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Original Issue

Bull Market for a Bear

High-flying Bruins guard Zach LaVine has worked his way into the lottery discussion

BIG BOARD

A PERIODIC LOOK AT SOME OF THE MOST INTRIGUING RISING STARS

In a ballyhooed class of baby-faced NBA prospects, in which Wiggins, Parker and Randle have achieved one-name status, a few sleepers have slipped through the cracks. Take Zach LaVine. Three months ago he was unknown. A skinny 6'4" guard out of Bothell (Wash.) High, LaVine wasn't a McDonald's All-American, was barely in the upper half of most credible top 100 lists and wasn't on any NBA team's radar. Now he is UCLA's third-leading scorer (12.2 points per game off the bench at week's end), a freakishly athletic two guard who could play his way into the lottery next June. "He's the fastest guard I've seen run baseline to baseline, and he jumps as high as Gerald Green," says one NBA scout. "His athleticism is off the charts."

LaVine has always been athletic: A quick YouTube search reveals dozens of clips of him unleashing highlight-reel stuffs, including his winning performance at the 2013 high school Ballislife dunk contest and a breakaway windmill jam in a nationally televised game at Missouri. But at UCLA, LaVine has also displayed a finesse game. He is connecting on 44.0% of his threes (and is third among Pac-12 guards with an overall field goal percentage of 54.9) while showcasing an effective catch-and-shoot game and one-dribble pull-up jump shot. "Every so often he mixes in one of those moves that makes you sit up and say, 'Wow,' " says a Western Conference general manager. "Dunking will get him on SportsCenter. Diverse scoring will get him to the NBA."

Most NBA executives agree: If LaVine declares for the draft, he will be a first-round pick. "I'd slot him at 15 to 20 right now," says the scout. "Obviously there is room to grow, too."

Still, the consensus is that LaVine would benefit from a little more seasoning. There are holes in his half-court game—"I don't see him breaking people down off the dribble yet," says the scout—and another year developing his fundamentals under Bruins coach Steve Alford would significantly improve his stock. "He needs to learn how to play," says the scout. "He's only playing 25 minutes a game. There's a huge talent there. He just needs time to develop."

Ups and Downs

Five more players whose draft stock has fluctuated this season

Joel Embiid C Kansas

The freshman from Cameroon is raw—he has been playing organized basketball only since 2011—but at Kansas he has developed quickly. With his 7'5" wingspan, the 7-foot Embiid, 19, is a spectacular shot blocker and a natural rebounder. His low-post game is a work in progress, but his mechanics suggest he can become a consistent perimeter shooter.

Glenn Robinson III SF Michigan

The departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. for the NBA was supposed to catapult Robinson into a starring role. Instead, the sophomore's shooting percentage (50.0) and three-point percentage (31.8) have dipped (from 57.2 and 32.4, respectively). Scouts have noted that Robinson looks uncomfortable as a top option.

Adreian Payne C Michigan State

A college senior (gasp!) on the rise? Payne has made the most of his four years, developing into one of the most complete big men in the nation. The 6'10", 245-pound center is long (7-foot wingspan) and mobile, and he's a rugged rebounder. With stretch fours so valued in the NBA, Payne's three-point stroke will get him noticed.

James Michael McAdoo PF North Carolina

A year ago McAdoo was a hot NBA prospect, seemingly ready to step out of the shadows of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. But his rebounding numbers (5.9 per game) are down, and he remains a liability from the free throw line (57.0%). The 6'9" junior still lacks a diverse post game and is an inconsistent midrange shooter.

Noah Vonleh PF Indiana

The 6'10", 240-pound freshman racked up four straight double doubles to open the season. Vonleh is raw, but he is a superior rebounder who gets to the free throw line and has shown a willingness to mix it up in the paint. He's a tweener—he plays like a center but is the size of a power forward—but that's unlikely to stop an NBA team from grabbing him in the lottery.

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JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (LAVINE)

THE RIGHT STUFF LaVine first attracted attention for his dunking prowess, but he's shown a well-rounded game as the sixth man for UCLA, which was sailing along at 11--2 at week's end.

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JEFF MOFFETT/ICON SMI (EMBIID)

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DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (ROBINSON)

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DUANE BURLESON/GETTY IMAGES (PAYNE)

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EVAN PIKE/CSM/LANDOV (MCADOO)

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A.J. MAST/ICON SMI (VONLEH)

FIVE PHOTOS