catch and shoot jump shot, the team drafting him probably won’t be overly concerned with how he looked on paper this past season as focused as they’ll be on putting him in position to reach his lofty potential a few years from now.”"
With Lorenzo Brown as the point guard for most of April, LaVine was able to focus on scoring instead of running the offense. Once Ricky Rubio comes back next season (hopefully he’s healthy by then), LaVine can play on the wing, and allow Rubio to move the ball.
After a 77-game sample, a few things are certain: LaVine is a capable three-point shooter, he’s extremely athletic, and he needs to become more efficient. Fortunately for the high-flying rookie, he’s only 19 years old, and the sky is his limit.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN, unless otherwise Noted
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